Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch
Pauline Epistles III
Dr Mike Rogers
World Revival School of Ministry
2. Colossians 3
2.1. Colossians 3:1-4
2.2. Colossians 3:5-14
2.3. Colossians 3:15-17
2.4. Colossians 3:18-4:1
3. Colossians 4
3.1. Colossians 4:2-6
3.2. Colossians 4:7-18
It was about 60 A.D. when Paul was imprisoned in Rome (see Acts 28), from where it is assumed that he wrote the letters to the Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians. Epaphras, Paul’s co-worker and probably student in his school at Ephesus, had started churches in the Lycus Valley, which included the three major towns Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae. While the first two were flourishing, Colossae’s golden age had long passed and was nothing more than a small town any more. Epaphras probably started the church in Colossae during Paul’s stay in Ephesus (53-56), and its lifespan might have been short due to the big earthquake of 60/61. Epaphras was from Colossae, as was Philemon who Paul wrote a letter, shortly after writing to the Colossian church. While we know of a large number of Jews in the region, Paul addresses a primarily Gentile congregation. It is noteworthy that the letter to the Colossians contains hardly any reference to the Old Testament. Paul addresses false teachings that had appeared in the church, after having been informed by Epaphras who might have asked him for advice. It is probably early forms of Gnostic ideas that Paul argues against by first laying down a well-defined Christology and then dealing with issues of genuine spirituality.
This paper focuses on the latter by commenting on the last two chapters of Colossians.
2. Colossians 3
To counter the false teachings at Colossae, and all the regulations the false teachers had tried to introduce, Paul had just expounded on Christ the Lord, His death and resurrection, to give them a right perspective. In chapter 3, “after a statement of principle, the perspective from which all their ethical conduct should flow (3:1-4), there follows a sequence of general guidelines and practical exhortations, relating also to worship (3:5-17), then some specific household rules (3:18-4:1)” (Dunn 1996:199).
2.1. Colossians 3:1-4
Paul starts this chapter by picking up the previous theme of Christ’s resurrection (see 2:12), and by continuing to focus on Christ Himself. Jesus now sat at the right hand of the Father, which is an image for power. Dunn (1996:204) states: “The right (hand) of God … was a way of expressing strength, powerful protection, and favor in Hebrew poetry … and to sit at the king’s right was a sign of special recognition and authorization.” Paul encourages the Colossians to set their minds on those things, and reiterates that point in the second verse, using the present tense in the sense of “keep your minds fixed”. A few verses earlier he had discussed the Colossians’ confusion about “things above” and their preoccupation with angels, which led to a “distorted concern for earthly things” (Wall 1993:134). He is not calling us to deny “earthly things”, but to have the right perspective and our values on the right things. Having died and been raised, they were now hidden in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. The word hidden is in the perfect passive, meaning that “your life has been hidden and stays that way” (Martin 1993:136). The result is found in verse 4, the only eschatological reference in Colossians. As surely as Christ was coming back in glory, so also the believers with Him.
2.2. Colossians 3:5-14
Paul now gives two lists of examples of the earthly nature, before listing the positive qualities to strive after, and they all affect relationships. Martin (1993:146) states: “The negative ones spoil relationships, and the positive ones enable community. The focus is not on private piety, but on the community of faith in which new life in Christ is experienced and expressed.”
Having died and been raised with Christ, they now had to put off the old self, and put on the new (v. 10). Paul specifically tells them, what kind of behavior they have to put to death, now that they were alive in Christ. It is interesting that the literal translation of v. 5 would be to put to death “the limbs that are upon the earth,” especially in light of the sins listed which for the most part involve sexual organs. Paul had already addressed an early form of the Gnostic belief that the body (and the earth) was bad (see 2:23), so that what is done to/with the body is of no significance. However, Paul exhorts them to have a heavenly perspective, reminding them of God's coming judgment (v. 6). While verse 6 is in the future tense, v. 7 uses the aorist tense, indicating that “a real change has taken place in the past”(Wall 1993:138), now they did not walk in those ways anymore. Wall (1993:139) states: “Colossian believers are tempted to submit to rules of self-denial as a substitute for devotion to Christ, and sexual perversion is a symptom if not a result of this heresy.” In verse 8, Paul gives them a strong command to get rid of the works of the flesh, now focusing on sins that destroy relationships in terms of attitude rather than action. After his second list of sins, he picks out the one of lying to mention by itself. Was lying prevalent in Colossae, maybe due to the false teachers? Whatever the reason, they were now a new creation and supposed to be transformed into God's image daily. All borders are gone – Jews as well as Gentiles (Greek believers) made up one body; foreigners (barbarian), the least civilized (Scythian), slaves, probably all found in the Colossian church, all one body. It is noteworthy that Paul does not include “male or female” in this list (which probably has no significance contrary to what some claim).
After having listed the “negative” sides, Paul now lists the positive virtues to be pursued. He begins “with individual qualities (3:12), moved to interpersonal qualities (3:13), and concluded with one indispensable quality (3:14)” (Melick 1991:299), which is love. There might have been grievances and dissension because of the false teachers, and Paul encourages them to bear with each other and forgive, because of what the Lord had done for them. The one thing needed, as Paul always emphasizes, was love. It is interesting, however, that the word agape here is preceded by the definite articles, which means, that Paul might have had a specific expression of love in mind.
2.3. Colossians 3:15-17
The Jewish concept of peace – shalom – includes a lot more than Greek minds think. They now weren’t only reconciled to God, but had peace, prosperity, well-being, health in Him, and Paul reminded them to be thankful for it. The result of that peace was unity and harmony with other members of the body, expressed by teaching, exhortation and worship in their assembly. Paul concludes this paragraph with a third admonishment to be thankful, which is the climax: giving thanks to God the Father through him (= Jesus). Everything they did was to be done in that same spirit of v. 16 – an attitude that is “thoroughly Jewish” (Dunn 1996:240). And, they were to do it in the name of the Lord – a phrase that is often found in the Tanakh. Jesus was the Lord, the Messiah, in whose name to be thankful, which results in deeds.
2.4. Colossians 3:18-4:1
Paul continues by laying down a household code to be followed – some of the things to be done in gratitude to the Lord. He addresses different groups of people and gives them behavioral commands. “The earliest churches were all ‘house churches’ … so that the model of the well-run household provided precedent for the well-run church” (Dunn 1996:245). Household codes like the one here were not uncommon in classical literature; yet Paul’s “rules for living” were more “radical” than any other. Unfortunately we have no indication of what the Colossians’ household code looked like at the time of Paul’s writing. Paul emphasizes over and over again that all these rules had to be put into practice in/for the Lord. Let’s focus on that rather than the controversy over what was a rule for the culture of Paul’s day and which ones transcend culture and time.
Paul addresses three pairs of people, in order of importance – wives and husbands, children and fathers, and slaves and masters, always putting the weaker part first, who is being told to submit/obey. Did the Colossian situation require Paul to lay down these rules?
While verse 18 is often understood negatively in our culture, Martin (1993:183) makes the significant statement that in this passage, “wives, who had few if any rights in the male-dominated social order of that time, are addressed as free, responsible persons. It is not up to the husbands to keep their wives in line!” On the contrary, husbands are given a strong command to love their wives with God's love (agape) and not treat them harshly. The latter includes the meanings of “becoming bitter, resentful, and incensed, and expressing these feelings in hurtful jabs” (ibidem).
Next Paul addresses children and their parents (here translated fathers, but is also means parents). While children (probably addressing those still living with their parents) are being told to obey their parents, parents are only told what not to do. Paul here raises the status of children, as he had just done with wives.
Finally, he addresses slaves – a remarkable move. Again, Paul is trying to raise the slaves’ status, especially those who now were fellow-believers, and he is pointing out their value to their masters, so that they will be treated rightly, being accountable to the Lord.
3. Colossians 4
3.1. Colossians 4:2-6
For the seventh time in this letter Paul admonishes the Colossians to be thankful – this time in the context of prayer. But it is more than simply prayer; the Greek verb translated devote yourselves would better be translated “to be courageously persistent … to hold fast and not let go” (MacArthur 1992:179). And Paul continues by asking them to pray for him as well as Timothy and Epaphras, so they are able to fulfill their calling. He is not asking for prayer to be released from prison, or for the lost to be saved, but that he will be empowered to speak the word of God. Then he turns it around and gives the Colossians advice on how to act, how to walk in the Spirit. He uses the term outsiders to refer to unbelievers, who they should be able to answer at any time – with wisdom and graciousness (which is a better translation than grace).
3.2. Colossians 4:7-18
The last 12 verse of the letter contain greetings as well as a closing salutation. Tychicus is mentioned first as the one who will hand over the letter and tell them all the news about Paul. We know that Tychicus comes from the province of Asia (Acts 20:4) and joined Paul on his third journey. He was with him in Greece and went ahead of him to Troas. Tychicus was sent to Ephesus by Paul (2.Tim 4:12), and maybe also to Crete (Ti 3:12). Now Paul was not only sending him to inform them about current events, but also to encourage them. But he was not coming alone; his companion was Onesimus – who is probably identical with the Onesimus in the letter to Philemon (who also lived in Colossae). Since this letter was probably written shortly after Philemon, it is very probable that Onesimus was now returning to his master, after Paul’s plea to accept him back.
The following five verses (10-14) include six people – three Jews and three Gentiles – five of which are also mentioned in the letter to Philemon. Aristarchus is Paul’s fellow prisoner who also sends his greetings. He was one of Paul’s travel companions, a native of Thessalonica. Mark is probably the same person as John Mark in Acts. It seems that they knew Barnabas, whose cousin he was. We do not know, whether Mark ever made it to Colossae or not.
Jesus Justus is only ever mentioned here in verse 11, and we do not know any more about him. These men were close to Paul and a comfort to him.
Next Paul continues with his Gentile co-workers: Epaphras, who had brought the gospel to the Lycus Valley, and was working hard for the church and people in Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis. From Acts, we know that Luke was traveling with Paul at times, and Paul refers to him here as doctor – maybe attending to him in that capacity. The third Gentile mentioned is Demas, but nothing more is said about him in this place. Paul also mentions him in Philemon, and we find out from 2.Timothy 4:10 that he later deserted Paul.
Interestingly, Timothy, who’s included in the salutation in 1:1, is not mentioned in the closing verses of the letter.
Before Paul closes, he asks the church in Laodicea to be greeted and mentions a letter written to the Laodiceans he wants the Colossians to read. There has been much speculation about that letter, one of which suggesting the letter to Philemon to be that letter. However, Philemon was most probably a resident of Colossae rather than Laodicea. We therefore have no evidence of that letter remaining to this day.
Before closing, Paul inserts one more personal remark addressed to one person, Archippus. Archippus is also mentioned in Philemon, a member of the church in Colossae. It is curious that Paul would insert this direct address at that point and we can only speculate about the reasons, or the situation his words address.
Paul concludes his letter by affirming that he himself wrote it, rather than a scribe. It is amazing how many theologians, who believe this letter to be the true Word of God, question Paul’s authorship, in spite of this clear statement.
After reminding them again of his chains (maybe because the chains had distorted his handwriting), he closes with the customary Gentile greeting grace.
Paul addressed the believers in Colossae – a church his student Epaphras had started – because of false teachers that were encouraging angel worship and early Gnostic ideas that led to sexual sins, as well as sins committed by the tongue. Paul spends a lot of time in his letter establishing the work of Christ, his death and resurrection – it is this Christology that has made this letter so prominent. And he goes on to show the consequences for the Colossian believers individually as well as corporately. They had died with Christ and were raised with Him, so they should live accordingly and put off the old self, taking on the new. He gives them a Christian household code, and encourages them to be persistent in prayer, and to be witnesses to outsiders.
We do not know how the Colossian church, and the churches in the Lycus Valley, received Paul’s letter and admonitions. Were their eyes opened to the heresies the false teachers were spreading in their churches? Did they take actions? Did they put to death their old nature to live a pure life, in word and deed? Only in eternity will we find the answers to these questions. Until then, let’s heed Paul’s words and devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (4:2).
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Dunn, James D. G., The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. A Commentary on the Greek Text, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI 1996
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Hübner, Hans, An Philemon, An die Kolosser, An die Epheser. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen 1997
MacArthur, John, Colossians & Philemon. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Moody Bible Institute: Chicago, IL 1992
Martin, Ernest D., Colossians Philemon. Believers Church Bible Commentary, Herald Press: Scottdale, PA 1993
Martin, Ralph P., Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press: Atlanta, GA 1991
Melick, Richard R., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. The New American Commentary, Broadman Press: Nashville, TN 1991
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