One of the more difficult challenges to reading and understanding the Bible is trying to connect with the original first century audience. We don’t always know very much about them. They lived 2,000 years ago. How much could they have in common with us?
As we begin a new series on the book of Colossians, I want to introduce you to the citizens of the town of Colossae. At the time of writing the letter, Paul had never visited Colossae (2:1). According to the commentaries I read, it was small city some distance inland from Ephesus, in what is today southwestern Turkey. Although it had been a prominent city 200 years or so previously, it was now the smallest of three cities within a few miles of each other. Laodicea and Hierapolis are both mentioned in 4:13, and both were larger than Colossae.
So basically, the letter is written to a young, probably small, church in a small town. It had been planted by a companion of Paul, Epaphras (1:7) who was now in prison with Paul (Philemon 1:23).
But Paul doesn’t spend the whole letter correcting the church. He spends the majority of the letter encouraging the church by pointing out the grandeur and majesty of Jesus Christ. He points people away from their present setting to the big picture of what God has done and is continuing to do through Jesus. Then he describes how the big picture of God should impact the lives of these Christians in a young church in a little town.
Because of this I’m labeling this study of Colossians, “Little People: Big Picture.”
It’s often easy to get the impression that the big churches we encounter are somehow closer to the biblical model than the small churches. God’s blessed them with growth. They must be doing something right. Their elders must be better. Their preacher must be better. Their ministries must be better. etc. etc. Yet the majority of churches in the U.S.A (75%), and I suspect around the world, have an attendance of 150 or less. While I don’t believe it should be our goal, small churches are probably closer to the NT church experience than the large churches are.
When Paul writes to the Colossians, he’s not looking to praise or critique their eloquence, or efficiency, or Bible Class curriculum. In fact, he opens his letter by praising their faith and love that spring from their heavenly hope (1:3-5). He then equates these elements with the “gospel that has come to you” (1:5).
Paul is excited that this church has grasped and practices the basics of the Good News of Jesus Christ. What a tremendous starting point: The Big Picture. There’s a directory of Churches of Christ published by 21st Century Christian that distinguishes between churches that describe themselves as “one cup churches” or “non-institutional churches” among other descriptions. It seems to me that those issues pale into insignificance compared to what Paul looks for in a church: their faith, love and hope.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to review a directory that distinguished congregations based on their grasp of faith, love and hope? I know its not the job of any human to really make that judgment, but if you were looking for a new church home, wouldn’t they be core elements to seek in a congregation? A healthy small church has a firm grasp of God’s big picture!
I only have 2 questions this week. Please share a comment:
- How would you recognise whether a church was strong or weak in the areas of faith, love and hope?
- How would you identify if you personally were strong or weak in the areas of faith, love and hope?