Grace For The Journey
Colossians has just four chapters. 95 verses. What is this short letter all about? In a word: Jesus. This letter is all about the preeminence of Jesus Christ. In yesterday’s post we considered the place of Colossae and the people of Colossae, and the person who wrote the letter. Today we will look at the purpose of Colossians. Why exactly did Paul write this letter?
If you’ve ever found a letter in a box in your attic, maybe a letter written years earlier by a great grandmother or grandfather (remember handwritten letters?!), you can read the letter and usually figure out what was going on in that person’s life at the time they wrote the letter; what the situation was or the occasion for writing.
The same is true when you read through a letter like this letter to the church at Colossae. As we read the letter it becomes clear that Paul’s stress on the superiority of Christ is his correction for at least two false teachings surfacing in the first century:
- One of those heretical teachings was rooted in unorthodox views of Judaism.
- The other false teaching eventually became known as Gnosticism.
We won’t go into detail on these heresies at present, but just know that Paul has these two ruinous teachings in his mind as he writes the first two chapters of the letter.
As to overall structure, there are two verses in chapter 1 that really give a nice summary of the contents of Paul’s letter. They are verses 9 and 10, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it (heard of their faith and love), do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, full pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Here is a simple two-part outline of the letter as provided in J. Sidlow Baxter’s helpful resource: Explore the Book:
Chapters 1-2: DOCTRINAL – “That You May Be Filled” (verse 9)
Chapters 3-4: PRACTICAL – “That You May Walk Worthily” (verse10)
Note this . . .
Theology precedes living!
Paul gives theology before telling us how to live out that theology. In Christianity, doctrine precedes duty. If we reverse the order, we end up with nothing more than rigid legalism or religious moralism.
Christianity is truth
That is lived out.
So . . .
Paul gives two chapters of doctrinal truth
Before giving the imperative commands.
When we understand that
Our “duty” is based upon “doctrine,”
We will live out our Christian lives
As a “Thank You Note”
To God for His grace!
The same structure is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: six chapters; the first three are doctrine, the following three chapters are duty.
The practical teaching makes sense
Only when it is built upon the doctrinal truth.
Christianity is not true because it works;
Christianity works because it is true.
So, in chapters 1 and 2, the DOCTRINAL section, we will be studying the fullness of Christ and what that means – all of this rich teaching on the preeminence of Christ – the greatness of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Then, in chapters 3 and 4, the PRACTICAL section, we will be studying how we are to live out our lives.
How one lives is based
Upon what one believes.
Stated another way:
What we believe
How we live.
For example: notice the past, present, and future tenses in the opening verses of chapter 3 (beginning of the PRACTICAL section), where Paul reminds the Christians of their union with Christ: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Chris in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Then Paul writes about living out our faith in Christ. He uses this great imagery in chapter 3 of “putting off” and “putting on,” like old clothing, Christians put off the old dirty clothes of the way we used to live – putting off the old behavior of things in verse 8 like anger, wrath, and malice – and then putting on new behavior like the things of verse 12, tender mercies, kindness, humility and so on.
Paul talks about the Christian home in verses 18 and following, how husbands and wives relate to one another biblically, and children relate to their parents, and employees relate to their employers.
And he writes about Christian graces in chapter 4 and how we are to behave around lost people.
This is all the practical living
That flows from doctrinal teaching.
So . . .
Who Jesus Christ is,
And what He has done,
Affects who we are
And what we do.
I love the statement in verse 4 of chapter 3 where Paul describes Jesus Christ as, “our life.” He says, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
When we understand
That real life, true life,
Is a life found in Christ,
The all-satisfying Lord of everything,
Then we will know true living.
And we’ll be ready to meet Him either at death or when He returns.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”