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Background Study Sheet

                    I.  THE CITY OF COLOSSAE 
  The city of Colossae was located about 100 miles
east of Ephesus in the beautiful valley of the Lycus
River.  It was situated about 12 miles up the river
from Hierapolis and Laodicea.  The city of Colossae
had once been a large city and an important one, but
it had diminished considerably.  In the New
Testament time it was considered neither as large nor
important as its neighboring cities. 
  Paul must have been in close proximity to the city
on several occasions and may have passed through it
on his travels.  There is no indication, however, that
he ever preached there or that he was responsible for
the establishment of the church in that place.  He
learned of the faith of the Colossians by report (1:1). 
He was unknown by face to them (2:1). 

  Since Colosse was located in the Province of Asia,
it is very likely that the evangelizing of the city took
place during Paul's stay at Ephesus.  We are told in
the book of Acts that during this period, people
throughout Asia heard the word (Acts 19:10). 
Epaphras was a native of the city of Colossae, but
evidently heard Paul at Ephesus and returned to his
home city to preach.  He was responsible for the
planting of the gospel in this community (1:7).  He
labored hard in the ministry (4:13), and continued to
pray fervently for the saints there (4:12). He was
called by Paul "a faithful minister of Christ on their
behalf" (1:7). 
  Apparently the church at Colossae was made up
largely of Gentiles (1:27; 2:13).  Paul uses the phrase
in the letter, "aliens and enemies in your mind"
(1:21).  In 1:27 he speaks of making known the
ministry of Christ among the Gentiles, referring
evidently to the Colossians themselves.  In 3:5-7 he
gives a list of their sins before they became
Christians and these sins were such as were
characteristic of the Gentiles. 
  Despite lack of personal contact, the church was
interested in Paul's affairs.  Paul felt a responsibility
toward the church in this community.  Although he
had not established it in person, it had been
accomplished by a fellow worker. 
  The church was situated in a very wealthy area. 
The area was famous for two closely aligned trades. 
There were great flocks of sheep on its fertile
pastures, and it was one of the greatest centers of the
wool industry.  Connected with this industry was the
production of garments which was centered in
Laodicia.  An allied trade was that of dyeing.  There
was a quality in the chalky waters of the Lycus River
especially suitable for dyeing cloth.  There was a
certain dye named after the city, so the cities of this
valley were very prosperous. In Rev.  3:17, Jesus
said of Laodicea that in her own eyes she was rich
and had need of nothing. 
  On Paul's third preaching tour he spent a long
period of time at Ephesus.  Upon his return from the
third journey he was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts
21:30-36).  He was taken to Caesarea and then to
Rome.  While he was in prison in Rome, Epaphras
came to see him from Colossae and reported the
condition of the church (Acts 28:30-31; Col. 1:8; 2:4
ff).  The imprisonment at Rome is dated about AD
60-62.  This letter to Colossae was written sometime
during that period.  It was probably sent to Colossae
along with the letter to Philemon, by Tychicus and
Onesimus  (4:7-9). 
  Paul not only wrote the Colossians to express his
interest in their spiritual welfare and to assure them
of his prayers in their behalf (1:9 ff), but there had
arisen a serious threat to the church through the
teaching of false doctrine, sometimes called "the
Colossian heresy." 
  It is evident that Paul wrote primarily out of his
desire to save the church from this heresy, for the
heart of the epistle deals with it.  The false doctrine
denied the pre-emience of Christ and His all
sufficiency.  Paul offsets this doctrine in the
Colossian letter by setting forth what Christ is and
what Christ has done in God's plan for human
redemption.  This is affirmed in the following points: 
  1.   Christ is the image of the invisible God. (1:15). 
  2.   He is the firstborn of all creation (1:15).  This
expression does not, as sometimes is supposed, teach
that Christ was created.  It refers to the fact that in
God's plan from eternity, Christ was to be recognized
as the "firstborn" and therefore, had preeminence in
the Father's house and could exercise all authority of
the Father. 
  3.   That all things "were created, both in the
heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether
thrones or authorities, all things have been created
through Him and for Him"  (1:16). 
  4.   Christ is "before all things and in Him all things
hold together" (1:17). 
  5.   He is also "head of the body, the church; he
is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that
in all things he might have the preeminence." (1:18). 
  6.   It was God's plan that "in him should all the
fullness dwell; and through him to reconcile all
things unto himself" (1:19). 
  7.   In Him are had all the treasures of wisdom
and knowledge (2:2). 
  8.   In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead
in bodily form (2:9). 
  9.   Christ is our life (3:4). 
  No greater claims of the pre-eminence of Christ
and His all sufficiency have ever been made than
Paul affirms in this letter concerning Him.  He
reaches the climax in the affirmation that "Christ is
all and in all" (3:11).  This presentation of what
Christ is, and that the fullness of God's grace can be
found in Him and in Him alone, completely
destroyed the false doctrine of the heretics that
Christ was simply a heavenly messenger and that His
ministry needs to be augmented by the ministry of
other "angels" or "heavenly messengers" which the
Gnostics claimed. 

  10.  It is significant that while affirming the all
sufficiency and preeminence of Christ in God's plan
for man's redemption, Paul at the same time
emphasizes emphatically the humanity of Christ, his
flesh and blood existence.  It was in his fleshly body
that he did his redeeming work (1:22).  All of the
attributes of Divine power, wisdom, and grace were
demonstrated by Him in bodily form (2:9).  This was
to offset the Gnostic doctrine that all flesh and things
belonging to this material earth are evil. 

  Mixed in with this "Colossian heresy" was some
Judaistic influence.  Quite a colony of Jews,
consisting of about 2,000 from Babylon and
Mesopotamia had been brought many years before
by Antiochus the Great into the regions of Lydia and
Phrygia and had prospered there. 
  More of their fellow countrymen had come to
share this prosperity.  So Jewish influence made its
effort to bind upon the Colossian Christians some of
the external principles that were a part of Judaism. 
Paul deals with this by pointing out that by Jesus'
death upon the cross He had taken the law (which
excluded Gentiles)  out of the way, nailing it to the
cross, and that no Christian was to be judged or
condemned for not keeping any of its ceremonies
  Because of this Jewish influence, Paul emphasizes
that circumcision is no longer a circumcision of the
flesh, but rather is a circumcising of the heart by the
cutting off of our guilt of sin by Christ when we are
buried with Him by baptism and raised up, from
death to sin, to newness of life through faith
  Mixed in with other false aspects of this false
teaching was a philosophical element to which Paul
refers in Colossians 2:6-11. Concerning this human
philosophy, he admonished that they are not to allow
such to make spoil of them "through philosophy and
vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the
rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."  In the
last part of this chapter, vv.22-23, Paul points out
that all of the rules of self-inflicted punishment,
extreme denial and privation, prescribed by human
authority in the precepts and doctrines of men, were
not to be observed for two reasons: 

  1.   Christians have died with Christ from the
rudiments of the world and should no longer subject
themselves to human authority or teaching as though
living in the world, but should live in subjection to

  2.   All the precepts and doctrines of men perish
with the using or observance of them and are of no
spiritual value. 
  Another phrase of this Gnostic heresy was that
spirit is good and all fleshly things are bad.  Their
idea was fill your cup of pleasure full, gratify and
fulfill all of your earthly desire, and you will be no
worse off.  Paul offsets this teaching in chapter 3 by

  1.   We have died to sin and our lives as
Christians are hid with Christ in God, our affections,
therefore, should be set upon things above (3:1-3). 

  2.   Our members which are upon the earth
(fleshly appetites and earthly desires) are to be put
off or "put to death", and we are to "put on therefore
as God's elect" the characteristics of righteousness
that evidence the rule of Christ in our heart. 

  3.   Paul further points out from chapter 3:18
though 4:6 that this necessity of submitting one's self
in daily living to the will of Christ extends to all of
the personal relationships in life.  Whether in the
family, in business, or any other, the Christian's
obligation is to conduct himself always so
completely in harmony with the will of Christ that
we may "in word or deed do all in the name of the
Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through
Him" (3:17). 
       Theme:  Christ is Preeminent 
I.  DOCTRINE -- CH. 1  -- 
    1.   In the Gospel message -- 1:1-12 
    2.   In redemption -- 1:13-14 
    3.   In Creation -- 1:15-17 
    4.   In the church -- 1:18-23 
    5.   In Paul's ministry -- 1:24-29 
II.    DANGER  -- CH. 2 -- 
    1.   Beware of empty philosophies -- 2:1-10 
    2.   Beware of religious legalism -- 2:11-17 
    3.   Beware of man-made disciplines -- 18-23 
III.   DUTY  -- CH. 3 & 4 -- 
    1.   In personal purity -- 3:1-11 
    2.   In Christian fellowship 3:12-17 
    3.   In the home -- 3:18-21 
    4.   In daily work -- 3:22 - 4:1 
    5.   In Christian living -- 4:2-6 
    6.   In Christian service -- 4:7-18 
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