Mail Call and No Letter? (Colossians 1:1–2)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

—Colossians 1:1–2 (ESV)

Paul writes this letter, but he writes as an apostle of Christ Jesus. We say Colossians is one of the Pauline Epistles, but we mustn’t say that louder than we say it is the Word of God.

Whom is the risen Christ addressing through His apostle in this letter? The saints and faithful brothers at Colossae. Ahh, of course. Apostolic letters are for saints, long dead ones. Mail call has come and you’re left without a letter. All the cool kids got a Valentine, but none for you. Figures.

Saints is a term we’re afraid of for two reasons: 1. the heretical teaching of the Roman Catholic church and 2. fear of any accusation of arrogance should we use it as the Bible does. But we are Protestants. We exclaim sola scriptura! We shouldn’t retreat from Biblical terms. We should reclaim and defend them.

It is not humility, but pride which keeps saints from our lips. Failure to use the term saint means we’re finding our identity in who we were out of Christ more than who we are in Christ. The saints are those who are set apart in Christ. If you are in Christ, you are a saint. Sainthood is not a result of personal holiness; personal holiness is a result of sainthood.

But alas, this is a letter for ancient saints, those who resided in Colossae. We’ve got the same name, but the address is different. The New King James Version has a subtle but meaningful variance in translation from the ESV quoted above. “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse (1:2a).” The NKJV unnecessarily adds “who are,” but has “in Colossae” instead of “at Colossae.” The same English preposition is used in both instances, just as it it in the Greek text. The more important locator is in Christ. If a tornado hits a city, and you are in that city and in a storm shelter, being in the storm shelter is the more important of places. What Paul writes has far less to do with Colossae than Christ. A sinner might stand in Colossae in 61 AD and this letter have nothing to do with them, but everything to do with you standing on another continent in the twenty first century because you are in Christ.

This letter was meant to be cyclical, passed along to other churches (Colossians 4:16). Paul wasn’t an apostle of certain churches, but of the Church. The Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). If you are in Christ, you are saints, and this letter is meant for you. Any insight you might gain into Colossae and the church there, serves then not to distance you from this letter, but to better understand what Christ wants to say to you through His apostle.

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