Sometimes we read the opening verses of Paul’s letters too quickly, if at all. So we will think about his greetings to the church in Colosse, a church that he had not been to before he wrote the letter. One striking feature of his greeting is that he knew how to identity himself, Timothy and his readers. So who was Paul?
Paul’s own self-description is full of relevance for us today, unlike some other descriptions that could be given of him. For example, writers often refer to Paul’s genius, but there were plenty geniuses throughout history and today we don’t pay much heed to most of their opinions. Others refer to his remarkable conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus, but there have been many graphic conversions throughout church history and we don’t lay much stress on their opinions either. So if it is not his genius or his conversion that makes him very significant for us, what else about him would make him so? The answer to that question is that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Who or what is an apostle? He was a messenger received a personal call from the risen Christ to serve him in a specific way that functioned at the commencement of the New Testament church. Paul received his call at the same time that he was converted by Jesus (Acts 9:15).
Paul had a role of great authority in the Christian church and what he taught was binding on people, such as the Colossians, most of whom he had never met, and his teachings still govern the people of God today. So although this letter deals with local issues in Colosse it also teaches us about essential aspects of the Christian faith. Obviously some matters in his letters were of local importance and dealt with issues that no longer exist. Nevertheless, most of what he wrote is relevant to the church throughout history, and even areas which seem limited to the original circumstances usually have principles that are binding everywhere.
It is worth noting that Paul did not think that his circumstances prevented him functioning as an apostle. From one point of view, his influence was limited because of his confinement in Rome – he wrote this letter while imprisoned. He was not free at that time to travel around declaring his Master’s message in different places as he had done previously. Yet an apparent reduction in space did not mean a reduction in how to use his time. Although restrained in his movements, he was totally committed to using whatever opportunities he had to obey the task entrusted to him by Jesus.
Paul also traced his involvement in the church as an apostle to the sovereign will of God. This awareness would have given him a sense of confidence that was not based on himself. He knew that his calling had divine approval, and this helped him when he faced various obstacles. Indeed he seems to have assumed that God would arrange providence and open doors for service, even when in prison for his sake.