Introduction to Colossians
By: Scott Morton
Note: This is the first in a series of articles which will be covering the entire epistle.
The book of Colossians is an important epistle to have an understanding of as a member of the Body of Christ. Many individuals call this a sister epistle to the one written to the assembly at Ephesus. This almost seems to diminish the need in the eyes of some to study this epistle in detail. While there are some similarities between the two epistles, as they cover some of the same issues, there are also some important differences in how this material is being presented. There is a clear need to have an understanding of both epistles, as they are written to us and contain the doctrine we need.
One of the major issues addressed throughout this epistle is looking at who the Lord Jesus Christ is. This is something which is covered more in this epistle than in any other one. It clearly indicates this was something the people here were struggling with, as they had to deal with the ideas which were prevalent in the area. These issues will be dealt with as they come up in the epistle.
The city itself
The city of Colossae is located roughly 100 miles east of Ephesus and is near the city of Laodicea, which is something which comes up later in this epistle. The city, which is located about 10 miles away from Laodicea (which Paul mentions later in this epistle), sat in a volcanic area that also experienced many earthquakes. Because of these events, there was a lot of disruption of the soil, leading to problems being able to grow crops. There was an increase in sediments which led to being able to create various dyes, which was one of the major businesses of the city.
Paul traveled near this location, as can be seen during his travels in the book of Acts:
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,  He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
He is here in Ephesus and is preaching the message to these individuals. As he is ministering to them, he is reaching an entire region, as Luke records for us in the same chapter:
And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.  But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.  And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
This region of Asia which is spoken of here is not the same region that we call Asia. This is the Roman province. This would include the following cities: Mysra (Acts 16:7), Troas (Acts 16:8), Ephesus (Acts 18:19), Assos (Acts 20:13), Mitylene (Acts 20:14), Chios (Acts 20:15), Samos (Acts 20:15), Trogyllium (Acts 20:15), Miletus (Acts 20:15), Coos (Acts 21:1), and Rhodes (Acts 21:1). This is a large region, with a number of different cities to which Paul traveled to, as there are specific cities mentioned during Acts and there are other places which he went to during his ministry.
One of the things which is evident by this is Colossae was not mentioned specifically as somewhere Paul had traveled to in his ministry. This is evident by the following:
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;
Paul speaks about how he had not seen many of them. This is similar to what he says about the assembly in Rome (Romans 1:8). He has heard about what has been going on with them, but does not have any direct knowledge of what they have been doing. Even though he has never seen them, he still has a care for them and has been making sure they are remaining faithful to the message of this dispensation. Several times in his epistles he mentions this desire to either see individuals for the first time or to go back and see them again, which reflects the care he had for the saints.
Paul does have knowledge of Philemon, who is ministering to these individuals. This is someone he has had a lot of contact with (Philemon 2), who had a local assembly in his house. This is how he knew of the faith this assembly had, as he knew the faith of Philemon and knew what he would have been teaching to them. This knowledge is evident by the statements made of Philemon, as he is called a fellowlaborer, meaning he had worked closely with Paul for a period of time.
While they were solid in their understanding of the Word when Paul was ministering with them early in the ministry, we see something happens to these individuals. It is an impact that affects the same region which he had been ministering to:
2 Timothy 1:15
This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.
All of these people had turned their back on what the Apostle Paul was teaching. They saw what was happening to him and were experiencing the problems themselves. Since they did not want to deal with these things, they figured it would be easier for them to walk away from the truth.
The Apostle Paul does not promise it is going to be easy for any member of the Body of Christ. He speaks about how we are given to suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29). This means we will be experiencing bad things in our life as a direct result of being a member of the Body of Christ and preaching the gospel which is given to us for today:
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Paul also speaks about some of the things which are going to be coming for those who are teaching this message (2 Timothy 3:12). He speaks about those who are living shall suffer persecution. This is speaking of physical pain, which can lead to death. In the context of the passage, he points to some of the places where he had ministered during the book of Acts. Looking specifically at these examples, it can be seen where he was being beaten, imprisoned, and stoned. These are things which can cause people to turn away from teaching the truth fairly quickly. It is something we must be on guard about.
Those who were in this city were faithful as Paul was writing this epistle, but were dealing with some things related to those who were in the city. The things they were dealing with fell into what can be described as Gnosticism. The following definition of this comes from Vincent's Word Studies:
It took its name from gnosis knowledge, since it claimed for a select few the possession of a superior acquaintance with truth. Its tendencies were thus exclusive and aristocratic. The Gnostics denied the direct creation of the world by God, because God would thus be shown to be the creator of evil. God's creative energy was thwarted by the world of matter, which is essentially evil, in eternal antagonism to God, and with which God could not come into direct contact without tainting His nature. Hence creation became possible only through a series of emanations from God, each successive emanation being less divine, until the point was reached where contact with matter became possible. These emanations were called aeons, spirits, or angels; and to these worship was rendered with an affectation of humility in approaching the lower grades of divinity, instead of venturing into the immediate presence of the Supreme. The evil of matter was to be escaped either by rigid abstinence from the world of sense, or by independence of it. The system therefore tended to the opposite extremes of asceticism and licentiousness.
The Apostle Paul addresses at least seven areas of where those who follow this line of thinking are going contrary to the Word of God. When he is addressing these things, he does not spend any time telling them they are wrong in these things. Paul just states the truth and lets the Word work in them. This is how error needs to be addressed. Too often, members of the Body of Christ spend time trying to point out the errors of someone's theology and do not do anything to actually point out the truth in the Word of God.