Colossae was a small cosmopolitan city in the Lycus River Valley in the Phrygia region, 10 miles (16 km) east of the town of Denizli in modern day Turkey (see map). It was rich in mineral deposits and known for its wool industry. Originally, it was at the intersection where the great routes from Sardis and Ephesus joined, but later it declined when the route through Sardis to Pergamum changed and went through Laodicea, ten miles to the west. After this, Laodicea and Hierapolis, ten miles to the northwest, became more prominent.
The Colossian church was not planted by Paul, but they had probably heard the gospel through Epaphras (Colossians 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 1:23), one of his converts at Ephesus. The church was composed mostly of Gentiles. When Gentiles embraced Christ, they often brought their former beliefs and customs in. This is called syncretism.
Paul wrote in response to the appeal of Epaphras for help because false teachers had mixed ideas from pagan cults with the gospel. The prevailing philosophy of the day was what would later, in the second century A.D., become a system of belief called Gnosticism (from the Greek word gnosis, "knowledge"). Certain "enlightened ones" were claiming to have special knowledge of the truth claiming that ordinary believers could not possess this secret or higher knowledge. Gnostics also believed that all matter was evil and the source of evil. Because of this, one branch, the Docetic Gnostics, denied the humanity of Jesus. They claimed that it was impossible for God, who was spirit and good, to become flesh. They claimed Jesus did not possess a real body but was a phantom. They taught that Jesus ruled alongside other spiritual powers, such as constellations in the signs of the Zodiac and the angels. They believed Jesus was one of many bridges to God. They also believed that redemption was dependent on a person's self-understanding rather than God (2:3, 18). Other heresies included ceremonialism (2:16-17; 2:11; 3:11), asceticism (2:21, 23), and angel worship (2:18).
To combat these heresies, Paul stressed Christ's supremacy (1:15-20; 2:2-3:9). A key verse that asserts this and Christ's deity is 2:9, 10, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him, you have been made complete."
"Christ" is the most repeated key word in Colossians. "All" and "fill/filled/full/fullness/complete" (related words in the Greek) are also key words. You might want to underline them.
After Paul and Timothy's (co-author and more on him when we get to his letter) greeting of grace and peace, Paul thanks God and prays for the Colossians.
His prayer definitely combats the pre-gnostic heresy of the time! Let's answer some inductive observation questions.
What did he pray?
That they would be filled out to completeness (plēroō) with the exact or full knowledge (epignosis) of God's will (Romans 12:1-2). This Greek word, epignosis, expresses a "greater participation by the knower in the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him" (Vine's, 2:301).
This knowledge would be lived out with wisdom (sophia) which means "skill in affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament by Zodhiates, p. 1300). See also Colossians 1:26; 2:3,23; 3:16; 4:5 and James 1:5; 3:15.
This knowledge would also be lived out with understanding (synesei) which means "clear analysis and decision-making in applying this knowledge to various problems" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Volume 2, p. 670).
Do you see that the word for the heresy of Gnosticism is related to the Greek word for knowledge? Paul was saying:
"In your face, false teachers! Let's get one thing straight from the beginning of this letter: The knowledge of God is not reserved for 'special' people who only have the 'appearance of wisdom' (2:23)! This is REAL knowledge and wisdom and understanding that starts and ends with God! I am praying this for ordinary people like the Colossians!"Why did he pray this?
So they would live lives of transformation that would glorify and please God! This means that deeper knowledge goes from the head to the heart and out through the feet and hands in our conduct and action. The great evangelist, D.L. Moody once said, "Every Bible should be bound in shoe-leather."
What is the result of pleasing God?
1) Fruit bearing - This can be the fruit of character, deeds, words, and people coming into the Kingdom of God. Fruit is a bi-product of salvation and not a condition of it. When God FILLS us and CONTROLS us, we cannot help but bear fruit for Him. Fruit is always the result of inner transformation. The power behind it is always Christ in us (John 15:2ff) and the Holy Spirit working through us (Galatians 5:22).
2) Growth in the knowledge of God - As we bear fruit and grow in faith, this causes us to have an even deeper knowledge of Him! It is this wonderful cycle of deeper and deeper intimacy with God. Augustine once said, "Faith is understanding's step, and understanding is faith's reward."
3) Spiritual strength - We are strengthened with all power or spiritual vitality (dynamei, where we get the English word, "dynamite") and might, which means "power that overcomes resistance." This gives us endurance and patience (long-suffering) to run the race of faith to the end (Hebrews 12:1). This strength comes from God's might!
4) Thankfulness - We cannot help but thank Him for all His goodness to us as we bear fruit! Paul centers his thankfulness on what God has done for us. I will refer you to the post for Ephesians 1 for definitions of all the benefits we can be thankful for. Ephesians and Colossians were written at the same time and have many parallel verses.
Life with Him is always WIN-WIN!!!!
I went for a walk with a stressed-out 20-something last Monday. I had opinions about what she should do, and I let one of my opinions slip out to quickly, and I immediately felt convicted by the Holy Spirit and had to apologize to her for my fleshly response. I want her to know God's will, not mine!
I decided to pray Colossians 1:9-12 for her this week. Thursday, she wrote me and said, "I have several awesome stories to tell you. God has worked and answered a whole slew of things in the past 2 days alone! I think sometimes He enjoys turning on the firehose! Can't wait to talk in person!"
Yes, He does enjoy turning on the "firehose" if we will only ask Him.
Pray Paul's prayer for someone today! Continue to pray it!
Pray through Colossians 1:9-12 in The Message
Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.