There are two things that make this letter valuable in a special way for you as a young believer. First, all attention is drawn towards the glory of Christ’s Person. This glory is expressed in various ways in different relationships. You will see Him as the Son of the Father’s love in whom dwells the fullness of Godhead (Col 1:13,19); you will see Him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col 1:16-17); and you will see Him as the Savior and Head of His body, the church (Col 1:14,18).
Secondly the way the mystery (Col 1:27) is being unfolded, namely as a source of encouragement (Col 2:2). The mystery implies that the church is made one with Christ. The more you discover and appreciate it, the more it will support your faith and give you encouragement in an environment that knows nothing of this and even rejects it.
The intent of this letter is that you receive teachings from the things mentioned in it and begin to reflect on them. The result, no doubt, is that your heart and your eyes will be filled with the glory of the Lord Jesus. I can assure you that eventually your soul will be overflowing with gratitude, joy and confidence.
The letter to the Colossians is the third letter Paul wrote from his imprisonment in Rome (after the letter to the Ephesians and the letter to the Philippians). This is not a letter from a study scholar. Paul had experienced comfort and joy in his soul as he reflected on the glory of the Lord and wrote it down. You can also experience the same when you read this letter.
All of Paul’s letters were written on the occasion of something he had noticed or heard. The reason for the letter to the Colossians was that Paul had heard of errors that had gained access to Colossae. Epaphras must have conveyed these to him. It is not clear what exactly the errors were.
However there are some hints in the letter, namely, in chapter 2. There for instance you read about philosophy (Col 2:8), of Jewish rituals (Col 2:16-17), and worship of angels (Col 2:18). They are elements both from paganism and from Judaism. There was only one way that the evil that has been done by these mistakes could be undone and that is by visualizing the entire glory of Christ. Whoever gets to know this glory will never need to have anything to do with errors.
As mentioned earlier Paul must have heard of all the developments in the church at Colossae through Epaphras. This faithful servant stood in close relationship with the church at Colossae. From chapter 1 one can understand that the church at Colossae emerged as a result of the work done by Epaphras (Col 1:7). He had preached the gospel to the Colossians (Col 4:12). It was, however, not ‘his’ church, but he certainly felt a great responsibility for them. When errors appeared he spoke to Paul about them, and Paul in turn took paper and ink in his hand, and wrote to the believers in Colossae regarding the dangers of the errors and taught them how to arm themselves against such dangers.
Paul himself had never been in Colossae (Col 2:1). However, he didn’t think: ‘It is the church of Epaphras; let him handle the matter.’ Paul was conscious that he was the servant of the entire church. He was also aware that it was not his church but the church of Christ. It is this awareness that gave him an ardent love for the church. When the enemy attacked the church by trying to introduce heresies, he went into action. False teachings are the masterly means to destroy the church – even to the extent of assaulting Christ, for in fact Christ and the church are one.
Paul has learned that at the moment of his conversion. He was busy persecuting the church at that moment. The Lord Jesus, however, spoke from heaven, to halt this persecutor of His church, saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The persecution of the church on earth was equivalent to the persecution of the Lord Jesus in heaven. Here you learn that the church on earth and the Lord Jesus in heaven are one. The church is one body with Him as the Head. This is called the mystery in this letter. A mystery is something which was not made known in the Old Testament, but now it is revealed to the church.
There is one more letter in which you read about this mystery – that is the letter to the Ephesians. However, the manner in which Paul speaks about this mystery in the letter to the Colossians is different from the way he does in the letter to the Ephesians. It will help you to understand the letter to the Colossians better when I mention a few differences. One important difference is that the letter to the Colossians shows that Christ is one with the church on earth while in the letter to the Ephesians the church is presented as one with Christ in heaven.
Another difference is that in the letter to the Colossians, the Christian is seen as risen with Christ, but not made to sit in the heavenly places as in the letter to the Ephesians. In fact he says to the Colossians that there is a hope laid up for them in heaven (Col 1:5). That means namely that they are not seen in heaven as in the letter to the Ephesians, but in their life on earth. You can also conclude that from the exhortation of Paul that the Christian should direct his thoughts and feelings on the things which are above and not on the things that are on earth (Col 3:1-2).
Another difference is that the letter to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in Christ (Col 1:19; 2:9), and our perfection in Him (Col 2:10), while in the letter to the Ephesians the privileges of the body are presented.
Lastly I would like to point out the fact that in the letter to the Colossians the emphasis is on Christ as our life. The emphasis on the other hand in the letter to the Ephesians is more on the Spirit, Who is mentioned only once in the letter to the Colossians (Col 1:8).
When you compare these letters with one another in this way you will be more and more aware of the unique characteristics of each letter. In my introduction to the commentary on the letter to the Ephesians I compared some letters together, drawing a parallel to the journey of Israel from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the promised land. You can read about it there. I did not mention the letter to the Colossians in that comparison. You can classify this letter between the letter to the Romans and the letter to the Ephesians.
The letter to the Romans is about the deliverance from the bondage of sin (the picture of Egypt) through the work of Christ. The letter to the Ephesians is about entering the blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (the picture of the blessings of the Canaan land). The letter to the Colossians sees Christians as freed from the bondage of sin and connected to Christ. They do not enjoy the blessings of the heavenly places yet, because they are still on the earth.
In this letter, the circumcision of Christ (Col 2:11) is mentioned. This reminds us of the circumcision of the people of Israel after they crossed over Jordan (Jos 5:2-9). The Israelites were indeed in the land, but they had not fought yet. They were yet to conquer the land.
The circumcision of Christ speaks of the judgment Christ suffered for you on the cross. Since you believe that, now you are free to enjoy His glory which is described in an excellent manner in this letter. I hope and pray that you will experience this to the fullest.
Now read this letter again.
Reflection: Which portion, or which passage, gives you the content of the letter in the best way?