This coming Sunday we will begin a new sermon series looking at the book of Colossians titled “The Center of All Things.” The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to a new, seemingly small church in the city of Colossae. Colossae was part of the kingdom of Pergamum within Phrygia. It was located on the Lycus river approximately 100 miles from Ephesus and 10 miles from Laodicea. The largely unexcavated city ruins are found in modern-day Turkey. At one time, it was a large commercial center, but at the time of Paul’s writing, it had declined significantly.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians is considered one of the prison epistles, but scholars differ on exactly when the book was written and from which of Paul’s imprisonments the letter was written. The letter is relatively short, divided into 4 chapters. With the help of some other great guest speakers, we will unpack these four chapters between now and the beginning of August when Pastor Stacey returns from his sabbatical.
What is most interesting to me is that Paul is writing to a church full of people he has never met personally. He did not start the church in Colossae. Paul indicates that Epaphras initially started the church. Epaphras more than likely came to faith in Ephesus (Acts 19) and took the gospel back to his home in the Lycus River valley and started at least three churches in Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae. Epaphras later visited Paul and had updated him on how well the church was doing and clued him into some of the cultural pressures the church was experiencing including the influences of the mystical polytheistic Greek culture on one hand, and the pressures of the Jewish laws of the Torah on the other.
Paul’s letter has much to say to us today. In this letter, we will explore one of my favorite passages in Paul’s letters which many call the Messiah Poem found in verses 15-20 of the first chapter, which references Jesus’ preeminence over all creation, earthly powers and rulers, and cosmic powers. We will be reminded of our identity in Christ and our sharing in his death, resurrection, and fullness of new life. We will explore Paul’s reshaping of Roman household codes regarding wives, children, and slaves around Jesus who rather rules with love. We will once again be challenged to grow into spiritual maturity putting off sinful practices and putting on the virtues of Christ. Paul reminds us that through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we now can join into a new humanity as our lives have been joined into Jesus’ risen life. Therefore, we should set our minds on things above and live in this present age as the kind of humans we will become.
Lastly, the letter ends with a bit of a punch that is the dramatic setup of the book of Philemon as Tychicus is to deliver and read this letter along with Onesimus, a former slave who had escaped from his former master, Philemon, who resided in Colossae. This is the same Onesimus who is the subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon. His crime is worthy of imprisonment in that culture, but at the end of this letter, Paul asks the whole church in Colossae to treat Onesimus as a faithful and beloved brother in the Lord as he accompanies the delivery of this letter to the church. Who needs Netflix for dramatic encounters; we have them in the pages of scripture in the new testament church. I look forward to our journey together through the book of Colossians!