Paul's Letter to the Collosians
Paul's Letter to the Collosians is miniature powerhouse. Just 95 verses long, this epistle is one of the smaller letters of Paul that is addressed to a church. It is also one of only two letters that we have from Paul that was written to those in a city where he did not have a direct hand in founding the church. The only other example of such a letter that we have is the Epistle to the Romans and that book is a very different one altogether.
Colossae was one of three prosperous cities that were in the Lycus valley in the area we would now call Asia Minor. The two neighboring cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis are also mentioned in this letter. The three cities were known for their woolen exports and for trade.
The cities of the Lycus valley were not evangelized by Paul himself but by an associate of Paul's named Epaphras. Colossae itself was only 100 miles east of Ephesus, however, and so Paul's influence would have been strongly felt in the region. Epaphras delivers news to Paul while the apostle is in prison, likely his first imprisonment in Rome. The letter that we have here is Paul's response to this news.
What we have then, frozen forever in time, is one part of a written conversation. We cannot be certain what was told to Paul about the situation in Colossae or about the history of the Christians there except for what we are told in the text. We cannot be certain as to what his purpose was in writing to these believers because Paul does not state a direct purpose in this letter.
Because of these ambiguities and because of some of the statements that are made in this letter, there has arisen the popular theory that Paul is writing to refute some form of heresy that had arisen in Colossae. One cannot read an introduction to this letter without reading the speculations of scholars as to the nature of this "Colossian heresy." The speculations as to the nature of the heresies range far and wide. There was a period in my Christian development when such speculations were of profound interest to me and I reveled in reading theories as to possible explanations what Paul has left us. I admit here that after such study, I have no unique revelation as to the nature of such a "Colossian heresy," if any such actually existed, and so I will not add to the volumes of words that have been written about it.
What does excite ones interest and draws one back to this work over and over is the focus that Paul places here on the person of Jesus Christ. Whatever Paul's original purpose in writing this letter, what he ends up writing about is Jesus Christ, from first to last. The centrality of Jesus Christ to our lives is the heart of this writing. Whatever the problems that may have appeared in Colossae, the answer to them was Christ.
In the same sense, here is the application of this letter for us today. Unlike the problems in Colossae about which we may endlessly speculate, we know the problems that exist in our own lives. Each one of us may have a set of difficulties as unique as ourselves, but there are many problems that we share. How is God relevant to our lives today? What does He want from us? How are we to act toward one another and the world?
As you read the Letter of Paul to the Colossians I think you will be amazed that the same answers that Paul gave to the Colossians answer your own problems. Paul invited the people of Colossae to know Jesus Christ who was the image of the invisible God: who was before all things and holds all things together. In refining our thoughts about the Lord whom we serve, our problems become realigned and the focus of our lives becomes sharper, clearer. When Christ becomes the center of our lives and existence, we find purpose and meaning where there was once chaos.
This is the value of the study of this little letter. Paul relentlessly reminds his reader to seek their answers in the Lord Jesus Christ and to never accept a substitute. As we each continue our daily walks, we must remember that there is nothing more important than our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the center of the entire universe. He is the heart of our existence.