Introduction to the Letter to the Colossians and Study of Colossians 1-4
December 10th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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In this letter, written to the churches of Colossae, Paul addresses a number of items similar to what we have seen in earlier letters. Colossae was a relative modest city in the province of Asia that had a relatively large population of Jews, perhaps descendants of those who had been exiled to Babylon in ancient times and then emigrated north.

Paul begins this letter with an introduction and a positive note, telling the Colossians how he has given thanks to God for their faith. Although they have been faithful, the Colossians have encountered false teachers with “fine-sounding arguments (Col 2:4 - NIV).” Consequently, Paul lays out for them some of the fundamental points of Christianity so that they will know when they hear false doctrine. We will complete the study of this brief four-chapter book in one day.

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Hunter, Archibald M, Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 22 (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, ColossiansJohn Knox Press, Richmond, VA, 1959
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT

Colossians 1-4 (Keep Up the Good Work – But Watch Out)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

- Colossians 3:12

Summary of Chapters

In chapter 1 Paul reminds the Colossians that Christ has existed since the beginning of time and now rules over everything. It is through Christ that we were able to reconcile with God, despite our previous behavior.

In chapter 2, Paul explains how faith in Christ frees us from the burden of a rule-based relationship with God. We don’t need to be circumcised or be overly concerned about what we eat or touch. This advice does not mean that we should regress to our evil ways. Instead, as Paul explains in chapter 3, if we set our hearts on Christ we can put to death our sinful desires. If we have our hearts set on Christ then we will be able to, “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:12 - NIV).”

Paul also reminds the people to forgive one another and let the peace of Christ dwell within us:

    Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

    -Colossians 3:15-17 (MSG)

Chapter 4 consists of final greetings and advice on prayer and public conduct.

Reflection and Application

In a Palm Sunday sermon in 1996, the Rev. Ed Danks (7 Aug 1931 to 29 August 2011) told his congregation that the following verses from Colossians represent “two of Christian faith’s most distinctive features:”

    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

    -Colossians 1:15-16 9(NIV)

Danks explained that the first distinctive feature is that Christianity is not founded on an abstract idea, but on a real person who walked on earth, and received a king’s welcome in Jerusalem. The second distinctive feature of Christianity noted by Danks in this passage is “The fact that all our Christian beliefs are therefore derivatives (this word resonated with the Wall St folks in the congregation) of the basic conviction that Jesus Christ is an utterly reliable guide to God! (1)”

A few weeks prior, Danks had delivered an entire sermon on the first two verses of this book, explaining the importance of the way that Paul structured the greeting with praise and blessing for the Colossians (2).

With regard to the overall tone of the letter, it might be appropriate to place this letter in-between Galatians and Philippians on a scale of criticism and praise. Paul begins with praise, but offers some very specific warnings, most likely in recognition that these people were beginning to allow themselves to be conned by the false preachers with their silky words, and were attracted by the multiple available gods in their culture. It seems fair to consider that these weaknesses could apply to many of us – we are generally on the right track but can easily be distracted and led astray.

How do we avoid that? Remember that Christ is King of Kings. He sacrificed himself for us, and calls us his friends! How can we possible allow ourselves to follow anyone else? Perhaps part of the difficulty is that these fake teachers seemed like they knew what they were talking about. How can we sniff out impostors in our era? The more we directly study the contents of the Bible the better prepared we will be for discerning fact from fiction.

We really have no excuses. The Gutenberg printing press was invented centuries ago, and has been recognized as one of the greatest inventions of the last millennium. The printing press enabled the printing of Bibles to be cost-effective for the general populace – previously, only the top 1% could have afforded a hand-copied Bible, and even then the content in some countries was controlled by the royal families (e.g, King James).

In addition to the Bible, the readers of our generation have access to bookshelves filled with explanatory commentaries from contemporary authors. Perhaps we could claim that we have a mobile lifestyle and these books are too bulky to carry around all the time. But that claim is no longer valid! With the Kindle, I-Pad, the Nook, Smart Phones, and whatever comes next we can easily have access to a whole library in one small device. Ed Danks didn’t need a Kindle to study the Bible, because it seemed as if he had the whole book memorized! But for the rest of us, these tools offer an amazing opportunity to have all this content with us all of the time, allowing us to study when we travel or during a commute, or at anytime that suits us – providing that the battery is charged and that the thing wasn’t dropped in a pool of water.

If we have not previously committed to regular study we can forgive ourselves in the same way that we ought to forgive others, but if you are reading this your probably have already made the commitment to regular study and may be on the tail end of completing a commitment to finish the whole Bible in one year. If so, what is the next step in our study? Reading it again next year to see what else we can gain or diving deeper into specific books? Either one is a good use of our time and is sanctioned by God.

Paul says to trust in Christ Alone, the song in the YouTube video below expands on this theme:

In Christ Alone, written and performed by the British musician, Stuart Townend

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Do you prefer reading on paper or on a screen? Any exceptions? Why do you prefer one over the other?
    2. How prepared are you to distinguish false Gospel messages from real ones?
    3. What is your study plan for next year? Write it down and tell someone so that your commitment is confirmed.

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you have the power to save. Help us to trust in Christ alone.

    Prayer Concern
    Technology Developers


    (1) Danks, The Rev Edward R, “What Makes Jesus So Important?,” The Noroton Pulpit, Sermons from the Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, March 31, 1996
    (2) Danks, The Rev Edward R, “Apostles, Saints, and Other Ordinary People!” The Noroton Pulpit, Sermons from the Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, March 10, 1996

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Overview and Study of 1 Thessalonians (Minor Corrections Required)

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