This is Part 2 of a 15 part Bible Study on the book of Colossians.
Compiled and written by Norma Becker – a true woman of God and God’s word.
Part 2 – Colossians – The Beginning (Chapter 1)
Before 400 BC, Colossae was a thriving metropolis. It was located on a major trade route and historians report that it was a staging post on the march of armies. It is in the area that is now the country of Turkey.
It was a thriving city but as sometimes happens, someone, perhaps a Roman official (for now this was part of the Roman Empire) decided they needed a new six lane highway – and it bypassed Colossae.
Now the city of Laodicea, that wasn’t founded until 260 BC, became the main city. Maybe Colossae was lucky because we know from the book of Revelation what the Lord thought of Laodicea. Revelations says, “they were rich and felt they didn’t need anything – Christ said they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” By the time Paul wrote this letter, Colossae was just a small town in the shadow of Laodicea and Hierapolis the other two cities in the Lycus Valley. It was devastated by an earthquake in 6l AD and was never rebuilt.
Let’s See How Christianity Might Have Reached Colossae
Paul was very wise and seemed to plant the Gospel at places where it would flow down the main arteries of trade and communication.
Paul apparently never visited Colossae but since he spent a long time in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, we can assume that the Gospel was taken to Colossae from Ephesus. There were several people that are mentioned in the New Testament that were from Colossae.
We can assume that a good strong Gospel teaching had come to Colossae during this time but now, several years, later Paul is in prison (Acts 28:30) and a fellow believer named Epaphras, from Colossae, brings him a report about conditions in the church and Paul writes them this letter.
Who Were the People Who Contributed to the Spread of the Gospel?
Let’s see what might have happened to the Gospel message in the intervening years by looking at the cross section of population to better understand some of the ideas that had an influence on the people.
There was the Jewish element. They resettled there after the fall of the northern kingdom when they were defeated by the Assyrians. We learn from the Gospels that some of the complaints Jesus had against the Jews were: legalism, ritualism and the strict observance of holy days.
There were the Romans who worshipped the Caesars as gods and had their other gods and goddesses that they believed in. Then the other elements – there seemed to be an element that tried to combine the oriental ideas, the Greek philosophy and other various religious ideas that different people brought in.
All of these things seemed to lead to some false teaching. Some of these false teachings seemed to be the beginning of what later developed into Gnosticism.
This false teaching contained several characteristics:
- It was Jewish – stressing the need for observing Old Testament laws and ceremonies.
- It was philosophical (Greek) and emphasized some special or deeper knowledge.
- It involved the worship of angels as mediators to God.
- It was exclusive and it stressed the special privilege and “perfection” of those select few who belonged to this philosophical elite.
- It denied the deity of Christ.
They were trying to adjust Christianity to fit their old beliefs. They didn’t deny Christ but they didn’t accept Him as God. They gave Christ a place but not the supreme place. Salvation was obtained by means of knowledge that was only available through special teaching, rituals, self-discovery or sacraments. And of course it was only available to a special few.
What does all of this remind you of in our day and age? Do you think they also had to pay to go to seminars to get this “knowledge?” This Christian facade made the Colossian error all the more dangerous. Just like the cults that use Christian words but don’t have the same meaning.
Here are five things we can look for when we read through:
- It professed to be a philosophy. Paul said it was a hollow and deceptive philosophy.
- It placed emphasis on ritual: circumcision, dietary laws and observance of holy days.
- It affirmed the mediation of various supernatural powers in the creation of the world and the whole process of salvation and insisted that these mysterious powers be placated and worshipped.
- Some of the practicers were ascetic and taught that the body is evil and must be treated as an enemy.
- And perhaps the worst and hardest to combat was the fact that the advocates of this system claimed to be Christian teachers.
If their problem was trying to push God and Christianity into their lifestyle rather than push their lifestyle into God and Christianity, why do you think the errors in the church were not spelled out fully? Alluded to rather than named? He uses words like “fine sounding arguments,” “hollow and deceptive philosophy,” “worship of angels,” “do not handle, do not taste, harsh treatment of the body.”
Imagine yourself as one of those new Christians in Colossae. You are crowded into a home waiting to hear what Paul has to say. With the background we have just had, you would know of the problems and maybe you would even be a little sympathetic to some of the ideas. What emotions do you think you would feel while you are waiting for the others to arrive?
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:1-2).
What title did Paul use to introduce himself? What does the word mean? Who gave Paul this title? What does this verse tell you about where Paul got his orders?
Apostle: “someone sent an emissary, a delegated official entrusted with a mission – not simply a person who propagates a doctrine or devotes himself to a cause.
He was an Apostle “by the will of God.” Do you think the people were able to accept this? What impact would it have? What could be another word for faithful? Believing or loyal to Christ?
How do you feel when a friend tells you the specific things he or she notices and appreciates about you? It encourages you and makes you try harder.
Let’s read Colossians 1:3-8:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is producing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.”