The ancient city of Colosse was situated 100 miles east of Ephesus in Phrygia on the southern bank of the river Lycus (in modern Turkey), and its fertile valley produced large crops of figs and olives.
Later the city declined in importance so that in Roman times it had become a "small town" (and had been surpassed by Laodicea and Hierapolis which were also in the Lycus valley). By the time Paul wrote to the Christians living at Colosse the commercial and social importance of the town was already on the wane.
It is important to understand context and culture of Scripture. We need to be faithful in research and study, and do our best to hear the message through the ears of the original audience to avoid taking passages out of context and using them as clobbering tools.
AUTHOR & PROVENANCE
The Colossian letter makes the explicit claim to be from the hand of Paul. In 1:1 the text says, “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God….” The writer again refers to himself in 1:23 as “Paul,” a “servant of the gospel.”
Both Rome and Ephesus are possible candidates for the provenance of Colossians, Rome appears a slightly better option. If the Roman imprisonment is correct, the letter was probably written ca. AD 59-61. If the Ephesian imprisonment is correct, then a few years earlier in the mid fifties is probably correct.
MAIN THEME OF THE BOOK
Paul’s purpose is to refute the Colossian philosophies that were seeking to infiltrate the church. To accomplish this goal, he exalts Christ as the very image of God (1:15), the Creator (1:16), the pre-existent sustainer of all things (1:17), the head of the church (1:18), the first to be resurrected (1:18), the fullness of deity in bodily form (1:19; 2:9) and the reconciler (1:20–22). The theme of Colossians is the complete adequacy of Christ as contrasted with the emptiness of mere human philosophy.
Paul’s introductory comments are ones of thanksgiving and prayer for the believers at Colosse. Paul is thankful for the Colossians faith in Christ, evidenced by their love for the saints. A faith and love that has sprung up because of hope in the Gospel of Jesus.
We do not know much about Epaphras other than he was in all probability the founder of this church in Colosse (in Philemon he was also referred to as a fellow-prisoner with Paul).
What we do know about him is, that just like the people in Colosse, he was a man of faithfulness, love and hope. His life was a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Discussion 1: Have a look at Epaphras in Colossians – God has put these people in our lives. And he has also called us to be the ‘Epaphras’ in the lives of our community and those we come in contact with. Discuss.
THE GOSPEL THAT IS BEARING FRUIT AND GROWING ALL OVER THE WORLD (vs. 6)
To grasp what Paul is writing about we really have to understand what the Gospel is – it is the work of Christ. It means that because of what He has done, we now have the reality of Immanuel – God with us. He is not a God who is distant – but He has come to a people lost to make Himself known, and so they can believe and receive and live the reality of Christ with us.
Paul is saying that the Gospel is growing because there are faithful witnesses like Epaphras who are making Him known, and this results in people’s acknowledgement of Him, so there is fruit. The Gospel is one of unfathomable love, forgiveness and grace – therefore the fruit of this Gospel cannot be something else.
Discussion 2: Discuss what the Gospel is and how we embody its message.
KEY WORDS OF KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING
The whole prayer of Paul has foundations to the opening phrase ‘asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will’. This knowledge is the basis of both holiness (vs. 10) and thanksgiving (vs.12). It is more than just a simple insight into how God wants his people to behave – but it is an understanding of God’s whole saving purpose in Christ – and therefore a knowledge of God himself. The Redeeming God.
The more knowledge and understanding we have the greater our responsibility to obedience. This is discipleship language, Paul is saying, so that when we do this we live a life worthy of Christ.
“Understanding will fuel holiness; holiness will deepen understanding”
- N.T. Wright
Discussion 3: Discuss how knowledge should lead us to greater obedience, and what happens when it doesn’t?
Paul also tells his audience to be thankful – theology should never leave us with just exploration of God’s character and action, but should result in gratitude and love and obedience.
Our faith should always result in thankfulness – not bitterness, not anger, not resentment. Our faith is growing when it bears fruit of thankfulness.
The Exodus narrative resonates throughout Paul’s writing – and here to this small, fragile, faith-filled group of believers in Colosse he hints again towards it. A New Exodus, and a New Redeemer. One who set them free from the oppression of sin and darkness – who once and for all ensured their salvation – that no matter what forces come against them, no matter what the journey holds, no matter how perilious the desert – the news is of Immanuel – with you is God. Recount that moment – remember it.
How well we would do if we, on a regular basis, would reflect on our journey and remember Who He is in our lives (Lord) and what He has brought us out of (Redeemer).
Discussion 4: Discuss your journey and why you are thankful to God.
Discussion Questions are within the notes.