13 October 2014Colossians 1:1-14
“In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you.” (vv. 3-5)
How do you write a letter to people you've never met, but who have a problem to which you are expected to provide a wise answer? Do you come down with the heavy hand of authority, or patronise them as ignorant and blind them with your superior knowledge? Or do you take the line that Paul does in his letters, of praise for what they have achieved and thanking God for their faithfulness?
Paul had not been personally involved in the foundation of the Colossian church. He was now so busy that he had to send out a band of evangelists to reach the places he couldn't visit himself. Epaphras was the man sent to Colosse and he had taught the people about Christ and left a band of local Christians to continue the work. Colosse was in the Roman province of Asia, about 100 miles from Ephesus and set in a wide valley close to the cities of Hieropalis and Laodicaea. All three cities had been wealthy trading towns, but Colosse was now the poor relation to the others.
Although the population was mainly Gentile (non Jewish), there was also a large Jewish community. Some had been sent there as exiles many years before, and had been joined by others who recognised the rich opportunities for trading in the area. So this new church was a mixture of nationalities and former beliefs and it appears that this was the root of the problems that were occurring.
Yet Paul begins his letter in a positive vein, like any good teacher, or critic. His primary purpose is to build up the church, not to destroy it, so his words are of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for the saints. These saints were not of the stained-glass window variety, but ordinary people of God. So Paul commends the church's devotion to God and care for the community and assures them of his prayers. And he begins to set out the truth of the gospel to counteract the problem for which he must provide the answer.
- Not so many people write letters in this digital age. How would you approach someone to offer advice?
- Have you been hurt by harsh criticism and how did you deal with it?
- What encouragement have you received from church leaders, or other Christians?