Paul on the Purpose of the Church

by Wayne Barber

Paul on the Purpose of the Church

The next several issues of "Following God" will be devoted to a study on the purpose of the church. I don't know where you could find the purpose of the church stated more clearly than in Colossians 1:24-29, especially vv. 25-28: "…I was made a minister…that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…that we may present every man complete in Christ."

In this article, we are going to look at the people and the place to which Paul wrote. The book of Colossians was written primarily to the Colossian believers, but also was intended for the Laodaceans and the believers from Hieropolis (cf. Col. 2:1 and 4:13). Colosse, Laodicea, and Heiropolis comprised the three cities in the Lycos Valley in central Asia Minor.

Colosse was located on a hill overlooking the valley, while across that valley lay Hieropolis on the opposite hilltop, with Laodicea at the foot of the hill. They were not too many miles from Colosse.

You will recall that the church at Laodicea is referred to in Revelations when John addressed the seven churches. This is where it talks about being "lukewarm"-and this must have presented an especially vivid picture to the Laodiceans, for there were hot springs in Heiropolis, but by the time the water descended to Laodicea it was lukewarm.

At the time Paul wrote this epistle, Hieropolis and Laodicea were becoming much more popular cities than Colosse. There was a new road that bypassed Colosse and therefore it was missing the trade that it had once enjoyed. Laodicea was at this point the most prominent of the three and Colosse was the lesser of the three cities.

All three churches had been established by a man named Epaphras (cf. Col. 1:7 and 4:12,13).

Paul himself, however, had never been to any of the three cities: "For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face" (v. 2:1). It is indicated in the book of Philemon that Paul did intend to go there at some time.

Philemon was a native of Colosse and Paul says to him in Philemon 1:22: "And at the same time also prepare me a lodging; for I hope that through your prayers I shall be given to you." It is important to note that Paul was in his first imprisonment when he wrote this letter (cf. 4:18). Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon during this same imprisonment.

Word had come to him about the very grave problem with false doctrine that was threatening the Colossian church. This caused Paul to be deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of all three churches. Chapter 2:1 tells us that Paul "struggled on their behalf." The word for "struggle" is agon. It refers to the agony that Paul went through for them. Doubtless he was referring to the "agony" he felt when praying for them. I get the idea of an intense intercession for them. Just like today, there was a battle for the believers' minds.

What role does the church play in the midst of such deception? What does Paul tell us is our major purpose? In our next article we will look at the problem.