From Easter 2013, we are looking at the letter to the Colossians, both in our GIFT group and in Bible Explored, a new bible study group led by Rev Tim. The GIFT group notes and questions will appear in full on this page (click on bible reference in title for link), while Rev Tim’s notes for Bible Explored will appear as links to download.
GIFT session 1 – Colossians 1:1-8
When you pray for your fellow church members, how do you pray? Before you look at this session’s passage, spend some time discussing this question. Only then turn to Colossians 1:1-8 …
This term we are starting to look at Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Paul himself had never visited the church. We are told in v7 that the believers learnt the gospel from Epaphras, who we also learn in 4v12 was “one of you” i.e. a native Colossian. We don’t know quite when Epaphras planted the church. It is likely that he himself was converted when Paul was staying at Ephesus. Acts 19:10 tells us that during his stay over two years there all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. This probably doesn’t mean everyone flocked to Ephesus to hear Paul. Rather people like Epaphras were trained and equipped to go back home and spread the gospel. In his case this meant travelling about 100 miles east to the Lycus valley and the towns of Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae.
But just because Paul had never visited the church, this didn’t mean he wasn’t interested in them. Indeed the whole letter shows he was passionately concerned, and kept in touch with how things were going on. And even though he hadn’t met the Colossians personally he still prayed for them regularly and persistently.
- How far do your prayers include those you haven’t met? Who do you pray for in the wider church and why?
There was a serious problem in the Colossian church that needed addressing. But the first thing Paul wanted to do was to give thanks.
- Look at verses 3-4. What did Paul want to give thanks to God for? When was the last time you thanked God for these things in other people’s lives? (Be honest!)
- Look at verse 5. What do we learn about hope in this verse? How should this hope shape and mould our prayers?
- What does Paul mean when he talks about the gospel bearing fruit and growing? How should the worldwide growth of the church encourage us in our prayers?
- Look at verses 6 and 7. What did the Colossians understand about the gospel when they learnt it from Epaphras? Why does Paul describe the gospel in this way?
- Paul tells the Colossian church how Epaphras told him about “your love in the Spirit”. What is so special about genuine, Spirit-filled love? How does this love show itself in our life as a church?
It’s easy to think that the people in the church in Colossae were somehow special. But as we go on we shall see that they had their faults and failings like anyone else. Otherwise why else would Paul tell them to deal with their sinful nature in chapter 3? The only thing that marked them out was the fact God had chosen and called them.
That’s why Paul calls them “holy and faithful brothers” in v2. They weren’t holy because they were particularly good. They were holy because God had set them apart for His service, just as God sets us apart for His service. They were faithful because the Lord had shown His mercy through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. And their faith and love proved they had truly understood the gospel message. Despite all their problems they were a living witness to the grace of God.
What about us? Spend some time thinking what it means for us to be the church of Christ Jesus, and give thanks for all those who so clearly live out the truths of the gospel.
GIFT session 2 – Colossians 1:9-14
What do you think is the greatest need of the local church? Spend some time discussing this question before reading Colossians 1:9-14.
As I began to prepare this session, I received a document with some statistics about Devonport Deanery. The deanery itself contains about 80,000 people. Parts of it contain some of the most deprived areas in the South West. There are huge social, spiritual, economic challenges with which the church is called to engage. Yet, according to the statistics I received, out of this 80,000 people there were in 2012 only 518 active members contributing to the life of the local Anglican churches. Now of course there are other churches of other denominations around, and many more go to churches in other parts of the city. But even when you add up all the figures, the task which the local church faces seems, quite frankly, overwhelming. There is so much that we need in terms of finance, people, gifts, ministries, the list goes on and on. So how do we begin to pray into this situation?
Let’s go back to the church in Colossae. In some ways it was a very different kind of organisation from the church of today. There were no formal buildings set aside for worship. You have to imagine small groups of believers meeting in houses, sometimes coming together for a large celebration. There was no ecclesiastic institution or paid leadership. The church had only been set up a few years before, and the Christian faith was completely new to all its members.
But the challenge the church in Colossae faced in many ways mirrors the challenge we face today. There were only a small number of believers in a predominantly pagan environment. There was huge spiritual opposition from the local pagan temples and guilds. There were social and economic challenges aplenty. Even getting your daily food could sometimes be difficult.
So Paul wanted the church in Colossae to know he was praying for them, that despite all the factors that weighed against the spread of the gospel the Lord still had plans and purposes for them. And so he prays for them in verse 9:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Now I guess we can sometimes struggle with the language of Paul because what he prays for seems perhaps less obvious than the needs we immediately perceive. We need more people to come to faith and labour in the harvest field. We need to work out how to pay our share of the common fund in the coming year. We need to keep the fabric of the building together so we have a place where we can worship. How does Paul’s prayer help us with any of that?
Well, let’s just lift up our eyes for a moment and imagine. Imagine what it would be like for a church which knew exactly what God wanted. Imagine a church which was confident that is was fulfilling the will of God. Imagine a church where every member was growing in their understanding and love of Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul wanted for the church in Colossae. That’s what the Lord wants for our churches in Devonport.
So with this in mind, think about the following questions:
- What is the practical effect of knowing God’s will? (first half of verse 10). Do you believe it is possible to please God in every way?
Paul says there are four elements to living a life worthy of the Lord:
- Bearing fruit
- Growing in knowledge
- Being strengthened with power
- Joyfully giving thanks
So let’s stop to reflect on each one:
- What stops us from bearing fruit in every good work?
- Would you say you were growing in your knowledge of God? Why or why not?
- Where do you need the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit in your life at the moment?
- How do we maintain our joy in every season of life?
Paul ends by reminding the church in Colossae of the truth of the gospels they had accepted.
- What according to Paul has God done for us (verse 13)? What have we received (verse 14)? How would you explain what is Paul saying here, in your own words?
You may want to finish by praying for our local churches, and for a revival based on the gospel truths Paul sets out here. What would happen if we really followed Paul’s example of prayer?
GIFT session 3 – Colossians 1:15-20
How can I see God? Has anyone asked you that question, and, if so, how have you replied?
Last time we finished by looking at Paul’s summary of the gospel in verses 13 and 14. We saw that thanks to Jesus’ death on a cross we have been bought back by His blood and brought back to God. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (verse 14).
But Paul’s understanding of the gospel doesn’t end there. The gospel isn’t just about what Jesus has done for us. In fact, the most important thing about the gospel is that it tells us who Jesus is. We respond to the gospel not because it meets our needs but because through it we encounter the very Son of God, the one who heals the sick, raises the dead, forgives sins, and so much more.
In these verses Paul wants to remind the church in Colossae just who is this Jesus in whom they have to come and believe and trust. But Paul’s portrayal of Jesus doesn’t begin with a manger in Bethlehem, or an Old Testament prophecy. It goes much further back than that…
1. Look at verse 15. What does it mean to say that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”?
2. According to verse 16 all of creation was made through Jesus. So why is it that most people fail to understand this? (Think about how Paul describes our natural condition in verse 13).
3. It’s all very well saying Jesus is the image of the invisible God. But where do people see Jesus today? Look at verse 18.
4. What does it mean for us to say that we are the body of Christ and Jesus is the head? How should Paul’s imagery affect the way we live as a church?
5. Look at verse 19. Why is Jesus unique? Why is it so important we do not add anything to, or take anything from, the Christian faith?
6. What is this peace that Paul talks about in verse 20? Why is it so necessary for us to have it?
Paul gives us in these verses a breathtaking picture of who Jesus is. Do you recognise this picture yourself? Spend some time reflecting on and responding to these verses.
And then, spend some time thinking about what Paul says about the church, and how important it is to the purposes of God. It would be good to finish by praying that we might indeed live up to our calling to be the body of Christ.
GIFT session 4 – Colossians 1:21-29
If someone asked you what difference Jesus has made to your life, how would you reply?
In our last couple sessions we have looked why the gospel is such good news. In the gospel we find redemption and forgiveness of sins (verses 13 and 14). In the gospel we discover who Jesus is (verses 15 to 17). In the gospel we discover our calling to be the body of Christ (verse 18) and visibly represent Jesus to the wider world.
But why should we accept the gospel anyway? Why is it so important to understand it and respond it? Paul answers this very question in our next passage, as he considers firstly what life was like for the Colossians before they heard the gospel (verses 21-23), and secondly the ministry God gave him through the gospel (verses 24-29).
- Read verses 21-22. How does Paul describe people who have never accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?
- How does this description apply to people you know today?
- So why then is it so important to be reconciled to God? Share from your own experience what it means to be reconciled to Him.
- Read verse 23. What moves people away from the gospel? How can we stay established and firm in our faith?
- Read verses 24-25. When Jesus met Paul on the Damascus Road, what ministry did Jesus give Him? (see Acts 9:15-16). Why did this ministry involve so much suffering?
- For many people God and religion are all a bit of mystery. Yet in verse 26 Paul tells us that in the gospel the mysteries about God have been revealed. So why are so many people still confused about who God is? How can we help them?
- What are glorious riches which Paul talks about in verse 27? Explain what they mean for you day by day.
- Read verses 28-29. What was the goal and focus of Paul’s ministry? Why do we so often lack the same vision in our own Christian faith?
In May 2014 St Michael’s and St Barnabas are holding a mission to Stoke and Devonport with other local churches and Through Faith Missions. Spend some time praying for those you know who are not reconciled to God, or who find faith all a bit of a mystery. Pray that as we start to build up to the mission we would know how to point people to the glorious riches of the gospel, and they would see the real difference our faith in Christ makes.
GIFT session 5 – Colossians 2:1-8
What pattern of daily devotion do you have? Do you find it helpful?
Part of Paul’s purpose in writing the letter to the Colossians was to show that there is no real mystery to being a Christian. As we saw last time we have had made known to us the glorious riches of God, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). And we really don’t need anything else. The false teachers in Colossae were trying to confuse the church by fine-sounding arguments (verse 4) and hollow and deceptive philosophy (verse 8) which at least on the surface sounded impressive and worthy of attention. Perhaps they were pointing out that their great spiritual leader Paul was now in prison, along with Epaphras who had founded the church. And they might have told the Colossians that, yes, Paul’s teaching was all very well, but it was only the start. It was time to move on from a simple understanding of the gospel into deeper truth.
So what is Paul’s response? Let’s read Colossians 2:1-8 and see what he can teach us. Because sadly there are even today people who would try and confuse us, to make the gospel a lot more complicated than it really is, and who would try to move away us away from a simple understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. And it’s important we know how to respond.
- Look at verse 1. Even though Paul was physically separate from the church at Colossae he was still deeply concerned for their welfare. What can we learn from his example of costly care and concern?
- Can you explain in your words why Paul says that unity in the church is so important in verses 2 and 3? To put it another way, what leads a divided church to move away from the gospel?
- According to Paul, in Jesus are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and understanding”. It’s a lovely phrase, but what does it mean for us in hard, practical terms? You might want to look at Matthew 13:44-46 to help answer this question.
Paul uses three different pictures to help us understand what “continuing to live in Christ” means – a pivotal phrase in this passage which we find in verse 6.
- The actual phrase “continuing to live in Christ” can simply mean “walking”. It seems that the image here is of taking little steps of faith day by day. Indeed we often come across the phrase in the Bible “walking with the Lord”. So as you think about this image, ask what little steps of faith you need to make at the moment. And as you look back, can you see how over the years you have made progress in your faith?
- Then there is the image of being “rooted”. Spend a moment reflecting on Psalm 1 and consider what it means for you to be rooted in Christ.
- And there is also the image of “being built up and strengthened in the faith as you were taught”. Would you say that your faith is a solid foundation for your life?
- How does it help us carry on with the Christian life if we are overflowing with thankfulness? Are you overflowing with thankfulness at the moment!?
GIFT session 6 – Colossians 2:9-15
Have you ever made a public confession of faith? What does it mean to you now?
As we have seen, Paul’s whole concern in the letter so far is to show that Jesus is really all you need. In a moment he is going to tackle the false teachers who were causing such a threat to the church at Colossae. But for now, in these verses, he wants to sum up all he has said so far about Jesus and what He has done for us.
Some of Paul’s language in this passage may seem rather unfamiliar to us, especially all that he says about circumcision. But this was a live issue in the early church. For the Jewish people circumcision was a sign given by the Lord to Abraham to show you really were of God’s people. Many people in the early church thought every believer should be circumcised. But Paul says what is important is not what happens to your body, but what happens in your heart. The circumcision done by Christ is the change He performs on the inside when He comes to live in our hearts by His Holy Spirit.
- Read verse 9. Why would you say Jesus is unique? How would answer someone who say that all paths lead to God?
- Read verses 10-12. What does Paul happened to us when we put our faith in Jesus? You should find four key phrases in these verses!
- Why do we so often fail to recognise the real change Jesus has made in our lives?
- For the early church baptism was a symbol of sharing in the life and death of Jesus. How do we help people today understand what baptism is really all about?
- Do you accept Paul’s description in verse 13 of life without Christ? If so, how does this affect our view of those who are not yet believers?
- In verses 13-14 Paul takes us back to the cross and explains how Jesus deals with the power of sin. For Paul the cross was the very heart of the Christian faith where Jesus dealt once and for all with the guilt and shame we experience when we break God’s law (the written code).How central is the cross to your faith? Could you explain in your words Paul’s message here?
- Read verse 15. How do we see evidence of Christ’s victory in our lives today?
GIFT session 7 – Colossians 2:16-23
Think about people you know who do not yet believe in the God of the Bible. What do they believe instead?
When people stop believing in God, it’s not that they stop believing. It’s more that they start believing in almost anything else. For example, I always remember someone saying to me, “I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in ghosts”. In today’s modern scientific age what is so striking is how so many people still believe in supernatural beings, or higher powers, or universal forces. Ghosts, zombies and vampires form an important part of today’s popular culture. And even if people watching the films do not exactly believe in them, neither do they find them so ridiculous that they stop spending money going to see them.
Throughout the world and across the ages people still have a strong sense of the supernatural. We may argue how real or how powerful are these supernatural forces, but to the people who believe in them they are real and powerful enough. In the letter to the Colossians Paul calls these forces the basic principles of the world. Now Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining what they are, because for him it is enough to show the superiority of Christ.
So we may read this passage and wonder exactly the Colossians were being taught about New Moon festivals or the worship of angels, but Paul’s focus is on the most important part of our faith – our relationship with Christ.
- Read verses 16-17. It seems the false teachers were very religious, and delighted in all kinds of rituals and ceremonies. And while it’s easy to criticise them, how we do make sure our church life points to the reality of Christ, and not with the outward trappings of religion?
- Read verse 18. How should we respond when someone shares a vision they say has come from God?
- In verse 19 Paul talks about someone who has lost connection with the Head. (He is referring back to the image of Jesus he has used in chapter 1, verse 19). How is it possible to lose your connection with Christ?
- Paul has taught us in chapter 2, verses 11-13, that we have already shared in Christ’ death, burial and resurrection. So what does it mean for you to say you died with Christ (verse 20-21)?
- How do we discern when our traditions and our religious practices are of the Lord or simply based on human commands and teachings (verse 22)?
- What is the basic problem with human religion (verse 23)? How does faith in Jesus Christ deal with this problem?
- Despite all that Paul has taught, we still live in an age where people believe in so many different spiritual things, and where almost any approach to God is accepted. How does it make you feel being out of step with what others believe?
GIFT session 8 – Colossians 3:1-8
What is the biggest time-waster in your life?
So far in Colossians Paul’s concern has been to portray Christ Jesus as Lord (2:6). He has shown, amongst other things, that He is:
- the son of God (1:13)
- the image of the invisible God (1:16)
- the head of His body, the church (1:18)
- the one in whom all the fullness of the deity dwells (2:9)
- the head over every power and authority (2:10)
And Paul’s message has been clear. Christ Jesus really is all you need. Because when you are in Christ you have hope (1:5), you have redemption (1:15), you have peace (1:20), you have the full revelation of God’s glory (1:26), you have forgiveness and new life (2:13). False teaching and manmade religion may on the surface appear attractive but they cannot give you any of those things. Not only that, but they can take us captive and enslave us once again in the very things from which Christ freed us by his death on a cross. (Col 2:8,20).
So how should knowing all this about Jesus affect our daily lives? Well, we’ve seen so far that if we believe Jesus, then in a very real sense we have shared in his death (2:20), burial and resurrection (2:12). We have turned from an old way of life centred on self to a new way of life centred on Jesus. And as Paul will spell out in chapters 3 and 4 this act of turning to Christ should have very real, practical implications.
The first consequence of being raised with Christ should be a new attitude of heart (v.1) and mind (v.2). What does it mean to set our hearts and minds on things above? What sorts of things distract us or make it difficult for us to focus on the risen Lord?
What is so important about Jesus being seated at the right hand of God? Take some time to look at the following verses: Acts 2:33, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 10:12, Acts 7:55, Psalm 110:1. What together do they teach about us the ongoing work of Jesus on our behalf?
Hand in hand with a new attitude of heart and mind should be a new awareness of hope. How should it encourage you that your life is now hidden with Christ in God (v.3)? Why do we sometimes find it hard to have assurance of our salvation?
If we are focused on the risen Lord, then there is action we need to take towards our old pleasures and desires (v.5). Paul has criticised the false teachers at Corinth for their harsh treatment of the body (2:23). So what does it mean to Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (v.5)?
Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (v.6). The word “wrath” here is same as the word translated “anger” in verse 8. So how is God’s wrath different from sinful, human anger? What confidence can we have we will escape this wrath?
Jesus teaches that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34). So how can we make sure we avoid the vices Paul lists in verse 8? And how can we help each other resist the influence of a culture which sees no problem in using this type of language?
To finish, go back to verse 4, which really is at the heart of this passage. Spend some time reflecting on the fact one day you will appear with Christ in glory. How can you live each day with greater awareness of this wonderful truth?
GIFT session 9 – Colossians 3:9-17
Imagine you were asked to describe your church in a few words. What would you say it was like?
So far in this chapter Paul has been spelling out what it means for us to be raised with Christ (verse 1). It begins with an attitude of the heart and mind as we focus on things above (verse 2,3) and the hope of appearing with Christ in glory. It involves a radical attitude to sin and we thought last time what it means to put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (verse 5). And it includes watching carefully what comes out of our lips (verse 8) because from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
But new life in Christ involves so much than just our own personal transformation. The evidence of our new life is seen in the relationships we have with each other, as the Lord turns a disparate bunch of the most unlikely people into that beautiful entity called the church, the body of Christ. After all, if you think about it, when newcomers enter a church, what they will take away most from the service is not necessarily how well the music was played, or how powerfully the vicar preached, but the way folk in the church behaved towards them, and to each other. Like it or not, our life as a church is an advertisement for the gospel, and, as I have said before, you can either be a good example or a terrible warning.
That’s why it’s so important to take Paul’s words here in Colossians so seriously. They set out a breathtaking vision of what God’s people should be like, and they should cause us all to reflect on how far we are as a church measure up to the standards Paul outlines here.
- Look at verses 9-10. Why according to Paul is truthfulness the most important quality of a church’s life together? Are there particular situations where it is right to be economical with the truth, or should we be open and honest, come what may?
- Look at verse 11. Paul lists all the various different groupings which existed in the church in Colossae. It is a remarkable list and it serves as a testimony to the unity Jesus had brought to people who otherwise had very little in common with each other. So, thinking about our own situation, in what ways does our church reflect the diversity of the community it serves? And does it have this Christlike unity?
- Look at verse 12. What undermines our sense of identity as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved? How can we keep focused on this truth about who we are?
- Look at verses 13-14. Are there are any limits to bearing with each other and forgiving one another? What if someone does not recognise their need to be forgiven or refuses to accept our forgiveness?
- What is this peace of Christ Paul talks about in verse 15? What difference does it make to our church life having it in our hearts?
- Share any practical ways you have found of helping the word of God dwell richly in you (verse 16).
- Why does throughout this passage does Paul keep stressing thankfulness. How can we put verse 17 into practice?
GIFT session 10 – Colossians 3:18-22
Think about the different areas of your life – work, home, family life etc. In which area is it hardest to live out your Christian faith?
I firmly believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. But I do not believe every part of our English translation is inspired. If that sounds a little strange, bear with me, and I will explain. When the Bible was first written down, it was written as one continuous text. There were separate books with their own heading, but there were no chapters, and no verses. Of course this made reading the Bible more than a little difficult, so in the Middle Ages someone had the bright idea of inserting them into the text.
But it was still daunting reading long rows of text with only a few obvious breaks. That’s why in modern English translations we find headings when a new passage begins, and lots of white space that is easy on the eye. It makes reading the Bible so much easier, and it also tells us what the passage is all about. The only problem is that sometimes we can lose the connection between a new passage and what’s gone before. And while the headings can at times be useful, at others they can equally give a misleading impression of what the passage is all about.
Take today’s reading from Colossians, for example. It starts with the command, Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. And not surprisingly, quite a lot of people find this command difficult. Does Paul write this because he has a low view of women, or he wants men to keep their dominant place? Well, this might be the case if Paul really was beginning a new thought here. But actually this verse flows on from all he has said about relationships in Colossians 3:9-17. There he has talked about how we behave towards one another in the church, but our faith also has to make a real difference in our relationships in the home, in the family, and at work. Paul’s words aren’t a new train of thought, but follow on from his teaching about what it means to be God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved (Col 3:12).
And as such it’s rather misleading to call today’s passage (as in the NIV): Rules for Christian households. Because Paul isn’t giving us a list of rules to obey, but rather encouraging us to put all we have learnt about the Christian life into practice. Our behaviour outside the church should reflect our relationship with Jesus, just as much as our behaviour inside the church.
There are rather fewer questions this week, and rather more cross-references in order to flesh out what Paul is saying, and allow time for extended prayer on what is just such an important, and in many cases difficult, issue for many.
- Looking at verse 18, what do you think Paul’s means by submission? Then look at verse 12, and also at 1 Peter 3:1-2.
- Paul’s command for wives to submit goes hand in hand with his command for husbands to love. What does Paul mean by love in this context? You may want to refer to Jesus’ words in John 15:12-14.
- Why does Paul lay such stress on children obeying their parents? What can we learn from the example of Jesus? Look carefully at Luke 2:41-52 and Luke 8:19-21.
- In what ways can fathers embitter their children and discourage them? What does it mean to show Christian love as a parent? Look at how Paul expands on his teaching in Eph 6:1-4.
- How do we pastorally and sensitively apply this teaching in today’s world?
Spend an extended period of time praying for relationships in the home, and in families.
Over the past few weeks we have been looking at how the Christian faith affects our relationships – with God, with our fellow church members, with our marriage partners, with our children and parents. And now Paul moves on to talking about the workplace, as he turns his attention to slaves and masters.
Now when we think about slaves and masters we think instinctively of the slave trade of the 17th-19th century and it’s no wonder our minds are filled with images of black people in chains enduring the most unimaginable suffering. But slavery in the Roman world was rather different.
For a start, it was a lot more common. Well over half the population in the first century Roman world were either slaves and or the descendants of slaves. And while some slaves were appalling treated, some held important positions as valued and trusted members of the extended household and carried out important functions. Some were allowed to trade in their own name, even if they paid most of their earnings over to their masters, others were teachers or administrators.
In a world where existence was often precarious slavery at least gave some form of security, even if on occasions your loss of freedom opened you to horrible abuse. So, when Paul talks about slaves and masters, he is talking about something was a normal economic relationship for his time, and that’s why it is right to apply his teaching to employers and employees.
We also need to set Paul’s teaching in the context of a very particular situation that had developed in Colossae. If you read on to chapter 4, verses 7-9, you will discover the letter was being sent by the hand of a person called Tychicus. And Paul tells us in verse 9: He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.
What’s so remarkable about this verse? Well, the last anyone in Colossae had heard of Onesimus was when he ran away from his master Philemon. He wasn’t a believer, and he didn’t have a good reputation. Yet Paul now describes him as our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.
So what had happened? Turn, if you will, to the letter of Philemon which was almost sent along with the letter of Colossians. It’s not a long letter, only 25 verses, and it is hidden just before the book of Hebrews.
- Read verses 1-7. What do we learn about Philemon?
- Read verses 8-11. What had happened to Onesimus? (We’d love to know how Onesimus found his way to Paul, but unfortunately we don’t have this part of the story).
- Read verses 12-16. What does Paul want Philemon to do for Onesimus? How has the gospel changed the relationship between this master and his slave?
- Read verses 17-21. What confidence does Paul have that Philemon will carry out his request? Is Paul simply manipulating Philemon or is there is something we can learn about the way we should relate to one another in Christ?
Against this background, let’s turn back now to our passage from Colossians, which is addressed, let’s not forget, primarily to believers:
- Read verses 22-25. Why does Paul encourage slaves to obey their masters in everything? When are there limits to doing as your employer asks?
- How should our faith in Jesus Christ make a difference to the work we are asked to do?
- Read chapter 4, verse 1. What difference should our faith make when we have authority over others?
It might be good to finish this session by thinking about church members and the work situations they are facing at this time, even as you meet.
GIFT session 12 – Colossians 4:2-6
What would you say is the most important thing you have learnt from these sessions on the book of Colossians?
It may only be a little book, but Colossians presents us with one of the fullest and most comprehensive presentations of the Christian faith anywhere in Scripture. All the way through Paul is relentless in his focus on Christ: He is the agent of salvation (Col 1:13), the image of the invisible God (1:16), the head of His body the church (1:18, 24), the one who reconciles us with God (1:22), the mystery of God revealed (1:27, 2:2), the fullness of the deity (2:9), the bringer of life (2:13) and reality itself (2:17). Paul’s message to a church under threat from false teaching is clear: Christ Jesus really is all you need. You don’t need any extra teaching. Not only is it useless, but it is also damaging to your faith.
Yet Paul isn’t just some theoretical theologian, uninterested in the details of daily life. In our journey through chapter 3 we’ve seen how these truths about Christ should affect every area of our lives and every relationship. Now, as Paul draws his letter to a close, we come to five little verses which show us how we can take all we have learnt about Christ into the wider world, and among those who do not yet know the Lord.
It’s striking fact that in the New Testament there is remarkably little teaching about evangelism and how to reach out with the Christian faith. I guess we might sometimes wish Paul had spent a couple of chapters laying out in greater detail what we ought to do, or indeed the things we shouldn’t do! But if you look at the history of the early church, you will quickly see it grew not because it had a planned strategy or a slick method of presenting the gospel. Rather, ordinary men and women were so fired up by the great truths about Jesus that their love and commitment to Him naturally impacted on lives around them. Other people saw the difference Jesus made and they began to ask questions.
And if we are serious about growing our churches, our aim too should be to live in such a way that others see, others ask, and we know how to answer. After all, nothing puts people off the Christian faith more than believers who go round sharing a gospel no-one is interested in, or are more interested in presenting their own method of explaining the faith than listening to genuine concerns, doubts and objections. No, the sharing of our faith should flow out of our own relationship with Christ, supported by our relationships within the church, and into the relationships we form with those who do not yet know the Lord. (Refer to our Mission Action Plan for more details!).
So with all that in mind, let’s turn to our passage and consider the following questions. They contain some revision but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
- Read verse 2. What does it mean to devote ourselves to prayer in the press and business of each day?
- What should be watching out for as we pray? (You might like to consider Matt 24:40-43 and 26:38-41 as you consider this question)
- Read verse 3. What is this mystery of Christ that Paul wishes to proclaim? (You may need to look back at Col 1:27, 2:2-3 to remind yourself of the answer!)
- It is remarkable that Paul only briefly mentions his own imprisonment, here and at the end of the letter (verse 18). Why do you think Paul doesn’t wish to draw the Colossians’ attention to his own circumstances? What can we learn from his example?
- Read verse 5. The King James Version translates the start of this verse literally: “Walk in wisdom”. What does it mean for you to walk in wisdom each day?
- Read verse 6. How can the way we talk in itself be a witness to the Lord? (Think back to what Paul has said about our speech and our lifestyle in Col 3:5-8)
- Do you know how to answer everyone? What particular help or training might you need to respond to those who question you about your faith? (Do pass specific suggestions back to Tim).
It might be good to finish by praying for those you know who do not yet the Lord and committing yourself afresh to praying devotedly for them, both individually and as a group.
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