September 13, 2013 by Daniel Gettemy
As was pointed out in the previous post, the Scriptures indicate that Paul was not the one, or one of the ones, who first brought the gospel message to the city of Colossae. Earlier in his ministry, Paul had desired to go into the Roman province of Asia (where Colossae was) – and even attempted to – but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit from doing so. God, at that time, had a different mission for Paul: Macedonia. However, Paul did get to go to Asia a few years later. He ended up setting up a “Bible School” of sorts in Ephesus, from which “all of Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:10)
According to Paul’s letter to the Colossians it was Epaphras who first brought the gospel to the city of Colossae – or at least whom they first received it from (Col. 1:7). The assumption that I’m going to make (based on Acts 19 and Col. 1) is that Epaphras was one of those who converted to Christ in Ephesus, studied under Paul’s teaching at the School of Tyrannus, and eventually carried the message of the gospel to Colossae. So while Paul had never visited the Colossian church (as this letter indicates, particularly Col. 2:1), he did have a part – at least indirectly – in its founding.
All of that is interesting (at least it is to me!) from an historical standpoint; but it doesn’t identify the ultimate reason that Paul, who was in prison at the time (most likely in Rome), would write a letter to the Colossians, much less have the expectation that they would receive it and follow its counsel! Why would Paul, who by his own admission had never met the believers from Colossae (Col. 2:1), have any say or any sway with this church? Why would he feel led to intervene in any of their matters or concerns? What would motivate Paul to do so? Well, some of those questions are answered for us in the opening statements of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
The letter begins:
“1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”
Paul identifies himself as an apostle. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) defines the common, historical use of the word apostle as “one who is legally charged to represent the person and cause of another,” always with the idea of being sent with full authority by the sender. Somewhat like an ambassador today. In the New Testament, the title “apostle” is used three ways:
First of all, there were the original twelve disciples whom Jesus chose, called and sent out with authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Matt. 10). Eleven of these original twelve men held a unique position in history as they knew Jesus and were taught by Him in both His incarnate and resurrected states (less Judas Iscariot). Saul of Tarsus (later “Paul”) was added to this number as one who had seen, was instructed by, and had been called by the resurrected Jesus to be an apostle (see Acts 9). As the TDNT notes, these twelve had an exclusive calling which encompassed a universal apostleship “not (as) officials of the church but officers of Christ for its (the church’s) upbuilding.”
The second use of the title “apostle” was to designate those who were sent out by the church (or a church) as its representatives for a given task. Barnabas and Paul being commissioned and sent out by the church in Antioch is a good example of this (see Acts 13 and 14). Other examples are Titus, Paul’s “brethren” (2 Corinthians 8:23), as well as Epaphroditus, who’d been sent to Paul by the Philippian church (Phil. 2:25). These “messengers” (Gr. apostolos) would be representing a specific congregation or group of congregations in regards to a particular matter. They were never self-appointed, but always sent out by the will of God as understood and agreed upon by the church’s leaders and/or congregation.
The third use of “apostle” – and I would say its ultimate use – is identified with Jesus Himself. Hebrews 3:1 and 2 states:
“1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, 2 who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house.”
Jesus is the definitive God Ambassador (in fact, Revelation of God)! He’s the Great Apostle, being sent by the Father and attested to by the Holy Spirit. He was and ever remains faithful in His calling and work. Jesus has perfectly expressed God’s holy life and reconciling love via His own flesh and blood, life and death, resurrection and ascension! Jesus fulfills His Apostolic calling by offering Himself as the means to enter into life with God. The apostle John summed it up this way in 1 John 5:20:
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. (NLT)
Paul’s apostleship comes from Jesus Christ, by the will of God. He is a representative – an ambassador – of Jesus Christ to every person and place that he comes in contact with. This means that Paul’s authority comes from Jesus. His motivation also comes from Jesus as being one who is to represent everything that Jesus is, has, and stands for. Paul explained to the Corinthian believers how his authority and motive for all that he did in life and ministry – even how he viewed the world – was rooted in Christ and His love:
13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:13-15 (NKJV)
So then, Paul’s introduction of himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God” helps us to understand both why (as in calling and motive) he has concern to write to the Colossians AND why they would have good reason to receive what he says!
Here’s a couple of questions for us to consider. Feel free to discuss!
- #1 – What things, people, or experiences shape our world view?
- #2 – How can our view of the world be informed and transformed by Jesus Christ and His love?
- #3 – In what ways can we care for those that we’ve never met, but are aware of and concerned for? Can they know something of Christ’s love for them through our life?