Paul wrote four letters when he was in prison. And this is the third one. (The other three are Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon.) Paul wrote this letter to church members whom he had never met. The church was at Colossae. This was a city in the beautiful Lycus Valley. The church there had a problem with false teachers. These men taught a mixture of Jewish beliefs and Greek ideas. There was a group called Gnostics. And they said that they had superior knowledge about spiritual things.

The Greeks said that anything physical was evil. And many Gnostics said this too. The body was like a prison. And the person must live in it. But Paul spoke against this teaching. He emphasised Christ's human body. (1:19, 22; 2:9. Read 2:23 too.)

The Jews kept their religious traditions and ceremonies. These included circumcision and the Sabbath. There were other special days too. (Read 2:11-13, 16-17.) Jews thought that these things were essential.

The first century world was full of fear. There was something important that people should realize. It was this. Unfriendly powers did not control the world. The stars or evil angels did not control it either. (One example is in 2:18-23.) Christ controls the world (1:15-20).

We can divide this letter into two main sections. They come from 1:4. One is about what people believe. The other is about behaviour. The book of Colossians points to Christ. He must be most important. Then the book speaks to Christ's people. Paul tells Christian believers how they should behave:

  • in their homes
  • at work
  • in church
  • in society.

Faith in Christ (Chapters 1:1−3:11)

Paul knew that Christ is the answer to all human need. Paul reminded his readers about:

The Christ who causes a revolution (1:1-14). He can change people. Christ frees us from Satan's kingdom of darkness (1:13). And he brings us into his kingdom. It is a kingdom that is full of light (1:12). It is a kingdom that is full of freedom and pardon (1:13-14).

This first passage is in the form of a great prayer. Paul has nine requests for the members of the church. He prays that they will live:

  • Lives that have wisdom and understanding of what God wants (1:9)
  • Lives that are worthwhile (1:10)
  • Lives that please God (1:10)
  • Lives that are useful (1:10)
  • Lives that trust in God's strength (1:11)
  • Lives that have courage (1:11)
  • Lives that are grateful (1:11-12)
  • Lives that expect God to keep his promises about the future (1:12. Read 1 Peter 1:4)
  • Lives that are in unity (1:12-14. This passage is not about one person. It speaks about a group.)

The Christ who is superior in every way (1:15-23). The main words of this passage are 1:18. Paul believed that Christ is superior because of:

  • His special relationship. He is the Son whom God loves (1:13). The words ‘first born’ (1:15) do not show that God created Christ. They show that he is ‘the head over all. And he is the highest in authority over’ all that God created.
  • His work in creation. (This word means all that God created.) God did not create Jesus. Jesus shared in the work of creation (1:16-17. Compare John 1:3.) Also, ‘all things continue because of him’ (1:17. Compare Hebrews 1:3.)
  • His principal leadership (1:18). Nobody is, or could be, a greater leader. Christ controls the world. He rules the church. He is its only Head.
  • His nature as God (1:15, 19. ‘All of God is in Christ’). Nobody else is like him. He is the only Son of God. Here is Paul's clear statement that Jesus is God.
  • His work of redemption (1:14. Bible students use this word. It speaks about payment to get freedom for a slave). There is another subject here too (1:20-22). Bible students use the word ‘reconciliation’. This means that we are not God's enemies now. We are his friends. Only Christ could do these things by his death.
  • His power to change people (1:22). Because of his death, Christ can completely change men and women. The passage explains three things about Christ. It tells about what he did in the past. It tells about what he can do now, in the present. And it explains what he will do, in the future. He will bring us to God as holy people.

The Christ who lives in all believers (1:24-2:7). Christ can only change our lives from the inside of our lives. That is where the revolution happens (1:27). Paul tells about his own experience of Christ. He discovered that it was:

  • An experience that made him happy (1:24). He was suffering, but he was still happy.
  • An experience that was difficult (1:24). It was hard to help the church to grow.
  • An experience that made him become a better person (1:27). Paul felt rich.
  • An experience that continued (1:28-29). Paul was a Christian leader. And he had great ambitions for Christian believers. He desired to help everyone to be ‘perfect’ in Christ Jesus. It takes the whole of a person's life to become mature. It continues until we see Christ. (Read 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:12-14.)
  • An experience that brings unity (2:1-5). Christ is living in each believer. And this knowledge should bring all believers together. Love unites them.

The Christ who has all authority (2:8-23). Remember that the church at Colossae had two problems. There were the Gnostics. They kept saying ‘You must not do...’ many things. Then there were the Jews. They kept saying ‘You must obey all Jewish laws’. Paul probably wrote this letter to deal with these two matters. The church members were trusting in systems of philosophy. Or they were trusting in religious regulations. And Paul showed that giving themselves to Christ was all that mattered (2:9-10).

The believers knew that they could always trust Christ. He never changes. There is nobody else who is like him (2:17). Other things were like shadows that pass by. And Paul urged these believers to hold on to Christ. He was their head (2:19). And no other powers had any control (2:20). Christ defeated them all at the cross (2:15).

The Christ who overcame (3:1-11). Christ became alive again. Then he returned to heaven. And this was certain proof that he had won the victory (3:1-2).

The things that belong to heaven must fill the thoughts of believers. The things that belong to earth should not be filling their thoughts (3:2). They must ‘kill’ things that are not worthwhile (3:5). They must put them out of their lives (3:8). Christians have a new nature. It is like God's nature (3:10). So they do not care about divisions and classes that are in society (3:11). Christ is all that is important.

Love for Other People (Chapter 3:12−4:6)

Faith, hope and love were at the beginning of this letter (1:4-5. Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Faith in Christ was the main subject of 1:1−3:11. Hope in Christ is clear in 1:23 and 3:4. And Paul now deals with the subject of Christian love. There are various practical things about it. For Paul it is:

Love that forgives (3:12-13).

Love that brings unity (3:14-15). ‘Love is the thing that holds you all together in perfect unity’ (1:14). This was what the church needed to hear. The false things that they believed had been dividing them. (Compare 2:2-4.)

Love that corrects (3:16-17). Believers should teach and help each other to be strong. But they must do this ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’. Everything that they said and did should be like this (3:17).

Love that is practical (3:18-4:1). In the New Testament, ‘love’ is not some sort of emotion. Love is kindness that is ready for immediate action. And it affects ordinary affairs every day. This might be at home or at work. Paul explained it to:

  • wives (3:18)
  • husbands (3:19)
  • children (3:20)
  • fathers (3:21)
  • employees (3:22-25. This is a great example of Paul's beliefs about work)
  • employers (4:1).

Love that prays (4:2-4). The church members’ love should help them to pray for Paul and for his work.

Love that is an example (4:5-6). What a Christian says or does should recommend Christ.

The last section is 4:5−5:18.

There are a series of greetings. Paul mentions 10 workers. And they are a wonderful study. They show the various great qualities of Christ's servants.