Colossians was one of Paul’s “prison epistles,” written while he was under house arrest in Rome, at the same time as Ephesians and Philemon and carried to Colossae by Tychicus (Colossians 4:7; Ephesians 6:21). There is a great deal of overlap and repetition between Colossians and Ephesians, leading (along with other things) to the speculation that Ephesians may be the letter Paul referred to as coming “from Laodicea” (just ten miles away from Colossae) in Colossians 4:16.
Colossians stands apart from all of Paul’s other letters (save Romans) as being written to a church that Paul did not found. Paul specifically named Epaphras as the one from whom they “learned the gospel,” so it is possible that he studied under Paul while Paul ministered in Ephesus, before going back to Colossae (and possibly Laodicea).
The primary theme of Colossians is the supremacy of Christ and Christianity over anything else that the Colossians themselves would elevate or that others may have tried to impress on them.
Chapter one contains Paul’s opening greeting and prayer of thanksgiving. It is interesting that Timothy, rather than Epaphras, is mentioned along with Paul. However, since Timothy ended up as Paul’s representative in Ephesus, the major city in that region, his role may have taken him to the other churches in the area as well, including Laodicea and Colossae. It was Epaphras from whom they heard the gospel, and he reported back to Paul how it had taken hold in Colossae and how their love and faith were growing significantly (Colossians 1:3-8). As was common with Paul in his prison epistles, he prayed that the Colossians would grow in the knowledge of God’s will, “so that [they] may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects” (Colossians 1:9-14; see Ephesians 4:1; 5:15-17; Philippians 1:27; 2:12-13). One of the special events that occurs at salvation, not mentioned elsewhere quite this way, is the wonderful truth that God “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
Outside of Hebrews 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-20 contains the longest, fiercest passage supporting the deity and supremacy of Christ. He was the creator of all things; he sustains all things; he is the head of the Church; and he was resurrected as the first of those yet to come. In him is all of God’s fullness, and through his death everything in all creation will be reconciled back to God in some way (though this obviously does not mean that all of creation will be saved).
Even the Colossians were included in Jesus’ reconciliation, and they would one day stand before him holy and blameless if they continued strong in the faith (Colossians 1:21-29). Paul claimed to be God’s servant on their behalf as well, even though they had never yet met, as he suffered for Christ and for the gospel. As in Ephesians, he claimed that the doctrine of the Church was kept hidden by God until he was ready for Paul to make it known. Paul’s goal in all his instruction was to “present every person mature in Christ.”