While imprisoned in Rome, Paul was dependent upon faithful friends to meet many of his personal needs. One of those friends was Onesimus, a runaway slave from the city of Colossae. His master/owner was Philemon, to whom Paul wrote one of his four prison epistles. It seems that Paul had befriended Onesimus and led him to saving faith in Jesus (Philemon 1:10). With Paul’s encouragement, Onesimus returned home carrying a letter from Paul asking Philemon to accept and forgive the runaway. Paul boldly asked Philemon to free the slave and to elevate him to the status of “dearly loved brother” (Philemon 1:16).
Onesimus was accompanied on his journey by “Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord” (Colossians 4:7, CSB). They carried a second letter, addressed to the church at Colossae that met in Philemon’s home (Philemon 1:2).
Interestingly, Paul had probably never evangelized Colossae. The church there was planted by Epaphras, a partner with Paul in the Gospel ministry. During Paul’s three-year stay at Ephesus, “all the residents of Asia (including Colossae), both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10, CSB). It is quite possible that Paul, while in Ephesus, had led Epaphras to Christ, discipled him, and then commissioned him as a church-planter to Colossae.
Years after the church was birthed in Colossae, Epaphras visited Paul in his Roman jail. Epaphras brought troubling news about twin heresies that were invading churches all around Asia, including Colossae. The Gentile Christians who had once worshipped the mythical Greek gods were being lured back into polytheism. The enemy was trying to convince them that they could worship Jesus and still worship “according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world” (Colossians 2:8, ESV).
The Jewish Christians were also under attack. “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (Colossians 2:21, ESV). Keep the law, they were told. Grace isn’t enough... work for your salvation by keeping the ceremonial laws.
Paul’s letter to the Colossian church answers these false teachings. “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator... Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience... And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:9-17, ESV).
That message still applies in 2020. We must not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV). Because, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). We must “put off the old self... and put on the new self” (Colossians 3:9-10). South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor