MANual Lessons: Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

Another of the Apostle Paul’s letters to early churches was one to the people in Colossae. As you read this next post in my year-long journey through The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, you will find similarities to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, probably because it was written about the same time. However, the book of Colossians does have a different emphasis. 

About Colossae

The Bible does not record Paul ever visiting Colossae (also spelled ‘Colosse’), a city in the western Asia Minor region named Phrygia in modern Turkey. Colossae was about 100 miles from Ephesus along a Roman road that connected other destinations in the province, such as Hierapolis and Laodicea. Colossae’s chief export was unique wool called collossinus that was likely colored purple. It was also blessed with rich mineral deposits. 

The general area around Colossae was prone to frequent earthquakes. During the latter part of Emperor Nero’s reign (54 to 68 A.D.), an earthquake struck the area and destroyed many cities in the region. 

The church in Colossae was likely started by Epaphras, who was a resident of Colossae and we assume that the church was composed mainly of Gentiles. Epaphras was one of Paul’s co-workers who helped keep the church together through its difficulties (Colossians 4:12-13). Colossae was also home to a Christian named Philemon, who generously allowed his house to be used as a gathering place to worship God on the Sabbath (Philemon 1:2).

Epaphras had apparently been imprisoned while in Rome visiting Paul: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings” (Philemon 1:23). Tradition teaches that Epaphras eventually returned to Colossae where he remained a faithful servant of Christ and was later martyred. But those details are not found in the Bible.

The church had been infiltrated by religious relativism, with some believers attempting to combine elements of paganism, strains of Judaism, and secular Greek philosophy, with Christian doctrine. The resulting heresy became known as Gnosticism, emphasizing special knowledge (gnosis in Greek) of these elements that denies Christ as God and Savior. Paul confronts these false teachings and stresses Christ’s deity – his connection to the Father and His sacrificial death on the cross for sin. 

About the Book of Colossians

The brief book of Colossians is the twelfth of the New Testament. Like several of Paul’s Epistles (letters), he writes to churches to help establish early Christian theology. 

Colossians is one of Paul’s four “prison letters” (along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon). All are written approximately 60–62 A.D. when he was under house arrest in Rome. During the two-year period, Paul is kept under close guard at all times, probably chained to a soldier. He is given certain freedoms not offered to other prisoners like writing or dictating letters and seeing visitors. The book of Acts verifies this with references to Paul being guarded by soldiers (Acts 28:16), permitted to receive visitors (Acts 28:30), and having opportunities to share the gospel (Acts 28:31). 

Some scholars question Paul’s authorship and instead attribute the letter to an early follower. Like the other prison letters, probably used a scribe (possibly Timothy) though Paul validates his authorship with the statement “in my own handwriting” (Colossians 4:18). 

The Blueprint of Colossians

The 4 chapters of this letter to the believers in Colossae are broken down into 2 parts: 1) what Christ has done (chapters 1 & 2), and 2) how Christians should live (3 & 4). 

Paul opens Colossians with a greeting from him and their brother in Christ, Timothy. He gives thanks to them for meeting with Epaphras, who is helping the church on behalf of Paul and Timothy. 

Paul begins to expose the heresy in the Colossian church by explaining that the knowledge they have now should lead to a changed life (1:9-14). Paul wanted the believers to put this new knowledge of Jesus into practice by helping others. 

The Image of God

Verses 15-23 emphasize the supremacy of Christ, Who holds all things together and is the source of their salvation. Paul writes that Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God by using the Greek word eikon, from which we get the English word icon. He says human beings are created in God’s image and are called to be icons that reflect the image of Christ here on earth.

  • In what areas are you reflecting Christ to others? 
  • In what areas are you not such a Christ-like reflection?

Chapter 2 is Paul’s lament for the Colossians and its sister congregation in Laodicea. Gnosticism has become fashionable in both cities leading to a lukewarm commitment to their churches. Paul warns the believers to avoid the empty philosophies and nonsense of the false teachers by returning to their faith. He uses the analogy of “spiritual circumcision” that cuts away their sinful nature. He reminds them of their baptism and that Christ’s death on the cross cancels their sins in order to give them eternal life. 

Paul begins outlining the new life of a Christian and what we should do in chapter 3. He begins outlining Christian behavior by comparing the “Old Self” and the “New Self” (3:1–17). Paul lists several vices such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and greed as evil desires that we must avoid. He then gives the Christ-like virtues for holy people like tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. He wants believers to teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom of Christ. 

The back half of chapter 3 provides some rules for Christian Households (3:18–4:1). These are considered the shorter version of the same in Ephesians 5:21-26 which is about love and respect in marriage. Paul also gives instructions to children to obey their parents in this chapter. 

Provoking Your Children

One of the most condemning statements in Colossians is 3:21 which says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (New King James Version). Other translations use the words aggravate, provokes, exasperate, antagonize, and embitter. In any case, these are words to take seriously.

Children must be handled with care. Parents must not nag, deride, or destroy a child’s self-confidence, especially since we now see a significant increase in depression and suicide among adolescents today.

However, parents must also not try to become their child’s best friend either. Too often, parents are afraid of hurting their feelings and do not correct the child at all. They need firm and learn discipline, administered in love. They need security, guidance, and structure. 

  • What are your hardest parenting situations these days?
  • How can fathers and mothers discipline their kids without provoking them or demeaning them?

Chapter 4 includes Paul’s further instructions for believers to devote themselves to prayer and be watchful. He wants us to be wise in the way we act toward outsiders. We must show an abundant amount of grace while making the most of every opportunity to share the Gospel with non-believers. 

Paul also gives his final greetings. He says Tychicus would bring them a full report of how Paul is getting along in prison and encourage them. He would also send Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother who was one of their own to accompany Tychicus. Paul also sends greetings from others in prison: Aristarchus, Epaphras, John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, and Luke. Paul encouraged the Colossians to pass his letter on to the church at Laodicea after reading it first.

God Buddy Focus

Many today feel doctrine and theology seem to be out of touch with their day-to-day reality. But in Colossians, Paul includes a very important statement about becoming “perfect” in Christ. This does not mean we are to be “flawless” as in never without sin. Only Jesus was without sin. Instead, Paul means we are to become “mature or complete” spiritually by learning and growing daily. We are to make Jesus Lord of our entire lives.

Many men today struggle with trying to become or do things perfectly. This often stems from a wound in their past such as an absent father or overly-involved mother which causes many to constantly look for approval and achievement. 

This week, get together with your GodBuddies and discuss these questions:

  • Do you struggle with perfectionism? In what ways? 
  • What wound in your past may have caused this? Have you sought out a counselor or trusted friends with whom you can discuss this? 
  • What does it look like to make Jesus Lord over your life, over your home, your church, and the world?

My next post is about Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica.


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