1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
[Follow this link for the Order of Worship with embedded videos of the recommended songs that accompany this study.]
I had every intention of covering Colossians 1:1-8 in this study, but it just wasn’t happening. Then when it dawned on me that I could just do verses one and two, everything fell into place.
[Pray for God’s help, peace, and comfort during these troubling days, and ask specifically for his help as we read, discuss, and meditate on Scripture. Read Colossians 1:1-2 out loud to each other, perhaps several times.]
Observation and Exposition
Paul’s letter to the Colossians, like all of his letters that we have in the New Testament, begins by following a pattern that was typical of first-century Greco-Roman letter writing – from, to, greetings. Take a moment to look at Acts 23:26 for an example of a letter written from one Roman official to another Roman official.
But Paul normally does more with his letter greetings; he packs them with some serious theology, and this letter to the Colossians is no exception.
- Who is this letter from?
- How does Paul describe himself?
- When Paul identifies himself as an apostle, he means that he is a messenger, or better yet, an envoy, sent on behalf (or by) someone, in this case, Christ Jesus, and that he speaks with the authority of the person who sent him. With that in mind, who is this letter really from? Does that change how you might read or listen to the contents of this letter?
- Apostles are not self-appointed. Who does Paul say appointed him as an apostle of Christ Jesus? And something further to ponder: does anything happen outside of the will of the God? Can you defend your answer biblically?
- How does Paul describe Timothy? Most English versions read, “Timothy our brother,” but this literally reads in the Greek: “Timothy the brother.” This may mean that Paul intended “brother” to be Timothy’s title, like Paul’s title is “apostle.”
- Speaking of titles, and before we leave verse one, think about the words “Christ Jesus.” Is Christ just another name for Jesus? Part of his name? Or is it more? Look at Colossians 2:6, where Paul writes, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord…” Literally in the Greek, this reads: “As therefore you received the Christ Jesus the Lord,” which we might render: “As therefore you received the Christ, Jesus, the Lord.”
- For those of you were there, when we were going through Acts in Sunday school, in Acts 2:36 Peter sums up his speech (sermon) on the day of Pentecost by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ (or Messiah), this Jesus whom you crucified.”
- Jesus is Jesus’ name, like my name is John. But unlike me or any other person who has ever lived, Jesus has two very significant titles: Lord and Christ.
- “Lord” speaks of his being the all-sovereign ruler of this universe, which we’ll see more of in a couple weeks when we get further into chapter one of Colossians.
- “Christ” speaks of his being the chosen or anointed one, anointed by God the Father for a very special and significant work or mission: the redemption of his people. There is only one Christ in the universe, or even outside of the universe, and that person is Jesus, who was fully human and fully God.
- Who is the letter written to?
- Paul could have simply written, “To the church in Colossae,” much like he did in his letter to the churches in Galatia (Galatians 1:2). But the letter to the churches in Galatia was a special letter, and Paul was not happy with the progress those churches were, or better yet, were not making in the gospel.
- Now that we’ve mentioned the letter to the Galatians, take a few minutes and look at how Paul describes the recipients of his other New Testament letters, but as you do that, keep this in mind: Other than the geographical locations that Paul mentions, theologically all these letters are also addressed to you and to me, so notice how Paul describes them and us. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1
- Back to Colossians, geographically (or perhaps in space and time) Paul locates his recipients in the town of Colossae, which is about 125 miles due east of Ephesus. But where does he locate them theologically? [Hint: think back three weeks to when we studied the mystery of the gospel revealed.]
- Paul identifies his recipients specifically as “brothers,” (as the ESV has translated it literally), but some other English versions read “brothers and sisters,” which is not wrong, and may even be better. The ESV does include a footnote that reads: “Or brothers and sisters.”
- Later in the letter in 3:18-4:1, Paul specifically addresses various groups in the church: “wives” (women), “husbands” (men), “children” (boys and girls), “fathers” (men), “slaves” (men and women), and “masters” (men, but possibly or probably women as well). So it makes sense that when he says “brothers” in this context, he means “brothers and sisters.”
- But what does this imply? Right. We are part of a family – God’s family. And this is a big family, that spans the globe and the centuries. It might be helpful to think of our local church, Sojourn Church, as our immediate church family, and other Christian churches in Spearfish and around the world as our extended church family. But we are all “related” because we have the same father, God the Father, who has adopted us and brought us into his family.
- And what does this imply? Right again. Every Christian you’ll ever meet or know is your brother or sister in Christ. And that knowledge should affect how we relate and interact with each other. Even more, the non-Christians that we interact with may at some point in the future, if God wills, become our brothers and sisters.
- Oh, and one more implication. When someone is adopted into a family, or for that matter, born into a family, does the person who is adopted (or born) choose the family they are adopted into? I’ve never heard of that happening, and I suspect you never have either.
- Paul also identifies his recipients as “saints,” though in the Greek that word is actually an adjective: “holy.” So verse two could have been translated as “To the holy and faithful brothers…” which wouldn’t have been wrong, necessarily, but considering the greetings in Paul’s other letters that we looked at earlier, “saints” or “holy ones” is probably the better translation in this verse.
- So is Paul writing to one or two select groups within the larger Colossian church? Is he writing only to the brothers and sisters who happen to be saints (holy) and faithful?
- No, the rest of the letter makes it clear that he’s writing to everyone in the Colossian church. Look at Colossians 3:12. In this verse Paul is instructing the believers (brothers and sisters) on how they are to live because of who they are. And who are they according to 3:12? They are “God’s chosen ones,” which could have also been translated “God’s elect.” Same thing: to be chosen by God is to be elected by God; to be God’s elect people is to be God’s chosen people.
- Still in 3:12, how does Paul further describe them (and us) as God’s chosen ones? “Holy” (same word as “saints” in 1:2) and “beloved.” Not holy as in perfect and without sin or blemish, although we are in the process of moving in that direction, slowly. But holy as in sanctified or set apart by God for a special purpose. And beloved as in God loves us. If you are a brother or sister in Christ, God the Father has made you holy (you are a saint) and he loves you far more than you may ever realize.
- So by referring to them as “saints,” Paul is reminding the Colossians (and us) that they (and we) have been delivered “from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
- By also describing them as “faithful” Paul is reminding them of the gospel, that they have believed the gospel, and that they should continue to be faithful to the gospel. Read Colossians 2:6-7 and discuss or ponder how that is an apt description of what it means to be faithful.
- Refer back again to Acts 23:26, where Claudius Lysias says to Felix the governor, “Greetings.” The word translated “Greetings” is related to the word translated “Grace.” Paul has just Christianized the typical Greco-Roman greeting, but in doing that he’s doing so much more.
- When Paul writes “Grace to you,” he’s not expressing a wish that they will somehow experience kindness, or even experience God’s kindness. More than that, he’s effectively praying for them that they will continue to experience God’s “powerful salvific work of God in Christ” (as one commentator put it), and is also reminding them that they already have experienced God’s grace in their salvation.
- Next, when Paul speaks of “peace” he’s not merely wishing that they will experience tranquility. He’s reminding them that because of their salvation, and God’s grace at work in their lives, they now have peace with God, when before they were saved there was no peace with God. In fact, they and we were enemies of God. But God, by his grace, saved us and because of that, they and we now have peace with God – eternal, never ending, and complete peace.
- And finally, Paul identifies God as “our Father,” which brings us back to what we discussed earlier about being in God’s family. Praise God!
To close, read Colossians 1:1-2 again, and then pray to God our Father, thanking him for who he is and what he has done and is doing in our lives, in our church, in the church, and in the world. Thank him especially for making us holy and for adopting us into his family