Paul's Letter to the Colossians

This short letter was written to encourage the Christians in Colossae. Unlike most of Paul's letter, this one is addressed to people whom Paul himself has never visited. (See 2:1.) Christ is praised especially as the supreme authority in the cosmos. The theological points are very similar to the letter to the Ephesians; even the order of argument is similar. The letter to the Colossians differs in purpose, being less a teaching tool and more an encouragement.

(Chapter 1) A Brief Spiritual History


Paul and Timothy write to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ and send them God's greetings.


The church at Colossae has an admirable history which mirrors the spread of the good news throughout the world. Paul reminds the people about this past, then points them to a still more glorious future. For Paul, history is not only the past but the future and eternity as well.


This future is based in God's action for us, in Christ.


Christ is the beginning of all things, the unity of all things, the image of God, the means by whom the whole cosmos is set at peace with God. Christ is both the origin of all good and the culmination of that glorious future of which Paul has already written. This mystic poem is a powerful affirmation of Christ's divinity.


The Christians in Colossae are themselves part of that great reconciliation. This is the good news for the Colossians and for all creation. (Paul does not say merely all people but, in keeping with the previous verses, he says every creature under heaven – all of creation.)


Paul himself is working for this final triumph. In his earthly body, living in time, Paul shares the suffering which Christ still endures. Paul also shares in the energy and dynamism of Christ in this temporal life. In eternity, Paul and all Christians share with Christ in the glory of God.

(Notice Paul's rhetoric technique: When speaking of suffering and struggle, Paul uses the first person. This allows those who are suffering to identify with him and to take courage from his experience. But when Paul names the hidden purpose of God, he returns to the second person (which he used in verse 21-23). This directs his readers' attention more emphatically to the positive assurance, in contrast to Paul's own temporal difficulties.)

(Chapter 2) The Full Wealth of Understanding


Paul has written so much about his own part in the spiritual history because knowledge of his efforts will help his readers gain what is promised to them, the full wealth of understanding. Paul emphasizes three points in this transitional section: firmness, unity, and full development.

2:6-14 The Liberating Authority of Christ


If Christ is truly Lord, we need to make him the center and foundation of our lives.


No other authority is of any account. Every other teaching is derivative, but in Christ lives the fullness of divinity. Paul is echoing the affirmation of Christ's divinity in 1:15-20, and now places this diviinity within the physical humanity which Christ has taken on. We also are able to share in this full life.


In joining ourselves with Christ, God cut us free from the limitation of the animal body. We were baptized into the death of Christ – but we are also raised into new life in Christ. We owed an unpayable debt for our failed obedience – but God destroyed the ledger book.

2:15-23 Walking Away From Petty Rules


Christ is supreme over all rulers and authorities. For these reasons we do not need to pay any attention to human ideas of religious duty. Those rules are mere shadows and we have the real thing. Full growth comes only in union with Christ.


Why do we then follow rules about things which are no longer important to us? Perhaps we have been fooled by the illusion of wisdom which is attached to them.

Chapter 3-4:1 Living Under Christ's Lordship


Our new, true life is with Christ. That is where our thoughts and desires should be focused.


Since the earthly life is dead, the behavior that went with it should die also. Take off the obsolete person like old clothes and replace it with the new. This new person is renewed constantly to become more and more like God. As this happens, all come closer to each other, united in Christ.


The new "clothes" identify us as God's people. They show us as gentle and tolerant, bound together in a loving unity. This is not advice for solitary believers but for a community of people who accomodate each other, reach decisions together, and teach each other. They praise God together. Their unity is not just social, but a representation of the underlying unity in Christ.


Such a vision of our life together has direct practical consequences on our daily living. The old order of human authority is replaced by a new order of mutuality. Wives, children, and slaves are still submissive and obedient, but for a new reason: to please God. And husbands, parents, and masters (lords) may no longer lord it over others, but must moderate their behavior out of respect for their wives, children, and slaves. All of us serve our true master, Christ, and God judges everyone by the same standard. Paul doesn't call for restructuring society but for restructing our relationships in light of a clearer knowledge of our relationship with God.

4:2-18 Final Words


Just as Paul has joined Epaphras in praying for the Colossians and so Hs become a part of their journey toward Christ's glory (1:24-29), the people in Colossae can share in Paul's work of preaching.


The Colossians also have their own work of evangelism as they walk among their non-Christian neighbors and family. Paul advises them to be prepared and use the time wisely. This work is another way in which the lives of the Colossians can be bound more closely with the lives of other Christians.


Paul uses the end of his letter to convey news and greetings, as he often does. The greetings are more extensive than is often the case, perhaps because of the personal ties of Epaphras and Onesimus and perhaps also because of the people in Laodicea.


Paul gives explicit instructions to share this letter with nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis, which is unusual. Along with the mention of both Onesimus and Archippus (verses 9 and 17) this suggests some relationship to the letter to Philemon. Perhaps Paul intended to include the Colossian church in helping Philemon decide what to do with Onesimus.


Finally, Paul signs the letter he has dictated.

May 1993
September 2002

Pivot Rock Ensign