Colossae was one of three loosely associated Cities. Hierapolis had medicinal hot springs, and Colossae had cold, clean springs, while Laodicea was in between the two of them, and had lukewarm water. It was situated on the Lycus river near where that river joined the larger Meander river.
The founder of the church at Colossae was perhaps Epaphras, who is named in this book in Chapters 1 and 4. Epaphras was directed by the Apostle Paul in his work for the saints in that place. Paul seemed to have a very strong connection with the Colossian believers, even though he tells us in Chapters 1 and 2 that he has never personally visited the church there. Paul does seem to have been kept apprised of the situations in the Colossian church, and he was loved by the saints in that place, and also knew and loved several of them personally.
Paul seems to have written this letter to address the false teacher or teachers that had somehow entered the church and greatly disturbed the saints and hindered the work there. The main source of the false teachings is related to the near-Eastern idea that all matter is evil, and the source of all matter is also evil. The logic goes that since our bodies are matter, they are evil, and that means God, who is by no means evil, could not have created our bodies. From this flawed logic, two extreme views arose.
- That only by certain ascetic practices, whereby we punish our bodies, can we hope to save it.
- That because the body is evil, that none of its deeds are to be accounted for, which gives licence to all manner of evil behaviour, to be indulged in as often as possible, and with impunity.
Seeking to find relief from these erroneous beliefs, they came up with two specific false teachings.
- An esoteric and exclusive theory that was a doctrine of secret initiation. In this doctrine, they declared that the remedy for man’s sinful condition was known only to a few and to learn its secret you had to be somehow initiated into their company
- That because God could not have created these sinful bodies of ours, they could not come to Him for blessing of any kind, and so in their worldview, one had to come to a series of intermediary beings called Aeons, like some kind of angel (maybe evil angel? Wink, wink) that must have created us and therefore we need to worship them, get this, as a way of finally reaching God for ourselves.
These theories basically attempt to limit the ability and authority of Jesus Christ, and limit the efficacy of the redemption He won for us at the cross. These false teachings both fall under the same heading – Gnosticism, and set out four areas of their error in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
- Philosophic – 2:3, 4, 8
- Ritualistic (or Judaistic) – 2:11, 14, 16-17
- Visionary (angel worship) – 1:16, 2:10, 15, 18
- Ascetic practice – 2:20-23
These errors in thought and practice generally manifest themselves in three ways today: Ceremonialism (ritualism), speculations (not supported by Scripture), and low standards of right behaviour.
Information of these false ideas was probably carried to Paul by Epaphras, and he wrote this letter to combat them head on. Paul’s tone here is polemic in spirit, and this gives credence to modern polemics efforts to show what is false from what is true. Paul’s argument simply states that we have everything we have in Christ, that He alone is the source and Lord of all creation, and that He alone can forgive sins and reconcile us to God. Because of this, this letter to the Colossians represents more fully than any of his other letters his views on the person and preeminence of Christ.
As we go through the letter, you’ll see what I mean. I also must acknowledge how helpful William Barclay’s Daily Bible Study in Colossians was in researching this.
Remember, if the text doesn’t have a hyperlink, it isn’t done yet…stay tuned…