Introduction to Colossians (Col. 1:1-2)

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Introduction to Colossians

This morning we will begin a new sermon series in the book of Colossians. So if you have your Bibles, go ahead and turn there with me. If you don’t have your Bible, please use one of the pew Bibles to follow along with me today. Colossians is located in the New Testament. If you find the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and then the book of Acts, next you will see Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians followed by Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and then Colossians. The way you can remember the order of those last four is using the phrase “General Electric Power Company.”

I have already indicated on numerous occasions my convictions about preaching sermons that are rooted directly in Scripture and that take their main points from a passage of Scripture. And the best way I know to do this is to preach through books of the Bible with the intent of determining what the author’s message was to his original readers and then to draw out the timeless truths for us today. That was what I intend to do with Colossians.

And my aim in this introductory sermon this morning is to explain what Colossians is about and why it is important for us to study it.

And very simply put, this is a book that tells us a whole lot about Jesus and who he is. In this short letter to the young church in Colossae, the Apostle Paul has summarized for us some of the most important portions of Christian theology. Particularly those portions of theology related directly to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We learn that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that he is the head of the church. We learn that through him all things were created and that he reigns supreme over all creation. And most importantly that he is our Savior as a result of his death on the cross. And in addition to being our savior, he is also our example as we seek to mature in our faith. We will soon see that this is one of the most Christ-centered books in the Bible. And so this is really a good place for me to start in my preaching ministry at this church.

Paul’s purpose for writing this letter to the young Colossian Church is that they continue on in the faith they have professed in Jesus Christ. And in doing so to become mature followers who are sound in their faith. And our purpose for this sermon series is the same. It is really, in some ways, going to remind us of the basics of our faith and encourage us to continue to grow in the things that we have known from the beginning of our Christian life.

So now that you have all turned with me to Colossians, let’s turn our attention to verses 1 and 2 of Chapter 1. These two verses will be our text for this introductory sermon.

Follow along with me as I read these two verses.

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:1–2 ESV)

By looking closely at these verses, we will be able to get some good background on this letter to the Colossian Church. We will ask some questions of the text this morning and as we answer those questions I believe the stage will be set for our study over the next couple of months in this important and exciting book.

Paul

The first question I would ask is related to the first word in our text for today. That question is: “Who was Paul?”

My last two sermons here have focused on Paul so we know a little about him. I have mentioned Paul’s relentlessness in sharing the gospel message and how nothing could stop him. Not prison, not beatings, not threats on his life. He was a man consumed with the mission God had given him and that was a mission to make Christ known to those who did not know him.

But how did he get started on this mission? Well he was chosen by God for it. Why did God chose him? Was it because of something spectacular in Paul? Was he such a committed Christian that he sort of earned this special mission from God? Well if you know anything about Paul, the answer to that question is “Absolutely Not.” Let’s look at Paul’s own words about himself before he began this mission. A mission which began with his unique conversion experience. So listen to these words of Paul from his letter to the Galatians:

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. (Galatians 1:13 ESV)

Before Paul’s conversion the only thing he was doing for Jesus and his church was trying to destroy it.

And let Paul serve as an example to us. It is easy for us to look at certain people and think: “They are just too bad. They are too far gone. They will never believe the gospel. They will never be saved. It is hopeless.” Friend, Paul is evidence that there are no hopeless cases when it comes to salvation. When God decides to remove someone’s heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh it doesn’t matter how bad they are or have been. Some of us in this room may even be evidence of that. In a way we are all evidence of that because none of us would have believed the gospel message had it not been for the decisive intervention of God on our behalf.

Paul was a man who was seeking to destroy the church and one day God knocked him off his horse as he was traveling to Damascus to continue his persecution of the church. And after this event while Paul was lying in a bed blinded from his encounter with Jesus, Jesus spoke to a man named Ananias and told him to go to Paul and deliver a message to him. But Ananias was understandably reluctant. Paul’s reputation as a persecutor of the church preceded him. And Ananias responded to Jesus saying:

13 “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13–14 ESV)

And Jesus answered Ananias saying:

15 “Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15–16 ESV)

So a man who was formerly a persecutor of the church. A man who had witnessed, if not participated in, the killing of Christians is God’s chosen instrument to take the gospel to the world. God doesn’t work in the way we would work does he? We would look for the most upstanding Christian. A man with a good preacher’s voice and a clean history. But God does not work that way. He doesn’t work that way partly because he doesn’t want there to be any confusion about who is responsible for the miracles that he accomplishes. When Paul becomes the greatest missionary this world has ever known, and when Paul writes the vast majority of the New Testament himself, there can be no doubt that God is the one to get the glory for this and not Paul.

And God often operates the same way today. He doesn’t look for people who are already equipped to serve him. Instead he choses someone to serve him and then equips them for the task.

But let’s continue on. Look with me at the next part of verse 1.

An Apostle of Christ Jesus

Here we see that Paul is called an Apostle of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ? Well an Apostle is simply a messenger. Someone who is sent with an important message to tell. This is not strictly a Christian word. It was used in the secular world in Paul’s day as well. But it came to mean something very specific and important in the life of the church and in the church’s vocabulary. An Apostle of Jesus Christ was someone who was sent by Christ. The key is they were chosen by Christ. Being an Apostle was a divine appointment. And we see Paul’s understanding of this divine appointment in the next little phrase in verse 1: “by the will of God.”

Paul was not appointed to the office of Apostle by men. No his appointment to this office was by God. Like the rest of the Apostles, he was part of God’s plan of salvation—a plan that would include Paul as God’s missionary and Apostle to the Gentiles. A plan that included Paul’s writing of letters like this one that we are still reading today. And the reason Paul purposely addresses himself as an Apostle to the Colossians, is to establish his credentials with the church. A church he did not start and had probably never visited. Paul’s title of Apostle needed to be established to give the appropriate authority to everything he was going to say to the Colossians in this letter. And that is why he included his title of Apostle in the opening line of this letter.

But notice that this verse also mentions another man. Look with me at the end of verse 1 where Timothy is mentioned.

Timothy

Who was Timothy? Timothy was Paul’s closest earthly companion. Paul describes Timothy in several places as his son in the faith and as his younger co-worker in the gospel ministry. These two men had a special bond of friendship brought about by the gospel. When Paul needed someone to oversee an important task, Timothy was his man.

The inclusion of Timothy’s name here does not imply that he was a co-author of the letter, it is simply an indication that Timothy was with Paul. And it is worth mentioning that Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome for causing a disturbance among the Jews as a result of his preaching. And Timothy, Paul’s closest companion, was with him in Rome as Paul awaited his trial and may have even handwritten this letter as Paul dictated it to him.

So before we move on, let’s review. So far we have seen that the Apostle Paul is the author of this letter. That he was made an Apostle according to the will of God. And that he wrote it while imprisoned in Rome with the help of his friend and co-worker Timothy. But that is only part of the story. We still need to know more.

There is still an important question remaining. And that question is: “Who was this letter written to and what do we know about them?” We get the answer to that question in the first part of verse 2 which reads: “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.”

Saints

The first thing we see about the recipients of this letter is that Paul calls them “saints.” But what is a saint? Today when we hear the word “saint” we tend to reserve that term for those in the highest echelon of Christianity. But that is not how the Bible uses the term. The word saint is a term the Bible applies to all Christians. It is a term that is related to the word “holy.” And the word “holy” simply means “to be set apart.” While today we often use the word “holy” to describe how someone behaves, that is not how the Bible uses the word “holy”. When the Bible calls someone a saint or says that they are holy it means that God has set them apart from those who are not God’s people into the kingdom of those who are God’s people. They are set apart. That’s what it means to be a saint.

And Paul often refers to believers as saints. Those who have been called by God and set apart by God for eternal life. And set apart by God to be a part of his work of salvation on this earth.

Faithful

We also see here that these saints he is writing to are “faithful.” They are committed and steadfast in their faith. The words “saints and faithful brothers” are not meant to be describing two different kinds of people. It would be like me saying, “John is a saint and a faithful brother.” There are not two different audiences here. Some who are saints and others who are faithful brothers. No, they are all saints because they are all Christians and in addition to that, these particular saints Paul is writing to are faithful followers. They are saints because they have been brought into a union with Christ through his death and by their faith and thus have inherited his holiness and righteousness. God has declared them holy and righteous because of their being in Christ (which we will look at in a minute). But in addition to this declaration of holiness and in addition to God’s recognition of them as righteous in his sight, they are also faithful. Faithful to the call upon their lives.

But what does it look like to be faithful? Well we know that faith is what saves us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV). And being faithful is the result of having a faith that is steadfast. A faith that expresses itself in obeying the commands of our Lord and desiring above all to please him and to be pleased by him. Being faithful means being committed to the one who saved you.

In Christ

And this type of living is only possible through that union with Christ I spoke about moments ago. And that is why Paul calls them “saints and faithful brothers IN CHRIST.” Friends the words In Christ are the most important part of the sentence and a very important part of Paul’s theology.

Paul does not simply mean by the words “in Christ” that Christ is the person these saints have believed in—although that is true. What Paul is getting at here is something much bigger. When we believe in Christ we are incorporated into him in such a way that our identity is bound up with who he is. It is “in Christ” and through his death that we are made into the people of God. Colossians 2:12 says that we were buried with him and raised with him through our faith and the expectation now is that we will walk in him as someone established in the faith (2:6–7).

This “IN CHRIST” concept is huge. We will talk about it more in a few weeks when we get into Chapter 2. Specifically verses 6–15.

Colossae

So as you can see, we are slowly narrowing in on who the recipients of this letter are. We have seen that they are “saints” which is another easy of saying Christians. And that they are faithful and committed Christians because their identity is bound up in Jesus Christ. And then we see that they are located specifically in city of Colossae.

Now one thing I want to point out here is that hopefully by spending so much time on this opening greeting it helps us to see that this was a real letter, written by a real man, to a real group of people. And hopefully by seeing this, it is easier for us to understand that this letter was written by Paul for a specific purpose. As one commentator put it, “It is not a miscellaneous collection of ‘helpful thoughts’. It is a particular letter written to a particular congregation at one point in its (very early) history” (Wright, TNTC, 221). So often we see the Bible as little more than a collection of helpful thoughts. But it is not meant to be read that way. It is important to read books as a whole. Read them in one sitting as a whole. That is the best way to understand the Bible.

But I digress. The point is that this is a real letter, written by a real man, for a real purpose.

But what is the purpose and occasion for this letter? Well remember that Paul is in prison and while in prison he receives a visit from a man named Epaphras from Colossae. Since Paul focused his efforts on cities with large populations, he had not even visited the small town of Colossae. The way the church was started in Colossae was that this man Epaphras heard the gospel preached by Paul in larger city of Ephesus and took the gospel back with him 100 miles to his hometown of Colossae.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus lasted three years and people from all over the region where coming to hear him teach. Actually his ministry was so successful in Ephesus that Acts 19:10 says that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” That is pretty amazing. And one of the men who heard this message was a man named Ephaphras from Colossae. And Epaphras became a Christian because of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus and he took the gospel back with him to his hometown and started a church there. And now, sometime later Epaphras has brought news to Paul of the young church there he started in Colossae.

And there is an application here for us. When you share the gospel you never know what kind of seed you are planting. You never know what kind of impact you will have on the world.

Many years ago there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward was a Sunday School teacher at Mt. Vernon Community Church in Boston, MA. He had a young man in his class who was not a Christian. This young man was about 17 or 18 years old and completely ignorant of and uninterested in the gospel. One day, out of concern for the boy, Edward nervously went to the shoe store where this young man worked and shared the gospel with him. That young man believed and that young man was D.L. Moody. Now, I doubt any of you have ever heard of Edward Kimball. But you have all probably heard of D.L. Moody, one of the greatest evangelists in American History.

So you never know what seeds you are planting when you share the gospel. You never know how far the chain will run. Because Edward Kimball shared the gospel with a young man at a shoe store, thousands of other people have believed and been saved.

Though I am no D.L. Moody, I am your pastor and if I don’t mean anything to the rest of the world, I mean something to you. And I am here preaching to you today because when I was a boy a preacher’s son invited me to church with him. A few years later I understood and believed the gospel. And about 20 years later, God began calling me to the gospel ministry. And here I am this morning sharing the gospel with you. I plan on talking more about this on Wednesday night. But suffice it to say, humanly speaking, there is no real reason for me to be here. I should be doing something else. But someone planted a seed in me that God has grown and here I am.

But let me get back to the story of Epaphras. He brings the good news to Paul about the establishment of the Church at Colossae. But unfortunately he also has some bad news. Though there must be a great deal of good news and good ministry going on in Colossae—remember Paul refers to them as “Saints and Faithful Brothers”—it is not all good news. Someone within this young church had begun promoting a “philosophy” or a teaching that was counter to the true gospel message. It is not our task this morning to get into the details of this false teaching, but at its core it had reduced Christ from his rightful position as the supreme ruler over all creation to just one supreme ruler among many others (Thielman, Theology of the NT, 377). And, as would be expected, those who were getting caught up in this new “philosophy” were losing interest in Christ as the supreme and preeminent authority in the universe. Understandably, then, the gospel was being perverted and the church was in great danger.

And so Paul writes this letter, in or around 62 A.D., to exhort the Colossians to return to the gospel preached to them by Epaphras. The gospel that they had originally believed in. The gospel which acknowledges Christ as the supreme being in the universe who reigns over all things. The gospel that views Christ’s death as a sufficient offering for bringing about reconciliation between humankind and God.

And we will be talking about all of this more in the coming weeks and I am excited about it. As I said at the beginning, this book is Christ-centered from beginning to end and I believe we will thoroughly enjoy our time in it. But for now I need to bring things to a close. And to do that I would like to look at Paul’s concluding statement in this greeting. Look at the end of verse 2 which reads:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Conclusion

Some of you may have received an email from me that concludes with words similar to these words from Paul. I often close emails or letters with the words: “Grace and peace.” Obviously Paul did not get this from me, I got it from him. But it is such a fitting way for us as Christians to speak to each other.

As Christians we are all saved by the grace of God. And when we hear the word “grace” we should be reminded of this… reminded that we are saved apart from any works and only by grace through faith. Grace is God’s undeserved favor. And that is exactly what we received when God saved us. And this brought about Peace. Grace and Peace go together. The grace of God brings about reconciliation between God and those who were formerly his enemies—namely you and me. Grace brings about peace. And all that is required of us is that we receive this grace and peace through faith in Jesus Christ. Friends, that is the gospel.

So it is my hope that when you see the words “grace and peace” in my letters or in my emails, that you will be reminded of God’s grace to you and the peace that accompanies it. We will hear much more about God’s grace to us in the coming weeks as we continue the study of this letter. I hope as we do, it will become more and more beautiful to us and we will be encouraged to live in a way that puts the grace and peace of God on display for those around us. That is the aim of our study in Colossians.

Please be in prayer with me over the coming weeks that God uses this sermon series in a way that brings him glory. I hope you will spend some time on your own reading through this short but important book.