13th June 2018

Colossians: Week 1 (Wednesday, June 13 2018)

 

Paul wrote this letter. He was in prison when he wrote it (Colossians 4:3). He was probably in the city called Rome (Acts 28:16, 30-31). If he was, he wrote it about 60 years after Jesus’ birth.

The people who received this letter

Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in the city called Colossae. It was 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of the city called Ephesus. It was in the valley of the river Lycus. Today this area is part of the country that is called Turkey. The main roads for trade went past Colossae. It was a large and wealthy city for many centuries. But Laodicea (16 kilometres or 10 miles away) and Hierapolis (21 kilometres or 16 miles away) grew to be larger and more important cities. When Paul wrote this letter, Colossae had become a small town. It was no longer very important.

Epaphras was a man who lived in Colossae (1:7; 4:12-13). There he *preached the good news about Jesus. The people who became Christians formed the church at Colossae. Most of them were *Gentiles.

Why Paul wrote this letter

Epaphras visited Paul in prison and told Paul about the young church that was at Colossae. The Christians who lived there had begun to listen to false teachers. Paul was worried that the Christians would turn away from the true *gospel. Even today many false teachers do not seem to deny the *gospel message. Instead, they slightly change it. Often they teach extra things or add rules to the *gospel. Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae to remind them about Jesus Christ and about his true message. Paul emphasised that Christ is superior. Paul wrote more about Christ in this letter than in any other of his letters. He reminded the Christians that their past life had gone. Christ was now their life. Christ had made them free from rules and evil powers. Paul then went on to teach the Christians how to live this new life.

 

Chapter 1

Greeting

v1 I am Paul. God has chosen me to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. Our brother Timothy is here with me.

v2 I am writing to God’s holy people who live in the city that is called Colossae. You are our brothers and sisters because you believe and trust Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace.

 

Paul began his letter in the way that was usual in those days. He gave three details:

·          Who wrote the letter

·          To whom he sent the letter

·          A short greeting

Paul began most of his letters in this way.

Verse 1 Paul described himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. An apostle is a person whom God sends to lead Christians. An apostle also teaches about Jesus. A man does not decide to be an apostle. God chooses him. In Acts 22:1-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Paul described how God chose him. So, Paul wrote this letter with God’s authority.

Timothy was with Paul when Paul wrote this letter. Timothy had travelled and worked with Paul for several years. Paul wrote to him a few years after he had written this letter. The letters that he wrote to him are 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. When a person becomes a Christian, God becomes his or her Father. Christians may belong to different physical families. But all Christians are brothers and sisters in God’s family. This was true for Timothy, Paul and the Christians at Colossae (verse 2). It is true for all Christians today.

Verse 2 ‘God’s holy people’ refers to the Christians who lived in Colossae. Some Bibles translate this phrase as ‘saints’. The Greek words for ‘holy’ and ‘saints’ are similar. Part of the meaning of both these words is ‘to separate’. It means that Christians have left their old life of sin. They belong to God. They now serve God and worship him. In this letter, Paul emphasised what Jesus Christ had done for Christians. Paul often used the phrase ‘in Christ’. It means that Christ has joined Christians with himself. He gives them spiritual life. They belong to Christ.

Grace is a gift that God gives. We do not deserve it and we cannot earn it. ‘Grace’ means that God the Father is kind and generous to his children. God helps and protects people. God’s grace comes to people by means of Jesus. He gives his people everything that they need for their Christian life.

‘Peace’. In the Hebrew language this word is ‘shalom’. It is a traditional blessing in the *Old Testament (Numbers 6:24-26), and among Jewish people today. ‘Peace’ is not just the opposite of war or noise. Peace means that God gives a person a calm spirit. This affects every part of a person’s life and relationships. Nobody can have God’s peace without his grace.

 

Paul thanks God

v3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. v4 People have told us that you believe and trust Christ Jesus. They have also told us that you love all God’s people. v5 You do this because of what you have in heaven. And you know that God is keeping it safe for you. You learned about this when you heard the true message about the gospel. v6 This good news has come to you. And it is going into all areas in the world. The gospel is spreading and it produces fruit. It has been doing this among you since the time that you heard it. Then you understood about the true grace of God. v7 Epaphras taught you the truth. He works with us and we love him. And he is a loyal servant of Christ. Epaphras works on our behalf. v8 He told us that the Holy Spirit has helped you to love other people so much.

 

Verse 3 In most of Paul’s letters he thanked God for the people who read his letters. He prayed for all the churches that he had visited. He prayed for the churches that he had heard about. And he prayed for the churches that he wrote to. The word ‘we’ included Timothy. It may have included other Christians who were with Paul. Paul always prayed to God the Father.

‘Lord Jesus Christ’ is the full title of Jesus. ‘Lord’ means that he has complete authority. He is head over everything. ‘Jesus’ is his human name. The name Jesus means ‘God is the one who saves’. Jesus saves people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). ‘Christ’ is a Greek word. It means the same as the Hebrew word Messiah. This means ‘the one whom God has anointed’. To ‘anoint’ means to mark a person in a special way. They often marked the person with oil. It is a sign. It shows that God has chosen that person for some special service. God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). In the Old Testament, God promised to send the Messiah to save his people. However, most of the Jews did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

Verse 4 Epaphras (verses 7-8) had told Paul about the Christians who were at Colossae. This may mean that Paul had not visited the church himself. Some people just believe facts about Jesus. But this does not change the way that they behave. The Colossians believed and trusted Jesus. The Bible calls this ‘faith’. The result was that they loved other Christians. Love is more than a nice emotion. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul described what love is. Epaphras must have seen these qualities in the Christians at Colossae.

Verse 5 Epaphras had taught the Colossians the true message of the gospel (verse 7). The ‘gospel’ is the good news about Jesus Christ, which is for everyone. God can forgive people when they sin. He can forgive them because of what Jesus Christ did. Jesus lived a perfect life. He died and then he became alive again. This is the message of the true gospel. But the Christians at Colossae had started to believe false teachers. So Paul wrote to remind the Christians about the true message of the gospel.

People believe Jesus and trust him. Then they become alive in their spirit. This happens because the Holy Spirit lives in them. When they die, only their physical body dies. Their spirit will live for ever with God. One day Jesus will return to earth (Acts 1:9-11). He will take all the Christians to live with him (John 14:1-4). The Bible promises that Christians will have many good things when they die. For example:

·          They will be with Jesus in his glory (Colossians 3:4).

·          They will be like Jesus (John 3:2).

·          He will give them a new body for their new life, which will be in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:39-45).

·          He will reward them for what they have done on earth (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

·          They will not die again. And they will not be sad or have any pain (Revelation 21:4).

God keeps these good things safe in heaven for Christians (see also 1 Peter 1:3-5). Nobody who is on earth can steal these future blessings. God always does what he promises. Epaphras taught the Christians at Colossae about the future. As a result, they trusted Jesus Christ and loved other Christians.

Verse 6 In Acts 1:8, Jesus told his *disciples that they would take the message of the gospel everywhere in the world. Paul did not mean that this had actually happened yet. He meant that people had taken the good news to many places. Those places were far away from *Israel. Today people are still taking the good news about Jesus to every country in the world. In this verse, ‘the grace of God’ means the whole message of the gospel. The phrase ‘the gospel is spreading’ means that more people were becoming Christians. Then these people changed the way that they behaved. They lived good lives. They loved other Christians. This is how the gospel ‘produces fruit’.

Verses 7-8 Paul could not visit every place himself. He had other people who worked with him. Epaphras was one of those people. He came from Colossae (4:12). Paul called him a servant of Christ. False teachers had gone to Colossae. They were not teaching the truth. So, Paul emphasised that Epaphras had taught the people in Colossae the truth about Jesus. The proof of this was in the lives of the Christians at Colossae. The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes love (Galatians 5:22-23). The Christians could not love so much unless the Holy Spirit was helping them. Epaphras had visited Paul and told him about the Christians at Colossae. So, Paul wrote this letter to teach them more about Jesus Christ. Paul did not want them to believe the false teachers. Some of the false teachers had been *Jews. So, in this letter, Paul referred to Jesus as ‘Christ’. He emphasised that Jesus was the Messiah from God (see note on verse 3).

 

Paul prays for the Christians

v9 That is why we continue to pray for you. We started praying for you on the day that we heard about you. We have been praying that you will know God’s intention. We pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to understand God’s purpose in Jesus. v10 Then you will live the sort of life that pleases the Lord. You will produce evidence of this in all the good things that you do. And you will know God more and more. v11 God is powerful. We are asking him to make you strong with his great power. Then you will be patient and you will not give up. You will be happy v12 and you will thank God the Father. God has prepared many things for his holy people who live in the light. And God has made us able to receive them all. v13 God has rescued us from the power of darkness. He has brought us into the *kingdom of his dear Son. v14 His Son has forgiven our sins so that we can be free.

 

Verse 9 Paul had not met the Christians who lived at Colossae. But he greatly cared about them. This was part of his work as an apostle. In verses 3-8, Paul thanked God for what God had already done for those Christians. In verses 9-14, Paul asked God to do particular things for them in the future. This is a wonderful prayer. All church leaders can pray like this for the Christians that they lead.

The false teachers believed that they had special knowledge and wisdom. They taught people how to understand this secret wisdom. But the false teachers did not believe and trust the true God. The Christians had started to believe these teachers. Paul did not try to correct the false teachers. Instead, he reminded the Christians about God’s truth. Paul did this in several places in this letter. Paul prayed that the Christians would learn more and more about God. The Greek words mean ‘be full of knowledge’. But people cannot discover this knowledge by themselves. The Holy Spirit will teach them (Ephesians 1:17). God wants people to know him more and more. He wants people to know about his wonderful purpose in Jesus. And God wants everybody to hear the good news. He can forgive sins. A person who knows God learns wisdom from the Holy Spirit. James 3:13-18 describes wisdom that comes from God. And those verses compare it with wisdom that does not come from God.

Verse 10 Christians learn wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Then they learn to behave in the right way. They know what God wants them to do. People who really know Christ start to behave like Christ. In verse 6, Paul said, ‘the gospel is spreading. And it produces fruit’. He repeated that idea in this verse. Paul described the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. So, ‘fruit’ refers to the good way in which Christians live. And ‘spreading’ means that more and more people are learning to know God. And they are learning what God has done by Jesus. When people become Christians, they start to know God. They learn what pleases him. Then they do what pleases him. As they do this, they will know God even more. In John 14:15, Jesus said that if people love him, they will obey him. This is how Christians become mature. And it is how they live holy lives.

Verse 11 A Christian cannot please God unless God helps him. God gives Christians the power to live the right way (Philippians 4:13). God is powerful. For example, he made everything that is in the world and in the sky (Genesis 1:1-2:3). Jesus died on the cross. But God’s power made Jesus alive again (Ephesians 1:19-21). God gives his power to Christians. Then they can trust Jesus more each day. Christians may have troubles in their lives. Sometimes they suffer because they are Christians (1 Peter 4:12-16). People may insult them. But God wants Christians to be patient and kind. And he wants Christians to continue to trust Christ. When they have troubles in their lives, God’s power will help them. Paul knew God’s power because he had received it (1:29). When God’s people have his power, they will also be happy in their spirit.

Verse 12 Christians should always be grateful to God the Father. Verses 9-11 have described how God helps Christians each day. Verses 13-14 remind Christians about what God has done for them in the past. Verse 12 promises good things for the future. But nobody can receive any of these things without Christ. It is Christ who makes us holy. Then we are able to receive his gifts. This verse links with verse 5. The Colossians had accepted the true message of the gospel. Therefore, they could receive all that God had prepared for them. In the Bible, ‘light’ refers to God and to his deeds. It also describes the time when people know and trust God. God lives in light that is too bright to look at (1 Timothy 6:16). Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world.’ When we trust him, we shall have his light in our lives (John 8:12).

Verses 13-14 The opposite of light is darkness. In the Bible, ‘darkness’ refers to Satan and his deeds. It also describes the time when people do not know God. Satan has power over people’s lives until they trust Christ. ‘The kingdom’ means where Christ rules as king. It does not refer to a physical place. People understood about a physical ruler and his kingdom. So Paul used this idea to explain about God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom in verse 13. When people become Christians, Satan does not rule their lives any more. Satan is not their master. He cannot make them sin. He cannot make them do evil deeds. Instead, Christ rules in their lives. Christ is their new master. He has forgiven all their sins. Christ helps Christians to obey him. He helps them to live holy lives. Paul explained more about this in the rest of this letter and in Romans chapter 6.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were slaves in the foreign country of Egypt. Pharaoh, who was the ruler of Egypt, was cruel to the Israelites. So, God brought them out of Egypt and gave them the country called Canaan. They were not slaves any more. You can read about this in the books called Exodus, Deuteronomy and Joshua in the Old Testament. Paul often referred to this story. It helps Christians to understand what Jesus has done for them. He has freed them from Satan’s power. In verse 14, the phrase ‘has paid for’ means to make a slave free.

 

Christ is most important

v15 Nobody can see God. But Jesus Christ shows us exactly what God is like. Christ was God’s son before God created anything. And Christ has the place of most honour. v16 By Christ, God created everything that is in heaven and on the earth. He created all that we can see. He also created all the things that we cannot see. This means that he created the spiritual world with its powers and rulers and authorities. God created everything by Christ. And God made everything for Christ. v17 Christ existed before anything existed. And his power holds everything together. v18 He alone is the head of the body. This body is the church. The church’s life comes from Christ. He is the leader of all people who rise from death. Therefore, he has first place in everything. v19 God was pleased because all of himself was in Christ. v20 Christ died on the cross. God brought back everything to himself through Christ. This includes all things that are on earth. And all things that are in heaven. This is how God made peace. v21 You used to be far away from God. You thought and behaved in an evil way. So you were God’s enemies. v22 Because Christ died on a cross, you can now be friends with God. Christ takes you to God because you are now free from sin. God cannot blame you. He cannot say that you are guilty of sin. v23 This happens if you continue to believe and to trust Christ. You must know what you believe. And you must continue to believe it firmly. You heard the good news about the gospel. You expected God to do what he promised. So, do not move away from what you believe. People have preached the message of the gospel to everyone in the world. I, Paul, am preaching this good news too.

 

Verses 15-20 centre on Christ. Paul wrote this letter in the Greek language. He wrote these verses like a poem. But it does not look like a poem when it is in the English language. Many teachers of the Bible think that this was a song of praise. Paul showed the Christians at Colossae that Christ is better and more powerful than anyone or anything else. Paul wanted the Christians to understand more about Christ. This would guard them against the false teachers.

Verse 15 John 1:18 says that nobody has ever seen God the Father. God is spirit. We cannot see him because he does not have a physical body. But Jesus said, ‘If you have seen me you have seen God the Father’ (John 14:9). Jesus meant that he has the same nature and character as God. So, when we learn more about Jesus Christ, we learn more about God. Christ existed before God created anything. And Christ has the place of honour over all that God created. Paul emphasised this many times in his letter.

Verse 16 Christ existed before he had a physical body. God created all physical things by means of Christ. He also created everything that is not physical. This includes the angels and spirits. In this verse, heaven means the sky rather than the place where God lives. Christians believe that good angels serve God. But evil angels and spirits serve Satan, who is the chief evil spirit. The false teachers worshipped angels (2:18). They also believed that there were many ranks of angels and spirits. Paul lists 4 of these ranks. This does not mean that Paul agreed with the false teachers. But Paul was emphasising that Christ is greater than all the angels and spirits. God in Christ created them. So Christ has power over them. God created everything ‘for’ Christ. Therefore, Christ is the reason why everything exists.

Verse 17 Christ maintains the physical world. This is why it works well. The sun, moon and stars stay in their correct places in the sky. Every day has the same number of hours. People in the world live because Christ keeps them alive. Christ also maintains everything that is not physical. Without Christ, everything would break down. Christ is the ruler of everything that he created.

Verse 18 Paul now showed that Christ created the church. ‘The church’ means all the Christians in the world. ‘Church’ always refers to people. The ‘local church’ means all the Christians who live in a particular town or village. In the Bible, ‘church’ never refers to a building where Christians have meetings. Christ does not live in his physical body on earth any more. Christ lives in all Christians by means of his Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). Now, Christ lives on this earth in his church (the Christians). So he calls the church his ‘body’. To be ‘head’ means that Christ is the ruler of his church.

Christ died on the cross. He did not stay dead but he became alive again. We read about some people in the Bible who died. Then they became alive (for example 2 Kings 4:32-37; John 11:38-44). But all those people died again. Christ will never die again. He became permanently alive first, before anyone else did. He has a new body. The church began when Christ became alive again. And he has the most important rank in the church. In 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 35-58, Paul tells us that Christians will become permanently alive because of Christ. Then each Christian will receive a new body that will never die.

Verse 19 Jesus Christ was not just a man. Jesus Christ is God. God lived in Christ’s human body. And God continues to live in Christ for ever. God put everything that he has into Christ. And God put everything that he is into Christ. This includes all God’s character, his *nature and his power. Christ was full of God the Father (John 14:8-10). No part of God was missing from Christ’s life. Paul repeated this in Colossians 2:9.

Verses 20-22 Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman) sinned because they did not obey God. They could not be God’s friends any more. They became God’s enemies. So God sent them away. Since then, everyone has sinned. Sin separates men and women from God. Sin also affects the physical world that God created. Genesis 3 tells us about this. However, Christ’s death affects people. It also affects everything that he created. Romans 8:19-21 says that one day the physical world will be free from the effects of sin. 2 Peter 3:13 says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth in the future. There will be no sin there.

God is angry about sin (Ephesians 5:6). The result of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to this world. He lived a perfect life. He never sinned. Christ died on the cross for us. God did not punish us. Instead, God punished Christ because of our sins. Paul reminded the Christians at Colossae that Christ had made them clean from their sins. Christ had made them holy. God was not angry with the Christians. They were not God’s enemies. They were not separate from God. God unites people with himself by Christ. All this is the good news of the gospel.

These verses do not mean that Christ’s death has actually saved everyone. The Bible makes it clear that many people refuse to become friends with God. So they are still God’s enemies.

Verse 23 The Christians at Colossae had heard the true message of the gospel and they believed it. But they began to listen to what the false teachers taught. So, Paul urged the Christians to continue to believe God’s truth. Paul wrote his letter to them to explain more about the truth. Paul and other Christians preached the genuine message of the gospel in all areas of the world. Only the true message would cause Christians to ‘spread’ and produce ‘fruit’ (see the notes on verse 6).

 

The work that Paul does for the church

v24 I am happy although I suffer on your behalf. Christ still suffers in his body. The church is now his body. So I accept my part in these troubles. v25 God made me a servant of the church. He gave me a special job that helps you. My work is to tell you the complete message about the gospel. v26 In the past, this message was a secret plan. Now God has told it to his holy people. v27 God has now decided to tell the Gentiles about his rich and wonderful plan. This is the secret. Christ is in you. You are certain that you will share his glory. v28 So we *preach about Christ. With all wisdom, we warn and teach everyone. We want everyone to be mature in his or her relationship with Christ. v29 I work very hard to do this. I struggle, and Christ’s great strength works in me in a powerful way.

 

Verse 24 Christ suffered and died on the cross. He died to forgive our sins. Christ completed his work on the cross. He said, ‘I have finished it’ (John 19:30). So this verse does not mean that Christ has to suffer again for our sin. Here, the word ‘suffer’ refers to the troubles that people have in their lives. Christ is in Christians. When Christians suffer, Christ suffers too. Acts 9:4 shows that when Paul used to hurt Christians, he hurt Christ too. (Paul’s name used to be Saul.)

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. He was suffering because he preached the gospel. But he was happy to suffer because of the gospel.

Verses 25-27 Paul was serving the church as an apostle (see verse 1). Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us how apostles serve the church. Paul emphasised that he had told the Colossians the complete message about the gospel. They did not need the secret information that the false teachers pretended to possess. In the past, God had not told people the complete message. The Jews had the part of the Bible that we call the Old Testament. They could read about some of God’s plan. They thought that his plan was only for Jews. But God showed his complete plan when Christ came. The ‘secret’ is that Christ lives in Gentile Christians and in Jewish Christians (Ephesians 3:7-12). God’s ‘holy people’ refers to Christians (verse 2). When Christ returns to earth, every Christian will live with him. The Bible promises that Christians will share Christ’s glory.

Verses 28-29 Paul preached the message about the gospel (see the notes on verse 5). He also taught Christians how to become more mature. Paul did not want them to remain Christians who did not grow (Hebrews 5:11-6:3). The false teachers declared that they had secret wisdom and power. But true wisdom, which comes from God, helps every Christian. True wisdom helps Christians to know Christ more. Paul did not have an easy job as an apostle. He had to work hard. But Christ’s power made him strong.


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