This year’s pulpit series are Paul’s letters from prison. We have covered Ephesians and Philippians and we will now journey through Colossians and Philemon. Paul wrote Colossians and Philemon at the same time (around 62 AD) as Ephesians. This dating would situate Paul in Roman imprisonment. From internal evidence, we see that all three letters were delivered by Tychicus (Eph 6:21) and Onesimus.
The city of Colossae was part of Asia Minor and today’s modern-day Turkey. It began as a thriving center of commerce due to its location along one of the great trade routes of the ancient world but had fallen into decline by the time of the letter. During Paul’s time, her two nearest neighbours Laodicea and Hierapolis had already surpassed her in prominence. Because of her cosmopolitan past, the society in Colossae, experienced a mix of religious influences in her society. There was a blend of ecstatic and ascetic practices mixing with Greek and Roman religions.
For the church in Colossae, two men played a very significant role. Firstly there was Epaphras a fellow Colossian (4:12) who was instrumental in preaching and teaching the Gospel to the Colossians (1:7). Epaphras was also instrumental in the spiritual growth of the believers at nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis (4:13). Secondly the church met in the home of Philemon (Phm 1:2). Philemon was a wealthy Christian who had slaves and lived in Colossae which was about 161 km from Ephesus. It is likely that Philemon heard the Gospel when Paul was teaching in Ephesus and subsequently opened his home for the believers in Colossae to meet. Onesimus, the bearer of Paul’s epistles Colossians and Philemon, used to be a slave in Philemon’s household but ran away. Onesimus having ran away to Rome, later met Paul and became a Christian. Now Paul is sending
Onesimus back to the Philemon no longer as a slave but as a beloved brother (Phm 1:16).
According to Christopher A. Beetham – https://www.crossway.org/ articles/why-study-the-books-of-colossians-and-philemon/, there are three prominent themes highlighted in these 2 letters.
Firstly, the Preeminent of Christ – in Colossians, the pre-eminence of the eternal Son over all things is revealed. Christ is the exalted Lord over both creation and the inaugurated new creation by virtue of his unique role in God’s project of cosmic reconciliation (1:15-20). The pre-existent Son entered history and became human. He reconciled his people to God by his death, that he might present them “holy and blameless and above reproach” before God on the last day (1:22). Christ is the very image of God, whose perfections serve as the pattern for their renewal as image-bearers. This transformative work is preparing them to inherit the new creational kingdom of God (1:12-14, 15; 3:9-10). Indeed, the gospel can be summarized as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). Christ is the very image of God, whose perfections serve as the pattern for their renewal as image-bearers.
Secondly we have Gospel Glimpses – the gospel of grace is on full display in Colossians. God has effected a cosmic reconciliation at the cross through the blood of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:20). The message of this salvation is producing spiritual fruit all over the world as it spreads across the earth in expanding waves (1:6). When people embrace the gospel, God delivers them from the dominion of darkness and transfers them into the inheritance of light, the kingdom of the beloved Son (1:12-14). He redeems them, forgiving all their sins (1:14).
In Philemon, we see the essence of the gospel reflected in Paul’s life as he imitates his Lord in offering himself as a righteous substitution for Onesimus before the wronged Philemon (vv. 17-19).
Thirdly, the Epic Story of Scripture – Paul wrote Colossians and Philemon with the conviction that Jesus had brought the Old Testament epic story to its climactic fulfillment. This biblical epic of the kingdom mission of God runs from creation to new creation. God has launched the promised kingdom and new creation in Christ’s death and resurrection. In Colossians, Christ is the ultimate Son of David, the Messiah, and the world’s true Lord. He is the fulfillment of all the messianic promises (1:13-14; 2:2; 3:1). He is the Wisdom of God and holds pre-eminence over everything in creation as well as in the inaugurated new creation (1:15-
20; 2:3; see Prov. 8:22-31). The Son is the ultimate locus of the divine presence and fulfills all the Old Testament hopes for God dwelling among his people (1:19). In him the ultimate circumcision takes place, demarcating those who belong to the new covenant people of God and enabling them to live faithful lives (2:11, 13). Christ exists as the reality to which all the “shadows” of the Old Testament festivals and dietary regulations pointed (2:16-17). He is the perfect “image” and last Adam, whose own perfections serve as the pattern for his people’s renewal as image-bearers (1:15; 3:9-10). This renewal prepares them for their vocation as citizens and rulers of the new creational kingdom to be consummated on the last day of history (see Rev. 21–22).
May the Lord bless us as we journey together through Colossians and Philemon.
– Ps Daniel Tan