Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Faith Community of Colossae. Chapter I

 


The Gospel to the Gentiles



1:1-2      Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Colossians faith community, the recipient of the epistle, was one of several churches of the time that did not arise from the direct intervention of the apostle Paul; the Colossians faith community was not founded as a result of the apostle’s visit to the region, in fact, in the Acts of the Apostles book which is considered the logbook of Paul’s travels, it does not mention the locality as one of the regions visited by the apostle.

The best reference that Paul was not in the area are the same statements that the apostle makes in his Epistle,

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; (2:1)

In the conclusion of the epistle, Paul also mentions the communities of Hierapolis and Laodicea which, together with Colossae, were never visited by him,

For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. (4:13)


1:4-6      since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

The first thing the apostle does is to recognize that such communities of faith are legitimate, and he confirms that the Gospel that came to these regions is in conformity with what is established in the doctrine of Christ as taught from Jerusalem.

Comparing this reference with the accounts of the Acts of the Apostles regarding the evangelism movements in the region, we find that as a result of the persecution unleashed after Stephen’s death against the disciples, there were many of them who left Jerusalem fleeing the threats of prison and death that the Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia, all sectors of the synagogue, launched against those who proclaimed the name of Jesus.[1] Apparently, this persecution was because of a doctrine postulated by the disciples that contrasted with the doctrinal aspect of the sector that promoted the revolt against Stephen;

Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. Acts 6:11

There are signs in the account of Acts that show that the persecution against the disciples was not against the whole church in Jerusalem but only against the sector of it that came from the regions of Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. This is clearly seen in the conjugation of several accounts that describe how the Jerusalem church was formed. First, the account of what happened on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost); the text says that the vast majority of the more than three thousand who received the Word,[2] came from the regions of Asia Minor that had arrived on the occasion of the solemn feasts of Pesach and Shavuot; many of these decided to move to Jerusalem to await the return of Jesus,

8And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God…   45 and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,  Acts 2:8-11

Then, when Luke relates what happened after Stephen’s death, he describes that those who fled from Jerusalem were a multicultural group, among Jews and proselytes, who were not only escaping from Jerusalem, but above all, seeking the regions from which they had originally left before moving to Jerusalem,

19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.  Acts 11:19-20

Note also that among those scattered because of Stephen’s death is Philip, the deacon,[3] who in the early years of his departure from Jerusalem took refuge in the province of Samaria,[4] and then later relocated to Caesarea.[5]

So, considering the above, it is understandable that many of these who fled Jerusalem although originally relocated to Antioch in Syria, eventually moved through the places of Asia Minor speaking the Word to both Jews and Gentiles, and reached the regions of Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea, and sowed seeds that eventually became communities of faith similar to Jerusalem.


1:7-8      as ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

The apostle also confirms that the congregations of faith of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis, were churches founded by Epaphras, who took care of them with the zeal of a good pastor,

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.  (4:12-13)

As for Epaphras, the epistle implies that Paul knew him beforehand; several reasons lead us to assure him of this:

  • Paul categorizes him as “our dear fellowservant” (1:7)
  • Paul certifies him as “faithful minister of Christ” (1:8). In the conclusion of the epistle he recertifies him as “a servant of Christ” (4:12).
  • Paul testifies that Epaphras is always labouring fervently for you in prayers (4:12)
  • Paul testifies that Epaphras hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis (4:13).

Paul would not have dared to certify Epaphras as a faithful minister of Christ if he had not had sufficient references to Epaphras beforehand; the epistle is not a letter of recommendation in favor of Epaphras, it is an apostolic letter to establish the consolidation of the doctrine of the faith in Jesus in which they have been taught.

Although it is already convincing that the apostle Paul did not visit the towns of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis, cities in the interior of the province of Phrygia, the book of Acts of the Apostles admits that Paul crossed the province after he left the cities of Lystra and Iconium trying to ascend to the provinces of Mysia and Bhytinia, regions of northern Asia Minor.

1Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium…  Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.    Acts 16:1-8

From the description of the apostle in the Epistles to the Colossians, and the Epistle to Philemon, Paul is already an old man when Epaphras appears beside him;[6] so Epaphras could not have known Paul during his first two journeys; this leads us to understand that Paul met Epaphras in Ephesus, but during the apostle’s third journey. It is the only time in the apostle’s ministry where he remained for a long time in the same place. Let us note Luke’s reference to the apostle’s stay in Ephesus,

And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. Acts 19:10

Luke even confirms that the fame of the apostle transcended the borders of the province, so much so that people from different places made long journeys to even carry shrouds of people who were sick,

11And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12 so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. Acts 19:11-12

Epaphras must have coincided with Paul in Ephesus by this time, either because he lived there or because he had traveled from Colossae to Ephesus for such a purpose; by the same time Paul also must have known Philemon, beloved Apphia and Archîpo, all of whom are mentioned in the epistle to Philemon. We may note that these cities, like the epistles sent to them, were of special value to the Apostle.

While it is true that Paul knew Epaphras earlier, it was not so with regard to the churches, for in the epistle Paul admits that he began to pray for them, as soon as he learned of their existence, showing in the form of writing the existence of a relatively short time of knowledge of the existence of the churches. What is certain is that Paul was impacted by the testimony of Epaphras about how the churches were founded.

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, …  (1:9)

Epaphras was born in Colossae, the epistle confirms it,

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. (4:12)

Epaphras is also taken prisoner along with Paul, and apparently this was the reason why the apostle wrote to the faith community of Colossae and Laodicea;

There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Philemon 23

The faith communities of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis have been left without anyone to shepherd them; in the conclusion of the epistle Paul exhorts Archippus to fulfill the ministry he has received from the Lord, which may well indicate that Archippus is the person who should have held the position of Epaphras. In the epistle to Philemon, Paul mentions him again, this time as a fellow soldier,

1Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Philemon 1-2


1:9-20    9For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; 12 giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15 who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven

The doctrinal content that the apostle shares with them shows a depth of Revelation very little seen in other epistles.

  • The first point that the apostle states in his Epistle is about the importance that the knowledge of God’s Will must have for a man and a woman of faith: that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will (1:9). Paul states with this principle that the life of faith consists in knowing the Will of God: That ye may walk as it is worthy of the Lord (1:10a).
  • The second point that the apostle states is with respect to the doctrine of perfection: pleasing him in all things, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God: (1:10b). Perfection consists in the daily effort to attain knowledge about God. In his epistle to the Philippians he wrote in quite similar terms,

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, Philippians 3:13

  • The third point which the apostle establishes is with regard to the courage and strength which the man and woman of faith must have in the face of adversity and/or persecution for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel: strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (1:11). No persecution or adversity for the sake of the Gospel should be a cause of anguish, pain, or sadness. The man and woman of faith should understand that surpassing them is not the result of human strength, but the product of the power of the Glory of God operating in the person by the Spirit of God dwelling in us.

This stance, which at first glance seems to be the hallmark of Paul’s ministry, is actually an apostolic doctrinal theme of the church that was born and spread from Jerusalem. Luke describes in his second treatise, the Acts of the Apostles, how the disciples rejoiced when they were in tribulation because of the proclamation of the Gospel message,

40And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.          Acts 5:40-41

The subject of persecution and/or tribulation for the sake of the Gospel was seen within the church as a doctrinal subject; persecution is the evidence that the disciples are bearers of the Truth of the Kingdom of Heaven; Paul presented it as a requirement for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven,[7] James as a motive for joy,[8] and the apostle Peter as the identification of the disciple with the teachings of Jesus.[9]

The apostle Peter states in his first epistle that no one should see the tribulation as a personal affront, or fear it, but rather consider it as something transitory,

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 1st. Peter 4:12

So, Paul writes to establish doctrine for the churches of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis, stating that above all things, they must not allow this absence among them of Epaphras to be the cause of their spiritual pause; therefore he prays that they may be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (1:11).

  • The fourth point that the apostle presents in his epistle is about the struggle against the kingdom of darkness: giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (1:12-13).

The preaching of the cross consists in understanding that the disciple, the man and woman of faith, have been moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus, and therefore Satan no longer has jurisdiction over them. The spiritual struggle is possible because we have part with the saints in light, and from here also arises the doctrinal confession that light has no communion with darkness.[10]

  • The fifth doctrinal point that the apostle establishes is about the doctrine of Christ. Who is Jesus?: ; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:  who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:  for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.  And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;  and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven

It is clear in the epistle that Jesus is not presented as an angel, Jesus is God Himself. The apostle states it forcefully in the introduction of the epistle: Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a foreign or additional being to God-Father, He is the very essence of God, otherwise He will not mention Him “together” with God.

Paul confirms this doctrinal theme in his own epistle, establishing categorically that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God-Father.

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (3:1)

By the way Paul presents Jesus, he stands out from Him, who in Jesus,

  • We have redemption through his blood, (v.14a)
  • We have the remission of sins: (v.14b)

It emphasizes above all the attributes of Jesus in His divine nature,

  • Jesus is the image (εικων) of the invisible God, (v.15a). Paul establishes not only the idea of a “similarity” in appearance, but the similarity of nature.
  • Jesus is the firstborn of every creature. (v.15b). Paul states with this confession that the “image” (εἰκόνα) with which Adam was formed was the image of Jesus.
  • By Jesus were created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created by him and for him. (v.16) This confession states forcefully that Jesus is God.
  • Jesus is before all things, (v.17a)
  • Through Jesus all things consist: (v.17b)

As for Jesus as the manifestation of God in the flesh, Paul states that,

  • Jesus is the head of the body which is the church; (v.18a)
  • Jesus is the beginning of all things (v.18b)
  • Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. Paul establishes the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. (v.18c)
  • Jesus has Lordship over all things, that in all things he might have the preeminence. (v.18d)
  • Jesus is the one who gives life to all things: For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; (v.19). nothing subsists if He does not allow it.
  • Through Jesus, man’s reconciliation with God is established, and through him everything created returns to its original state as it was created before Adam’s disobedience: and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. (v.20)

1:21-23  21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22 in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23 if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

The churches of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis were churches with a Gentile background, Paul confirms this when he writes: And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled (v.21). From here Paul begins the presentation of the Gospel to the Gentiles with which he traveled the regions from Jerusalem to Illyricus, as he confesses in his epistle to the Romans..[11]

Not that it is another Gospel, but it did not contain the same doctrinal elements of the Gospel that was proclaimed among the Jews. In the agreement of the council of Jerusalem because of those who demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised and treated as proselytes, the council determined not to require them to submit to practices and rites that are in accordance with the justice of the works of the Law, and provided only,

19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. Acts 15:19-20

The Gospel to the Gentiles adopts a singular presentation; the Gospel is not a form of proselytism, the non-Jew does not need to invoke Jewish customs to be a beneficiary of the Grace of God. This teaching was clearly established by the apostle Paul and was recorded in almost all of his writings,

As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. Romans 11:28


But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: Galatians 2:3


2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Galatians 5:2-3

The Gospel to the Gentiles presented the Kingdom of God in function of the Body of Jesus, unlike the Gospel among the Jews who did it in function of the vision of a people, of the people of Israel, hence the need according to this vision that the Gentiles had to be circumcised. Paul writes to Gentiles, so he does not speak to them about the need to acquire a nationality but to remain within the body of Christ: in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: (v.22). To remain within the body of Christ is the only way for man to acquire reconciliation with God, and to be made holy and perfect before God.

Through this declaration of faith, the apostle establishes and consolidates two basic doctrines of the Gospel; the first, the doctrine of baptisms,[12] and the second, the doctrine of the hope of salvation through faith in Jesus.[13]

To discern the Body of Christ as the place where we were grafted in when we believed,[14] is the doctrine that Paul established to teach about how to grow in faith: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, (v.23). Not discerning the Body of Christ as the place where we move leads us into a state of spiritual stagnation,

29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 1st. Corinthians 11:29-31


1:24-27  24 who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28 whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

This final section is part of a personal Revelation that the apostle received directly from God, and has to do with his ministry among the Gentiles; something of this can be seen in Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles of Paul’s conversion; we read in the dialogue between God and Ananias how God describes to Ananias what is determined for Paul.

15But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. Acts 9:15-16

Although before Paul there were Gentiles who received the Grace of the Gospel,[15] it is Paul who officially opens the door for the Gentiles to enter into the Body of Christ. Hence Paul’s expression that he was made a minister according to the dispensation of God given to him in order to you, that is, with respect to the Gentiles in general terms:

Paul understands the magnitude of his ministry, so he expresses joy in what I suffer for you, understanding how necessary it is within the Kingdom of Heaven for a Jew to suffer for a Gentile, in order by his suffering, to fulfill in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for his body, which is the church. Paul is presenting a mystery of God’s Revelation on behalf of all those who were not born into Abraham’s generation in the line of Israel:  even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:  to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:  (1:26-27).

Paul understands the magnitude of his ministry, so he expresses joy in what I suffer for you, understanding how necessary it is within the Kingdom of Heaven for a Jew to suffer for a Gentile, in order by his suffering, to fulfill in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for his body, which is the church. Paul is presenting a mystery of God’s Revelation on behalf of all those who were not born into Abraham’s generation in the line of Israel:  even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:  to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:  (1:26-27).



All biblical quotations are taken from the King James Version.

 

 



Pastor Pedro Montoya

Twitter: @pastormontoya

https://earthenwarevessels.com

[1] Acts 6.9

[2] Ditto 2:41

[3] Ditto 6:5

[4] Ditto 8:5

[5] Ditto 8:40; 21:8

[6] Philemon 1:9

[7] Acts 14:22

[8] James 1:2-3

[9] 1st. Peter 3:16-18

[10] 2nd. Corinthians 6:14

[11] Romans 15:19

[12] Romans 6:3

[13] Idem 10:9

[14] Acts 17:28

[15] Luke 8:39 presents the possessed Gadarene as the first apostle to a Gentile region:  Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him. Acts 10:45 presents Peter at the conversion of Cornelius: And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.