Part of moving to two services this week meant gutting my sermon. Overall, I think trying to fit preaching into 35 minutes will be a good discipline. Each week, I already have a section in my notes called “Trim the Fat” where I take all the extras, the interesting tidbits, and possible tangents, and cut them out so that the sermon will be leaner and stay on target. My hope is that preaching 30-35 minutes means you have one big idea and hopefully say it really well.
But the thing with fat is that it adds flavor. A lean piece of meat will feed and sustain you. But a steak marbled with the right amount of fat is what makes your mouth water. For what it’s worth, here then are some of the extras, tidbits, and tangents that you may find interesting as we study through the book of Colossians.
Background on Colossians
Colossae was an ancient city in Asia-minor, what would today be Turkey. It’s history goes back as far as the days of Esther. Once a major metropolitan city, by the time of the New Testament, it had waned in prominence. It was one of three cities (Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae) in the area and essentially played second fiddle to the other two. It’s like if a tourist comes to Philadelphia, there’s a good chance that they would visit Center City and Old City before venturing into the Northeast. Colossae was basically Northeast Philly.
The Colossian church is one of the few churches in the New Testament that gets a letter from the Apostle Paul that wasn’t directly planted by Paul. In fact, Colossians 2:1 suggest that Paul had never been to Colossae nor met the Colossians face to face. Instead, we’re introduced to a man named Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12).
What scholars believed happened was that Epaphras, a man from Colossae, was converted under Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Whereas Paul had never been to the not-so-famous city of Colossae, he had been to the very famous city of Ephesus situated about a hundred miles west. In fact, he spent a few years there and had an incredibly fruitful ministry. So much so that Acts 19:10 says that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” This meant that while Paul was based in Ephesus, people from all over Asia were converted under his ministry and took the gospel back to their hometowns. It is believed that all seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 (Ephesus, Laodicea, Smyrna, Sardis, Philadelphia, Pergamum, and Thyatira) were all planted as outgrowths of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Well Epaphras was probably one of those impacted by Paul’s ministry. Having become a Christian, Epaphras went back home and planted three churches – the church at Laodicea, the church at Hierapolis, and the church at Colossae (Col. 4:13).
After this, Paul was arrested. Epaphras went to visit Paul and Philemon 1:23 suggests that he likely ended up sharing a cell as Paul calls him his “fellow prisoner.” During this imprisonment, which many commentators believe took place in Rome, Paul wrote three of the letters we find in our Bibles: Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.
He commissioned Tychicus to hand deliver these three letters, first traveling to Ephesus (Eph. 6:21-22) and then to Colossae (Col. 4:7-9). Imagine that by the way – having the original autographs of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon in your hand and delivering what would be added in the Scriptures. Tychicus was the most important mailman on the planet! Accompanying him was a man named Onesimus. We learn more of his story in Paul’s letter to Philemon. The basic gist was that Philemon was also a Colossian – the Colossian church or a nearby congregation likely met in his home (Philemon 1:2) and Onesimus was his runaway slave (more like indentured servitude and not chattel slavery). Onesimus meets Paul, becomes a Christian, and is sent back to Philemon with the expectation that after he reads Paul’s letter, he will welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a dear brother in Christ (Philemon 1:12-16).
So, the spiritual father (Epaphras) and grandfather (Paul) of the Colossians are in prison. This young church loves Jesus and loves one another (Col. 1:4). So much is going well. However, false teaching threatens to sway this baby church away from the faith. And so Paul writes this marvelous letter to convince them and us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.