Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Insignificant but Greatly Loved
Do you ever feel insignificant? Do you ever feel that everything you do for the Lord is not noticed and not important? Such might have been the feeling of those living in Colossae and serving the Lord Jesus. Colossae, located in Asia Minor, was once an important city on a major trade route. But over time it slipped into second-class status?becoming just a ?small town??outshined by nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis.
When the Apostle Paul visited Ephesus (Acts 19 & 20) the gospel message was so powerful that it spread throughout the region. One of Paul?s workers, Epaphras, visited Colossae, shared the gospel, and a church was born. But Paul never went to this church in person, so both from a political and even spiritual standpoint, the church and the town might have seemed unimportant.
Colossae itself has never been excavated so we know relatively little about it. In fact, you?d probably never know about it at all were it not for the letter we are beginning today. Despite it?s relative obscurity, Paul wrote this magnificent letter and God inspired the words to ring down through the ages in order to help us, warn us, and grow us in our faith.
Many times God uses the insignificant and unimportant?which means He can use you too! In fact, the church met in Philemon?s house with Archippus (his son) as the pastor (Col 4:7). Philemon?s wife is also mentioned in Paul?s little letter to Philemon. Ordinary folks, doing God?s business?just like us. And that?s very much okay.
So why did Paul write this little letter? There were two major events taking place in this church. While Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he met a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul wrote to Onesimus? owner, Philemon, asking that the master receive the slave back, now a brother in Christ. Secondly, Epaphras came to tell Paul that some people had introduced bad teaching in Colossae that threatened to destroy the ministry.
Two ideas had been introduced: an early form of Gnosticism, which said that only people ?in the know? of special knowledge and ceremonies could have a deep relationship with God. They felt that matter was evil and to deal with it you either subjected your body to severe treatment (asceticism) or ignored it altogether and did whatever felt right at the time (hedonism). The other involved Jewish legalism, which said that in order to complete yourself as a Christian you needed to observe the Mosaic Law. This was coupled with a reverence for ?lesser spirits? and a lack of recognizing the deity of Christ. We?ll get more into both of these as we go through the letter. But what we find is a melding of these two ideas together. This is known as syncretism and it?s alive and well today.
So let?s begin in Chapter 1, verse 1:
1 ? 2
Paul starts out the letter in similar fashion to his other epistles. Note that it isn?t Paul the individual but Paul ?an apostle of Christ Jesus.? Paul had a position from which to speak into this church, even if he had never been present with them.
Secondly, this apostleship wasn?t something Paul wanted or asked for. It was ?by God?s will.? God chose Paul as part of His grand plan of redeeming the world through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Paul became a part of that, and by the way, so have you if you belong to Jesus. You may not have chosen the area of ministry you are involved with?and that?s okay. Neither did Paul.
Paul writes this letter with Timothy, who was his prot?g? and traveling companion?to ?the saints ? who are faithful brothers.? That?s not to say that he was writing only to a subset of the church?but from God?s point of view, the church, despite its problems, was ?set apart? (?saints?) for God. The wonderful thing about being a part of God?s family is that He sees you as already perfected.
He finishes by wishing them ?grace and peace? which is so wonderful to wish on anyone?s life: grace means that unmerited gift of life from God and peace is the result of that?peace with God and peace with our brothers and sisters.
3 ? 5a
Paul prayed for this church, Paul gave thanks to God for this church, and Paul appreciated the characteristics of God that he had heard about in this church. You know, despite problems that might exist in a ministry, we should always pray, always thank God for, and always appreciate what we see that is like the Lord?s character.
Paul had ?heard? about their faith?this is one of the reasons why we think the apostle didn?t actually go there. There are three things Paul had heard?their faith, love, and hope.
Does this remind you of anything? How about 1 Corinthians 13: ?These three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.? (1 Cor 13:13). Trusting (having faith) in salvation through Jesus is what gets us hope of being with God in His dimension forever?but the result of that faith and hope is agape love, that self-sacrificing, other-centered affection, that we pour out on others. Is that what you are known for? Is that what we are known for as a church? If someone has never set foot inside our doors, what would they hear about us? This is also the very simple yet very profound basis of the gospel. Some in the Colossian church had added to this base?incorrectly, and had thus diluted the simplicity of the gospel.
5b ? 6
A couple of things to point out here: hope comes from truth. People want hope. They want to know it?s going to be okay. But without Jesus it isn?t going to be okay. We are separated from God and everything that?s good. It is only by recognizing the truth that we can have hope: the truth that: through Jesus? sacrifice for us, and our trust in Him, we can see our relationship to God restored. Sometimes the truth can seem harsh?that we deserve God?s wrath for our sins. But notice what else Paul says: ?you heard it and recognized God?s grace in the truth.? Isn?t that beautiful? The truth is we are separated form God by our sins, but the grace is that Jesus died for those sins so we would no longer have to be separated but can have hope. We should sprinkle the truth with grace at all times and we shouldn?t go beyond the truth of the gospel and pull people to a different Jesus or a different way to relating to God (though works).
Notice too that Paul recognized that the gospel was ?growing all over the world.? He doesn?t mean every square inch of the planet, but he?s recognizing that the gospel is spreading beyond racial and geographic boundaries?beyond Israel and the Jews. This becomes important as he makes his arguments against legalism later on.
7 ? 8
Here Paul shows us that Epaphras was the one who started the church. We only hear about this man here and in Philemon. But clearly he got saved either by listening to Paul or in one of the churches Paul started?then brought the gospel to Colossae. Three things we learn:
- Dearly loved fellow slave (his position)
- Faithful servant of the Messiah on your behalf (his action)
- Communicator of what God was doing in Colossae (his connection)
- Don?t stop praying. Just because you don?t see results right away. Paul saw the seed of the Spirit?s work and now he continues to pray for growth of that seed.
- Know what God wants (vs 9b)
- Reflect His character (vs 10a)
- Do His work (vs 10a)
- Get to know Him better through the effort (vs 10b)
- Have the ability to get through anything thrown at you with endurance and joy (vs 11)
- Thank God for that ability, and for what He has given us in eternal life.
No matter what you?ve done, no matter how important, it is vital to recognize that we are all ?fellow slaves? or bondservants of the Lord. Our job is to be faithful to what God has called us to do, and then rejoice in the connection to the Spirit and outpouring of God?s character by that Spirit amongst the brethren.
Next Paul goes into detail about the content of the prayers he alluded to in verse 3. Let?s read the entire section then go through it more carefully.
9 ? 12
What a great prayer that we could pray for any one of us! But the he goes on:
Notice too the recurrence of the idea of knowing God and having God?s power. The Colossians were taking the knowledge of God to ridiculous places and tapping into ?power? that was not God?s and would cause harm. Playing in the spirit realm can be very dangerous.
13 ? 14
Verses 13 and 14 are one of the best examples of the gospel we have. Because of Adam and Eve disobeying God in the Garden of Eden, we inherited and practice a character that is at odds with God?s character. This was inspired by Satan who wants to hurt God but can?t so he hurts that which was made in God?s image. We are in need of rescue and so God rescued us single-handedly and has ?transferred? us (which means to remove) from the kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of light where Jesus is the King in God?s Kingdom.
We have ?redemption? (which means: ?release?) ? release from the debt we owed God from our sins. Instead God forgave those sins in Jesus. How wonderful!
- Don?t feel insignificant just because what you do for the Lord isn?t well known
- Pay attention to what people would say about your life ? have they heard of your faith?
- How much are you praying the types of prayers Paul prayed for others in your life?
- Are you experiencing the kind of endurance, patience, strength and joy Paul says that comes from knowing God?
- How ?transferred? do you feel out of the kingdom of darkness?