THIRD GROUP OF EPISTLES
COLOSSIANS. PHILEMON. EPHESIANS. PHILIPPIANS.
THE QUESTION AT ISSUE
+The Supremacy of Christ.+ -- These Epistles mark a
new stage in the writings of Paul. The great question discussed in the second group of Epistles was in regard to the terms of salvation. The question now at issue (in Colossians, Ephesians, Philippi+The Reason for the Raising of this Question+ was the development of certain false religious beliefs among which were, "asceticism, the worship of angels, revelings in supposed visions and belief in emanations." These "degraded the object of faith and so+The Answer to the Question.+ -- Paul is in no doubt as to the supremacy of Christ. All his argument is to show the Deity of Christ. He holds "aloft the true object of faith namely, the supreme Divine Savior Himself, in opposition to speculation which w#NAME?THE WRITING OF THE EPISTLES
+The Interest+ in these Epistles is heightened by the fact that they were written during Paul's first Roman imprisonment of which Luke gives all too brief an account (Acts 28:30,31). They have been called from this fact, "The Epistles of the First Impris+The Sending of the Epistles+ -- Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians were evidently dispatched from Rome by the same messenger, Tychicus (Col.4:7, 9; Eph.6:21). Philippians was sent by the hand of Epaphroditus
THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS
The Church at Colossae -- The city of Colossae was
situated about 110 miles east of Ephesus where Paul spent so long a time during his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10). We have no record of any visit of Paul to this city or how the church was founded (Col.2:1). It is supposed that Ephaphras might have organized this church (Col.1:7).
+The Occasion+ (and purpose) of this Epistle was
evidently the coming of Epaphras to Rome to consult Paul about the affairs of this church (1:7, 8).
In chapter 2:8-23 we have some account of the things which were troubling this Christian community and
drawing them away from faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. False teachers had appeared at Colossae who were
confusing the minds of the Christian converts. The starting point of the error of teaching was the old oriental dogma that matter is evil and the source of evil (2:8), that as God is good the world could not have come directly from God. To bridge the chasm between God and the
matter of the world a long chain of intermediate beings was conceived to exist. This doctrine played havoc with the simplest moral conceptions for if matter is evil, and its source, then man's sin is not in his will, but in his body. Redemption from sin can come only through
asceticism and the mortification of the flesh.
The result of all this was a lowering of the dignity of Christ, taking away His saving power and the "substitution of various ascetic abstinences and ritualistic practices (2:20) for trust in Him, the worship of angels (2:18), and a reveling in dreams and visions." "This was kindred to a type of speculation which later became rife under the name of Gnosticism."
To these ideas Paul opposed the true doctrine of the Headship of Christ (2:19) and that He is the only link between God and the universe (1:15-17). "By Him
were all things created (1:16) that are in heaven and that are in earth." Christ is the only Mediator (1:13, 14). In this faith there is no place for ascetic mortification. Evil is in our unwillingness to live the life in Christ. In Christ we are dead to sin and risen with Him to a life of holiness (2:20-23; 3:1-4). Christ is not only our Redeemer (1:14) and the Head of the church, but the source of creation and its Lord (1:16, 17). We have a similar error (against which Paul warns) taught to-day by the speculative thinker, who fills the world with forces which leave no room for the working of a personal will.
+Central Thought+ -- Jesus Christ the sole Savior of
men and Mediator between God and men (1:13-14), the Creator (1:16; 2:9) and Head of the church (1:18).
Exhortation to follow Christ (3:1-4).
+Time and Place.+ -- This Epistle was written at Rome and sent by the messenger, Tychicus, (4:7, 8, 18) to the church at Colossae about 63 A.D.
Paul also directed that it be read to the church at Laodicea (4:16).
+Principal Divisions and Chief Points.+
1. Introduction (1:1-12) Salutation. Thanksgiving for their faith and prayer for their increase and knowledge of the will of God.
2. Doctrinal. "The sole Headship of Christ"
(1:13-3:4). (a) Christ the Mediator. There is redemption for us through His blood. (b) Christ, the image of the invisible God, Creator and Preserver of all things. (c) He is the Head of the church, reconciliation is only through Him. The Colossians were reconciled to God through the mediation of Christ. It is the earnest desire of Paul that the church at Colossae should remain rooted in the faith which it had been taught. (d) Warning against wrong speculation; lest any man "through
philosophy or vain deceit" obscure or cause the Colossians to deny the true Godhead of Christ (2:8-15). (e)
Renewed warnings against errors in worship; Jewish
observances, ordinances and asceticisms, and the
adoration of angels. (f) In Christ we are dead to the rudiments of the world and risen into communion with God in Christ.
3. Practical (3:5-4:6). (a) Exhortations to cast
out all sins of the unregenerate nature and to put on the new man in Christ. Then Christ will be all and in all. (b) All family and social duties are to be performed as in the sight of Christ. (c) Renewed exhortations to prayer and watchfulness.
4. Conclusion (4:7-18). (a) The mission of
Tychicus and Onesimus, the greetings of the companions of Paul and his expressed desire that the churches of Colossae and Laodicea exchange Epistles. (b) The Salutation.
THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON
+Occasion.+ -- This is the only purely personal letter of Paul that we possess. It is placed in this group because it was sent with the Epistle to the Colossians and by the same messenger, Tychicus (Col.4:7-9). Philemon was a member (with his wife Apphia) of the church at
Colossae (Philemon 2). Onesimus was a runaway slave, belonging to Philemon, who had found his way to Rome and been converted by Paul (Philemon 10), who returned him, with this letter, to his master (Col.4:9; Philemon 10-12).
In this letter we have a picture of the Apostle's
kindness of heart and a carrying out of the principles which Paul had advocated in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (7:20-24), "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." We find also this same principle set forth, in another way, in his letter to the Colossians upon the "Supremacy of Christ." These principles will make all men brethren in Christ and every man will strive to serve Christ in his own place, whatever that place is. Paul exhorts Philemon, along this very line, to receive Onesimus not as a servant but as a brother beloved
The practical teaching of this letter upon the relations between masters and servants and employers and employees is very pertinent to the present times. The true
solution of all labor troubles is that men should regard each other as brethren under the leadership of Jesus Christ.
+Principal Divisions and Chief Points.+
1. Salutation and Thanksgiving (1-7).
2. Statement of the object of the letter (8-21). As a favor for love's sake Philemon is asked to receive back Onesimus no longer a runaway slave but Paul's spiritual child. Emphasis is laid upon the fact that he is now a Christian brother and should be received as such.
3. Conclusion (22-25). (a) In expectation of a
speedy release from imprisonment the Apostle asks that a lodging be secured for him (22 v.). (b) Salutation and benediction (23-25).
THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS
+The City of Ephesus and the Church.+ -- This city
was, next to Rome, the most important visited by Paul. It was the capital of Asia Minor and a great commercial center. It was the seat of the worship of the goddess Diana.
Paul first visited the city when he was returning from his second missionary tour, but, while asked to prolong his stay, he remained only for a short time (Acts 18:19-21). During his third missionary journey he again visited the city and remained for three years (Acts 20:31,
compare 19:10, 22). His success in Ephesus was very great (Acts 19:18-20, 26) and extended beyond the city. The letters to the churches at Colossae (Col.1:2) and Laodicea (this letter is lost) (Col.4:16) show his care for the churches that were adjacent to Ephesus and of which we have no account of his visiting.
+Title and Time of Writing.+ -- Many scholars think
that this Epistle was a circular letter written for the edification of the churches of Asia Minor and sent to the church of the capital city. This opinion is strengthened by the lack of local allusions and the naming of friends, as in other epistles. The inscription "at Ephesus" is wanting in two of the more important manuscripts. "On this view it may be supposed that a space was left in the salutation in which could be inserted the name of the particular place where the letter was being read, that the letter finally fell wholly into the keeping of the Ephesian church, and that the space was at length permanently filled by the phrase 'at Ephesus.'"
The time and place of writing was at Rome about 63
A.D. This Epistle was sent by the messenger, Tychicus, (Eph.6:21) who also carried the letters to the church at Colossae and to Philemon (Col.4:7-9).
+Subject.+ -- As in Colossians, the subject is the
Headship of Christ (3:9-11); His person and work. God's eternal purpose is disclosed. Christ is given sway over all things "both which are in heaven and which are on earth" (1:10, 2l). The unity of the church in Christ is set forth; the unity of the Gentile and Jewish branches in Him; the unity of all the individual members in Him. This union is spiritual and not mechanical; it is holy and pure; therefore sin is excluded. Paul looks upon this as the mystery of the ages, now revealed to him. There is one great kingdom, the risen and glorified Christ is the Head of this kingdom (1:19-23). Redemption and
reception into this kingdom is through Jesus Christ (1-7).
Paul in this epistle rises above the controversies of the hour and sees in clear vision the eternal realities and the great plan of God for the saving of men.
+Principal Divisions and Chief Points.+
1. Introduction (1:1-23). (a) Salutation. (b)
Thanksgiving and Thesis (1:3-14). Unity in Christ. He who is the Head of the church is the Center of the universe (1:10). The eternal purpose of God in
Salvation is now made known. Before the foundation of the world, man and the redeemed church of Christ were in the thought of God. Christ in whom we have redemption looked forward to His mission from eternity. "Creation, nature, and redemption are all parts of one system"; in the reconciliation of the cross all orders of beings are concerned. "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in Him" (1:10). (c) Prayer. A petition that the
understanding of believers may be illuminated; that they may know the hope of their calling and the riches of their heritage, which comes through unity with their risen and ascended Lord.
2. Doctrinal. Unity in Christ (ch.2-3). (a) The calling of the Gentiles out of "trespasses and sins" into a new life in Christ. (b) Jews and Gentiles are
reconciled and brought together in one body by the cross; "no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." All built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit. (c) The mystery of the universal call was made known to Paul by a new revelation. Prayer for a more full
comprehension of this unity.
3. Practical. The new life in unity with Christ
(4:1-6:17). (a) Exhortation to walk worthy of this new life. (b) Exhortation to gain the victory over sin "in virtue of the sense of unity with man in Christ." (c) Social duties. The regeneration and consecration in this new life of the relations of husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters, (d) Final entreaty, in the battle against the powers of evil, to put "on the whole armour of God."
4. Conclusion (6:18-24). (a) Personal. Paul requests special prayer for himself in captivity. Tychicus
is commended. (b) Farewell and blessing.
THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS
The City of Philippi and the Church. -- This city is
notable from the fact that it was the first, in Europe, in which the gospel tidings were made known. Accounts of how Paul came to visit Macedonia and to begin the work in Philippi are given in Acts (16:10, 12-40).
Going out of the city as he did by the river side, where prayer was wont to be made, and talking to a number of women about the "New Way" would not seem to be a
very favorable beginning for a movement which was to produce such exceedingly large results. But Paul was so full of zeal for Christ that he seized every opportunity, no matter how small, to make Him known. This church afterwards was a great comfort to the Apostle. This letter shows how he loved it and how he exhorted them to rejoice in the Lord (4:4).
+Occasion.+ -- Paul was in prison in Rome. The
Philippian converts were greatly concerned about him, therefore they sent Epaphroditus with gifts and offerings to him (4:18). This was not the first time that they had taken thought of and remembered their founder, in a similar way (4:15, 16). The Apostle was very grateful for their care (4:10-14). While in Rome, Epaphroditus
was taken very sick and came near death (2:25-28).
As soon as he had recovered from his sickness Paul sent him back to Philippi (2:28), with this letter. The reference to Caesar's household shows how strong a hold Christianity was getting in Rome (4:22; 1:12-14), and that there was great boldness in proclaiming the gospel.
+Objects.+ -- It is an Epistle of thanks to the Philippians for their kindness (4:10-18) in remembering the Apostle with substantial gifts in his work and for their fellowship (1:5) in the gospel.
Another object is to give them friendly advices and warnings (2:12-24; 3:2-3, 17-21). Paul does not
forget, in this connection, to remind them of Him to whom they owe a whole-hearted allegiance, their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (4:1).
The great doctrinal object, the Supremacy of Christ, is also set forth as is markedly manifest in the Epistles of Colossians and Ephesians. The whole Christian creed, "the incarnation, passion, and exaltation of Christ" is expressed in the second chapter (2:5-11), "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." The great end to be
attained is likeness to Christ (2:5).
+Time of Writing.+ -- This epistle is generally regarded as the latest of the letters written during the first imprisonment in Rome, and in the same year with those to the churches at Colossae, and Ephesus. It was probably sent to Philippi shortly after the other Epistles (Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians) had been dispatched to Asia Minor.
+Principal Divisions and Chief Points.+ -- This epistle is divided into two parts.
First part (1:1-3:1).
I. Introduction (1:1-2:4). (a) Greeting. (b) Paul's thanksgiving, joy in the fellowship, and prayer for the Philippians. (c) An account of the rapid spread of the gospel in Rome and the apostle's rejoicing that Christ is preached. (d) Exhortation to unity in Christ.
2. Doctrinal (2:5-12). In this short passage we
have the Christian creed in brief form. "The Godhead of Christ and His Manhood -- His Pre-existence and His Incarnation -- His Passion and His Exaltation."
3. Conclusion of the first part (2:13-3:1). (a)
Renewed exhortation to an upright and blameless Christian life. (b) The return of Epaphroditus. (c) Farewell message.
Second part (3:2-4:23). This section seems to
have been added after the letter had been finished.
1. Warnings (3:2-21). (a) Against Judaic errors.
Paul could boast that he had been a good Jew and
scrupulously kept the law, yet he renounced all that he might win Christ. True righteousness can come only through faith in Christ. (b) Against a false idea of the liberty of the gospel; whereby men, claiming to be Christians, walked in evil ways.
2. Final exhortations (4:1-9) to steadfastness, unity, joy, and the following of all good in Christ. Acknowledgment of gifts and benedictions (4:10-23).
What is the question at issue in this group of Epistles? What the reason for raising this question? What answer is given? What attention is now paid to this question? When were these Epistles written? How were they sent? What can be said of the Epistles to the Colossians? The church at Colossae, how was it organized? What was the occasion of this Epistle? What the central thought? What the time and place of writing? Give the principal divisions and chief points. What was the occasion of the Epistle to Philemon? Give the principal divisions and chief points. What can be said of the Epistle to the Ephesians? Give an account of the founding of this church. What can be said of the title and time of writing? What is the subject? Give the principal divisions and chief points. What can be said of the Epistle to the Philippians? How was this church organized? What was the occasion of the Epistle? What the objects? Give the time of writing. Give the principal divisions and chief points.