Colossians Counseled on Truth and Conduct
AMONG the inspired letters that the apostle Paul wrote while imprisoned in Rome is the one to the Christians in Colossae. Although it could well be that Paul never visited Colossae, he took a keen interest in the spiritual welfare of the congregation there.
Most likely it was Epaphras, a co-worker of Paul, who established or helped to establish this congregation. And apparently it was the report brought by Epaphras that motivated Paul to write to the Colossians. From his letter it appears that the congregation was doing very well. But, at the same time, it was being exposed to certain false teachings, against which Paul wanted to fortify his Christian brothers.
The letter to the Colossians is very much like Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In fact, no other two letters of Paul show such a similarity. Not only are some 78 verses of the 155 of Ephesians very much like or even identical with what is found in Colossians, but the arrangement of the material is also similar. Typical is Paul’s counsel to sing praises; it is almost identical in these letters, and such counsel is not found in any other letter of his. (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) Likewise, only at Ephesians 4:25 and at Colossians 3:9 does Paul speak out so strongly against lying within the congregation.
Lovingly, Paul begins his letter to the Colossians, as he does so many letters, by commending them. He speaks of their faith, hope and love, which calls to mind 1 Corinthians 13:13 where these three qualities are mentioned together. Paul and Timothy ‘have not ceased praying for them that they might be filled with accurate knowledge, wisdom and spiritual comprehension so as to please Jehovah fully.’ Paul also rejoices because of their steadfastness and the firmness of their faith.—Col. 1:3-12, 23.
CHRIST’S ROLE OF PRIMACY
To have the role of primacy means to come first, and Paul goes on to show that that is certainly true as far as Christ is concerned. As to existence, he is the firstborn of all creation. As to his person, he is the very image of the invisible God. He was God’s only direct creation; for all other things, whether visible or invisible, came into existence through him.—Col. 1:15-18.
Moreover, it is none other than Christ who has delivered Christians from Satan’s dark world to Christ’s spiritual kingdom. On what basis? On the basis of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, which gives Christians forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13, 14) Two more times Paul stresses Christ’s important role in this. God saw good to use Christ “to reconcile again to himself all other things by making peace through the blood he shed on the torture stake.” And again, ‘All you who were at one time alienated and God’s enemies because your minds were on works that were wicked, God has again reconciled by means of Christ’s fleshly body through his death.’—Col. 1:19-22.
Christ’s primacy is also seen in that he is the head of the congregation of God, even as he was the firstborn from the dead; yes, Christ is first in all things. All fullness is said to dwell in him in that Christ supplies all that is needed; there is no need to go to anyone else for direction and help. Because of who he is and what he has done, all things, whether in heaven or on earth, will be reconciled to God. Due to his sacrifice the sacred secret that was long hidden has now been made known, which secret includes the hope of Gentiles sharing heavenly glory with Christ. Moreover, in Christ are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.—Col. 1:24–2:5.
RELIGIOUS ERRORS REFUTED
Similar as many verses of Colossians are to those found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, there are also striking differences, indicating that in each case Paul had a certain set of conditions or facts in mind. The one letter does not simply copy the other. In Ephesians Paul quotes directly from the Hebrew Scriptures but he does not do so in Colossians, even as he does not in his letter to the Philippians. On the other hand, in his letter to the Colossians Paul refutes certain false teachings, which he did not find it necessary to do in the letters he wrote from prison to the other two congregations.
In ancient Colossae there appear to have been worldly-wise Greek philosophers, followers of Judaism, and religious fanatics. Paul warns against all three of these groups. First, ‘since concealed in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ why pay attention to these Greek worldly-wise philosophers? He counsels, ‘Look out, be on guard. Do not let your minds be captured by empty and delusive philosophies, by traditions of men that are based on the elementary things of the world and not upon Christ.’—Col. 2:3, 8.
Next, in warning against the Judaizers, Paul explains that, on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, God has moved the handwritten law of Moses out of the way. “Therefore,” he says, “let no man judge you.” In what? “In eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things [were but] a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.”—Col. 2:13-17.
Finally, combating the spiritistic fanaticism of the ancient Phrygians, Paul warns against those who take delight in an insincere humility and the worship of angels—either professing to worship as do angels or actually worshiping the angels themselves. This hypocritical humility makes strict rules regarding material things: “Do not handle, nor taste, nor touch.” All such may involve a severe treatment of the body, but it is “of no value in combating the satisfying of the flesh.” (Col. 2:18-23) How true this is can be seen from the records of the prevalence of homosexuality in religious institutions. Their members practiced asceticism but came far short as to sexual morality, this calling to mind Jesus’ words about straining out a gnat but gulping down a camel!—Matt. 23:24.
COUNSEL AS TO CONDUCT
So Paul dealt first with these doctrinal matters; his doing so equipped the Colossian Christians back there, even as it equips us today, to deal with or resist errors. Then he counsels them and us about our hearts and our conduct. To have right conduct we must set our affections on spiritual things, on the things of Christ, and deaden our fallen inclinations toward fornication, moral uncleanness, unbridled sexual appetite and hurtful desires, which are really a form of idolatry, as they come between a Christian and his God. Paul’s repeated mention of sexual immorality seems to indicate that Colossae back there was as sexually depraved as is this modern world.—Col. 3:1-5.
Christian conduct also requires us to put away all anger, abusive speech, obscene talk. And, of course, as Christians we cannot be lying to one another. By working to improve our conduct we will be stripping off our old personality and clothing ourselves with the new personality, which is made new, through accurate knowledge of God’s will and purpose, according to the image of God and Christ.—Col. 3:6-11.
Christian conduct has also its positive side. It means clothing ourselves with tender affection, compassion, humility, patience and mildness, being ready to forgive one another freely, even as God has freely forgiven us. We are to clothe ourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union, and to let peace control our hearts, being ever thankful to God.—Col. 3:12-17.
FAMILY AND OTHER OBLIGATIONS
Next Paul spells out the obligations of family members. Wives are to be in subjection to their husbands. In turn, husbands are to keep on loving their wives and not to be “bitterly angry with them.” Children are to obey their parents “in everything.” At the same time fathers are counseled: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Col. 3:18-21.
As for slaves or employees, they are to be obedient to their masters or employers as if trying to please Jehovah. And “whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.” Why? Because in due time Jehovah God will reward such sincere service. On the other hand, masters or employers are to keep treating their slaves or employees justly, for they also are accountable to a Master, Christ, in the heavens.—Col. 3:22–4:1.
Then, as Paul proceeds to draw his letter to a close, he admonishes us to persevere in prayer, “remaining awake in it with thanksgiving.” And he asks that the Colossians remember him in their prayers, that God may give him an opportunity to make known the sacred secret and do so as he ought to.—Col. 4:2-4.
As in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul counsels: “Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside, buying out the opportune time for yourselves.” We are to let our speech be with graciousness, “seasoned with salt,” that is, made tasty, “so as to know how [we] ought to give an answer to each one.”—Col. 4:5, 6.
After all this admonition and instruction Paul turns to purely personal matters, mentioning by name a number of Christians. Tychicus and Onesimus will bring the congregation this letter and tell them how Paul is doing. Several of those with Paul also send greetings. In particular does Epaphras pray for them that they “may finally stand complete and with firm conviction in all the will of God.” Surely we should all want to pray similarly for one another.—Col. 4:7-17.
What fine counsel and instruction is contained in Paul’s letter to the Colossians! Though in many respects the letters of Colossians and Ephesians may be quite similar, there is no question about each being distinctive and directed to a certain congregation with its own circumstances or problems. While some Bible scholars like to speculate as to which of these letters Paul wrote first, that is of little importance. What is important is that Jehovah God inspired Paul to write both of them. Let us show our appreciation by becoming familiar with them and then acting in harmony with the fine counsel they contain.