Colossians 1:1 identifies Paul and Timothy as the writers of this book. Paul is described as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” while Timothy is called “our brother.” Although both are mentioned, much of the book is written in the singular, (I, me, my) thus indicating that the apostle Paul did the actual writing. In the last verse, Paul also mentions that the greeting was written in his own handwriting (Colossians 4:18). Timothy was a younger evangelist who had spent a considerable amount of time with Paul (see Acts 16:1-5).
This letter was written “to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” (Colossians 1:2; see also 4:15). This means that it was written to all the Christians in the city of Colossae. It is because the letter was written to the church in the city of Colossae that we refer to the book as “Colossians.”
On the Lycus River, in the Roman province of Asia, (which is a part of modern-day Turkey) Colossae was strategically located in a valley along the great highway that ran from Ephesus (which was located about 90 miles to the west) to the Euphrates valley. Although in its early existence it was a prosperous city, having been visited by Xerxes (481 B.C.) and Cyrus the Younger (401 B.C.), by the first century A.D. Colossae was on the decline and was being overshadowed by its neighbors, Laodicea (see Colossians 2:1, 4:13 and 16, Revelation 1:11 and 3:14) and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). Shortly after Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, an earthquake devastated the city in 61 A.D. Although the city was rebuilt, it remained insignificant in the development of that part of the world.
Little is known about the beginning of the church in Colossae. It is not mentioned in the book of Acts. Paul mentions the fact that he had never seen the members of the church at Colossae “face to face” (Colossians 2:1) thus eliminating the possibility that he had established the church in that city. It is assumed by most Bible scholars and church historians that a preacher named Epaphras, who was from Colossae and is referenced in the book (Colossians 1:7 and 4:12-13), was probably the man who first evangelized the area. Another possibility would be some of the preachers Paul trained while he was at Ephesus (see Acts 19:10 and I Corinthians 16:9-10).
At the time of the writing of the book of Colossians (about 60 A.D.) the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, Italy. He mentions this in Colossians 4:3 and 18. This imprisonment is described in Acts 28:16-31.
While in prison, Paul had somehow met and converted a man by the name of Onesimus. Onesimus was a runaway slave from Colossae who had evidently also stolen from his master, Philemon, who was a Christian. After his conversion, Paul believed that the right thing to do was to send Onesimus back to his owner. Paul did this by writing and sending a letter along with Onesimus and a preacher named Tychicus to Philemon, encouraging him to accept Onesimus back as a brother, not just a slave. See the New Testament book of Philemon for more details about this situation.
Besides the personal letter to Philemon, Paul used this opportunity to further instruct the Christians in the city of Colossae by writing a letter to the whole church. As one reads the letter known to us as the book of Colossians, it is obvious that Paul had some concerns about the teaching that was going on at the church and was using his letter to instruct them about who Jesus was and how they should not be taken in by the false teaching that was occurring.
As the book of Colossians begins, Paul tells the Colossians the content of his prayer for them (see Colossians 1:9-10). It contains four specific requests that they: (1) “may be filled with the knowledge of his will,” (2) “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him,” (3) should be “bearing fruit in every good work,” and (4) would be “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Paul shares with them the preeminence of Christ, (Colossians 1:15-2:5) challenges them to not be taken in by false teaching and philosophy (Colossians 2:6-23) and reminds them of the significance of being raised with Christ and the demands of living the Christ-centered life (Colossians 3:1-4:6). As usual, Paul concludes his letter with some personal thoughts (Colossians 4:7-18).
I. Greetings, thanksgivings and prayers – Colossians 1:1-14
II. The preeminence of Christ – Colossians 1:15-23
III. Paul’s ministry – Colossians 1:24-2:5
IV. Challenges to the false teachings – Colossians 2:6-23
V. The life of those who are raised with Christ – Colossians 3:1-4:6
VI. Concluding thoughts – Colossians 4:7-18
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