Colosse was one of a trio of cities (Hierapolis and Laodicea being the other two) located about 125 miles southeast of Ephesus. This was a rich area both in mineral wealth and merchandising, with a large population, both Jewish and Gentile. These three cities were almost within view of each other.
Paul had never visited Colosse (see 2:1). During his three years of ministry in Ephesus, “all Asia” heard the Gospel (Acts 19:10 , 26 ). One of Paul’s converts in Ephesus was a man named Epaphras, whose home was in Colosse. Epaphras had taken the message of the Gospel back home, and through his ministry the church was founded (1:4-7; 4:12-13). This fellowship may have met in the home of Philemon, for he lived at Colosse (Col. 4:9 and Philemon ).
Paul was now a prisoner in Rome. Epaphras had come to visit him and to report that a new teaching was invading the church and causing trouble. This heresy today is generally called “gnosticism,” from the Gk. word gnosis which means “to know.” The Gnostics were “in the know”—that is, they professed to have a superior knowledge of spiritual things. Their doctrine was a strange blending of some Christian truth, Jewish legalism, Greek philosophy, and Eastern mysticism.
For one thing, these heretics taught that all matter was evil, including the body; and therefore God could not come in contact with matter. How, then, was the world created? By a series of “emanations” from God, they claimed. And, since Christ had a human body, He was only one of these “emanations” and not truly the Son of God. The Gnostics proposed a complex series of “emanations” (including angels) between man and God and thus denied the preeminence of Christ.
Their system was supposed to give the believer a special “full knowledge” not possessed by others. The Gnostics loved to use the word “fullness,” and so you find Paul using it many times in this letter. Their doctrine called for legalistic practices (2:16) and strict discipline of the flesh (asceticism, 2:18-23). “Touch not, taste not, handle not!” was one of their rules. They taught that certain days were holy and certain foods sinful. The Gnostic system had a semblance of spirituality but was of no real spiritual value (see Col. 2:21-23 ).
It is likely that Paul sent Onesimus and Epaphras, along with Tychicus, back to Colosse with the letters to the Colossian Christians, to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21-22 ), and to his friend Philemon. Some students think that the letter to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16 ) is our Ephesians.
Colossians emphasizes the preeminence of Christ. As you read it, note the repetition of the words “all” and “fullness” or “filled” (see 1:9-11, 16-20, 28; 2:2-3, 9-10, 13, 19; 3:8, 11, 14, 16-17, 20, 22; 4:9, 12). Paul’s theme is that “Christ is all and in all” (3:11) and that we are “made full in Him” (2:10). Since believers are made full in Christ, Christ is all they need! Legalism, man-made philosophies, strict diets, compulsory observance of holy days, discipline of the flesh—all of these must go when Christ is given His place of preeminence. Colossians is a letter pleading for spiritual maturity (note the prayer in 1:9-12). Religious practices done in the flesh may appear to be spiritual, but they are of no value in the inner life of the person. How easy it is even for evangelical Christians to substitute man-made rules for true spirituality.
Wiersbe's Expository Outlines of the NT Warren Wiersbe