TODAY’S READING: Colossians; Philemon
Paul most likely wrote the letters to Philemon and the Colossians from Rome around 62 A.D. Many of the people mentioned in Philemon are also mentioned in Colossians. Paul led runaway slave Onesimus to faith while in chains (Philemon 1:10) and appealed to his missionary colleagues to receive Onesimus back as a brother (vv. 1–2). Paul referred to Philemon as a fellow laborer and soldier. Laborers are those who sweat, work hard, and have little respect for the lazy. Soldiers are those who fight, endure, live with pain, and have no respect from those who run from battle. Missionaries then are both laborers and soldiers, which can make them hard to live and work with. Philemon evidently was sharing his faith and loving the lost, but at the same time overbearing with his own—just like some pioneer missionaries today. You don’t live in Afghanistan for twenty years without being a bit hardheaded. Put a bunch of missionaries together and you have a bunch of hardheads. Put a young missionary on a team with grizzled veterans and you have sent a young lion into a den of Daniels. Paul’s admonishment to missionaries is that we stay kind to our own even as we work and war for the lost.
Paul never visited Colossae (100 miles east of Ephesus), but the gospel had been preached there. Paul’s letter dealt with the heresy that mixed Judaism with an early form of Gnosticism, concluding Jesus was super-human but not truly God, greater than man but not able to save; thus, men must go through mediating angels to arrive at deeper spirituality. To this nonsense Paul penned his majestic Christological response: Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Jesus created all things. Jesus is before all things. In Jesus all things consist. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus has preeminence in all things. All the fullness of God is in Jesus. Jesus reconciles all things to the Father. In Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Jesus is the head of all principality and power. Jesus is our life (Col. 1:15–19; 2:3, 9–10; 3:1–4). The central missionary point of Colossians is that Jesus is very God of very God, and missionary Paul made this very clear in his missionary letter. If we are to take, write, and speak the gospel among the unreached, we must explicitly teach that Jesus is God and broker no dilution in word, thought, or honor to His deity.
Colossians and Philemon align with the missionary theme of the Bible: The gospel “has come to you, as it has also in all the world” (Col. 1:6) and “was preached to every creature under heaven” (v. 23). “God willed to make known…the riches of [His] glory…among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man” (vv. 27–28) that “there is neither Greek nor Jew…but Christ is all and in all” (3:11), so pray for us “that God would open…a door to speak the word…to make it manifest” (4:3–4). When we read Colossians (if we read it as Paul wrote it), we should leap to our feet and run to the nations shouting from the rooftops that Jesus is the God of glory. For this we labor, for this we fight—that Jesus is worshipped as God by the 30 million Hindu Mahratta and by every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.