Grace For The Journey
To have Jesus Christ is to have everything. The preeminence of Christ is both a fact and a key to experiencing true life. Lasting peace, joy, purpose, and meaning are found exclusively in Him. In a word, Christians are “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10).
I am going to use the next few weeks to consider the richness of this truth as we go verse-by-verse through the short New Testament Letter of Colossians. Today we will look at some introductory truths about this fabulous Book.
1) Consider The Place Of Colossae.
Colossae is located in an area that was once called Phrygia, the greater area having been called Asia Minor. Today we refer to that same area as west central Turkey. Colossae is located on the Lycus River, very close to Laodicea. As such, we’re not surprised that in the concluding words of Colossians, the Apostle Paul encourages that the letter also be read in Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).
So, what does Colossae look like today? If we took a tour today of Colossae how much of the great city would we see? Is there a great acropolis like in Athens, or a Colossaeum like in Rome? All that is left today is a sign. Unlike other biblical sites, Colossae has yet to be excavated. The city of Colossae was destroyed by an earthquake in the years shortly after Paul wrote this letter. He wrote the letter around AD 60 and there was an earthquake that occurred closely after that time.
But when Paul wrote the letter, Colossae was already becoming rather insignificant in influence, and here is why: Do you know about Route 66? There was a song written about it, “I get my kicks on Route 66?” It was made popular by Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, and others. Written in the 1940s, the song talks about the highway Route 66, going through 8 states from Chicago to Los Angeles. Route 66 was completed in the 1920s and it was the way to travel west and thousands of people drove along Route 66 making their way anywhere from Chicago to LA. By the way, did you know that the working title of the animated movie “Cars” (2006) was “Route 66.”
Anyway, there were all these great stops on Route 66, lots of popular motels, diners, and other business. But with the coming of the Interstate in the 70s and 80s, Route 66 was eventually removed from the US Highway System in 1985. A lot of the businesses along Route 66 closed down or dwindled to insignificance.
What happened to those businesses when the roadway was redirected is essentially what happened to the city of Colossae. Colossae had once been a great city of commerce on the trade route from Ephesus to the Euphrates River. But when the Romans changed the road system, Colossae became less and less visited. Over time, cities like Laodicea and Hierapolis became more important.
2) Consider The Person Who Wrote Colossians.
The person who wrote to this letter is the Apostle Paul. We learn that in the first word of the entire letter in chapter 1, verse 1: “Paul.” I have always liked the way people wrote their letters 2,000 years ago. They identified the writer of the letter at the very beginning.
Who is the Apostle Paul? You probably know that Paul was originally a very antagonistic unbelieving Jewish Pharisee known as Saul of Tarsus. God got ahold of Saul’s heart – the same way he got ahold of many of our hearts – and changed Saul through the power of the Gospel. Someone said after that, “Saul became something of a “church planting machine,” planting over a dozen churches in his lifetime.
The Bible doesn’t say who planted the church in Colossae, but Paul is writing to the church from prison in Rome. He had been imprisoned for his faith, a fact especially clear in the way Paul concludes the letter. Among the last words of Chapter 4, he writes, “Remember my chains” (Colossians 4:18).
Colossians is one of four epistles known as the “Prison Epistles,” because they were written when Paul was in prison (the others are Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon).
People always want to know what Paul looked like and the Bible nowhere describes him so we really don’t know for sure. There is, however, an interesting physical description of the Apostle Paul that dates to the latter part of the second century. It’s found in a book called, Acts of Paul and Thecla. This is book is not in the Bible, so it’s not to be considered totally trustworthy and it’s certainly not inspired in the sense of God-breathed. But in this book, there’s this brief description of Paul: “A man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged (or bowlegged), well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace. For sometimes he seemed like a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel. (Acts of Paul and Thecla, vol.8, p.487. Nobody really knows what Paul looked like– but that’s one popular description.
We also have no record in the Scriptures that Paul ever visited Colossae. So how did the Gospel get to Colossae? Colossae is close to Ephesus; only about 120 miles east of Ephesus. And Paul had been to Ephesus. In fact, Paul was in Ephesus for a total of 3 years (Acts 20:31), perhaps the longest time spent in any one city.
Acts 19 says that Paul spent 3 months teaching in the synagogue and then spent 2 years teaching in the lecture hall of Tyrannus; teaching every day for 2 years in this Ephesian school. Acts 19:19 concludes the section by saying, “And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”
The point is that the Gospel was taught with such consistency that those who sat under Paul’s teaching would go to the surrounding areas and share what they learned – so that the Gospel reached out to every geographical location in what is now west central Turkey.
There were people there in that school in Ephesus, people like Epaphras who we will read about later in verse 7. Epaphras seems to be the evangelist who heard the good news in Ephesus and then took it to Colossae and neighboring Laodicea.
3) Consider The People Of Colossae.
I like the way they are described in Colossians 1:1-2, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Note that phrase in verse 2, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae.” The Colossian believers are described as, “in Christ,” and then “in Colossae.” Paul describes their identity before he writes of their geography. They are “in Christ,” that’s their identity; and they are living “in Colossae,” that’s their geography.
Our position in Christ –
Who we are –
Is far more important
Than the place we live –
Where we are.
Position is more
In the weeks ahead we’ll be reading more about the Christian’s position in Christ, his or her blessed union with Jesus.
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.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”