Introduction
Tim Temple

Introduction

We are beginning today a series of studies in the little New Testament book of Colossians. For the next several weeks we are going to be studying together this short book. Technically speaking, this is not really even a book. It is actually a letter. I think it is important for us to remember that because it will make the study seem a little more personal to us.

This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to a group of Christians who were living in the city of Colosse, and the interesting thing about this letter is that Paul had apparently never been in Colosse. He evidently didn't know these people personally. In chapter 2, verse 1, Paul mentions the fact that they had never seen his face, along with several other groups of people who were probably going to receive this same letter; so even though they had never seen him, they were receiving this letter from him. I think that is important for us to keep in mind also because sometimes we get the idea that the Bible is written to groups of people who lived years and years ago and written by men whom I have never seen and who have never seen me. So how could they know my needs? The one basic answer to that is, God the Holy Spirit inspired what they wrote, and God the Holy Spirit knows what our needs are. So it doesn't matter whether you ever saw Paul or not, or whether he ever saw you or not.

It is interesting to notice that even in his own lifetime there were situations where Paul was ministering to people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whom he had not met. And that is the situation here with the Colossians.

Paul probably felt responsible for these Christians because their leader and the founder of their church was a man whom Paul had led to Christ, a man by the name of Epaphroditus. He is mentioned here in chapter 1, verse 7:

Colossians 1

7As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;

Epaphras is referred to in chapter 4 as “Epaphroditus.” Those are two versions of the same Greek name. So here is a man whom Paul had led to Christ. This man had gone back and had led others to Christ, had gathered others around him and was leading them in the study of the Word and the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul, feeling responsible for that group, writes to them.

Paul's Prayer for the Colossians

We can get something of an idea of Paul's feeling for this group by reading his prayer for them in Colossians, chapter 1, verses 9-19, and we are going to let this serve as our text this morning. If you have your Bibles open to Colossians, chapter 1, we will begin our reading with verse 9. This is the prayer that Paul had for the Colossians:

Colossians 1

9For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
10That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
11Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
12Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
14In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
15Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

We will stop our reading there with verse 19. We are going to come back to some of the thoughts that are expressed in this prayer in a moment, but here is the prayer that the Apostle Paul had that the Colossians would understand fully what they had in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly that would be the Apostle Paul's prayer for us, if he were writing this letter to us personally, as in a sense he is, since it is the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write what he did. Certainly it would be a good idea for this to be our prayer for ourselves as we study this book, that in the coming weeks, as we study these verses in this short letter, we would come to a deeper understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what we have in Him–particularly the latter of these two things.

A Threefold Outline

Today, as is our practice, we are going to devote ourselves to an overview of this book. When we begin the study of a book, we like to think a little bit about the book itself before we get into the text of it specifically. Certainly this is a wise practice in our secular reading, and yet one that we sometimes do not take the time to do when we study a book of the Scriptures. The Scriptures, of course, are all the more important than any secular book that we might read, so we like to find out a little bit about the author and the recipients and those kinds of things. We are going to follow a threefold outline: First, we want to think about the name of the book; then we will think about the aim of the book; then we will think thirdly about the frame of the book. If you can keep this little poetic outline in mind, then maybe you will be able to see where we are going.

The first thing that we want to think about in relation to this book as a whole is the name of the book. The name of this book of the New Testament is taken, as so many are, from the name of the recipients. It is simply addressed to those Christians living in Colosse–the Colossians. This is typical of many of the books of the New Testament. All of the letters of the New Testament are addressed and named in this way.

The Problem of False Teaching

As we have already mentioned, the Colossians were a group of Christians who were living in the city of Colosse, a typical small city of the Roman Empire of the first century. But the Colossians faced a specific and unique problem. The problem in Colosse was that a false teacher had invaded their group. Here were young, new Christians just coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ, taught by Epaphras and perhaps some others, as traveling preachers came through, coming to know a little bit about the Lord Jesus Christ; and before very long some false teaching came into their group. Evidently someone in the group–perhaps it was Epaphras, as the pastor–wrote to Paul asking about the error that had come into their group. What we have in Colossians is his answer concerning that heresy.

We don't know much about what that heresy was, but what we can gather from his answer is a little bit of information about the problem. What is important is not so much the problem as the answer, and we do have that very clearly.

Incidentally, this is a good example of what to do, what any of us should do anytime any false teaching is confronted, and that is to get God's viewpoint on it. In the first century this was done by asking one of the Apostles. The New Testament was still under the process of being written, and they could not turn to some New Testament book. Many times they could turn to the Old Testament; but when some specific problem came along, such as the one that entered in there at Colosse, they had the apostles, who were Christ's representatives here on earth during that first century, and they got God's viewpoint on a situation by going to the apostles.

Seeking God's Viewpoint

In our day, this is done by holding the question over the Word of God, because we now have the completed canon of Scripture. The apostles' work has been done; they have passed off the scene and have left with us, under the inspiration of Scripture, the completed New Testament. So with both the Old and the New Testaments available to us, when we come across some false teachers or anything that we even think is questionable, the ideal thing to do is not try to grapple with it and not try to debate about it, but simply go to the Word of God with it. So the leader of the Colossians, whoever it was that led them in getting information from Paul, did exactly the right thing.

There are many seemingly good ideas which, when we examine them in the light of Scripture, are simply not there. Surely you are aware of that. In fact, some of the things that we get into in practices in our churches, if we examine them carefully, we find there is no real scriptural precedence for those things. Many times they are just tradition. Of course, it is always important in a church situation to try to base our actions on the Word of God. There are some things that perhaps there could be some leeway about, but basically we want to go to the Word of God for our church practices.

In personal life many times there will be practices that are participated in or that are omitted that are not in line with the Scriptures. We should be very careful that the principle of what we do and what we don't do is found in the Word of God.

In Acts, chapter 17, we are told about a group of people in the city of Berea who were in the region of Berea, who were said to be more noble than the Christians at Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. The interesting thing is that the “things” they were searching the Scriptures about were the things that the Apostle Paul himself was teaching.

You know, that is an interesting thing. It would seem that perhaps we should not question at all what the Apostle Paul had to say, and that which he said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and which is recorded in Scripture we cannot question. But we might think that God would have denounced those people for questioning what Paul had to say, yet God the Holy Spirit said that these people were noble. When Paul came in to preach to them, they had not heard him before; they didn't know who he was. They had heard about him, but they didn't know how legitimate his teaching was, so as he taught them in Berea, they searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so. God said that they were noble for having done that. So the Colossians were, as God would say, noble because they came to God's representative, the Apostle Paul, with their questions. God would say that you and I are noble as we go to the Word of God to find out His viewpoint on any situation that comes along. Anything about which we might have any question, we should always hold over the Word of God. It is a very commendable practice.

Defending the Sufficiency of Christ

We don't know specifically what the false teaching was that had invaded Colosse. We know a lot about it. Bible scholars and historians through the years have decided that it probably was a teaching that we will mention in a few minutes, but it is not mentioned by name in the book. So we do not know authoritatively exactly what the teaching was. But whatever else this false teaching said, it did say primarily that we need something else besides Jesus Christ to have a relationship with God. The false teaching, whatever it may have been, attacked the deity and the position of the Lord Jesus Christ. So what we have in the response to this false teaching is a very, very important book of the New Testament. This book deals with Christology as no other book does.

“Christology” is the name of that area of systematic theology which studies the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And so the book that deals more specifically with the person and work of Jesus Christ, the nature of Jesus Christ, than any other book in the New Testament is this one. Obviously it is not the only book, and obviously there is much information about the Lord Jesus Christ in other places, but the one that deals most clearly with it is this one because it is in answer to that heresy which attacked the person and work and position of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul's answer to that problem in this letter is going to show us that we do not need anything in addition to the Lord Jesus Christ.

False Teaching and Astrology

For example, if you will turn over to Colossians, chapter 2, verse 8, Paul says very clearly that we don't need astrology. There is an interestingly up-to-date subject, but notice in Colossians, chapter 2, verse 8:

Colossians 2

8Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Notice the last part of that verse, “after the rudiments of the world.” The phrase, “the rudiments of the world,” could more literally be translated “the elemental pieces of the universe.” It is a reference to the stars and the constellations and the planets. Paul is talking about astrology, and what he is saying here is, “Beware that you don't get caught up in tradition and in old wives' tales and in things like astrology, depending on superstitions of some kind to determine the course of your day.”

I say that sounds strangely up-to-date. Actually, what we have in the astrology columns that we see in the newspapers and what we have in emphasis on the sign under which you were born and that sort of thing is really not modern at all. It is more true that our society is strangely old fashioned–strangely out of date. Astrology and an emphasis on that kind of thing is nothing new at all. It goes back even before biblical times.

Evidently part of the problem there in Colosse had to do with a dependence on astrology, tradition and those kinds of things in determining what to do in the spiritual life.

False Confidence In Self-denial

He says, farther down in Colossians, chapter 2, that they don't need self-denial. Look at verse 23 of Colossians, chapter 2. There we read:

Colossians 2

23Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

When we get to chapter 2 in more detail we will see that in the verses just above this, Paul has been saying, “Why are you thinking that you need to live by ordinances–taste not, touch not, handle not? If you are dead with Christ to the rudiments of the world, you don't need all of these self-denial, these ascetic-type rules.” What he is saying is, “We don't need all these things that make us feel good.” He says in verse 23, “These things indeed have a show of wisdom in will worship and humility. Those things make us feel good. They may add to our pride that we are able to do without this or able to consistantly do that. Those things are not necessary to a walk with God. Those things are not important. What is important is Jesus Christ.” Now, as we walk with Jesus Christ, He may indeed lead us to give up this or to add that to our schedule, but it is not those things that are important; it is the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him that may lead to some of those things. Be careful that we don't get the cart before the horse.

Then he speaks specifically, back in verse 20 of Colossians, chapter 2, about the Jewish ritual of the Old Testament:

Colossians 2

20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21(Touch not; taste not; handle not;

There is a reference to the Old Testament laws. Part of this false teaching there in Colosse had to do with living by commandments and rules and self-denial, etc., as we were saying.

So Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is all we need. That leads us to consider, then, the aim of the book, which is to show us that Jesus Christ is all that we need in order to have fellowship with God. We don't need something even as up-to-date and close to us as church membership, for example. We don't need a priest, an intermediary. We don't need any kind of ritual except as those things may in some way enhance our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Those things in and of themselves are just things, and we don't need things unless they in some way aid us in coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ better.

Completeness In Christ

An example of Paul's opinion of Jesus Christ's completeness is in chapter 1, verse 17. He says, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Colossians 1

17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

That is a magnificent statement about the Lord Jesus Christ! You could have no question about the position of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mind of the Apostle Paul, could you? He is before all things. In fact, by Him all things consist. A more literal translation of the last phrase of that verse would be something like this: “By Him all things hold together.” Do you see what the Apostle Paul is saying? It is an astonishing thing to me that hundreds and hundreds of years before some of the scientific discoveries of the past few years, the Apostle Paul was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about molecular structure.

I doubt that he realized that was what he was saying, but what this verse is saying is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who holds the molecules and the atoms and the neutrons and electrons and protons and all of that in their orbit. You know science has discovered, and those of us who are only vaguely familiar with some of these scientific principles know, that matter consists of particles in an orbit–particles rotating. Common sense would tell us that things in rotation like that should just by the nature of things tend to fly apart from each other, but there is something that holds them together. Paul says that something that keeps those particles in their orbit is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. That is Paul's bold statement about the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how important He is.

Understanding the Deity of Christ

Colossians, chapter 1, verse 19, is another very important verse in the study of this book. Notice:

Colossians 1

19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

One reason that this verse is so important is that it gives us a clue as to what the false teaching in Colosse was. This word “fullness” here in Colossians, chapter 1, verse 19, is a translation of the Greek word pleroma . The word pleroma means “fullness” or “completeness.” And there was a false teaching going around in the Mediterranean world in the first century which was built around this word. It was probably that false teaching that had invaded Colosse.

The basic idea of this teaching was that God was completely and fully good. There was a real emphasis on this idea of fullness and completeness. And God the Father was completely full. He was pleroma . He was the fullness. And that sounds good doesn't it? We would agree with that one hundred percent. But this teaching went on to say that His goodness was so great it overflowed, and the overflow of His goodness and His perfection created another fullness, another pleroma; and that pleroma was so vast and so good and so perfect that it overflowed and created another one, and that one overflowed and created another one. Somewhere down the line–I suppose it is different as to which teacher you were talking to–one of these pleromas was the Lord Jesus Christ. So you see, it attacks the deity and the position of the Lord Jesus Christ. It said that He was not part of the triune Godhead, but that He was a fully good and complete offspring of God the Father.

Again let me stress that that sounds good at first hearing, doesn't it? A person who was teaching this heresy would say, “Oh, yes, Jesus was completely good;” but in the context of their overall teaching, they were saying, “But He was not as good as God the Father because He was an overflow of the goodness of God the Father.”

The False Teaching of ”Gnosticism”

Paul comes back here in verse 19 and says, “Jesus Christ is all fullness. It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” Notice the emphasis in verse 19 on the Father also. It is not a matter of the fact that the Father overflowed and somewhere down the line created Christ. No! It pleased the Father that in Jesus Christ all the pleroma should dwell. So this is a very significant verse because it tells us that the false teaching that was in Colosse was probably the false teaching known as Gnosticism.

Gnosticism is built upon the Greek word for “knowledge.” And it is still something that we have with us today at least in philosophy and spirit. It is the idea that if you just know the right things, get the inner secrets about things, then you will have all you need to know. Gnostics taught that there was a closeness to God that came by knowledge, and it was an exaltation of the human will and the human mind. This book is designed to show that this is completely false teaching.

This false teaching of Gnosticism had two extremes of error as a result, and it is important for us to think about those for a moment, also. One extreme of error said that we should have as little to do with material things as possible, because matter is so far removed from the fullness of God. The fullness of God overflowed, created another pleroma , another after that, another after that and Jesus Christ somewhere down here in the middle, then Jesus Christ created material things and therefore material things were so far removed from the fullness of God that we should just not have anything to do with material things. Those who took that position of the Gnostics would be very self-denying. They would live in monasteries. They would have as little to do with material things as possible. They felt some holiness from this, and they insisted that you could not know God fully unless you adopted that ascetic, self-denying kind of lifestyle.

Others took another extreme, and they said that matter was evil because it was so far removed from God, but on the other hand what really matters is not matter because it is so far from God. What matters is your spirit, your soul, your heart; and so therefore it doesn't matter what you do with your body, what you do with material things. What really matters is your spirit. Again, that sounds very similiar to some of the things that the Bible says, doesn't it? And yet these people, taking that twisted viewpoint, taking and twisting what the Scripture says, were living horrible, sinful, sensuous lives. They were saying, “It doesn't matter what I do with my body. What is important is that my spirit and my soul be in tune with God, because matter is evil and it doesn't matter to God. It's so far removed from God that it doesn't matter about material things.” I'm making a little play on words there accidentally about matter and all that, but that was the idea. Of course, both of these were perversions of what the truth of the Word of God is.

Even though the teaching of Gnosticism as such is not with us today, there are many people around us who still take one of these two positions. They either live sensuously and say, “As long as your heart is right, that is all that really matters.” Or they think that there is some sort of favor to be had with God by being as poor as possible. Both of those things, as we say, are perversions of the Word of God. The basic aim of the book of Colossians is to show us that it is not poverty or freedom of expression that brings us close to God, but it is our relationship with Jesus Christ. This includes getting to know Him more fully through the study of His Word and by obedience to His Word, becoming more like Him in our response to others and our response to Him.

Practicing the Presence of Christ

In Colossians, chapter 2, verse 10, we have a summary of this point. He says in summary:

Colossians 2

10And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

Since He is complete, since He is the one in whom all fullness dwells, then as we are in Him, we are complete in Him. You see the basic point is, He is all we need. We are complete in Him, Who is the head of all principality and power.

Someone expressed this truth saying that Christianity is simply a matter of practicing the presence of Jesus Christ. Let me pause and ask you, “Are you aware that Jesus Christ is personally present with you in all that you do? Are you practicing the presence of Jesus Christ?” That is all you really need to have a fullness of fellowship with God the Father. If you are practicing the presence of Christ, these human activities concerning material things or lack of them will take their proper perspective, and you won't be needing to depend on some gimmick to get favor with God.

Framework of the Book

As we complete our preview of the book, we want to notice briefly the framework of the book. The overall outline of this book is in chapters 1 and 2–doctrinal. Then in chapters 3 and 4 are some practical instructions. As we have mentioned, there is an introduction in verses 1-14, part of which we have already read, just an idea of who Paul is and who his readers are and his prayer for them. Then in chapter 1, verses 15-29, Paul talks about the fact that Christ is the head of the Church. In verse 16 of chapter 1, he says He is creator:

Colossians 1

16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth…

Paul is saying, “Christ did not just overflow and create all the things that came after Him. No; He created all things–everything in Heaven and in earth. There was nothing created before Him. He is the creator.”

Then in verses 20-23, he says also that He is the reconciler between God and man. Notice in Colossians, chapter 1, beginning with verse 20:

Colossians 1

20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
23If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled…

You see, the purpose of Christ's work was to reconcile that gap that existed between God's righteousness and our sinful lives. And if you haven't accepted this truth, then Paul would say you are alienated from God.

That word “alienated” is an interesting word. It is a word that doesn't necessarily mean a “rebel,” a “rebellious attitude,” but it is a word that means “to be separated.” It is a word that is used sometimes to describe a broken bone. There is just not the unity, the union, that should be there. We are alienated from God because of our sin. We are separated from Him, and Jesus Christ came to put that separation back together, to cure that broken bone.

We are then told in verses 24-29 of chapter 1, that He is the Indweller. We will talk more about that. That is what makes it possible for us to know God and the technical aspect of why we don't need other human obedience to laws and that sort of thing because of this Indweller.

Then in chapter 2, verses 1-23, we read that He is the incarnation of God. He is the answer therefore to philosophy. He is the answer to ritual and all of those things. That part of the book deals with the fact of why Jesus Christ is all that we need.

It is one thing to make the statement, as I have made several times, that Jesus Christ is all that we need, but in those first two chapters we are going to be seeing, in future weeks as we study this in more detail, why it is true.

Doctrine Worked Out In Living

In the second section of the book, we are going to see that Christ brings new character to living. In this second half of the book we are going to see how the doctrine of the first part of the book works out in life, or how it should work out in life. Notice in chapter 3, verse 2, old goals become secondary:

Colossians 3

2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

Will you think with me for a minute about how positive that verse is and how different it is from the attitude many of us, particularly as Christians, sometimes adopt. I think we Christians sometimes get so busy setting our hatreds on things below that we don't have anytime to think about the things above. Christians are sometimes so actively opposing sin that we never think about the beauty of our relationship with God. The Apostle Paul says, “No, you have it all backward. Set your affections on things above, not on things of the earth.”

His basic point is that we should not love the things of the earth. In order to do that, we set our affections on things above; and if we set our affections on things above, our hatreds of the wrong things below will take care of themselves.

Let's be careful that we don't drum up a hatred for sin. Let's let God produce that hatred for sin. The way to do that is to set our affections on things above; and if you love the right things, the Word of God says you will hate the things that you should hate. Set your affections on things above. The Christian life, produced by walking in the presence of Jesus Christ, is a positive life–not a negative attitude, but a positve approach to life.

In that section also, we are going to see that Christ brings a new atmosphere in the family in chapter 3, verse 18, through chapter 4, verse 1. Notice, for example, chapter 3, verses 18-21. We will read through these verses quickly. He is talking about the family, as the family knows God through Jesus Christ:

Colossians 3

18Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
19Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
20Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
21Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

You see, every member of the family is addressed there. As we walk in the presence of Jesus Christ, as we recognize that in Him all fullness dwells and that we are complete in Him, it will affect every member of the family, the way we relate to each other.

A New Relationship to Unbelievers

In chapter 4, verses 2-6, we are going to see that Christ brings a new relationship to unbelievers also. Notice, for example, in chapter 4, verses 5 and 6, as a part of this section of the book:

Colossians 4

5Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
6Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” You know, we say that the Lord Jesus Christ is the answer to all things, and yet so many times we become inclusive, and we give the impression to others that we have all the answers, that we don't need anything else.

The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Colossians by reminding them that we do have the answers. Jesus Christ is the fullness, and we are complete in Him, but by the same token, we need to be very careful and pay attention to our relationships with those who do not yet know Him, that we might bring them to a knowledge of Him, so that they might know the fullness of Jesus Christ. Always walk in wisdom, he says, toward them that are on the outside. Watch your speech. Watch how you live. As we come to that section of the book, we will talk more in detail about that relationship to unbelievers that Jesus Christ brings.

Conclusion

As we conclude, do you see the message of this book? Jesus Christ is all and in all. If we know Him properly, if we respond to Him properly, if we recognize His fullness and that we are complete in Him, then all these other secondary but important things will take their proper perspective. We will not be depending on these secondary things to put us in the right position with God. Rather, because we are in the right position with God, we will have the proper attitude about these secondary things.

I trust that this study is going to be a valuable one for our daily Christian life, and we need to commit ourselves to that purpose.


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