Studying the Bible, Making a Tremendous Discovery. Colossians 4:1-18

Paul’s wrote a short letter to the church at Colossae. The letter survives and is part of the Bible. However, the Colossian church, and the city of Colossae, no longer remain. Here is a picture I took when visiting the site where Colossae once stood. We were blessed by a bus filled with Korean Christians that stopped so the visitors could read the Bible and sing hymns at the site of the ancient Colossae. As you know, millions of Koreans have become Christians since the missionaries arrived in Korea 150 years ago.

Paul’s letter to the Colossian church is filled with remarkable, worthy insights into his mission to establish churches among the Gentiles. You can read Colossians 4:1-18 here.

Some tremendous discoveries include these:

  1. Paul’s team is a church-planting team. They have planted churches in Colossae, in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Paul refers to them as his “co-workers” (συνεργοὶ). His co-workers are his band of missionaries, his hevrah. Barnabas has another missionary band (another hevrah) by this time, as do Prisca and Aquila.
  2. Paul is making plans to go to more cities and plant more churches. He writes, “Pray for us that God will open a door to us for the word.” He is “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), and for his mission he is in prison.
  3. Aristarchus, Paul’s team member, is also in prison.
  4. Only two of Paul’s teammates are Jews. Paul wishes there were more. Why do you think there are so few Jews on Paul’s missionary team?
  5. Paul writes that he is declaring “the mystery of Christ.” What is the mystery of Christ? Dear reader, do not be lulled into a stupor by supposing that the mystery is “the cross of Christ” or “justification by faith.” (These wonderful doctrines are fully supported in the Bible, but do not run all the doctrines together or you will end up with a brown soup.) I humbly insist that you read Ephesians 3:1-9 here to understand what Paul means by “the mystery of Christ.” There he uses the term “the mystery” four times. Find the four references to the term “the mystery of Christ.”
  6. Dear reader, what is the mystery, “hidden for ages but now revealed?” The mystery is that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel.” In other words, “the mystery” is Paul’s mission to evangelize unreached peoples (Gentiles) everywhere.
  7. Paul is in prison “for the sake of the mystery,” because hostile Jews wish to silence him. Why the hostility? David Bosch writes:

Paul offered a “Torah-free zone” for Gentiles who were coming to faith. “It became increasingly difficult to remain both a practicing Jew and a Christian. Around 85 AD it was made impossible. The Eighteen Benedictions,[1] promulgated by the Pharisees at their new center in Jamnia, included a clause which anathematized both Christians (“Nazarenes”) and heretics (“minim”) and excluded them from the synagogues.[2]

  • Paul will write elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 3, that most of his fellow Jews cannot understand, or support, “the mystery.” Does this explain why so few Jews have joined Paul in his mission to the Gentiles?
  • Paul changed his name (from Saul). Why did he change his name? Paul also changed one of his Jewish teammates name from Jesus to Justus. The other Jew is Mark, also a Gentile name.
  • Paul’s teammate, Epaphras, established the Colossian church (and perhaps house churches, as in Laodicea and Rome and Philippi). Paul wrote to the Colossians: “You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:7-8).

Conclusion. Paul was first a missionary, then a theologian. David Bosch wrote:

The missionary dimension of Paul’s theology has not always been recognized as dominant. For many years he was primarily regarded as the creator of a dogmatic system. With the rise of the history-of-religion school Paul was viewed preeminently as a mystic. Later the emphasis shifted to the “ecclesiastical” Paul. Only very gradually did biblical scholars discover (what missionaries have always known!) that Paul was first and foremost to be understood as an apostolic missionary.[3] “I am the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13); “We have received grace and apostleship in order to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles” (Romans 1:5). I am in prison for the sake of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1). Bosch: “Paul knew that God had sent him into the world to proclaim the gospel, not to contemplate and speculate.” [4]

[1] “Let the Nazarenes and the heretics be destroyed in a moment . . . Let their names be expurgated from the Book of Life and not be entered with those of the just.”

[2] Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. 46

[3] Ibid. ps. 124

[4] Ibid. 124