W. James Biesiadecki
Reading Overview / Colossians
Epaphras, The Fully Mature Disciple.
“Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up.”
The purpose of the letter to the Colossians was to encourage a church to Grow into Full Maturity. Col 2:6-7 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” The church was facing false teachings and needed to reinforce the believers' understanding of the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote the letter to address a heretical teaching that had emerged in Colossae, which mixed elements of Jewish legalism, mysticism, and angel worship with Christian beliefs.
Col 2:6-7 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
When Warren Wiersbe wrote a commentary on this epistle, he called it “Be Complete.”
“Paul did not begin by attacking the false teachers and their doctrines. He began by exalting Jesus Christ and showing His preeminence in five areas: the gospel message, redemption, creation, the church, and Paul’s own ministry.”
― Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Complete (Colossians): Become the Whole Person God Intends You to Be.
He titled his commentary on Colossians "Be Complete" because the theme of the letter to the Colossians is the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ. In the letter, Paul encourages the Colossian Christians to resist false teaching and to fully embrace the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church and the source of all spiritual blessings. The phrase "be complete" comes from Colossians 2:10, which says, "and in him you have been made complete, and he is the head over all rule and authority." This verse emphasizes that believers in Christ have everything they need for spiritual fulfillment and completeness, and that they should not look to any other source for spiritual fulfillment.
This is an Epistle.
The Greek word for "epistle" is "ἐπιστολή" (epistolē), which is derived from the verb "ἐπιστέλλω" (epistellō), meaning "to send a message." The lexical meaning of the word "ἐπιστολή" is a written letter or message that is sent to someone, typically for the purpose of communication or instruction. In the context of the New Testament, the term "epistle" refers to the letters written by various apostles and leaders of the early Christian church to different communities of believers, which were intended to provide guidance, instruction, and encouragement.
These epistles are written to churches. Their purpose is application, and circulation. There are several verses of scripture that suggest that the epistles were intended to be circulated or shared among the churches. Here are a few examples:
1. Colossians 4:16 - "After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea." In this verse, Paul instructs the Colossians to share his letter with the church in Laodicea, and to also read the letter that the Laodiceans had sent to them.
2. 2 Corinthians 1:1 - "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia." This verse indicates that the letter was not just intended for the church in Corinth, but also for other believers in the region of Achaia.
3. 1 Thessalonians 5:27 - "I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters." Here, Paul explicitly instructs the Thessalonians to share his letter with all the believers in their community.
4. Galatians 1:2 - "and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia." This verse indicates that Paul's letter was not just intended for one specific church in Galatia, but for all the churches in the region.
“Unless we receive Christ’s words, we cannot receive Christ, and unless we receive the apostles words, we do not receive Christ, for John said, he that no if God hears us he that no it’s not God here is not us. Hereby we know the spirit of truth in the spirit of error.” —Charles Spurgeon
The Author, and Recipients: The Church at Colossae
1. Colossae was a small city compared to Rome or Athens. It was close enough to Ephesus that Epaphras probably heard about Paul and may have
a. traveled to Ephesus, where Paul spent two years teaching and mentoring new believers (Acts 19:8-10).
i. walking from ancient Colossae to ancient Ephesus at a pace of 3 miles per hour and walking 12 hours per day:The distance between ancient Colossae and ancient Ephesus is approximately 163 miles.
ii. At a pace of 3 miles per hour, you would cover 36 miles per day if you walked for 12 hours per day.
iii. Therefore, it would take 163 miles / 36 miles per day = 4.53 days to walk the entire distance if you walked continuously for 12 hours per day.
iv. Rome on the other hand was almost 1100 miles away.
b. One possible mode of transportation for a letter in biblical times would be to send it with a courier or messenger who would travel on foot or on horseback. The cost of hiring a messenger would depend on the distance traveled and the time required to make the journey. It is safe to assume that it would have been a significant expense, particularly for individuals or organizations of modest means.
2. Colossae was located on a major trade route between the east and west, which made it an important commercial center. The city was primarily known for its production of a valuable purple dye made from the madder root.
a. Purple dye was derived from the secretion of the murex sea snail, and was a valuable commodity in the ancient world.
b. It was expensive and difficult to produce, and was therefore reserved for use by the wealthy and powerful.
• In Luke 16:19, the rich man is described as wearing purple and fine linen.
• In Acts 16:14, Lydia, a seller of purple cloth from Thyatira, is converted to Christianity by Paul in Philippi.
3. Colossae was one of three cities in the Lycus River Valley, along with Hierapolis and Laodicea.
4. The city was inhabited by a mixture of people from different ethnic backgrounds, including Greeks, Jews, and Phrygians.
5. The city was known for its temple to the goddess Artemis,
a. Artemis was known as the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, childbirth, and virginity, among other things. In Colossae, she was thought to be a benevolent deity who could grant fertility, protection, and prosperity to her worshippers.
b. the worship of Artemis in Colossae was centered around the building of a temple and the offering of sacrifices and vows.
c. there are some historical records that suggest that the temple may have been converted into a Christian church at some point in the early Christian period.
6. After the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 61 AD it was later rebuilt, but it never regained its former prominence. But this letter was assumed to be written in the early 50’s.
The Key Figures: Paul, and Epaphras.
Paul is the Author, and is writing the letter from prison. Epaphras may have visited Paul in Prison, and Paul is responding in a letter, or may have written a letter to Paul, which Paul now answers. Either way, the recipient is the church there. But follow the theme of Epaphras. Paul is lifting him up to the church as a model pastor. A pastor should model the faith. I would say, E. is a specimen of a fully mature disciple. The descriptions of Epaphras are significant: “our dear fellow servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ,” “a servant of Christ Jesus,” He is “always wrestling in prayer,” and “working hard.” The brief sketch Paul provides shows that the apostle thought highly of this follower of Christ and fellow laborer. Epaphras demonstrated a strong faith, a rich prayer life, a boldness in sharing the gospel even at the risk of suffering, and deep care and concern for the maturity of those entrusted to him.
1. E. is mentioned three times by name in the New Testament, twice in Colossians and once in Philemon. Epaphras’ name shows up in Paul’s personal letter to Philemon. Like Colossians, Paul wrote Philemon during his first imprisonment in Rome.
a. The Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.
b. Colossians seems like a condensed version of Ephesians.
2. He was a believer in Christ who served in similar Ministry to the apostle Paul, who identified that similarity as he called him a “fellow servant,” “faithful minister,” and “servant of Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:7; 4:12).
3. He was a Gentile. Identified by his common Greek name and drawn from Paul’s comment in Col 4:11 after referring to several men, he said, “These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.” That is followed by
4. We can safely assume that he was from Colossae in Asia Minor, since his name appears in the letter to the church there and Paul says that he “Epaphras who is one of you...” (Colossians 4:12).
5. Epaphras models the Mature Disciple.
a. An example of Evangelistic zeal.
i. According to Paul, Epaphras was the one who shared the gospel with the Colossians and probably started the church there:
1. Col 1:5-7 “ Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, ... since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf”
b. An example of a mature discipleship.
i. A disciple is someone who learns the words and ways of a master teacher in order to walk as He walked, and to do His work
ii. Epaphras traveled to Rome to visit Paul, informing Paul about the Colossians’ “love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:8) in order to glean from Paul instructions. Col 1:8 “and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”
iii. Col 1:28-29 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
c. An example of earnest Intercession.
i. Notice that Paul prayed for them after mentioning Epaphras name. Col 1:7-9 “just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” Epaphras prayer for them seems inspirational for Paul.
ii. Col 4:12 “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
d. An example of strenuous Service. Paul gave testimony that Epaphras was "working hard" for the churches in Colossae just as he was for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13).
i. Epaphras traveled to Rome or at some other time had apparently been imprisoned: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings” (Philemon 1:23). Tradition from outside the Bible records that Epaphras eventually returned to Colossae where he remained until he was later martyred.
The Content of the Epistle:
The focal point of Paul’s teaching will fall on several points. Epaphras will take this letter, and use it to disciple his people. Col 4:16 “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
1. You can have a powerful testimony (Praise & Prayer): Col 1:3–14
2. You should stand in awe of Christ . Col 1:15-20
3. You can be strengthen by the example of Strong saints like Paul Col 1:24-2:5
4. You should reject syncretism - it distorts the Work of Christ Col 2:6-15
5. You should reject legalism - takes away from the work of Christ Col 2:16-23
6. You have to walk in the likeness of Christ (Putting off/Putting On) Col 3:1-17
7. You should serve the Lord in your Relationships (Marriage, Family, Work, Outsiders) Col 3:18-4:5
8. You should be encouraged by good examples: Tychichus, onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Barnabas, Jesus, and of course, Epaphras, Luke, Demas. Col Col 4:7-18