The first principle in the study of any portion of the Bible is to realize that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The second is, “that it is profitable.” The first should affect our method in approaching the Scriptures while the second should affect our motive.
The Spirit of Truth has given us the Scriptures; they should be approached “prayerfully and carefully.” A short Nehemiah-like prayer is a proper beginning to every reading of the Bible, “Lord, help me to understand.” Thus one seeks the illumination of the Holy Spirit on that which came by inspiration. In our day revealed truth is recorded truth.
There are a variety of methods that have been used in the study of the books of the Bible. One of these may be termed the telescopic and the microscopic way: first, get the overview and later get the details. This article is primarily concerned with the overview. Other articles will consider the details of chapters, verses, and words.
A short letter such as Colossians may easily be read in about twelve minutes. Read it several times. There are many commentaries and helps that one might read to explain any Bible book, but nothing is better than first getting one’s own understanding. Our Bibles are already divided into chapters and verses, but it is also helpful to mark each paragraph using a colored pencil. The Newberry Bible and others will already have this done. Make a note of the key thought of each paragraph. Bible marking pens of different colors can be used to underline and note points of interest. A pen and notebook (or computer) should be used to compile one’s own notes and questions through the chapters. It has been said that Darby’s Synopsis was written later from notes compiled as he read. Such a notebook might initially have more questions than notes, but in time the notes will fill in. It is good also to underline and memorize key verses.
A useful practice is to begin with a number of questions. Who wrote the book? To whom was it written? Why and when was it written?
We learn at the beginning that the Apostle Paul is the writer and Timothy is with him. Who were the Colossians, the recipients of this letter? A Bible map will show that Paul had gone through the area on both the second and the third missionary journeys. It is always worthwhile to try and correlate any of Paul’s letters with his journeys in the Acts. However in this case, there will be no mention of Colossae. This is in keeping with Colossians 2:1, which suggests that Paul himself had not been there. In chapter 1:7 we see that it was Epaphras who had taken the gospel to them.
Chapter two brings us to the reasons for this letter. The first verse speaks of his great conflict for them and others in the area. A concordance and other translations show there was a “striving” as a battle for these believers. Since chapter 4, verse 10 suggests Paul is a prisoner, he must, as the passage suggests, be struggling for them in prayer. It would be worthwhile following this thought in other letters. The reasons for the epistle follow from verses 2 to 8: “that their hearts might be comforted”; “lest any man should beguile you”; and “lest any man spoil you.” Verses 9 to 15 tell them not only of what Christ has done, but that believers are “complete in Him.” Then follows these injunctions: “let no man judge you,” and “let no man beguile you.” He warns them of “the traditions of men and of the rudiments of the world.” It is apparent that the Colossians from a Gentile background were beset by Jewish teachers and hence the concern of the apostle. We see a believer’s standing is in grace, apart from anything of law. There are also references in this section to certain ideas of Greek philosophies and gnostic teaching, but that is not so obvious in initial readings.
It is most enlightening to see the greatness of the Person and Purposes of Christ as presented in chapter one before the problems are raised in chapter two. A list should be made of each feature of Christ that is mentioned. Later, a comparison can be made with other passages such as John 1 and Hebrews 1 where He is also presented as Creator. He is not only the Creator of “all” things, but it specifically says “visible and invisible.” The “worship of angels” is then the worship of inferior created beings. The believer is delivered by Christ from the power of darkness. The believer is “dead with Christ,” as to the things of this world. The believer is “risen with Christ” and should seek things above. The believer will appear with Christ in glory. It is beautiful that the answer to Jewish tradition and legalism or to Gentile philosophy is a believer’s position in Christ.
The latter two chapters deal with the practical living out of these principles. Three lists of things are given: first, things that should be put to death for they mark the children of disobedience, the natural man of the world; secondly, things that should now be put off which have no place in the life of the new man; then things that should be put on by those who are the elect of God. A comparison may be made with the fourth chapter of Ephesians.
The next section gives three pairs of social relationships: wives and husbands, children and fathers, and servants and masters. Again these should be compared with similar teaching in Ephesians.
The epistle concludes with the mention of eleven names. These may be seen in three ways: two believers are coming from Paul with letters, six of them are with Paul, and two are in the area where the letters are going. It would be helpful to note each name and later see what other information can be found about them in the Scriptures.
Finally, one should see what the “experts” say. We have today an abundance of resources, many just a touch of a computer key away. A word of caution is needed. First, use only reliable, trustworthy translations. Secondly, the same applies to commentaries. Assembly writers have left us a heritage of help and exposition. Compare their thoughts with what you have gleaned. Don’t be disappointed, but remember they also learned from others before them. Go back to the Scripture and like the Bereans search to see whether those things are so.