My stack of books
Your cart is currently empty.Find some books!
Of course, it is inappropriate to raise one part of Scripture over another - but I have been struck afresh by the specific power of Paul’s letter to Colossae. He wrote to a church he had not visited (and as far as we know never would) and so most of the believers there were just names to him. He’s heard great things from his team-mate Epaphras though, as well as some causes for concern, which is why he is motivated to write.
I think this is something that gives the letter it’s accessibility and universality. Paul can speak into a situation that he only knows by repute but do so authoritatively because he preaches a universal message. It is relevant to all and sundry, regardless of their context. This comes across very powerfully in the letter.
Paul is clearly engaging with worrying trends in the Colossians church reported by Epaphras. In particular, he is concerned that the sufficiency of Christ has been undermined by some other teachers and groups that seem to have carried some influence there. This can be seen in the ways he describes Christ’s nature and mission in chapter 1, which are then applied in chapter 2 by showing that craving special spiritual experiences, legalism and licentious living are all spiritual dead ends. Christ is enough!
Philemon was undoubtedly written and carried to the church at the same time as Colossians - and its recipient, Philemon, together with his whole household and former slave Onesimus, were all members there. But the coupling is more than simply convenience - it can be argued that Philemon is in some ways the acid test of how effectively the gospel of Christ’s lordship has been worked out in a church member’s life. For in Christ, ‘there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all' (Col 3:11).
Even though Onesimus has (by the laws of the time) acted illegally and Philemon had every legal right to punish him, the gospel demands a different response: receiving the runaway no longer as a slave but as a brother in the Lord. (Philem 16) That would have been an enormous challenge - but nobody ever said that following Christ faithfully was easy!
The most significant thing was the universality of the message, as I mentioned before. It is fascinating if you go through the letter underlining each occurrence of the words ‘all’, ‘every’ and ‘full(ness)’. It is stunning. It is this that grounds all our confidence for serving Christ in an apathetic or even hostile world.
As C S Lewis so helpfully put it, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."