Colossians 1:1-8

Sunday Morning Bible Study

March 1, 2009


This morning we begin a new topic for study – Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Homework assignment:  This week try reading through the little letter at least once.

Behind the Author

Paul had made a couple of tours around the Mediterranean, preaching the gospel and starting churches.  On one of his trips he stopped in Jerusalem and was arrested in the Temple for stirring up trouble in the Jewish world.  He ended up in the hands of the Gentile Romans and then eventually wound up sitting in Rome waiting for a trial before Caesar.

During this time of imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote a couple of letters, called his “Prison Epistles”.  The year is 60AD.  The church in Colosse is about five years old.

Behind the City

The ancient city of Colosse was located in the area known in the Bible as “Asia Minor”.  Another name for the region was “Phrygia”.  Today the country of Turkey covers this area.

Colosse was located in the southern part of the Lycus valley.

There were three main cities in the valley:  Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colosse.

In the 6th century BC, the city was flourishing.  The ancient Greek historian Herodotus records that when the Persian king Xerxes came to Colosse, it was a large city.  We know Xerxes as Ahasuerus, the king who married Esther.

The city was originally an important trade center, being located on the main highway that connected the city of Ephesus to the lands in the east (like Persia).

The Lycus valley produced olives and figs.  The city was also known for its wool.  Both Laodicea and Colosse had developed a beautiful purple-dyed wool.  The name “Colosse” comes from the Latin collossinus, meaning “purple wool”.

When the Romans came along, they built new roads that ended up causing the economy of Colosse to shrink and by Paul’s day it was a small city.

History (Tacitus – Annales 14.27) tells us that in the year 60AD there was a huge earthquake in the region, leveling many cities.  It is thought that Paul wrote his letter at this time, before news of the earthquake reached Rome.  The cities were rebuilt.

The city was weakened under Islamic rule and was eventually destroyed in the 12th century.

All that’s left of Colosse today is a “tel”, an unexcavated mound of dirt that covers the ruins of the ancient city.

Show video flying to Colosse

Behind the Church

The interesting thing about the letter to the Colossians is that it was a church that Paul did not personally start and at the time of his writing, he had never personally been to Colosse.

(Col 2:1 NKJV)  For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,

The church most likely was established during the time when Paul had spent a total of three years in Ephesus.  Luke records that …

(Acts 19:10 NKJV)  …all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

When you play detective and put the pieces together you come up with this scenario:

A man from Colosse named Epaphras was the first to preach the gospel in Colosse.

(Col 1:7 NKJV)  as you also learned from Epaphras…
(Col 4:12 NKJV)  Epaphras, who is one of you…
It is likely that Epaphras came to Christ in Ephesus under Paul’s ministry.

Another person from Colosse was named Onesimus:

(Col 4:9 NKJV)  with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you…

We know from Paul’s letter to Philemon that Onesimus was a runaway slave who used to belong to Philemon.  Paul led Onesimus to Christ while in prison in Rome and sent him back to Colosse with this letter, and to make things right with Philemon.

Philemon and his wife Apphia  hosted the church in their home (Phile. 1:2).

Their son Archippus seems to have been the pastor of the church (Phile. 1:2)

(Col 4:17 NKJV)  And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it."

History is silent on what happens to the church after Paul’s time.

Behind the Letter

Being on a trade route, the city had a population of all kinds of people.

Roman coins from Colosse indicate the worship of numerous deities, including Artemis, Helios, Demeter, Isis, and Serapis. To this you have to add the Phrygian mystery religions like the worship of Cybele, the Roman emperor worship, and finally Judaism.

This kind of mixture of cultures brought about a pretty fertile ground for goofy kinds of doctrine to spring up.

The founder of the church, Epaphras, has made his way to Rome and is with Paul, reporting on the condition of things in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, including some of the strange doctrines that had sprung up.

One of the heresies that was on the way to springing up would be known as Gnosticism, some have suggested that Gnosticism may have gotten it’s start at Colosse.

The word comes from the Greek gnosis, meaning “to know” (an a-gnostic is someone who doesn’t know)
Gnostics were people “in the know”.  They considered themselves the spiritual “know-it-alls” of the church.  They taught that to reach the height of spiritual maturity you needed to “know” their secrets and special rituals.
We’ll get to the specifics when we get into chapter 2.

Another of the heresies at work in Colosse was a form of Jewish legalism.  People were taught that you needed to be circumcised, that you needed to follow the Jewish dietary laws, and that you needed to observe all the Jewish feasts to be a Christian.

There is much of this going on today – people are trying to earn their salvation instead of receiving God’s grace by faith. (Dave is going to start a great class on this subject – Why Grace Changes Everything).

In Colosse there was a deceptive combination of all kinds of stuff:  Jewish legalism, eastern philosophy, pagan astrology, mysticism, asceticism, and even a little bit of Christianity to make it all right.

These false teachers didn’t outright deny the Christian faith, they only claimed to make it better.
The problem comes when you try and “improve” on true Christianity.
There is nothing to improve upon.

As Paul writes the letter, Epaphras is going to stay with Paul in Rome, while the letter to the Colossians and the letter to Philemon will be sent back with Onesimus and another man named Tychicus.

Outline of Colossians:

Chapter 1:  Jesus is preeminent

Before you get anything – you need to know who Jesus is and what He’s done.

Chapter 2:  Dealing with heresy

Paul will deal head on with the errors of his day (and our day as well)

Chapters 3-4:  Practical living

Right doctrine leads to right living.

:1-2 Greetings

:1  Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

apostleapostolos – a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders

We often think of an “apostle” as some super spiritual guy with awesome power and authority.  The main idea is that of someone sent by another. Paul knew that God had things for him to do.

:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

:3-8 Faith in Christ

:3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

:4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints;

:5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,

:6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;

has come to you – the church in Colosse came about because a man named Epaphras  came and told them about Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave us one thing to do before He left.

(Mat 28:19-20 NKJV)  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

Jesus has a message for the world.

Even though they have been separated from God by sin, He has made the way back to God.
He has paid for their sins by dying on cross.
All they need to do is to receive this gift of forgiveness and eternal life by faith.
This is the simple truth of the gospel.

bringing forth fruitkarpophoreo – to bear fruit

The gospel produces a result.  People find faith in Christ and are saved.  Lives are changed. 

The truth of the gospel is like a seed that gets planted in a person’s heart.

(Mat 13:3-9 NKJV)  Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: "Behold, a sower went out to sow. {4} "And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. {5} "Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. {6} "But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. {7} "And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. {8} "But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. {9} "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
People are like the different kinds of soils that the seed lands in.

Some people are hard hearted like the roadside – the seed never penetrates.

Some people are pretty shallow – they might get excited at first, but because they don’t let God work too deeply in their life, when things get hard, they wither away.

Other people are like the thorny soil – their lives are too filled with the junk of this world and the seed never gets a chance to grow, it only gets choked off.

But other people are like good soil – you share the message with them and they will receive it and believe in Christ and pass it on to others.

It’s a powerful message – the power is in the message.

(Rom 1:16 NKJV)  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

Our responsibility is not to save people, our responsibility is to share the message.

The rest is up to God and the people you share with.
I wonder how often people aren’t saved simply because we haven’t told them.
(Rom 10:14 NKJV)  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

knewepiginosko – to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly

It’s not surprising that Paul uses this word.  Knowledge is at the heart of what “Gnosticism” is all about.

The only “knowledge” that you need to know about God is the truth about the grace of God.

truthaletheia – (“not” + “hidden”) what is true in any matter under consideration; reality, facts, certainty

Another key word for the Colossians.

They have been suckered into thinking that there are “hidden” things about God that only special people get to find out about.

In reality, God has revealed Himself to us.

God has given us a clear picture of Himself in Jesus Christ.
(John 14:9 NKJV)  Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
Paul will write it this way:
(Col 1:15 NKJV)  He is the image of the invisible God…
(Col 1:19 NKJV)  For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,

:7 as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,

learnedmanthano – to learn, be appraised

This is the root of the word “disciple”.  A disciple is simply a learner.  Epaphras was discipling these people in Colosse.

dearagapetos – beloved, esteemed, dear, favourite, worthy of love. Epaphras was loved.

EpaphrasEpaphras – “lovely”; his name actually seems to be a pagan one, being based on the name of the Greek goddess “Aphrodite”.

He had a pagan background, but he was a man that God was using.

He would stay in Rome to help Paul, willingly choosing to stay in prison with Paul as a representative of the Colossians.

:8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

I’m afraid that most “church people” are known for being cranky and judgmental.  That’s not what Jesus intended.

(John 13:34-35 NKJV)  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. {35} "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

The folks in Colosse had it going the right way.  They knew how to love.

The man God uses (vs. 7)

Paul gives us a little insight at a man that God used to start and nourish the Colossian church…

1. “Fellow

Paul uses a word that talks about relationship.

Epaphras wasn’t a “lone ranger”.  He was connected to people.  He was connected to Paul and to the Colossians.

You might say to me, “But even the Lone Ranger had his “Tonto”!”


As the Lone Ranger and Tonto were riding along towards the north, they spotted a war party of about 50 Apaches coming at them. They turned south, but another war party appeared. They turned east and met another party of 100 braves. They turned west as their last remaining hope and saw a party of 500. The Lone Ranger turned to his friend and said, “Well, faithful friend, this is the end, there’s not much we can do.” Tonto looked back at the Lone Ranger. “What you mean WE, white man?”

The Bible teaches that we together form the body of Christ.  We need each other.  We are supposed to function by working together, not alone.


Henry Blackaby writes, “I've mentioned Ivah Bates before. She was a widow who had lived on a farm and was retired. She was one of the greatest prayers I have ever known. Our church was the body of Christ, and we called Ivah a knee. God put her in the body as a powerful prayer.
“When we had new believers, I would send them over to Ivah and let her talk to them about how to pray. She equipped many prayers. When we began our ministry to the university campus, Ivah didn't know how to function in the body concerning the campus. Who was to equip her to function in the body in this new ministry? Well, our campus minister was. He shared with Ivah how she could pray regarding the campus. She did not change her role in the body. She just learned how to be the "knee" (prayer) for the campus. The students were told, "Whenever you are going to witness to somebody or you have a particular assignment in our ministry, go to Ivah and tell her about it. She will pray."
“So a student named Wayne said to Ivah, "Next Tuesday I will be witnessing to Doug, would you pray for me?" Ivah agreed. She dropped everything and began to pray over the noon hour while Wayne was witnessing. She did that every time the students told her what they were doing. Only the "hand" was touching the campus, but the whole body was fitly joined together. Each part functioned where God put it, so that the hand could be effective.
“About three months later, a young man came down the aisle during the invitation. He was trusting the Lord. I said to the congregation, "This is Doug. He has just become a Christian." I looked over at Ivah and she was deeply moved and weeping. She had never met Doug, but she had prayed for him for three months. Who won Doug to the Lord? The body did!”

The man God uses is a man who is connected to the body, not a Lone Ranger.

2. Servant

Being a servant requires humility.  It requires being more concerned for others than you are for yourself.

Being a servant requires getting up and doing things for other people.  It’s an action oriented word.

Jesus said that being a servant was the most important thing that we could learn to do.

(Mark 10:42-45 NKJV)  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Jesus set the mark of what it means to be a servant.

(John 13:1-5 NKJV)  Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. {2} And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, {3} Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, {4} rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. {5} After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
What was Jesus doing?  He wasn’t setting up some sort of ritual for us, but He was doing what a servant would have already done before dinner got started – something that none of the disciples wanted to do.
Jerusalem was a dirty place to spend the day walking around in open toed sandals.  It was simple courtesy to wash the feet of your guests.
Jesus was a servant, even on the night He knew He would be betrayed.
If you knew that tomorrow you would die, what would you do?  I certainly wouldn’t want to spend my time washing somebody’s feet.

The man God uses is a servant.

3. Faithful

The word speaks of faith – Epaphras was a man of faith.

The word speaks of being faithful.

You can count on him.
(1 Cor 4:2 NKJV)  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

If you are a person who claims to be a person of faith – are you faithful?

Are you someone that can be counted on?
Do you keep your promises?

(Luke 16:10-12 NKJV)  "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. {11} "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? {12} "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?

In my life – (I’m not sharing this because I’m the awesome pastor, but simply to show you how this has worked in my life) I sensed that God was calling me to be in the full time ministry when I was 18.  I was in the Baptist church at the time, and so I went the Baptist route to get into the ministry – taking me seven and a half years going to college and then to seminary.
When I finished seminary, God had been moving to nudge us out of the Baptist denomination.  We faced a time of trying to figure out where we would spend our lives in ministry, and ended up getting involved with Calvary Chapel, kind of a dream-ministry for me.
But when we started with Calvary Chapel, we lost all our connections, all our contacts, all the people that could get me into a position in ministry.
 I struggled wondering how I’d ever become a pastor at a place that didn’t care how many years of experience I had or whether or not I went to seminary.
One of the verses I clung to for a long time was this – if I would prove myself faithful, if I would prove myself faithful in what is another man’s ministry, then God would take care of the rest.
It didn’t happen overnight.  We spent six months at Costa Mesa, trying to figure out how to fit into a big church.  Then we finally got involved at Calvary Anaheim.  It was another three years before I was asked to be on staff as an assistant pastor.  It was another eight years before we started Calvary Fullerton.  But this has been what I’ve clung to – if I’m faithful, God will take care of the rest.

So how about you?  Are you a person of faith?  Then be faithful.  Don’t wait for the “big things” to happen.  Be faithful in the small things.  Be faithful with what’s on your plate now.  God will take care of the future.  You can trust Him on it.

Who is the person God uses?

A “fellow.  A servant.  One who is faithful.