What does it say?
Some 100 miles east of Ephesus and 11 miles from Laodicea (mentioned in Rev 3), Colossae is a small town in modern southwestern Turkey. There is no evidence Paul ever visited this city, but having spent considerable time in Ephesus, the Colossian church is fruit of the Gospel fanning out from Ephesus (Acts 19:10). During Paul’s time in Ephesus, two prominent men from Colossae come to faith, Epaphras, founder of the Colossian church, and Philemon, in whose house the church meets. Paul writes Colossians and Philemon during his imprisonment in Rome around 62-64 AD.
Paul opens the Colossian letter with prayer and greetings followed by teaching the absolute preeminence and lordship of Jesus Christ (Col 1). His objective is to correct bad teaching creeping into the church and show the Colossians that Christ is all they need (Col 2). Typical of Paul’s letter, the first half is teaching and the second part is application. Paul shows the Corinthians what it means to live out Christ’s life in our personal relationships, including marriage, parenting and the marketplace, before closing with more personal greetings (Col 3-4).
Paul writes Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians in the same period of his Roman imprisonment, and Tychicus probably delivers all three on the same trip. In prison Paul meets a young runaway slave named Onesimus and leads him to faith. Upon discovering that he has run away from his friend Philemon, he sends him back with this letter instructing Philemon to put any damages that Onesimus may have caused on his (Paul’s) account.
What does it mean?
The pressing issue in Colossae is syncretism, the mixing or blending of two or more religions. These are the influences seeking to gain a foothold in the Colossian church and the reason Paul emphasizes the believer’s completeness in Christ alone. Many note the similarities between the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, yet with subtle differences. Ephesians emphasizes that we are in Christ as believers; Colossians emphasizes that Christ is in us. Ephesians emphasizes the Holy Spirit; Colossians puts more emphasis on the word of God. Ephesians focuses the foundation of the church; Colossians looks to the fulfillment of the church.
Philemon is a short, but amazing illustration of love, grace, forgiveness, redemption, restoration and human dignity rooted in the realities of life.
How will I respond?
What can I learn from the little book of Philemon about relationships? What one practical step can I take today to be a better and more biblical friend?