The prayers of Paul
This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.
At this point, the order of the writing of Paul’s books differs depending on who is talking about it. Some have Colossians later than Philippians, and some have Ephesians much later, whatever the order of the letters Paul wrote from prison or from house arrest, it’s a simple question of choosing an option and because there is a connection between Romans, which I have just finished, and Colossians, I opted for this way. If that means I please one set of Bible scholars and upset another set, let it be.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing.Colossians 1:3-6a ESVUK
Colossians makes a nice follow-on from Romans, it is also in one of the lists of possible writing orders, and both Romans and Colossians were written to churches in places Paul had not visited. But there is a Paul connection, the evangelists who travelled to Colossae would have come from a church Paul set up, probably Ephesus. Paul may not be the father of this church, but he is the granddaddy.
So what is Colossians about? It is written to counter a heresy in the church. The problem is that it does not say what that heresy is. Paul’s reaction to the heresy is not to tackle it head-on, but to say this is what God is like, what Jesus is like. But it is possible to say what the heresy is likely to be and I think I know what that is.
But first a word about the authorship of Colossians.
Some say that Paul wrote Colossians because it says so in Colossians. This is a circular argument, like saying, “according to my brain, my brain is reliable.”
Some say that Paul did not write Colossians, but a follower of Paul wrote it using his name. This was a common practice in Roman times, so we have to look at the reasons for saying this. Their answer is that some words do not appear elsewhere in Paul’s writing which bring his authorship into dispute.
The third argument is that in writings where the authorship of Paul is widely accepted, he uses the words of his opponents to counter their arguments. When the disputed words and phrases in Colossians were looked at it was found that they were used in Gnosticism. Gnosticism was common in the early church, and this points to Colossians being from Paul who is concerned with Gnosticism in that church. But we do not need to understand what Gnosticism is to understand this letter, Paul never tackled it directly.
Colossians starts with the customary greetings that were used in letters of that period, and then Paul goes into a prayer of thanks for the church for their faith in Jesus. This faith is not something they have done but something they have believed. A gift that is faith in Jesus Christ. A gift that is being passed on. You do not have to do anything to receive a gift other than accept it.
Paul prays to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is revolutionary. It means that God is now to be seen in terms of Jesus so our understanding of Christ becomes the light that illuminates our praying, reading of the Bible, living our lives and understanding the will of God. This simple phrase is powerful stuff.
This is a prayer, not a preach, but Paul reminds them, in prayer, of how they came to believe and that this is their only source of hope. Philosophical and theological ideas can feed the mind and leave us without hope, but Paul says. “Look back, look at how you received the Gospel, it’s all about Jesus and what he did.” That is where hope comes from.
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