The Epistle to the Colossians was written by the apostle Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. It is an outstanding example of what he meant when he earlier wrote that his sufferings in the service of the Lord were not only physical, but also spiritual concerns. In his eyes these concerns were greater than all the sufferings that came from the enemy or from the hardships he endured as he traveled from place to place in his ministry. Let’s not forget that the Holy Spirit inspired him to write this Colossian epistle as well as 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 that details what the Lord meant when he said to Ananias, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Paul Never In Colosse Most of Paul’s epistles were written to assemblies he had been instrumental in beginning, or to fellow laborers. But Paul wrote two epistles, Romans and Colossians, to assemblies personally unknown to him. Romans was written from Corinth before Paul journeyed to Jerusalem where he was falsely accused and imprisoned. The greetings that occupy most of its last chapter show us that Paul knew quite a few brothers and sisters in the capital of the Roman Empire. Colossians on the other hand is written from prison in Rome to an assembly he had learned of from Epaphras, a fellow laborer who had come from there to Rome and who for a time even shared Paul’s imprisonment (Phile. 23).
Paul called Epaphras “a faithful minister of Christ” on behalf of the Colossian saints (Col. 1:7). Furthermore, he mentioned that Epaphras was always laboring fervently for them in prayers that they “may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). He did this with great zeal, praying also for the saints at nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis. Laboring fervently in prayers is more than just making an occasional mention of someone’s name as we pray.
Paul, A Model For Prayer
Paul himself was a model when it came to praying for others. In most of his epistles he mentioned that he was praying for those to whom he was writing. He personally knew many of them, their progress and their problems. They were his spiritual children whom he had learned to love dearly. He reminded the Corinthians, for example, that they did not have many fathers, but that “in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). He wrote to the Thessalonians that he and his co-workers for the Lord had been gentle among them, “just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” And he also told them how they had “exhorted and comforted and charged every one of them, as a father does his own children” (1 Th. 2:7,11).
Paul and Timothy, whom he named in writing this epistle, had been giving thanks to God and praying together for the Colossian believers. In chapter 2 Paul wrote of having “a great conflict” for the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and as many as had not seen his face in the flesh (Col. 2:1). Their praying for the Colossians began when they first heard of them and it continued without ceasing. Paul did not know them personally, but that made no difference. They were faithful saints and fellowmembers of the body of Christ.
What Did Paul Pray For?
Paul did not pray for the things we might ordinarily pray for on behalf of fellow-believers – their health, families, daily bread, protection, liberty to worship, etc. – these the apostle does not mention. He was concerned rather about their spiritual growth and well-being. For instance, in the beginning of this letter (1:9-12; 2:2) Paul prayed that the Colossian believers:
- “Be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”
- “Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him”
- Be “fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”
- Be “strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy”
- Be “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light”
- Be “encouraged, being knit together in love”
- Attain “to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God”
What Did Paul Teach?
Besides praying for them He gave them the basic practical instruction and exhortation they needed. He set Christ before them in the dignity of His person and the greatness of His work. He reminded them of the tremendous privileges they had gained through Christ. God the Father had delivered them from the power of darkness and conveyed them into the kingdom of the Son of His love. They had been heathen and, as such, had been bound under the power of darkness. Some of them were slaves and all of them were subjects of the Roman Caesar, but God had brought them into a most privileged position, that far higher kingdom of the Son of the Father’s love. They had been alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, but now Christ had reconciled them through death to present them holy and blameless and above reproach in His sight. And Christ was in them, the hope of glory. What a portion was theirs! (Col. 1:13-29).
What Dangers Paul Warned Of
But the Colossian believers were in danger from at least three directions. Satan, the archenemy of Christ and of His people, is a very pragmatic foe. He has many weapons and he is quite ready to use whichever of them serves his purpose. All of them in some way attack Christ. Epaphras, who had told Paul about the assembly at Colosse and was laboring fervently for them in prayer, had doubtless also informed him of some of the dangers these new believers faced. The enemy battled against the Colossians. And he still uses the same weapons against Christians – young and old, new and experienced – today.
One of Satan’s weapons was a false philosophy known as Gnosticism, a word derived from the Greek gnosis, meaning knowledge. The ancient Greeks were known for their many philosophers and schools of philosophy. The Gnostics denied Christ His true place in the Godhead, making Him only one of the highest of many angelic or spirit beings between man and a holy God. In their view the human body and material substance in general was of lower value than that which was immaterial or spiritual. Man essentially had to work his way up to God. Paul stressed the greatness of the Lord Jesus as the image of the invisible God. He is the Creator- God, the Head of the Church, His body, the One in whom all the Fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell, the Head of all principality and power. Paul urged the Colossians to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith.
Another of Satan’s weapons was to introduce elements of Judaism into Christianity: Circumcision, keeping the Law, considering certain foods unclean, keeping Jewish feast days, asceticism, and other doctrines of men. All these had an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but they detracted from Christ and His finished work, and had no value. The believer is complete in Christ. He has been buried with Him in baptism and has been made alive together with Him. God requires nothing more of us than what Jesus has accomplished on Calvary. It is vital that believers get their minds off self and have their minds on Him.
Satan also used the flesh and its many lusts as a third means to subvert Christians and get their minds off Christ and the things that are above. The flesh is ever active, and new Christians who were not thoroughly taken up with Christ could easily find themselves indulging in all the wicked things that had characterized their lives before they were saved. The apostle, in his godly concern for them, listed these lusts and then exhorted the Colossians to put to death these members which are still on the earth (Col. 3:5). There are things to put off and others to put on. These exhortations apply to the things of life in general and also to our relationships within the family circle. All should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Paul’s Closing Thoughts
After dealing with all these dangers that burdened his heart, Paul exhorted the Colossians to be earnest and vigilant in prayer (Col. 4:2). He prayed for them, but he also asked them to pray for him, especially that he might clearly speak the mystery of Christ, for which he was in chains. He shared information about his own circumstances, and mentioned that Tychicus, one of the brothers who delivered this letter, would tell them “all the news” about him (Col. 4:7).
Greetings from various brothers were added together with succinct instructions to the church in Colosse and to some of the individuals. We can see the apostle’s deep concern for this gathering which he never had opportunity to visit, and for the brothers he mentioned. May the Lord grant that we may learn from Paul to truly love and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ whoever they are and wherever they may be. Paul no doubt learned this from his blessed Lord, the Great Shepherd of the sheep!
By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org