“From Paul, commissioned as an apostle by Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, to the devoted and steadfast brothers in Christ at Colossae; grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We continually thank God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ for you, praying for you constantly ever since we heard of your faith in Christ and the love you have for all His people. The hope you grasped when you first heard the Good News, and now possess, is stored for you in heaven.
The Gospel has reached you as it has been preached throughout the world and is increasingly bearing fruit as it has in your lives since you first heard it, realized God’s amazing grace, and became acquainted with His truth. This truth you first heard from Epaphras, your beloved fellow servant and minister of Christ. He has told me of the great love for others the Holy Spirit has awakened in you.” (1:1-8, paraphrased)
In view of the heresy infecting the Colossian church, Paul immediately states his apostolic authority. He reminds them he is not self-appointed, for his is a divine commission. Apostolos refers to an authorized spokesman for God empowered to act as His representative. Paul feels it necessary to present his credentials for he probably neither founded this church nor personally visited them (1:4, 9 & 2:1).
Paul refers to Timothy as a “brother,” emphasizing the closeness of his relationship to him. Timothy’s name is linked with Paul’s in many other epistles, such as Second Corinthians, Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon. Paul first meets young Timothy on his first missionary journey. By this time Timothy is already known as a dedicated Believer (Acts 16). He has a godly heritage (II Tim. 1:5) and loves God’s Word (II Tim. 3:15). Paul and others ordain Timothy for the ministry (I Tim. 4:14 & II Tim. 1:6).
Throughout his various epistles Paul refers to Timothy as a brother, fellow servant, fellow worker, and his beloved son in the faith. Paul’s appreciation for Timothy is evident. He tells the Philippians that Timothy has proven himself (Phil. 2:22) and reminds the Corinthians of his faithfulness (I Cor. 4:17). Timothy’s ministerial activities can be traced throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Berea, Corinth, Lystra, Athens, Thessalonica, Rome, Philippi, and Ephesus.
Timothy’s name is associated with Paul’s more than any other co-worker. This young minister needs Paul’s wisdom and Paul needs a son to mentor. Paul writes two dynamic letters to Timothy encouraging him to endure affliction, be steadfast, strong, vigilant, and unashamed. Church tradition records that Timothy, as bishop of Ephesus, is martyred while attempting to stop an indecent heathen procession in honor of the goddess Diana. Today in the Church of St. Paul in Rome stands Paul’s monumental tomb. In front of it is a less impressive grave marked “Timothy.” Resting side by side, they are united in death as they were in life.
In these opening verses, Paul lays the groundwork for the theme of his letter: maturity in Christ. It is addressed to “the saints” (hagioi) at Colossae, referring to all who are set apart and dedicated to Christ by a life of holiness. The saints are also called “faithful brethren” for fidelity is essential for the survival of a church under pressure by heretical teachers. Faith is the catalyst which brings all Christian brothers and sisters into intimate, familial relationship with their Heavenly Father. Believers enjoy dual citizenship in both heaven and earth.
In Paul’s opening statement he unhesitatingly affirms the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul expands the meaning of “grace” (charis) by linking it with “peace.” He combines these two salutations to indicate God’s grace is the source of true peace. The New Testament concept of peace means much more than the absence of turmoil, for it provides contentment impossible for unbelievers to fathom. Jesus states His peace far surpasses what the world can offer (Jn. 14:27).
At his request, Epaphras and others evangelize the Lycus Valley and bring the Good News to Colossae. Paul has not met the Colossian Believers but learns from Epaphras of their faith in Christ. As a result, they are the focus of his prayers. As in all his epistles, Paul wraps his prayers in thankfulness and praise.
Another reason for Paul’s gratitude to God is the hope the Colossians have stored up in heaven like a treasure (Mt. 6:20; I Pet. 1:4). He assures them the reason for his thankfulness is that their confidence in Christ has resulted in love for others.
Paul’s familiar triad of faith, hope and love is completed in verse five (I Cor. 13:13; I Th. 1:3 & Eph. 4:2-5). Faith in the atonement of Jesus and the resulting love for others is tied to the hope of heaven (Gal. 5:5-6). The expectancy and hope the Colossians enjoy is based on the truth of the Gospel. From the initial lines of his letter, Paul misses no opportunity to contrast Gospel truth with heretical error.
Having mentioned the Gospel as the source of their hope, he now points to the Colossians as evidence of the global success of the Gospel. It continues to bear fruitful results since the day they allow the truth to be planted in their hearts (II Cor. 9:10). The phrase “in the entire world” is a hyperbole. The Colossian Christians prove the Gospel is not restricted to the Jews alone, but continues to spread throughout the Roman Empire.
The Parable of the Sower affirms that wherever the seed of God’s Word is sown, it produces fruit and thrives (Mk. 4:8). Paul’s statement stands in stark contrast to the speculations of false teachers who hover like birds of prey around the Colossians, hoping to devour the good seed. “The grace of God in truth” is a phrase that denotes the unadulterated simplicity of the Gospel message. It suggests a contrast with the complications that arise from heretical teachings.
The Gospel message is brought to them by Epaphras, a shortened form of the name “Epaphroditus.” But the Epaphroditus in Paul’s letter to Philippi must not be confused with the Epaphras associated with Colossae. The former is a resident of Macedonia, whereas the Epaphras mentioned here resides in Asia.
Epaphras is referred to as a dear fellow servant and a faithful minister. Later in the letter, he is deemed a servant of Christ who labors in prayer for the Colossians (Col. 4:12). At some point, he is a fellow prisoner with Paul, suffering for Jesus’ sake (Philemon 23). Outside these few references, nothing is known of him. His ministry seems to be characterized by his commitment to Christ, the Gospel, and his service to others.
The truth the Colossians hear from Epaphras is in danger of being tainted by the heretical teachers now circulating among them. Paul has already seen in other churches how false doctrines decimate solidarity and unity. Their salvation and the love of God among them is a distinctive work of the Holy Spirit that Paul is determined to safeguard.
Points to Ponder
1. What title does Paul claim for himself in each of the following verses? Explain why this status is important to his ministry among the churches.
I Corinthians 1:1
II Corinthians 1:1
I Timothy 1:1
II Timothy 1:1
2. From the following passages, list the various names Paul attaches to the Gospel:
II Corinthians 4:4
I Thessalonians 2:2
II Thessalonians 1:8
3. What is the key word in each of the following verses? Can this be considered one of the themes in the book of Colossians?
4. What do Timothy’s mother and grandmother instill in him as a child (II Tim. 3:15)? Why is it important for children to be brought up with this knowledge?
5. In I Corinthians 4:17, Timothy is called “faithful.” From the following verses, list others who are also known for their fidelity:
I Peter 5:12
I John 1:9
6. The Colossians store up hope in heaven as a treasure. What does Jesus say about this subject (Mt. 6:20)?
7. The love the Believers in Colossae haven for one another blesses Paul and he prays for them. List those things that prompt you to pray for others.