Author: Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 61 AD


Paul wrote this letter from prison in Rome to the congregation in Colossae, a small city in present-day Turkey.  Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7, 4:9) carried the letter to the church and its leader, Archippus.  They simultaneously carried the letter to Philemon.  Epaphras had originally evangelized the Colossians after hearing Paul's preaching in Ephesus, which is only about 100 miles away.  But now Epaphras is imprisoned with Paul and unable to return to Colossae (Phlm 23).


Paul writes this letter to oppose heretical teachings in the Colossian church.  Heretical teachers were infecting the congregation with philosophies and "empty deceit" (2:8).  They insisted on various religious practices like abstaining from particular foods, celebrating certain holidays, worshipping angels, circumcision and the possession secret knowledge (2:11, 16-18, 21).  Scholars disagree over the exact doctrine of these heretical teachers, but it appears to be a combination of extreme Jewish thought and pre-Gnostic concepts.  Paul rejects their teaching and upholds the hope of the gospel (1:23).


In order to stand against the false teachers, Paul charges the Colossians to "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast" (1:23).  He prays for their strength and endurance (1:11), yet he rejoices over the "firmness of their faith" and exhorts them to walk in the Lord, "rooted and built up in him" (2:7).  Paul's insistence on the Colossians' firmness and rootedness illustrates God's desire for his people to know their faith and to hold it strongly.  The Colossians can only avoid deception if they hold fast to the faith just as they were taught (cf. 2:7).  In baptism, they were buried with Christ and have also been been raised up with him so that they are incorporated into the mystery hidden for ages (2:12, 1:26).


Throughout the letter Paul conveys a tone of thanksgiving.  He prays and writes with thanks to God (1:3, 12) and he also encourages the Colossians to do everything with a spirit of gratitude, "giving thanks to God the Father" through the Lord Jesus (3:17).  This important theme strikes a paradoxical note because Paul is writing from prison (4:18).  Paul reiterates that our hope is "laid up" for us in heaven (1:5).  Therefore gratitude to God for our salvation should constantly characterize the life of a Christian who seeks the things that are above even in unfortunate circumstances (3:1).


Paul refers to Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection.  He uses the image of a "record of debt" which is cancelled by Jesus' death as it is nailed to the cross (2:14).  Because of sin, we owed God an amount that we could never pay, but Jesus cancelled our promissory note by his blood and so we share in his triumph by baptism (2:15).


Paul continually argues for the transformative power of the gospel message.  He calls it the "word of truth" (1:5) and identifies it as the heart of Christianity by referring to the "hope of the gospel" (1:23).  The gospel message, the life, suffering and death of Jesus, is indeed the "revelation in Jesus Christ of God's mercy to sinners" (CCC 1846).


Colossians also focuses on the divinity of Jesus.  Paul teaches that the "fullness of God" dwelled in him (1:19, 2:9).  Jesus was not just a great man or a super-creature, but God himself.  For more on Jesus' divine nature refer to CCC 464-483.


By Mark Giszczak


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January 25, 2015

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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