Most of the letters that Paul wrote to the churches were written to those that he had started himself. But he did not begin the church at Rome, nor did he begin the church at Colossae. It is not certain who started the church at Colossae, but it is very likely a man mentioned in certain of Paul's other letters -- Epaphroditus, or, since that was too long a name for even the Greeks to say, Epaphras. He is mentioned in this letter as being from Colossae, and is very likely the one who founded the church. Where he had heard the Gospel we do not know, but he had evidently taken it to his own home town and had begun to proclaim Christ. Out of that proclamation had come the church at Colossae.
Epaphroditus had gone to Rome to see the Apostle Paul, who was then a prisoner, carrying with him reports of the church at Colossae. Another man had also gone to Rome to see Paul during his first imprisonment, and he too brought reports of the church at Colossae. So it was to these new Christians who had never met the apostle face to face that Paul wrote the letter from Rome.
Where Hope Begins (Colossians 1:1-8)
It is with a sense of excitement and anticipation that I begin with you a series of studies in Paul's letter to the Colossians. This is one of the prison letters of the apostle, written, most scholars believe, while he was a prisoner in Rome, although one scholar makes out a good case for an imprisonment in Ephesus. It is not really of any great importance as to where the apostle was when he wrote this letter: the important thing is the message of the letter itself. It was written to a church located in what we now call Turkey, in the Roman province of Asia Minor, about one hundred miles south and east of Ephesus. Near Colossae were two other cities, Laodicea and Hierapolis, located about ten miles apart on the Lycus river.
Growing Up (Colossians 1:9-14)
We are now well into the Christmas season, and everybody is enjoying the return of the great symbols of our faith in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. The central symbol of Christmas, of course, is a baby. Perhaps the most loved carol is Martin Luther's cradle hymn, "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed/The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head." Yes, it's wonderful to focus upon the baby Jesus but we sometimes idealize---even idolize---babies.
Master of the Universe (Colossians 1:15-17)
Charles Wesley's wonderful phrase from "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,"
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the Incarnate Deity
captures the central truth of our Christian faith. Since the appearance of Jesus on this earth two thousand years ago, Christians have believed that the man called Jesus of Nazareth is and was God the Creator; that the eternal Son dwelt in a human body, thus "veiled in flesh the Godhead see." Every other doctrine of Christianity flows out of that great truth. If it be denied, one has denied the heart of Christian faith and has embraced heresy.
The Reason for the Season (Colossians 1:18-20)
Most scholars feel that the magnificent description of Christ found in verses 15-20 of Colossians 1 represents an early Christian hymn which Paul is quoting. These verses may represent the very first of all Christmas carols. If so; it is a hymn of two stanzas. The first concerns Jesus as Lord of creation, i.e. the material universe, and all forces at work within it. The second stanza speaks of Jesus as Lord of the new creation, the new humanity. We have lost the tune for this hymn, but we still have these words which focus upon our Lord's overall supremacy.
The Great Mystery (Colossians 1:21-29)
You have all seen the television commercial for the Armed Forces that says---to a musical accompaniment---"Be all that you can be." It implies that if you join the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines, then you can be all that you can be. I don't believe that! Does anybody? But a word like that has strong appeal. Everybody wants to be all that he can be. I have never met anyone who doesn't want to be all that he feels himself capable of being. We all hunger for that. No matter how degraded, downcast or frustrated, everyone longs for fulfillment. And yet, as we observe the bewildering tragedy of human life, we are left shaking our heads at the seeming impossibility of that. I have been listening to stories all week from relatives, friends, and on the media, describing endless shame, hurt, pain, murder, divorce, cruelty, abuse and personal failure. Is there any real possibility of reversing this in someone's life? Can the downward slide be arrested?
The Overflowing Life (Colossians 2:1-7)
The end of a year always brings news articles that highlight the events of the past year. I read this week an article entitled "The Most Boring People of 1986." Some may place me in that category, but at least I was not included in this article. A group calling themselves "The Boring Institute of New Jeremiahsey" picks the most boring people of the year every December. You may be interested to know that in 1984 Michael Jackson was the "Yawn of the Year," primarily because of his over-exposure in the media. In 1985 it was Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who, as this article says, "debunked the cherished myth that talking about sex is always interesting." The winner this year was Joan Rivers. "Her rival talk show," the article says, "reveals the genius of Johnny Carson."