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Colossians: Short Summary
by Marcus Booker
A short summary of Paul's epistle to the Colossians:A short summary of Paul's epistle to the Colossians:Summary of Colossians
In this epistle, Paul’s concern, first and foremost, is to guard the Colossians and Laodiceans against the law of Moses (or rather, a perverted form of it), to which many from the circumcision would have them enslaved. In this correspondence, Paul identifies the first covenant (which Israel had made void) with terms such as “domain of darkness,” “evil deeds,” “the teachings of men,” “things that are on earth,” the “old self,” and “external service.” His expressions are similar to those utilized in the epistle to the Hebrews which characterize the law by external, fleshly ordinances and by a tabernacle on earth, which is a mere copy and shadow of the one in heaven (into which Christ entered once and for all). Paul also speaks much like Christ who condemns the Pharisees for making void the command of God by the “teachings of men.” And it was this “domain of darkness” that John affirms, in his first epistle, to be “passing away.” And Paul, throughout his writing, calls upon the Colossians and Laodiceans to be a true light shining in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
At the outset, Paul encourages the churches by his proclamation that the good news was “bearing fruit and increasing,” having advanced “in all the world.” He then calls upon them, in turn, to bear fruit in every good work and to increase in the knowledge of God. In other words, Paul spurs them on to perseverance against those who would act as their judge and take them captive to the law of sin and death.
He warns against philosophy, empty deception, and the elementary principles of the world, which accord with the traditions of men rather than with Christ. Again, his chief concern here, as always, is to guard the brethren against the circumcision. Indeed, he immediately says, “in him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not hand-wrought, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” He hereby reassures them that they (and not the scoffers) are the true circumcision and the true Israel, “chosen of God“ as he says. In essence, he affirms that they are not without law to God, but are under the law of Christ. Indeed, the circumcision boasted in their flesh. Yet Paul makes it his purpose to arm the churches against this arrogance. He gives them a shield to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. To this end, he provides them with true grounds for boasting, which is a boasting in the Lord and in a better circumcision as part of a new and better covenant. Paul hopes for them to hold fast to this faith.
Next, he says that God “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against them.” This debt certificate is what Paul elsewhere calls the “enmity” and “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” which, being abolished in Christ‘s flesh, made Jew and Gentile into one new man, establishing peace and reconciling both to God. Along this same line of reasoning, Paul exhorts the Colossians to lay aside the old self with its practices (i.e. the sins under the law) and to put on the new self, where “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew.” To Paul, this unity is the good news in all simplicity. It is the mystery that had been hidden from past ages, but was now manifested to the holy ones. He calls it the “mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The breaking down of the partition (i.e. the law) enables this blessing upon the nations promised to Abraham.
Paul also addresses other aspects of the law, from which his hearers were to be altogether free (inasmuch as they belonged to another). Hebrews speaks of the inability of the law to cleanse the conscience of the worshipper, which Paul here expresses in similar terms. He says that the law has no value against “fleshly indulgence.” Hebrews says that the law relates “only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.” And as Hebrews calls the law a shadow of heavenly originals, so too does Paul tell the Colossians that this same “food and drink,” along with “festivals, new moons and sabbaths,” were but a shadow of Christ, who is the very body.
Paul continues to warn against submitting to these rules such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” These rules seem to relate to the extreme Jewish disdain for the uncircumcised, whom they unapologetically regarded as unclean. For this reason, the Pharisees made a regular practice of washing their hands and pots and other such things. From the perspective of these hypocrites, eating the meat of the Gentiles (or even making contact with them) would also make them unclean (as if they were not already so). Yet, in stark contrast to these blind guides, Christ states that it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a man unclean, but what comes out of the mouth. And what came out of the mouths of these men were arrogant blasphemies against God. Nevertheless, the Jews regarded themselves as superior to the nations, whom they regarded as filthy dogs and swine. Yet Peter, fully recognizing their filth, calls these hypocrites the true dogs, who return to their vomit, and swine, who wallow in the mud. It is in this context that Christ incites their fury, being nearly driven off a cliff, when he states that Elijah and Elisha were sent to the nations even though there were many widows and lepers in Israel during their time. Thus these rules, according to Paul‘s declaration, are of no value for attaining righteousness.
In response to this perverted attitude, he then tells the churches to set their mind on the things above rather than the things on earth. Again, Paul emphasizes the substance behind the law. He means for them to set their mind on spiritual things, the temple in heaven (not on earth) and the Jerusalem that is above (as opposed to the present Jerusalem). He encourages them to place their hope not in a temple or a circumcision made with hands, but on the true substance that is in Christ.
Paul ends his letter practically and personally. He encourages them to be forgiving, kind, patient and to give thanks and sing praises to God. He calls the contrary attitude, as exhibited by their foes, idolatry. Moreover, he describes the duties between wives and husbands, between children and parents, and between slaves and masters, which amounts to an affirmation of authority and of mutual submission and regard in Christ. Finally, Paul gives very personal greetings from those in his company, imprisoned as he was, and to those among the Colossians, Laodiceans, and those in Hierapolis.
Also, in this correspondence, Paul does not forget to express the hope of vindication, the expectation that those from the synagogue of the adversary would prostrate themselves before the brethren and acknowledge that God loves and upholds his true church. In this letter, he touches upon the judgment that would befall these antichrists, affirming that “the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.” He also affirms the “reward of the inheritance” that the Colossian and Laodicean brethren would receive from the Lord (after Hagar and her son are cast out).