For many years I preached
the gospel over radio. I shared the message of Jesus
Christ in over 2,500 radio programs that were
broadcast world-wide over short-wave on missionary radio station
HCJB in Quito, Ecuador. We received letters from over 100 countries. I
enjoyed reading those letters and writing a personal
follow-up letter to the listeners.
Have you written a letter
to a friend lately? In English we usually begin by
something like, "Dear Bill," or "Dear Jane." Then we
wait until the end of the letter to say, "With
regards," or "Sincerely," or "Love" and sign our
The ancient letter
writers did not follow that modern style. You didn’t
have to turn to the last page to find out who wrote
the letter. This is because the letters from the
first century A.D. arrived rolled up and bound with
a string around it. They were written on one
continuous sheet of writing material. The author of
the letter put his name first and immediately
following it the recipient’s.
Ancient letter writing
was sort of like our modern day memos and emails. It
began by naming the sender, recipient and subject,
whereas the letter was sender, recipient and
greetings followed by a prayer for the recipient.
In the first century when
the apostle Paul wrote his letters to churches and
friends, he followed the customary manner of letter
writing. The author stated his name first, then the
name of the person to whom it was addressed, and
then followed his greetings. There are tens of
thousands of ancient letters in museums and
libraries that follow this style. Paul was no
exception. "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the
will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints
and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father"
(Colossians 1:1-2 NASB).
THE AUTHOR OF THE
LETTER TO COLOSSIANS
In that opening sentence
we have vital information about the author and the
recipients of the letter.
The apostle Paul was the
author, and he included greetings from his associate
and fellow pastor Timothy. Timothy is not a
co-author. It is not Paul and Timothy. Paul included
the young minister out of courtesy and a way of
encouraging him. Timothy is a Christian "brother"
who is often associated with the apostle Paul in his
ministry. The apostle included Timothy in his
greetings in Second Corinthians, Philippians, First
and Second Thessalonians, and Philemon. He mentions
Timothy in Romans, First Corinthians and his letters
to Timothy. Paul was a team player, and this is
Paul’s way of encouraging his fellow laborers in the
ministry. He rejoices that Timothy is with him.
When we say our Christian
brother or Bill my brother in Christ, we are
indicating that he is a member of the body of
Christ. He is our brother in Christ. "Brother" is a
common term in the New Testament writings for a
Christian or a believer in Christ.
"Paul, an apostle of
Christ Jesus by the will of God," is the sole author
of the letter. It was common practice among the
Hebrew people during the first century to give their
children a Gentile name in addition to the Jewish
name. The Gentile name closely approximated the
sound of the Hebrew or Aramaic name to which it was
associated. Paul, whose Jewish name was Saul, was
set apart by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
The Lord said to Ananias immediately after Paul’s
conversion on the road to Damascus, "Go, for he
[Saul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My
name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of
Israel . . ." (Acts 9:15; cf. 22:21; 26:17). In
another letter, probably written about the same time
as Colossians Paul says, "For this reason I, Paul,
the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you
Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the
stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for
you" (Ephesians 3:1-2).
The apostle to the
Gentiles is writing to this Gentile church in
Colossae. The term "apostle" is a transliteration of
a shortened form rather than the translation of the
Greek word apostolos which means "a sent
one." Paul has been commissioned by God to preach
the gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jews. The word
"apostle" denoted one who proclaimed the gospel, a
commissioned representative of a government, and as
used in the New Testament as an official
representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is
using the term in a technical sense here. The
emphasis is upon the sender rather than the one
sent. The apostle had special credentials and
corresponding responsibility to carry out his
commission as the official representative of Christ.
The closest term in our day would be "ambassador."
The ambassador who represents the President of the
United States before the government of Ecuador has
all the authority and power invested in him by the
government of the United States. The apostle Paul
has all the authority and responsibility to
represent Christ before the Colossian Church in Asia
Minor. Paul uses the term to indicate he is a
commissioned ambassador for Christ.
He was under a lot of
stress when he wrote to the church at Galatia. They
questioned his authority so he began by saying:
"Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through
the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God
the Father, who raised Him from the dead)"
(Galatians 1:1). It is evident Paul is a man clothed
with the authority and anointed with the power of
his Master. He is a man under authority who has been
sent on a mission.
Paul belongs to Christ
because Christ saved, appointed, and sent Him to be
His representative. The character of that calling is
expressed "of [lit. through] Jesus Christ by the
will of God." This is the authority for his writing
to the Colossian Church and the reason for their
heeding his exhortations in the letter. He is in
this official capacity by an act of God.
Alexander Maclaren said
Paul’s testimony is "at once an assertion of Divine
authority, a declaration of independence of all
human teaching or appointment, and a most lowly
disclaimer of individual merit or personal power."
Paul wanted to be found
doing the will of God. The word "will" (thelema)
is the act of willing or desiring. He wanted to do
what pleased God, not his personal desires. Often
Paul says in his letters, "Paul a bond-servant of
Christ Jesus" (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). He is in
submission to the will of God.
Paul belongs to Jesus
Christ. The calling and ministry is by the will of
God. Sometime later he wrote to Timothy, "Paul, an
apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus" (1
Tim. 1:1). His calling was due to the special and
undeserved providence of God. God laid His hand on
Paul and called and equipped him to be an apostle.
He is not a self-made man; He is a God-made man. As
in Philippians chapter three Paul renounced all
personal worth and claimed the fullness of Christ.
He is a bond slave of Christ.
It reminds us when God
laid His hands on Paul on the road to Damascus. His
position and role as an apostle was not sought
after, was not earned or given to him by the church
or a denomination. The calling and ministry came by
the will of God. It was an act of God. These
credentials were essential for Paul’s ministry to
the churches. They are also important for us today
when many are teaching man-made religions instead of
God’s revelation to man.
Paul’s credentials are
important because in his letter he will expose the
false teachings of those who have a low esteem for
Jesus Christ. Paul is not one of the original twelve
apostles, but he is on the same level with them.
In a non-technical sense,
the word "apostle" reminds us of our
responsibilities to be good ambassadors for Jesus
Christ. We are not apostles in the technical and
limited sense of the word. However, every believer
in Christ is to be His representative to share with
every non-believer the riches of God’s grace in
Jesus Christ. He has sent us out into our
communities to represent Him before a watching
Paul is probably writing
from Rome while he is prisoner there. Luke and John
Mark are with him (Col. 4:10, 14). Epaphras came
with news from the churches in the Lycus Valley
about the time when Paul led Onesimus, a run away
slave, to Christ.
This letter was sent at
the same time with the letter to Philemon and the
one to the Ephesians since Tychicus the bearer of
the letter to Ephesus (Eph. 6:21f), and the one to
Colossae (Col. 4:7f) was a companion of Onesimus
(Col. 4:9) the bearer of that to Philemon (Philemon
10-12). If Paul is a prisoner (Col. 4:3; Eph. 6:20;
Philemon 9) in Rome, as most scholars hold, and not
in Ephesus, the probable date would be A. D. 63. I
believe that Paul is in prison in Rome when he sends
out these letters. If so, the time would be after
the arrival in Rome from Jerusalem as told in Acts
28 and before the burning of Rome by Nero in A. D.
64. If Philippians was already sent, A. D. 63 marks
the last probable year for the writing of this group
Paul signed the letter
with his own hand. "I, Paul, write this greeting
with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be
with you." (Col. 4:18). We do not know who his
amanuensis was; it may have been Timothy.
Remember in Romans 16:22 Paul let Tertius say he was
the amanuensis in the letter to Romans. An
amanuensis was a secretary to write down the
dictation. There were a lot of young men in the life
of Paul who ministered with him.
THE READERS OF PAUL’S
The apostle Paul
addressed his letter "to the saints and faithful
brethren in Christ who are at Colossae . . ." (Col.
1:2). He does not directly address the church as a
local body. But can you find a more descriptive
picture of the body of Christ as "the saints and
faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse"?
The letter is addressed
"to the saints" (hagios), literally "holy
ones." These are Christians or individuals who have
put their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior. The
church at Colossae is composed of saints. In the New
Testament all believers are saints. Every person who
has been born again is a saint of God in Jesus
Christ. It is a common description of all church
members. If you know Christ as your savior you are a
The word "saint" means
those who have been set apart to God. This is their
position before God, and in practice they are
"faithful brethren." They are the people of God who
are dedicated to Him and reserved for His purposes.
The main idea in this
word hagios is not excellence of character,
but separation to God. They are reserved for His use
and their lives should reflect that in every area.
Things, places, seasons, people are described in the
Bible as holy meaning they are set apart for God’s
purposes and service. We are a consecrated people.
This should lead to practical holiness.
Let me illustrate. Let’s
say my wife and I go to a fine restaurant after
church today. I call ahead and make reservations in
the name of Wil and Ann Pounds. The head waiter
places a beautiful engraved card on that table. No
one else can use that table for dinner today. It has
been reserved and set aside for the use of one
couple. When we arrive for dinner, the hostess asks,
"Do you have reservations?" My response will be,
"Yes, in the name of Wil Pounds." She will check her
list of reservations and say, "Come with me,
please." She will take us to a special table with
that engraved card. "Reserved for Wil and Ann
God has reserved you if
you are a believer for His own personal and unique
possession and service. No one else had better ask
or demand you if you are in Christ Jesus. You are
set apart, consecrated, dedicated, and separated to
How interesting it is
that this word is also used in the personal name of
the Holy Spirit. He is the Holy One, and Christian
saints are set apart to a holy God by God. Our
spiritual position is that of one who has been set
apart to God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is our sanctification, righteousness and
redemption and therefore the One in whom we become
holy to God the Father. The apostle Paul states it
so clearly when he wrote, ". . . you were washed, …
you were sanctified, … you were justified in the
name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of
our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Just as we are "in
Christ" we also have an intimate association with
the Holy Spirit. Paul is not referring to a special
class of Christians who have achieved a certain
level of holiness. Believers are saints not because
of their conduct but because of their relationship
These saints are also
called "faithful brethren in Christ Jesus" (pistis
adelphois). This is a favorite expression of the
apostle Paul in his writings. The Jews referred to
fellow Jews as brothers, but they would never refer
to a non-Jew in this manner.
describes the intimacy and love within the body of
believers. Every where I travel in different
countries of the world, I experience a bond of love
in a spiritual body. I have stood at the end of a
service on many occasions and greeted visitors from
many countries and different parts of the world and
heard them express the bond of love they experience
and often when they cannot even speak the local
language. There is a kindred spirit that comes only
in Christ. We have common parentage; it is God the
Father. We have common brotherhood; it is Jesus
If you have never been
born spiritually, you are not a member of this
family of God. The apostle John wrote: "But as many
as received Him, to them He gave the right to become
children of God, even to those who believe in His
name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of
the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John
1:12-13). You can become a member of the most
wonderful family in all the universes right now this
very moment. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will
become an adopted member of that family. You are
born spiritually into it. It does not come by a
physical birth, but by regeneration. It is an act of
God in His grace through the Holy Spirit based on
the atoning sacrifice and merits of Jesus Christ.
These faithful brethren
lived in the city of Colosse, located beside the
Lycus River in the Lycus Valley in the geographical
district of Phrygia in the Roman province of Western
Asia Minor. This is the area of modern day Turkey.
The city of Colosse was about 100 miles from the
city of Ephesus and ten miles east of Laodicea, and
about 10 miles southeast of Hierapolis.
This tri-city area on the
Lycus River was a busy metropolis with commercial
activity in the heart of Asia Minor. The rich
fertile river valley along the Lycus and Meander
rivers and the busy trade routes provided wealth to
Colossae was the first of
the three cities to achieve greatness, however by
Paul’s day it had declined and the other two cities
had much more vigorous economies and larger
populations. Though Colossae was still an important
commercial center the city continued to decline
until the eighth century A.D. and was abandoned. It
is now barren and deserted.
Epaphras was the
missionary evangelists who started the work in the
Lycus valley as the gospel reached out from Ephesus
to neighboring communities (Col. 1:7-8; 4:12-13;
Acts 19:1-20:1). The majority of the church may have
been composed of Gentile believers.
The apostle Paul stresses
the spiritual position of all believers when he says
we are "in Christ." Spiritually these believers are
"in Christ Jesus." Physically they live in the city
of Colosse. Every believer is spiritually in Christ,
but you also live in a local community. How tragic
when individuals try to separate the two. Some live
as if the only thing that counts is the physical,
and they completely leave out the spiritual. They
want only a humanistic secular life without God.
Others want to live in a monastery or an isolated
life from the physical world. We live in a physical
location in this world, but we are also in Christ.
Where ever you are on this planet, if you are a
Christian, you are in Christ. Therefore, you can
live above the changes, changes, and circumstances
in this life. You have Christ. Every Christian is in
We as believers in Christ
Jesus live in a mystical fellowship with Him. We
have been incorporated in Christ, united with Him as
closely as the limbs of our body are united with our
physical body. Our being "in Christ" is our vital
union with our Savior. What a privilege and honor to
be in vital union and communion with Christ. That is
the only way we can possibly live the Christian
life. This relationship is so important to the
apostle Paul that he uses the expressions "in
Christ" or "in Him" or in the Lord to describe our
vital union with Christ over 160 times in his
PAUL’S GREETINGS TO
In his greetings the
apostle Paul directs his reader’s attention
immediately to the work of God in the sinner’s life.
He prays for "grace" and "peace" for his readers.
"Grace to you and
peace from God our Father" (Col. 1:2b).
is the free, divine, unmerited, undeserved and
unearned favor of God toward depraved sinful man.
His grace not only saves us, but touches every area
of our Christian life. This greeting stresses the
favor of God and the spiritual blessings that comes
with it. We rejoice when we realize what God has
done on our behalf. Charis always has that sense of
divine favor in action. It is His spontaneous,
unmerited, undeserved sovereign grace freely
bestowed on sinful radically depraved sinners.
Grace always emphasizes
something that we cannot achieve on our own. It is
His gift. God freely gave His own perfect and
righteous Son to die for our sins so He could give
the free gift of eternal life.
The companion word in
Paul’s greetings is "peace." "Peace" (eirene)
is the inner working result of the grace of God in
the believer’s life. Inner peace is the result of
God’s grace. It is kin to the Hebrew word Shalom. It
is spiritual prosperity, true spiritual wholeness
and soundness. It is the assurance that the sinner
is in a right relationship with a righteous God
based upon the atoning blood of Jesus. Only Jesus
Christ can give this peace that passes all
understanding. You, oh Lord will keep him in perfect
peace or peace peace whose mind is stayed upon You.
He gives peace and songs in the night.
"There is salvation in no
one else; for there is no other name under heaven
that has been given among men by which we must be
saved" (Acts 4:12).
Divine peace always comes
as the product or result of appropriating the grace
of God in Jesus Christ. If we ignore grace, we
forfeit peace with God. Peace is the product of
grace. The more we appropriate and experience the
grace of God the more we experience His wonderful
peace. This is part of growing in His grace and
THE THEME OF THE
LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS
There was an incipient
Gnosticism beginning to take hold in the
philosophical soil in the first century. When it
began to attract gullible and easy to fleece young
Christians, the apostle Paul attacked it like any
other wolf in sheep clothing.
The letter was written
upon the arrival of Epaphras in Rome from Colossae
with news of the state of the church there (Col.
1:7-9; 4:12f). One very disturbing feature of the
new teaching was a subjective response on the part
of the unsuspecting Christians to accept a teaching
which was calculated to sabotage the pure gospel
which they had believed and bring them into
spiritual bondage. Does that sound familiar? Ask any
God called, doctrinally sound pastor in our
generation. The Gnostics degraded Jesus Christ, and
Paul’s solution was to exalt Christ. Paul describes
a Christ-centered universe with Jesus Christ the
sovereign. The universe was created by and is
sustained by Christ. The only proper response to Him
is to bow down and humbly worship Him.
"Grievous wolves" had
descended upon the churches in the Lycus Valley
(Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea) and were leading
many of the believers astray. These false teachers
and deceivers were later called Gnostics. The
culture of Paul’s day was full of the teachings of
the mystery cults which professed new thought with a
world view that attempted to explain everything on
the assumption that matter was essentially evil and
that a holy God could only touch evil matter by
means of a series of aeons or emanations that were
so far removed from him as to prevent contamination
by God and yet with enough power to create evil
matter. These Gnostics (hoi gnostikoi, the
knowing ones) with their philosophic speculations
applied their theory of the universe to the Person
of Christ. Many today are content to deny sin,
disease, death and evil in spite of the evidence to
the contrary. The issue was so grave that Epaphras
journeyed all the way to Rome to seek Paul’s wisdom
Paul wrote to counter the
Gnostic attack on the Person of Christ. The Docetic
(dokeo, to seem) held that Jesus did not have
a real human body, but only a phantom body. He was
an aeon and had no real humanity. The Cerinthian
Gnostics (followers of Cerinthus) "admitted the
humanity of the man Jesus, but claimed that the
Christ was an aeon that came on Jesus at his baptism
in the form of a dove and left him on the Cross so
that only the man Jesus died."
Paul confronted both
false teachings with his accurate presentation of
Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man
(both deity and humanity) in opposition to both
types of Gnostics. This is beautifully painted for
us in Philippians 2:5-11.
Colossians is just as
relevant today when men try to rob Jesus Christ of
his death as when Paul wrote it. It speaks to the
New Age Movements, mystery religious cults, the
legalists, as well as the "licentious element that
let down all the bars for the flesh while the spirit
communed with God."
The movement was filled
with theosophical speculations. The heretical
teachers added to Christian belief a strong
influence of Jewish ideas and rituals that had been
mixed with pagan mystery religions. The religious
cocktail of superstitions, magical secret religious
cults, witchcraft, astrology, etc. caused the people
to search for spiritual reality apart from the one
true living God who revealed Himself in Jesus
The heretical Gnostic
teachings depreciated the Lord Jesus Christ. We do
not have to interpret Christ; all we have to do is
proclaim Him because in Him "are hidden all the
treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3).
The apostle proves the
supremacy of Christ over all the religious
philosophies and fads of the New Age Movements and
world religions. He writes with passion as he
strikes out at this new heresy.
The solution to the
heresy of Gnosticism is "Christ in you, the hope of
glory" (Col. 1:27).
In Colossians Paul paints
a full-length portrait of the full deity of Jesus
Christ. Here we see the pleroma of the
Godhead in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God with
us is the portrait. "For in Him all the fullness of
Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9).
ABIDING PRINCIPLES AND
1. When we are servant
leaders, we encourage our co-laborers in the
The apostle gave us an
example in the way he included Timothy in his
greetings to the church at Colossae. He showed
appreciation for Epaphras in his letter along with
Tychicus "our beloved brother and faithful servant
and fellow-bondslave in the Lord" (Col. 4:7). He
goes on to mention Onesimus "our faithful and
beloved brother," and Aristarchus "my fellow
prisoner," and John Mark and Luke, etc. Let’s
encourage our brethren with words of kindness and
2. When we are
commissioned by the Master, we will give Him all the
We serve Christ because
we know it is by the grace of God that we are saved
and called to the ministry. We do not deserve the
opportunity. It is all of grace, and not of man.
Every servant of God is Christ-made, not man-made.
There are too many self-made preachers and church
leaders out for their own power and glory. We need
God called men and women who have been set apart by
the Holy Spirit for His glory.
3. When God saved you by
grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you became a
Saints are not a select
few in the church, or in church history. They are
not little metal engravings molded to put on your
dashboard. Saints are people whom God has set aside
for His glory by grace through faith in Jesus
Christ. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you
are a saint. If you have been born again, you are a
saint. If you are trusting in the atoning sacrifice
of Jesus Christ alone to save you, you are a saint
4. When you belong
to Jesus Christ, you will make yourself available to
Him at all personal costs.
True saints are always
available to the Lord God for His own personal use.
Every saint has been commissioned by the Master to
take His good news to the ends of the earth. Every
believer is "in Christ." It is from that vital union
with Him that we serve Him.