Summary: This is Talk 1 in a 13 talk series from Colossians. Alternative philosophies, learning thankfulness, a letter to our church.

I’d like to read to you a letter written from prison written in 2004. From a father to a son ….

“Hi my boy. Thankyou for coming to see me. It made me feel so good to see you that it hurt because I really do miss you. I am proud of you, Nolan. Please be good at school and listen to your mother, Jeremy and your teacher. I can’t wait to hug you again. Work hard at school. Do your best. I will always love you. Hopefully I will see you again before I turn 7. I love you my boy. Dad

In 2014, Nolan said his dad is out of prison and doing great. A letter from prison can mean so much and this is no less true for the Apostle Paul who wrote his letter to the Colossian church from jail.

We’re not sure where Paul was imprisoned—it was probably in Rome or Ephesus. But even in jail, Paul was still the Apostle to the Gentiles, the Lord was still guiding and directing him—he remained confident that his life was hidden in Christ.

We learn from Phil 23 that Epaphras had been a fellow-prisoner with Paul. Upon his release, Paul had sent him on a mission which included the city of Colossae. Indeed, Col 1.7 informs us that Epaphras shared the gospel with the Colossians as a faithful minister of Christ on behalf of Paul and Timothy.

Colossae was a city located in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in the Lycus Valley (slide). As the map shows, it is near the cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea.

Here’s a couple of photos of Colossae in the present day (slides).

As of last year Colossae had not been excavated by archaeologists. I did read that there is a plan that a team from Australia was to lead an expedition to the site.

Until Colossae is excavated, our knowledge of religions in the city is inferred from what we know about religion in Asia Minor.

In the days of first-century Colossae the old gods of classical Greek culture were still lingering. Gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, Artemis and Hermes were revered and worshipped for the control they exercised in the world.

Images and symbols reminded the people that the gods were in control. For example, Artemis the hunter was inscribed onto a coin. A dramatic presentation of Artemis, the goddess of wild animals and hunting. Here’s Artemis shown on a coin in full flight in her drawn by two deer (slide).

Offend Artemis and you might go hungry.

There were also the mystery religions that claimed to reveal secrets which gave access to higher levels of spirituality. One had to learn the right passwords and codes to enter a secret, higher world.

Then the attraction of the Jewish synagogue. For converts from a pagan background the Jewish law had its own appeal as it offered a clear moral system in an amoral world. The synagogue enticed new Christians to complete their conversion by adhering to Judaism.

And lastly, there was the new religion on the block. The roman Emperor described himself as “Lord”. Colossae was filled with images of the emperor. Images of Caesar were found in the market, the city square, the public baths, in the theatre, the gymnasiums and the temples.

Caesar’s face was on the coins which rattle around in your purse (slide).

No matter where you went, Caesar was watching and he demanded your full allegiance.

Caesar—the old religions—mysticism—the synagogue: life was confusing and there were lots of pressures on new believers. There were images of the gods everywhere which demanded submission and participation in public worship.

Was the wisdom of Christ wisdom enough?

As a Christian, how does one relate to the old religions?

What does it mean to live the Christian life in a secular world? How do we understand the freedom we have in Christ?

These were confusing times in which to be a Christian. One’s livelihood, even one’s life, could be on the line.

So encouragement and instruction is needed which prompted Paul to write his letter to the Colossians. Colossians is as a measured letter which anticipates challenges that may have already began to bother the church. Paul seeks to encourage and help a fledgling, new church find its feet in a complex world.

Religion in Colossae was very much a public affair. Devotion to the gods was everyone’s business. And when these new Christians said, “we are not going to worship your gods anymore”—that’s bad news in the public square. When people say they’re not going to turn up to the processions and make the sacrifices—that’s bad news and we know who to blame when things go wrong.

So Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians to encourage them to be steadfast and patient and hold onto the faith which they possess. He wrote to explain the centrality of Christ and what it means to live with him as King in a testing culture.

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