Day 349 Colossians 1-4; Philemon

Day 349
Colossians 1-4, Philemon

While Paul was under house arrest in Rome, old friends were permitted to visit him. Luke and Aristarchus were already with him. Timothy and Tychicus had arrived by 61 A.D. to serve alongside him. Epaphras also came to Rome and brought news to Paul about the church in Colossae. Although Paul had never reached Colossae on his travels, he considered it one of his churches since it was founded by Epaphras, his beloved co-worker. Colossae was located in the Lycus River valley (a tri-city region which also included Laodicea and Hierapolis) approximately 400 miles due south of what is today Istanbul, Turkey. Culturally, Colossae was besieged by racial prejudices, class divisions, and unusual superstitions. Epaphras shared with Paul the positive aspects of the church’s progress, but he also described a troubling development that was threatening its health. False teachers had infiltrated the assembly and were depreciating Jesus. These teachers asserted that they could not know God through Christ alone. Their deviant teaching consisted of a strange brew of Jewish mysticism, local folklore, the veneration of angels, and philosophical syncretism. Paul responded to this distressing news by writing a letter to the church and confronting these errors head-on.

Into this dangerous mix Paul spoke, first of all, of a vision of reality that is centered in the all-sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ. It may have seemed to the Colossians that the most dominant figure in the first century was Caesar, who was esteemed as Lord and God, Paul turned everything upside down by declaring that Jesus Christ was superior to Caesar. Jesus was, in fact, superior over Caesar, and to any philosophy or institution. In the high point of the letter, Paul pointed to the preeminence of Jesus who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:15-20). Jesus was mentioned twenty-six times in the letter. Paul’s point was clear: Jesus is enough! He is the visible image of the invisible God (1:15). He is the fullness of God in bodily form (2:9). Jesus Christ is all-sufficient.

Secondly, Paul called the Colossian Christians to them to stand firm in what they had been taught: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (2:6-7). Some of the Colossians were drifting away by substituting orthodoxy for experience. Paul was resolute that an essential part of spiritual maturity was knowing what they believed. He understood that the many of the problems in the church were essentially theological. There is no practical and relevant faith apart from a commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy (2:8).

Thirdly, Paul confronted the hybrid religious practices that were eclipsing the gospel. He confronted the legalism that was prevalent in the church by reducing knowing God to following a list of external rules (2:21). He confronted the asceticism of the heretics who suggested that their spiritual development was tied to their diet and by subjecting their body to severity (2:23). He also confronted the mysticism of the false teachers who claimed that spiritual fullness was achieved by an involvement in a cornucopia of ecstatic visions, magical powers, angelic worship, and philosophical folklore. Paul insisted that their protection from heretical seduction was Jesus alone (3:1) immersion in His Word (3:16) and demonstrated by a life of love (3:14).

Finally, Paul called the Christians in Colossae to pursue true spiritual wisdom centered in Christ. This emphasis on true wisdom appeared in every major section of the letter. Jesus is the embodiment of wisdom. Christians are to live wisely. Family life is to be influenced and directed by wisdom, and believers are to walk in wisdom toward outsiders (4:5-6). The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ impacts every area of life. Christians are not to be controlled by a list of external rules or ecstatic experiences, but by the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As it happened, another contact Paul made in Rome was with a slave by the name of Onesimus (meaning “useful”). He had run away from his owner, Philemon, a leader of the Colossian church. He escaped to Rome and somehow made contact with Paul. Paul led Onesimus to Christ and made himself “useful” to him. As he thought about the situation in Colossae, he felt compelled to wrote letter to Philemon informing him that he was sending Onesimus back to him, while also making it quite clear that Onesimus was not the same man who had runaway all those months before. He urged Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. Paul’s letter to Philemon is not only a masterpiece in personal relations, it is also also a powerful blow directed straight at the institution of slavery in whatever form it appears–whether yesterday or today. The gospel is slavery’s demise.

O God, thank you for the supremacy and sufficiency of Your Son. May I today rest in Jesus alone plus nothing else for my faith and practice. Fill me with the Word of Christ so that I may be rooted in wisdom and motivated by love in all I do. In Jesus’ Name, I pray, Amen.

Greeting – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and…
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