The people of Colossae lived in a mixed bag of cultures, philosophical thoughts, and religions. They lived in an area called Asia Minor, specifically the Lycus River valley, where a major crossroad traversed from east to west. The Babylonians, Romans, Jews, and Greeks influenced the lives of the people. To these people in the 1st century AD, Paul wrote while imprisoned. About the Christians in Colossians, he heard good things and things about which he needed to teach and correct.
As Paul almost always did in his letters, he gives a foreshadowing of his teaching in the opening statements. He opens with by introducing himself (vs 1), giving a greeting (vs 2), then praying over the Colossian brethren (vs 3-8). That prayer of thanksgiving leads directly into the principal topic and teaching of this letter.
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…” (Colossians 1:1 [NASB])
Paul introduced himself to the believers in Colossae. Though he had spent extended time in Asia Minor on his 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys, he had never been to Colossae. It was during one of those journeys, probably the 3rd journey, that Paul discipled Epaphras, the founder and pastor of the Colossian church. What is important about Paul’s introduction of himself to the Colossians are the credentials he gave? He told them first he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. An apostle of Christ is an ambassador of the Gospel commissioned by Jesus Christ to go preach. Paul was sent out by Christ. The authority for his apostleship came from Christ. Remember his Damascus road experience in Acts 9. Christ called and sent out Paul as an ambassador of the Gospel. As an apostle of Christ, Paul was identified with Christ.
The next part of verse one says he was an apostle of Christ by the will of God. Paul had not decided on his own to be an ambassador, an apostle. God willed it. He chose Saul even while he persecuted the people of the Way, the Jesus-followers. God had a purpose to use Saul, later known as Paul, to reach the Gentile world. When Saul met Jesus on the Damascus road, he became a completely changed man with a new agenda. His life turned around 180 degrees from persecuting Christians to proclaiming the Gospel, from taking the lives of believers to leading them to the Source of Life, and from enforcing every jot and tittle of the Law to reinforcing believers by teaching the Gospel as given to Him by God. Paul repented, he turned 180 degrees from facing away from Jesus to facing and following Him.
Paul never went alone to where Jesus led him to proclaim the “mystery of God.” Another believer traveled with him, whether that person was a believer before Paul met him or her or that believer became a Christian because of Paul’s proclamation. Paul dedicated his life to learning and mentoring other believers. On a journey in which men arrested him, Paul identified with the person who resided with him. On this journey, Timothy was with him. Paul called Timothy “our brother by God’s will.” The people of Asia Minor either knew Timothy or knew of him. Timothy’s family raised him in Lystra about 360 miles east of Colossae. His grandmother and mother, who were Jewish and later became Christians (2 Timothy 1:5), and his Greek father raised him with the knowledge of Jewish Scriptures. Paul took Timothy with him on his journeys and mentored him. Timothy was a companion, mentee, and co-worker of Paul.
Why was it important for Paul to tell the Colossian believers about himself and Timothy? Paul wanted these believers to understand that he identified with Christ. Christ appointed him as His ambassador. Paul wanted the Colossian believers to realize who Timothy was, too. Timothy identified with Christ, as one saved by Him and called to service for Him.
“To the saints and faithful brethren who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:2 [NASB])
Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to realize he and Timothy identified with them, as well as with Christ. How do we know Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to identify with him and Timothy? He wrote to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ.” Paul made known to whom he was writing. He wrote to the saints. Saints are people set apart by God, those whom He made holy by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ death. Paul and Timothy were saints, too, as he explained in verse one. Paul added the Colossian Christians were faithful brethren in Christ. “Faithful” comes from the Greek word pistos meaning one who is persuaded and who has the fullness of faith about Jesus. Paul wrote to the ones who received faith from God and believed it to the full, without doubt. He called them brethren, too. A person of the brethren is a person who is a member of the same religious community of others who believe similarly, in this case people who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. With these titles for the believers at Colossae, Paul said they identified with Christ as saints set apart by God’s redeeming grace. The Colossian believers identified as faithful because the faith they received they had in full and lived based on it. They identified as brethren who were actively part of the community of Christ in Colossae. The Colossian Christians, Paul, and Timothy identified with each other as followers of Christ. Saints identify upwards with God, and brethren identify horizontally with other Christians.
Paul added a blessing to his salutation. He said, “Grace to you and peace from God.” This blessing from Paul meant “May God’s undeserved favor be on you.” This quietness and rest of heart, soul, mind, and body is the peace that comes knowing, fully trusting, God will take care of you. This trust requires full faith as saints. It requires being identified with Christ through His life, death, and resurrection.
The Colossae church comprised Jews and Gentiles. Paul was a Jew from Tarsus in Asia Minor called by Christ to preach to the Gentiles and Jews. Timothy was a man raised as a Jew by his family and was a Greek because of his father. Yet, more than these, Paul and Timothy were Christians. They identified with Christ and with the Colossian Christians. The Colossian believers could identify with Paul and Timothy as saints and faithful brethren in Christ and as Jews and Greeks of Asia Minor. Their identification was heavenly and earthly. Paul and Timothy’s identification with Christ and the people of Colossae gave them the right and privilege to preach, teach, and correct the heresies flowing around the Colossian believers. The Colossian believers would trust what Paul taught them as from God and out of love for God and them.
Paul gave the Colossian Christians his credentials. He showed them how he was like them in several ways, as a saint and part of the brethren. Paul included Timothy as part of his greeting to tell of his credentials, that he, too, is a Christian called by God and from Asia Minor. His blessing of this church in Colossae reminded them of who God is and for them. It served as a springboard for Paul’s purpose in writing this letter.
Paul knew why God had him write to a people to whom he never physically preached or taught. His relationship with God prepared him to be His instrument even from prison to teach, correct, and proclaim the Gospel of Christ. With Colossians 1:3-8, we will learn of the Christian triad of faith, love, and hope. Were the Colossian Christians in danger of losing one side of this triad because of other cultures, philosophies, and faith systems? Paul prepared them for his correction of their confusion. What must we do so as not to be confused and or water-down the faith that we originally received and believed?
For next week, re-read Colossian 1:1-8. Be prepared to answer these questions again after re-reading those verses.
“May you give thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Colossians 1:9, 12 [NASB])