Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Colossians (2013)

Saint and Faithful Brethren

Colossians  1:1-15

Lesson audio

Introduction

 

The City

We need to take a look at a map first.Map

It’s not apparent at first, but the city of Colosse is located on the trade route between the eastern part of the Roman Empire and the Western part. As such, it is a meeting point for ideas from the eastern and western worlds. The church in that city was probably founded by Epaphras. The reason we think so is that Paul addresses his letter to the people there, but doesn’t reference anyone personally. It is, however, near several other churches where Paul is known to have spoken. The letter itself was written approximately A.D. 63. This would be about two years before Paul’s death. We hear nothing about Colossae after this; there is no other correspondence with the church in that city. According to Eusebius the reason for this is that an earthquake destroyed the city approximately A.D. 70.

The Circumstances

At the time of this writing, Paul is in prison. Apparently, Epaphras has come to him to encourage him. In the process he tells him about his home church. We suspect that Epaphras asked Paul to write this letter to the church at Colossae for their encouragement. It has been suggested that the reason for this is that a fraudulent letter, purporting to be from Paul, was circulating in the area. Paul, in this letter, lays out the nature of Christ and what we should do about it — which therefore makes letter is very useful to us today.

The Competition

As we said, this city is a meeting place of ideas. There were two particular Jewish ideas going around the city at the time.

·         There was a very strange hybrid of Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Zoroastrianism, for those of you not familiar, holds that there are two equal and opposite spiritual forces. One of these is good; one of these is evil. Star Wars fans will remember the dark side of the force, for example. It’s one of those ideas that pops up every now and then. How you mix this with Judaism I do not know, but they did.

·         Another group prominent in the area is familiar to you: the Essenes. These are the people whose brothers in Palestine wrote out what are now called the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were largely an ascetic group.

At the same time, the beginnings of the Gnostic heresy are arising. One version, the Docetic, held that Jesus did not have a real, physical body. His body was just an appearance; the word they used for this was “icon.” It is very much parallel to the icon in use for Microsoft Windows system. The other version, the Cerinthian, separated Christ from Jesus. Christ was some sort of spiritual being who came to Jesus at his baptism and left as he was dying on the cross. Both of these stem from the Greek philosophical position that the flesh is inherently evil.

In addition to these versions, we had several other religions running around the place. There was a very secretive cult named Mithraism, which is very typical of what is called a mystery religion. Most of its tenets are unknown to us today; its major appeal was that if you joined, you were in on the secret. There was also a religion based on a fertility goddess, Cybele.  These two particular religions were strong in the area around Colossae. Interestingly, the one based on Cybele has recently been revived — in the form of a cult that holds certain sexual practices known as female domination as being necessary to the conduct of marriage. Apparently, since the priests of Cybele castrated themselves to become such, they felt this particular form of ancient religion was most suitable for their purposes. Further investigation into these two religions I leave to the reader – with caution.

Paul’s Prayer

Colossians 1:1-8 NASB  Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  (2)  To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.  (3)  We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,  (4)  since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;  (5)  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel  (6)  which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;  (7)  just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,  (8)  and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

 

There is a puzzle in the opening remarks of this letter. Do you see the phrase, “Saints and faithful brethren?” Why does Paul make this distinction? The best answer I’ve been able to determine is this: it is a poetic repetition. The word “Saints” denotes our relationship with God; the phrase “faithful brethren” denotes our relationship with each other.

We Give Thanks

Paul often begins his prayers with thanksgiving — a practice which has its merits. There are three things for which he is thankful:

·         First, for their faith in Christ Jesus. It is important to remember that these people have never met Jesus in the flesh, and apparently have never even talked to an apostle in the flesh. In that sense, they are much closer to us than the people in Ephesus, to whom Paul preached. When you consider the other religious options around, you can see that these people resemble us in a great number of ways.

·         Second, for their love for the saints. This should not be misinterpreted in the Catholic sense, as that type of Saint has yet to arise. Rather, it means that they perform the ordinary acts of Christian hospitality and charity towards one another. This, we are told, is how the world will know that we are Christians: by our love.

·         Finally, for their hope. This seems a little vague to us, but in the early church and had only one real meaning. That meeting was the hope of the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ. This is something that has disappeared from the preaching in the author’s home church lately. We may assume, however, that God Almighty has not changed his mind on the subject.

The Gospel

Paul incidentally describes the gospel in his prayer. He begins by referring to it as the “word of truth.” This is something which is quite important to the Colossians, considering the vast mix of religions that are around them. They need the reassurance that they have selected the right one, that they are selected the one that is true. Paul gives them two pieces of evidence for this:

·         The first is the fruit that the gospel is bearing within the Colossians themselves. The argument is simple: take a look at what’s happening in your own life, since you accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you know that this is something you didn’t do yourself — and that what you believe is in fact the real truth. In short, look at the evidence.

·         The second is the gospel bearing fruit and increasing in the world around them. What does this mean? It means that the other people in Colossae are examining this message of the gospel and finding it superior to the mystery religions and strange combinations of ideas. This is not surprising; for the most part those other religions are man-made. Christianity explicitly invites the nonbeliever to examine the roots and foundations of the faith. Reason is not the enemy of faith, but the ally.

Epaphras

Paul now puts in a word for the local boy. He wants them to be assured that what they heard from Epaphras is the same thing they would’ve heard from Paul. Paul’s reputation is, of course much greater; therefore it is appropriate for him to certify the preacher they have locally. He makes three points:

·         Epaphras is Paul’s beloved fellow bondservant. Break that down with me. He is “beloved” — not just somebody that’s tolerated. Paul knows the man personally and loves. He is also Paul’s “fellow bondservant.” In other words, he’s doing the same work as Paul — and with the same attitude. That attitude is that he is not someone high and mighty in the church (the one apostle, if anyone, could make that claim) but rather a servant of Christ to the point of being a slave.

·         Epaphras is faithful on behalf of Paul and those who are carrying the gospel. In other words, Epaphras is not inventing some extra things or leaving things out, but rather he is preaching the entire truth to the people of Colossae.

·         Just in case you folks thought you could relax now, and rest upon your reputation, Paul now reminds him that Epaphras bragged on them. They now have a reputation to live up to.

For This Reason

Colossians 1:9-14 NASB  For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  (10)  so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;  (11)  strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously  (12)  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.  (13)  For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,  (14)  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

For this reason? What is this reason for which Paul prays for the Colossians? Let me summarize it in the three words used before: faith, hope and love. These three things, Paul assured the Corinthians, are the things that abide. They also move Paul to pray for those he has never met. We may now examine his prayers.

Prayer: Filled with Knowledge

The word used for knowledge here is epignosis — meaning a full and complete knowledge. There are three things he wants them to have knowledge of:

·         The first is God’s will. As he is writing to a large group, we may assume that this implies the will of God which should be known by each and every Christian.

·         The second is for spiritual wisdom. It is a curious phrasing in the Greek, and sound strange to modern ears. We are not much acquainted with wisdom as a desirable thing, and spiritual wisdom seems to be almost a contradiction in terms. Our emphasis today on the idea that things spiritual are things emotional is the cause of this. They would’ve seen no contradiction between wisdom (an intellectual activity) and things spiritual, which did not to them imply purely emotional.

·         The third is for understanding. The Greek word for this means something like to mentally put it all together. The concept here is one of understanding the big picture as well as the tiny details.

Prayer: Walk

Of course, prayer does you no good unless you attempt to put it into practice. You have to “walk the talk,” as the old phrase goes. Interestingly, Paul starts out which is something almost self defining. He tells you to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. It’s as if he is saying that you should know how to do this; it should be obvious. You’re there to please him, and not just partially. So what is it that God is looking for?

·         The first thing is that you are bearing fruit. If you have the Holy Spirit in your life, your life should be different than it was before. All those fruits of the spirit should be showing up in your life.

·         Next, you should have increasing knowledge of the faith. This is the reason that you are encouraged to read the Bible daily. Those who have made a practice of this over many years will understand the phenomenon. You come across a passage that you’ve read ten or twenty times before and suddenly discover some new meaning. You just weren’t ready for it last year, but now is the time. If this doesn’t happen to you, perhaps you should be examined your reading program. Or start one.

·         Finally, your faith should be strengthened as you go. Paul gives us two descriptions of this strengthening faith.

o   First, he talks about attaining all steadfastness and patience. Those who believe that faith is an emotional experience will have some difficulty with this. They would view it differently. They would view that this is the normal result of increasing faith. Faith is not something that floats up and down with the minute, but his calm and steady.

o   Next, he says that this is something that happens joyously. Paul was never an advocate of sour persimmon faith. The life of faith is the life of triumph; the life of triumph is the life of joy.

Prayer: Enabled

There is a bit of a problem in verse twelve. It appears that we are to give thanks to God the father now that we are qualified to be saints. In the original language, it is clear that this is not something that we did — but rather something that God did for us. That is something for which we should give thanks.

It seems like Paul has just slipped this into the stream of thought, so we might want to consider this just a bit more carefully. The picture he’s drawing for you here is that before we met Christ we were in the domain of darkness. It might’ve been one of those mystery religions, or some strange combination of Judaism and who knows what else. But the truth is we were stumbling around in the darkness, trying to figure out what all those things were that we were bumping into. One of the characteristics of many other religions is the explanation that there is no explanation. Things just happen. You’re supposed to walk around in the dark. As a result, it’s easy to get let down a path which leads to sin and destruction — because you have no light to tell you where the path is going.

But that’s not us. We have been transferred — military veterans will think of this is a permanent change of station — to the kingdom of Christ. Things were vague before; now they are clear. Methods seem to be strange formulas and incantations; now we talk to God. The lights are on; we know where were going. Not only that; we have been redeemed by the forgiveness of sins. We have been set right with God; indeed, let us give thanks.

 Home     Next