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Book Overview - Colossians
by Arend Remmers
The City. It was situated about 100 miles east of Ephesus, and was of little importance at the time of this epistle, though it had once been of considerable influence. It was one of a group of three cities, Laodicia and Hierapolis being the Other two, situated on the Lycus river near where it flows into the famous Meander.
The Church of Colossae. It was perhaps founded by Epaphras (1:6-7; 4:12-13) who was directed by Paul in his work there "for us" "on our behalf", (1:7). Paul though having a very vital connection with it. had never visited the church (1:7; 2:1). He seems to have kept posted about conditions in the church (1:3; 4, 9, 2:1), and to have approved the work and discipline of the church (1:5-7, 23, 2:5-7; 4:12-13). He was loved by them (1:8) and knew and loved some of them. See also Phile 9.
Condition of the Church and Occasion for the Epistle. False teachers or a false teacher, had come among them and had greatly hindered the prosperity of the church. The main source of all their false teaching lay in an old eastern dogma, that all matter is evil and its source also evil. If this were true, God, who is in no wise evil, could not have created matter. And since our bodies are matters they are evil and God could not have created them. From this notion that our bodies are evil two extremes of error arose: (1) That only by various ascetic practices, whereby we punish the body, can we hope to save it, 2:20- 23. (2) That since the body is evil, none of its deeds are to be accounted for. License was, therefore, granted to evil conduct, and evil passions were indulged at pleasure and without impunity (3:5-8).
In seeking to find relief from this condition they formulated two other false doctrines. (1) An esoteric and exclusive theory which was a doctrine of secrets and initiation (2:2, 3, 8). By this doctrine they declared that the remedy for man's condition was known to only a few, and to learn this secret one must be initiated into their company. (2) That since God could not have been creator of these sinful bodies, they could not, therefore, come to him for blessing, and so they formulated, in their theory, a series of intermediary beings or Aeons, such as angels, that must have created us and whom we must worship (2:18), especially as a means of finally reaching God.
All these false theories conspired to limit the greatness and authority of Jesus Christ, and to limit the efficiency of redemption in him (2:9-10). They are called by the one name, Gnosticism, and present four aspects of error in this book. (1) Philosophic, 2:3, 4, 8. (2) Ritualistic, or Judaistic, 2:11, 14, 16-17. (3) Visionary, or angel-worship, 1:16; 2:10, 15, 18. (4) Ascetic practices, 2:20-23. There are three modern applications of the Colossian heresy. (1) Ceremonialism, or ritualism. (2) Speculation. (3) Low standards of righteousness.
The Epistle. The news of these false teachings was brought to Paul probably by Epaphras. 1:7-8, and he wrote to combat them. It is polemic in spirit and argues that we have everything in Christ, that he is the source and Lord of all creation and that he alone can forgive sins and reconcile us to God. It, therefore, represents more fully than any other of Paul's epistles his doctrine of the person and preeminence of Christ.
I. Doctrinal Teachings, Ch. 1.
1. Introduction, 1-14.
2. Christ in relation to creation, 15-17.
3. Christ in relation to the church, 18 end.
II. Polemic Against False Teachings, ch. 2.
1. Introduction, 1-7.
2. Polemic against the general false teachings, 8-15.
3. Polemic against the particular claims of the false teachers, 16 end.
III. Hortatory Section, 3:1-4:6.
1. To a lofty Christian life, 3:1-4.
2. To exchange the old vices for the Christian graces, 3:5-14.
3. To make Christ sovereign over the whole of life, 3:15-17.
4. To the Christian discharge of relative duties, 3:18-4:1.
3. To a proper prayer life, 4:2-6.
IV. Personal Section, 4:7 end.
For Study and Discussion. (1) Paul's prayer for them, 1:9-14. (2) The preeminence of the Savior,1:5-20. (3) The false and true philosophy of religion, 2:8-15. (4) The worldly vices, 3:5-8. (5) The Christian graces, 3:9-14. (6) The lofty Christian life, 3:15-17. (7) All references to the false teachings as in the words mystery, head, body, Lord, fullness, etc. Note 2:3, 8, 11, 16, 18, and many others. (8) Paul's view of Jesus. Study every reference to him.
the Fifth Week after Epiphany