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Summary of Colossians: Understanding the Basics of Colossians in the Bible

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John Whittaker

John Whittaker is disciple of Jesus and a bible teacher whose goal is to provide what he calls “blue jeans theology”--theology for everyday life. He’s been a pastor and Bible college professor and a church planter. One of his greatest joys in life is being a husband, father, and grandfather. He is the creator of the Bible in Life online teaching ministry (at johnwhittaker.net) and of the Listener’s Commentary on the New Testament (listenerscommentary.com). He loves seeing people come alive to the joy and transforming power of walking with Jesus in the midst of their everyday life.

Here’s a short summary of Colossians: Colossians was written by the apostle Paul to teach the Colossian church that Jesus is all they need to experience the fullness of God. Someone had infiltrated the church and was deceiving them into thinking that they needed to add Jewish rituals, harsh treatment of their body, and mystical experiences to really know and experience God.

Paul reminds them that Jesus himself is the very fullness of God and that in him they have been made complete. If they have Jesus, they already have experienced the fullness of God. They don’t need all those other things. Entering into Jesus and being baptized into him reconciled them to God and gave them a brand new identity. Now they are the people of God and they can live the way God created them to live.

The Backstory to Colossians

The book of Colossians was originally a letter that the apostle Paul sent to a young church in the city of Colossae. When he wrote the letter, Paul was in prison, most likely the house arrest described at the end of the book of Acts.

The city of Colossae lies about 100 miles east of Ephesus to the western side of what is modern-day Turkey. In Paul’s day, it lay within Asia Minor. In the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., Colossae was wealthy and large due to its wool industry, but by Paul’s day it was described by a contemporary geographer as a “small town” (Strabo, Geography. 12.8.13). There was a decent-sized Jewish population in the city, since approximately 2000 Jewish families settled in the area in the second century B.C.


“The city of Colossae lies about 100 miles east of Ephesus to the western side of what is modern-day Turkey.”


Paul had never been to Colossae, but the church there began under the influence of his ministry. On his third missionary journey, Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus. During this time Paul’s coworkers and disciples spread the news about Jesus to the surrounding cities and thus “all Asia heard the word” (Acts 19:10). One such co-worker was Epaphras who was a na­tive of Colossae and was responsible for the founding of the church in there around A.D. 54.

While Paul was under arrest around A.D. 61, Epaphras visited Paul in Rome and shared the progress of the gospel in the region around Colossae, but he also shared some particular problems that were troubling the church there. They were being influenced by some sort of teaching that was undermining their stability in Jesus.

As we listen to what Paul says in the letter, we can piece together some things about the false teaching that was causing problems in the church at Colossae. He mentions circumcision, observing Jewish holy days, and dietary laws, which indicates that there was a Jewish element to the teaching. He also points out the foolishness of self-abasement and harsh treatment of the body in Colossians 2:23, which suggests that there was some sort of ascetic element as well. He also addresses some sort of mystical element by referring to visions and worship of angels in 2:18.


Summary of Colossians: “It appears the false teaching that was undermining the church involved spiritual visions, angels, keeping the Jewish calendar and food laws.”


So it appears the false teaching that was undermining the church involved spiritual visions, angels, keeping the Jewish calendar and food laws, and things like that in order to have a greater experience of the fullness of God. So Paul writes Colossians to emphasize that Jesus is the fullness of God and that anyone who is in Jesus already has received that fullness in him (2:9-10). Paul’s goal is to help the original readers and us realize that Christ is enough. We don’t need Christ plus mystical experience or Christ plus any other thing in order to know God in all his fullness. All we need is Christ.

An Overview of Colossians

Colossians is a short letter with a powerful message. It all revolves around believing in the full sufficiency of Jesus and living in light of that.

Colossians 1:1-2:5

Paul first expresses his care and concern for the Christians in Colossae. He assures them that even though he’s never met them face to face (see 2:4), he prays for them regularly and cares for them deeply.

Paul opens the letter by describing how he thanks God for their positive response to the gospel in 1:3-8. Then in 1:9-23, he records his constant prayer for their continued faithfulness to Jesus. This prayer leads to a profound reflection on the person and work of Jesus, implicitly showing that Jesus is all they need. In fact, as you read Colossians 1:15-20, notice the emphasis on “all” and “everything.”


Summary of Colossians: “…a profound reflection on the person and work of Jesus, implicitly showing that Jesus is all they need…”


In 1:24-2:5, Paul describes his vocation as a minister of Christ and how that leads him to suffer on their behalf. He struggles for their spiritual growth. So even though they haven’t met each other face to face, he cares for them deeply and wants them to come to know all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are found in Christ.

Colossians 2:6-3:4

After expressing his care for them and their spiritual well-being, Paul directly appeals to them that they would stand firm in the truth about Christ that they were taught (2:6-7).

He reassures them that in Jesus they’ve already experienced all God’s fullness (2:8-15). When they entered into Jesus and were baptized into him, they were made complete. Their sins were forgiven. They were buried with him and raised up with him, and thus participate in his victory over all the spiritual powers. They don’t need any other religious thing, Jewish or otherwise, to be truly spiritual (2:16-19).


Summary of Colossians: “He reassures them that in Jesus they’ve already experienced all God’s fullness.”


In the next two paragraphs, then, he draws out the implications of their death and resurrection with Christ in baptism and calls them to live accordingly. Death with Christ makes ascetic practices and harsh treatment of the body unnecessary; they are empty religious rigors (2:20-23). Being raised up with Christ frees us to set our mind on the things above, the eternal things of Christ (3:1-4).

Colossians 3:5-4:6

Since those things are now true about us and we have new life in Jesus, how should we live? Beginning in 3:5, Paul gives specific instructions on the Christian way of life. This is a call to live out the new identity we have been given in Christ.

He first calls us to put to death the old humanity’s way of life: sexual immorality, anger, malice, and the like (3:5-11). But getting ridding of vice isn’t enough. We must put on the virtues of the new humanity being formed in Christ, things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, and love (3:12-17).


Summary of Colossians: “We must put on the virtues of the new humanity being formed in Christ.”


Our new identity in Christ also affects how we order our homes, so Paul also provides household instructions (3:18-4:1). Notice that the section that gets the most attention here is slaves and masters. The reason for that is the situation dealt with in the letter to Philemon since the Colossians church met in Philemon’s house.

Paul then gives a series of exhortations that involve a call to prayer and encouragement to act wisely towards unbelievers (4:2-6).

Colossians 4:7-18

The last paragraph of Colossians is a number of greetings to Christians in Colossae and from colleagues of Paul. This is fascinating since Paul had never been there, but it’s a way of establishing rapport.

Even though Colossians is a short letter, it’s important not to lose sight of the main point as you read it. The big idea of the letter is: Christ is all; you need no supplements! If you are in Christ, you’ve received God’s fullness and have everything you need for living fully for Him.

Summary of Colossians in 10 Passages

1. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”[1]

—Colossians 1:15

2. “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

—Colossians 1:19-20


Summary of Colossians: “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself.”


3. In Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.”

—Colossians 2:3-4

4.Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”

—Colossians 2:6

5. “See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ.

—Colossians 2:8

6. “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete.”

—Colossians 2:9-10

7.And when you were dead in your wrongdoings and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our wrongdoings.”

—Colossians 2:13

8. “Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

—Colossians 3:1


Summary of Religion: “Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”


9. “Therefore, treat the parts of your earthly body as dead to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”

—Colossians 3:5

10. “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you.”

—Colossians 3:12-13


[1] All Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard

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