Devotional # 142. 6/23/15. Colossians 1:1-2.
Intro. I’m excited about starting the book of Colossians today. It’s great to be able to continue on, having gone through Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians (for most of you). We call Colossians a book but, like the other books I just mentioned, it was actually a letter. Colossians was written by Paul (and also came from Timothy, as we’ll see in verse 1) to the Christians in Colossae.
The church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, instead it was planted by Epaphras (Col. 1:5-7) who had gotten saved in Ephesus because of Paul’s ministry there (Acts 19). Colossae was made up mostly of Gentiles although there were a significant amount of Hebrews there. This translated into a racially mixed church, which was a good thing although it also meant that forms of heresy were issues. The Gentiles pagan mysticism and Jewish legalism became a weird mix that hadn’t been seen prior to this. It became known as the Colossian heresy and was a serious threat to the church at this time. It’s thought that Epaphras “made the long journey from Colossae to Rome (Col. 4:12, 13),” to ask for Paul’s advice regarding this heresy. And that’s why we ended up with this letter, which was written by Paul while in prison in Rome (Acts 28:16–31) sometime between A.D. 60-62″ (Source 1).
v. 1. Paul starts off similar to the other books giving his credentials of being an apostle. But the two cool things about it is that he actually had a lot more degrees and experience that he could have referenced here (as we talked about in Philippians 3:2-6, Devotional # 130) but he doesn’t because being an apostle was the only thing that mattered. The second thing is that it wasn’t him being an apostle by anything that he had done but it was all from “Jesus Christ by the will of God“. So, as always, Paul gives his credentials on why he should be listened to and believed -because God is speaking through him to the reader. As I mentioned in the intro above, this letter is also from Timothy, he believes in and agrees with what Paul, and ultimately God, are saying here.
v. 2. Paul isn’t classifying the Christians in Colossae into two groups here, instead he is saying this letter is to the Christians who fulfill both categories: they are both “saints” and “faithful brothers [and sisters]”. Although “saints” is another name for Christians in the church, it’s really important to note the “faithful brothers [and sisters]” because of what we now know about the church in Colossae, from the above “Intro”. The “Colossian heresy” that had morphed weird aspects of Jewish legalism and pagan mysticism was threatening to pull members away from the church. So Paul was encouraging the members of the church who would hear this letter read out loud in their church that they were and should continue to be “faithful” in the Lord. It is so crucial for us Christians to be “faithful” to the church that Jesus has called us to. This isn’t just “the Church” that is made up of many members of the faith over time and space but actually, established churches also. How many people do you know that went to church for a while but drifted away because sleeping in or tee-ball games became more important? I think one of the most difficult things to do in this life is to remain “faithful” to the Lord and the things of God. Jesus wouldn’t have said so much about persevering and remaining faithful if it wasn’t such a big deal.
Another way to look at the “saints” and “faithful brothers [and sisters]” here, is that where “saints” implies Christians being united with God, then “faithful brothers and sisters” implies unity between Christian men and woman (Source 7).
The differences and similarities of the Gentile and Hebrew cultures are evidenced by how Paul greets them. When he says, “Grace to you” it’s a Greek greeting and then he says, “peace from God” which is a Hebrew greeting. What can we learn from these? Well, the words Paul uses for “grace to you” in Greek are charis hymin* (slightly different from using the standard chairen**) and then “peace” is eirene *** but Paul basically coined his own greeting by combining two “standard” greetings. “By doing this he placed the focus on the unmerited blessings given to believers in Christ. Through God’s marvelous grace sinners are delivered from their sins and brought into a saving relationship with a holy God by the work of God on their behalf completely free of charge. This grace does not cease with salvation from sin’s penalty, but continues on as the foundation of the believer’s life with God throughout all eternity. These blessings of grace Paul and his associates wish for their readers” (Source 6). This is interesting and applies to us today, but that’s only half of Paul’s greeting blessing. The use of “peace” is more than just a flippant way of saying ‘I hope you’re OK.’ When a Jewish person, even to this day, enters or leaves a house the greeting or farewell is “shalom.” But, again, Paul means it more than just a customary saying, one of the reasons he says it is that, “peace with God refers to the peace of salvation wherein the barriers, like man’s sin and God’s holiness, which separate man from God are removed through faith in God’s gracious work in Christ. In Ephesians 2, Christ is seen as the Peacemaker” (Source 6).
I find it amazing that having just showed difference and similarity in cultural greeting, Paul then says that it’s from “God our Father” “and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Isn’t it interesting how he mentions them “jointly from both, and distinctly from each” (Source 5)? So Paul took the time to recognize the differences of the cultures, not ignoring them but bringing them together in unity, and in the same sentence he recognizes the distinction between the Father and the Son but also brings them together in unity with one small word – “and”!
*“Grace” is charis (G#5485) in Greek meaning “good will, loving-kindness, favour” (Source 2). “To you” is hymin (G#5213) in Greek meaning “you” or “to you” (Source 3).
** Source 6.
***“peace” is eirene (G1515) meaning “peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord” in Greek (Source 4) but translated in Hebrew is shalom.
Conclusion. As we begin the book of Colossians we’re hit with four contrasts, three of which melt into unification. The first difference is between a man-made false religion combing pagan heresy and Jewish legalism and true Christianity.
The remaining three are great learning experiences for us: 1. The difference between “saints” and “faithful brothers and sisters” shows a unification between each of us with God and unity between our brothers and sisters. 2. The contrast between Gentile and Hebrew greetings, recognizing that we’re different by culture but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be united as Christians. Paul proves this even just by creating a new greeting (“grace and peace”). 3. The distinction between the “Father” and the “Son” showing they are indeed two different Persons (as the Scriptures teach) and yet the LORD is One (Deuteronomy 6:4).
I pray that you’re relationship with God is the most important in your life. And second to that is your relationship with other believers. I also pray that you recognize and celebrate cultural differences between yourself and other believers, actively allowing it to create something new and beautiful. Lastly, I pray you think rightly about God: that the Father sent the Son to die on the cross for our sins, but also that the Son went willingly and joyfully. The only way for Jesus to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins was if He was in fact perfect, which only God can be. So even if we don’t understand it, we celebrate the distinction and unity in our Lord God almighty!
Source 1: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1830.
Source 5: Matthew Henry, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Col/Col_001.cfm?a=1108001
Source 6: J. Hampton Keathley III, “Grace and Peace” article, https://bible.org/article/grace-and-peace
Source 7: A.R. Fausset, quoting Bengel, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians Commentary, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Col/Col_001.cfm?a=1108001 .