When the Roman Empire held out the olive branch of peace, the world was not fooled. After only a few short decades the Roman branch was becoming soaked with the blood of conquered people, and it was obvious that the only way they could remain in power was to increase the pressure on their subjects. But something happened that even the mighty Romans could not suppress. The explosive force known forever after as ‘Christianity’ began quietly in a nameless inn of the little town of Bethlehem. With the birth of Jesus Christ in that meager stable, man entered into a new era. The pagan Romans now had a righteous competitor and as Rome declined Christianity grew stronger. The Christians met in private homes or small chapels and organized themselves on the model of the synagogue. Slaves were welcomed and comforted by the promise of a kingdom in which all could be free. Generally poor there was a sprinkling of the lower middle class, with even an occasional convert among the rich. Mostly they lived orderly and industrious lives, financing missions and raising funds for impoverished communities. These were the first Christians. At first opponents came from pagan populations rather than from the state. The Magistrates were often men of culture and tolerance, but the masses resented the aloofness, superiority and certainty of the Christians, and called upon the authorities to punish these ‘atheists’ for insulting their gods. From the time of Nero (54 - 68 A.D.) Roman law seems to have branded a profession of the Christian faith as a capital offense. But as the pressure increased so did the Christians’ will power. The Roman emperor Trajan (98 - 117) wrote in a letter to an associate, saying that he would give the Christians three chances to deny their beliefs, and if they persevered, he would have them executed. He told them to take the oath and revile Christ; then he would release them. But with silent fortitude the result was almost always the same. He observed that the Christian, even when condemned to death, gave thanks and refused to be pardoned. Trajan could well be puzzled by this dedication. Thus Caesar and Christ met in the arena and Christ won.|
What is this powerful force known as Christianity? Fundamentally, it is the name of the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ–and preached after his death by his disciples. This religion would spread–by their efforts–into every corner of the earth, and in fact, become our religion. What would make the Christians so firm in their convictions that they would even dare to face death for their beliefs? Christianity derived its impetus from the personality and vision of Christ; it gained strength from the belief in his resurrection and the promise of eternal life in a kingdom to be established on the earth. And Christianity owed its existence to the energy of its dedicated disciples. When Jesus had accomplished the work which the Father had appointed, and was about to be received up into heaven, he commissioned his disciples to continue in that work. Jesus said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, son and holy spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Mt 28. 19) In their obedience to this command they were essentially Apostles, a title that title signifies ‘one sent’.
The mission with which these men were charged was no light one. The magnitude of the task of ’teaching all nations’ is apparent; and when we add the nature of the work to the far reaching character of their labors, and the circumstances under which it was to be performed, we can see that some special provision was necessary for it to be successfully accomplished. What was the nature of the work? It was to proclaim to Jew and Gentile that Jesus, who was a condemned and crucified criminal, had been raised from the dead, and was in due time to be again manifested in the earth as universal king, to reign as God’s representative. Such a message was "to the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." (1Cor 1.23). In the absence of a special provision for the divine truth of the proclamation, nothing but complete failure could be expected. That special provision was accorded them by the gift of the holy spirit. Endowed with this power, Mark tells us, "they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs." (Mk 16. 20)
This fact represents one side of the preparation that was needed for the success of their work. But another kind was also necessary for the whole world who would profit from their labors. The preparation of the holy spirit was instantaneous in the first stage, but groundwork for the world had been spread over many years before. Between three and four centuries prior to Christ, Alexander the Great had commenced his era of conquest and made a large portion of the known world into a Greek empire. The direct result was a general diffusion of the Greek language, which thus became the means of communication between men of various races. By then the Roman empire had established its masterful sway over the nations, bringing about a unity of political power, when coupled with the widespread knowledge of the Greek language resulted in a situation in human affairs which had an important bearing on the work of the disciples.
One other historical development needs to be mentioned. The old days when Israel was an isolated people dwelling in Palestine had long passed. Every important center of the Roman world had its Jewish population. This Jewish element had attracted some of the Gentiles to its religious beliefs. As a result there were communities established which rejected the idolatry and mythology of Greece and Rome, who believed in the God of Israel. Thus, by direct intervention of the holy spirit, and the invisible working of God’s hand, the necessary preparation had been made for obedience to the command that they go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
The earlier labors of the apostles were confined to Jews and Jewish converts. True, they included those who dwelt in various parts of the world, but among those who heard the apostles on the day of Pentecost, only Jews and proselytes were to be found. Although commissioned to teach all nations and go into all the world, it required a special vision to lead them into that wider field. It was not until Peter had, by this vision, been led to the house of Cornelius, that it was recognized that God had "opened the door of faith to the Gentiles".(Acts 14. 27) This initial stage was begun by Peter. But even then, notwithstanding the divine indication of Peter’s vision, little appears to have been done to extend the work in that direction.. A special laborer in this field was to be provided; one who in all subsequent ages should be known as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
When it is borne in mind that since the time of Jesus Christ the great majority of the recipients of God’s grace have been Gentiles, it is fitting to find that the greater portion of the New Testament is devoted to the work and letters of Paul. Next to Jesus himself, Paul stands out as perhaps the greatest figure of the New Testament. He said what few could justifiably say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1Cor 11. 1) It was Paul, of course, who wrote the letter we are considering now–the letter to the Colossians.
Visualize in your minds a map of the eastern portion of the Mediterranean. Right in the middle between Greece and the Holy Land is Asia Minor. And there was one of the chief cities of Phrygia, Colosse In Acts we’re told that Phrygia was twice visited by Paul, but whether he reached Colosse was doubted. After reading the letter, we think he did not. But it is certain that he knew several of the Colossian Christians, of whom Archippus, their minister, and Philemon are expressly named. The Colossians, having heard of Paul’s imprisonment, sent to him Epaphras, a minister, to comfort him and to inform him of their state. From Philemon (v.24) we find that Epaphras, shortly after reaching Rome, was also imprisoned. Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written during Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome around 64 AD, according to the scholars.
Paul begins his letter with reference to his own high office and to the character and destiny of the Christians there, speaking of the exalted glory and divine dignity of the redeemer and their reconciliation through his death and says that to know this is the prize mystery at last revealed to the world. Paul proceeds on to theories that endanger the purity and stability of the church and warns the Colossians against the seduction of a proud philosophy which was selfish in origin and ruinous to them. He cautions them against sins that were too prevalent in that ancient world, and reveals his deep interest in their spiritual welfare. The spirit of the great apostle to the Gentiles breathes in every sentence of this concise and earnest composition. Vigor undamped by imprisonment, interest not chilled by distance, zeal for the purity and simplicity of the gospel, uncompromising to all who introduce rash speculation or vile and unscriptural variations, whether under the shape of higher wisdom or superior sanctity, are unquestioned traits of Paul’s character.
Epaphrus had acquainted Paul with the circumstances of the church. As we read through this and other letters we cannot help but notice how much error had increased since the time when Paul had written to the church at Thessalonica telling them that the mystery of iniquity was already at work. In the past, the main trouble had been caused by Jewish Christians attempting to impose obligations of Jewish law upon Gentile converts. These attempts had never been completely stopped, but the great trouble now was, according to Paul, "philosophy and vain deceit and the oppositions of science–falsely so called-- Gnosticism. This was a blending of Grecian and Oriental philosophy with a very small mixture of the truth. Gnosticism had ideas concerning God, Christ, man and sin, which completely overthrew the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus. In view of the philosophic speculations that prevailed, the letter to the Colossians is largely a declaration of the truth concerning Christ in his relation to God, and his place in the divine plan of redemption. He shows the erroneous character of the teaching of the Gentile philosophers and speaks of Christ as the image of the invisible god, the firstborn of all creation, a statement opposing the teachings of the philosophers, and one that would prepare their minds to receive the more satisfying doctrine of God manifestation. His statements cut away the ground from the doctrine of the Gnostics, and also overthrow just as effectively the popular teaching of today concerning God. For example Christ is declared to be the image of the invisible God, a statement in direct opposition to the teachings of Gnosticism, but equally perplexing to believers in the one true God, everlasting and unique, because it requires a recognition of the true position of Christ as the son of God. When the full purpose of the Deity has been developed in and through Jesus Christ, and he is manifested as head over all, everything becomes plain. He has "made peace with the blood of his cross" Paul writes. (Col 1. 20) and those who continue in the faith will eventually be revealed as the saved body of believers of which he (Christ) is head.
So here is that mystery hid from ages and generations where God makes known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: Christ in you, the hope of glory.(Col 1. 27) The mystery was revealed in the calling of the Gentiles to participate in the hope of Israel. Paul calls attention to the fact that Christ had blotted out the handwriting of the ordinances (the law) and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. (Col 2. 14) The salvation offered by Christ has no need of secret teaching or regulations. Legalism of the Jewish type is repudiated. This letter, where nothing suggests an old man at the end of his course, is brilliantly conceived and written. We see Paul as the missionary to the Gentiles, even while in prison, arrayed for battle and defense of his church. In the second chapter Paul mentions baptism. He writes: "Having been buried with him (Christ) in baptism, wherein ye also were raised with him through faith in the working of God," here a death, a burial and a resurrection are symbolically expressed in the act of baptism. There could be no better illustration of what baptism really is–a burial in water, whereby one dies to the past, and rises with Christ to newness of life. Raised with Christ we are moved to have hearts of compassion, and learn to forgive one another, even as Christ has forgiven us.
Paul also attended to the humdrum things of life in his letter. He speaks of the varying duties of husbands and wives, children and fathers, servants and masters. The contrast is startling; here are some of the most sublime thoughts about God and Christ, side by side with the everyday duties of common life. If to work for God and His truth is noble, then Paul was among the noblest of men., a sterling example for any age. He will have a certain part in the kingdom. Shall we be with him? Paul’s example and his words are unfailing sources of help. Time is short, the signs thicken around us; let us wholeheartedly respond to his appeal across the centuries, and be steadfast, unmoveable, always bounding in the work of the Lord, because your labor is not in vain in the Lord.