by Rev. Julian Duckworth
The epistle to the Colossians, is written by Paul to the people of Colossae, a small Phrygian town near Laodicea, about 160 kilometres from Ephesus in Asia Minor. It has four chapters and is an important epistle in the whole body of the New Testament. It has doctrine and Christian conduct in it. It proclaims the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all things and in all times, it repudiates philosophy and legality, and it affirms the ‘new man’ who lives in and from Jesus Christ and in accordance with the ethics and morality of Christian belief and behaviour.
Well-known significant verses in Colossians are: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image on the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (1:13-15) “To them (His saints) God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (1:27) “For in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (2:9) “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth, for you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:2-3) “…since you have put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (3:9-11) “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter towards them.” (3:18-19) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one.” (4:6)
The whole thrust of this epistle is that of bringing everything of one’s belief in the redeeming power of the Son of God into the behaviour and conduct in life and among other people. This is a “two way arrow”: that belief leads to a newness in life, free of false persuasions, and that life is to be consciously lived and regulated from our belief.
An interesting theological point in Colossians (at 1:12-13) is that we “give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He (the Father) has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” The point has been made that this is not the way in which salvation is typically explained, here, being more to do with the Father, and traditionally, being more to do with the Son who brings atonement through the cross.
Chapter 2 has the exhortation neither to listen to philosophy (the tradition of men) nor to be involved with the mechanics of the law in terms of its requirements, for both these hold us in chains and we are to be free and to live as Christ determines us. It is thought by some that Colossians, being written in two parts, theology and morality, is an epistle guarding against various false teachers and false beliefs which had come into this young church. Others see it more that the theological position in Colossians is being shown to be that which will then lead to newness and to Christian morality and behaviour.
Colossians contains the often-debated teaching on marriage relationships, that wives are to submit to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord (3:18ff). This has led to justifying domination in marriage and even to physical abuse. But scripture is not a worldly teaching but a spiritual teaching. Less mentioned perhaps is that husbands are to love their wives and not to be bitter toward them. This is followed by a parallel teaching that children are to obey parents and fathers are not to provoke their children, lest they get discouraged. One ‘take’ on all of this is that the ‘new man’ – one living in and from Jesus Christ – will take up all of these as the result of their spiritual change. It may also be seen as the expression of good relationships with understood differences and perfect respect. ‘Submit’ can mean allowing the lead in the relationship from wisdom. Symbolically it can be saying that our love, with feelings and emotions, needs to be guided by our understanding, and by our clear relationship with the Lord.
One of the very practical aspects of Colossians is the sheer amount of clear behaviour patterns that are mentioned. For example, in 3:5 we are to put off and shun fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. In 3:8-9 we are to put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of our mouths, and not to lie to one another. In 3:12-13 we are to put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. The last chapter, 4, introduces and recommends a number of fellow servants of the Lord, who are to come with greetings and be received, or who are with Paul in prison, or who are in this community, Colossae, and that the epistle is to be read there and in Laodicea.