CCW Sermon: 9th May 2021. Colossians Series Part: 1. By Rev David Russell, Vicar.
Colossians 1:1-8 (Part 1)
Today we’re going to start working our way through this book of the Bible called ‘Colossians.’
Colossians is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, and sent to the Christians living in the city of Colossae, a city in modern day Turkey, not far from Ephesus. It was written around AD60 and Paul probably wrote it whilst in prison in Rome.
As we start off, I think it’s helpful for us to see that this is a real letter, written by a real person, written to real people, who lived in a real place. It is not theoretical (in other words, just a series of statements about the Christian faith) but personal and pastoral. Paul really cared about these Christians and that is one of the reasons why he wrote to them.
Now, it is a letter that at times is quite detailed and intricate in the way it is written. And, as we read it, we may find it hard to read, yet alone understand (me included), so that’s why we’re going to take our time over it.
And today we’re just going to think about the people involved in the letter. There are 6 that we need to notice.
The first is…
1. Paul – the author
Paul is often referred to as St Paul. Now Paul would not have liked that title since he, and the rest of the Bible, teaches that every Christian is a ‘saint’ – if a person has placed their faith in Jesus, then they are a saint. You can see that even in today’s passage in 1:2,4.
So, Paul would not have liked the title ‘saint.’ But a title that did matter a great deal to him was ‘Apostle.’ The title ‘Apostle’ was given to people who had seen the Risen Jesus and who had been personally commissioned by Him to spread the Good News about Him. Apostles had a unique role in the foundation of the Church, and the Church was built on their teaching. Paul was an unusual apostle because he had not been with Jesus and the 12 disciples. But his legitimacy as an Apostle is stressed throughout NT.
We read about his conversion from Jewish Pharisee to Christian Apostle a number of times in the book of Acts (particularly Acts 9). And, in his letter to the Christians living in Corinth, he stresses to them that he had seen and been commissioned into his role by the Risen Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15). Of particular importance, in all this, is the fact that his role as an Apostle was accepted by the other Apostles, particularly Peter and James (Jesus’ brother and the leader of the Church in Jerusalem), we know that from Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Galatia (see Galatians 1:18-19, 2:9).
Perhaps most significant though in establishing Paul as an Apostle, is the fact that Peter stated that what Paul writes is ‘Scripture, and by that, Peter means that Paul’s letters are to be regarded as having the same spiritual weight and value, and coming with the same authority, as the Old Testament, which Peter and other Jews (and Jesus Himself) regarded as the Word of God. So, if Paul’s writings are ‘Scripture’ then they are God’s Word.
This is what Peter says of Paul’s writing (2 Peter 3:15-16):
…count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
All this means is that, for the Christians living in Colossae, as they heard this letter to them being read out to them (which is how they would have received it – read out loud in one of their meetings) they would have heard it, noted it, taken it to heart and obeyed it. This is God’s Word, so God’s people are to listen, take it to heart and obey it.
And God’s Word doesn’t change, not least since God doesn’t change, so, just like those Christians living there then, we too today need to hear it, take it to heart and obey it.
Now, you may sometimes hear people, including other Vicars, and people hight-up in the CofE say things like ‘I don’t like Paul’. But if you said that in front of Peter or James, they would have given you a very disapproving look, and Peter, not someone known for his delicacy, would probably be quite angry with you!
They knew that Paul was a legitimate Apostle, just like them. So he was, and is, to be listened to. This is God’s Word.
My point is this: We are to take very seriously what Paul has written here to the Christians living in Colossae. Yes, it was written originally for them then, but it remains God’s Word for us today.
So, that’s Paul. Let’s move onto…
Now, the New Testament tells us a lot about Timothy. We know that he was commissioned by Paul to be his co-worker (Acts 16:1-5 and then Romans 16:21). Such was the closeness of their relationship that Paul described him as his ‘son’ (Philippians 2:19-24, 1 Timothy 1:18). Understandably, he’s repeatedly associated with Paul’s work, something we see in a number of times in Acts (Acts 16:3, 17:14-15, 18:5, 19:22, 20:4). He was often sent by Paul to Churches to help guide them, for example to Philippi, Thessalonica and Ephesus (see Philippians 2:19-22, 1 Thessalonians 3:2-6, and for Ephesus see 1 Timothy 1:3). He was also often with Paul when Paul wrote his letters, in fact, almost being a co-author of them (we can see that in 2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1 and of course Colossians 1:1). Timothy was also someone to whom Paul wrote letters – Paul wrote two to him whilst Timothy oversaw the Churches in Ephesus (1 and 2 Timothy). And, one more thing about Timothy, he, like Paul was later imprisoned (see Hebrews 13:23).
My point here is this: This letter comes from two really important people – Paul, and Timothy - so again, we must take it seriously.
So, Paul, Timothy, and third person…
In Colossians we learn some key things about Epaphras.
Listen again to 1:7-8
This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Epaphras is the man who had told the Colossians the ‘good news’ (that’s what the word ‘gospel’ means) about Jesus, and through Him, God had brought people to faith in Jesus. But, at the point of Paul writing this letter, Epaphras was now with Paul and had told him about what had happened in Colossae, and how people there had turned to Jesus – news that greatly pleased Paul.
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