Colossians

Colossians 4: Everyday Grace

As he did in Ephesians, at the tail end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, Paul ends this letter with a reminder that new life in Christ also affects our everyday relationships.  In the middle of that section — technically called a “household code” — Paul says this:

Whatever you do, give it your very best. (3:23)

Good relationships take our very best.  Husbands and wives can’t expect to have a good relationship if there is little effort put into their marriage.  Parenting is too challenging to think we can find success with only our leftovers.  Tired, distracted fathers find it too easy to “provoke their children to anger” (3:21).  The workplace can easily become tyranny if the boss isn’t trying to give her employees the best, to their benefit and to the mission of the organization.

But how is that possible?  We don’t always want to give our best. Quite frankly, there are many situations where the people in our life don’t deserve our best. Paul knows this and his answer comes in the very next phrase:

Give it your very best, as if you were working for the master and not for human beings. (3:23b)

We give our best out of devotion to God, not because other people deserve it.

That’s grace.  It isn’t just some concept we pull out when we want to talk about the conceptual matter of how God saves our soul.  Grace is also the very practical, unmerited blessings we give the people in our life in the nitty gritty of day-to-day life.

What did you learn from Colossians this week?

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Colossians 3: Changing Clothes

I grew up going to church camp in the summer. It was one of my favorite weeks (or two, if I could convince my parents to let me stay for another) of the year. When I was too old to be a camper, I became a counselor and did that until I went off to college.

Now, twenty years later, I am writing this post (a day ahead of time) from church camp again.  This is our church’s week to have camp for all kids in fourth grade and up, all 250 of them!  This is the kind of camp I could have only dreamed to attend when I was a kid.  I have a harder time keeping up with the kids each year and I am not sure why they aren’t ready for lights out at 9:30 like I am!  Still, what a great week!

Later today we will all head home, and one of the first things I will do is strip off my camp clothes, take a nice hot shower, and put on some clean clothes.  It’s not that we didn’t shower or change here at camp, I just never feel totally clean until I am at home in my shower and then in clean clothes.

Paul talked about this earthly life the same way. We are here in a set of dirty clothes (3:5-9), but it’s time to get showered and start putting on the new clothes we were really meant to wear (3:10-15).  Of course, by this metaphor he means there is a whole new set of thoughts and behaviors associated with the “new humanity” we are becoming (3:11).  By the power of the Spirit, we are getting dressed to go home.

Each of these points needs a book of it’s own, but in this chapter Paul gives us some guidance on how to change our spiritual clothes:

  • Set our minds on the spiritual not fleshly (3:1-2)
  • Strip off the old clothes instead of just trying to keep them on underneath our new clothes (3:5-9)
  • Put God’s word into our hearts and minds (3:16a)
  • Help each other become new people (3:16b)

What did you notice in this chapter?

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Colossians 2: Don’t Settle For Shadows

When I was a child on sunny days I liked to play with my shadow.  My friends and I would make shadow puppets, play shadow tag, and try to guess what animals the other was making with their hands.

It would be a rather silly thing to do the same thing as adults.

Yet that is what the false teachers in Colossae were suggesting:

So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in a question of food or drink, or in the matter of festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These things are a shadow cast by the coming reality — and the body that casts the shadow belongs to the king. (2:16-17)

For Paul, the best kind of knowledge is the relational understanding of knowing Jesus, not just the esoteric knowledge of the false teachers for whom Jesus was more of a concept than a person (2:2-3).

Paul also emphasizes the relational side of baptism, something some of us today may have forgotten too.  Baptism is first and foremost about being buried and raised with Jesus (2:12).  Water baptism is always imitation of and a mysterious participation in the more important reality of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection; it is never the point itself.

Maybe that is a sign of all false teaching: it promotes a religion without a full and personal relationship with Jesus.

What do you think?

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Colossians 1: Jesus Is Enough

Jesus is cool.  He just isn’t the be all, end all.  He was a good man.  He taught good things.  But he is not sufficient enough to handle the weight of all of your cares, needs, and expectations.

Or is he?

In various ways we hear the same message the Colossian Christians would have been hearing.  Jesus is great but you need more than just Jesus.  You need Jesus plus religious rituals.  Jesus plus the law.  Jesus plus knowledge.  Jesus plus rigorous asceticism that shows your spiritual strength.  Or Jesus plus carnal indulgence without spiritual affect, showing your spiritual strength.  Or today we might say, Jesus plus a 401k plan.  Jesus plus some good counseling.  Jesus plus a group of friends.  Jesus plus church.  Jesus plus good works.  Jesus plus a good education.  Jesus plus career success.  Jesus plus a good marriage.

Not that there is anything wrong with taking advantage of the help and blessings that can come from most of these “pluses.”

Right from the start, Paul makes us face whether we think Jesus is enough to complete our lives.  Do we think Jesus is the center of our life; or is Jesus the add-on, the value added element, the plus in a life that is being lived just like everyone else in the world?  We can tell from the letter that the false teaching threatening the Colossian church didn’t think Jesus was sufficient.  If we are introspective enough, we can look at our own lives and tell whether we think Jesus is sufficient for life.

In Colossians 1, Paul offers the following assertions about the deep meaning and value to be found in the person of Jesus:

  • Paul starts with the most important and fundamental point of all: Jesus is the embodiment of God (1:15, 19).  When you have Jesus you actually have God within you.
  • Jesus reigns over our home because God “transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son” (1:13).  He is in charge of our reality.
  • As he was the power that brought about creation (1:16), Jesus is the very reason we exist.
  • Jesus is the reason we do not fear God’s wrath (1:20, 22). We now have reconciliation, peace, and are viewed by God without accusation.
  • As the “firstborn from the realms of the dead” (1:18), Jesus is the reason we can be assured of our own resurrection.
  • We will all submit to something, and Jesus is our best object of submission.  In a wordplay in 1:15-18 on the variations of the word “head,” Paul makes it clear that Jesus holds this position in reality, thus life is better lived in line with that reality.
  • In a truly difficult verse, Paul explains that it is now our job to “complete” the unfinished work of Jesus (1:24).  The only thing that can be unfinished or “lacking” in the work of Jesus must be the part that depends on us: to be his hands and feet in this world today.  Thus, Jesus becomes the purpose behind our mission in life.
  • When the King is “living within you as the hope of glory” (1:27), Jesus is our reason for hope.
  • Jesus is the core of our message, as “he is the one we are proclaiming” (1:28a).
  • Jesus is also our way to maturity as we “grow up” and become “complete” in him (1:28b)

It sounds like Paul thinks Jesus is more than just an add-on to a life that is looking elsewhere for meaning, security, and hope.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Colossians

If one thinks that Paul wrote the other Prison Epistles, most agree that Colossians was authored by the Apostle Paul while in prison likely in Rome sometime before AD 61 when Colossae and the Colossian church were ravaged by an earthquake.  Interestingly, Paul had never been to Colossae when he wrote this letter.  Epaphras, who likely started the church in Colossae, had just come to Paul in Rome and reported on the progress of the church and its challenges (1:8).  Paul writes this letter in response as a form of encouragement.

Much of the background of Colossians revolves around a false teaching in the church or some to come their way that is often called the Colossian Heresy.  The Colossian Christians are or will be tempted to leave the simple gospel of grace through Christ alone for a set of teachings that emphasize asceticism (2:16, 21), everyday wisdom (2:8, 23), veneration of angels (2:18), and the insufficiency of Christ to fulfill the fundamental needs of life (1:15-20; 2:9).  Over 45 different theories have been given for who exactly these false teachers were in Colossae.  These theories usually include bits of Judaism, Gnosticism, Greco-Roman philosophy, and pagan religions from that area mixed together with Christianity.

This is the first time we have come this year to Gnosticism so an explanation is in order, especially as many who study Colossians believe the heresy was an early version of Gnosticism mixed with Judaism.  We know that by the second century AD there was a Christian philosophy in place in many churches that accepted a dualistic worldview.  A Gnostic thought the world was composed of two parts: the evil and degrading physical layer of life, and the pure and edifying spiritual aspects of life.  A human, for instance, was a good spiritual being trapped in an evil prison of flesh.  Sin comes as we follow our physical desires, and redemption can be found by listening and developing our spiritual self.  (You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “Hey, I know Christians who believe that today!”  Yes, there is a dualistic Christian worldview that still exists today, but I would question whether it is biblical.  Is God not the Creator and Redeemer of all we are?)  Consider how Gnosticism would affect beliefs and ethics.  They did not believe that Jesus was physical.  Jesus did not die a physical death on a cross, it only seemed that way.  Our greatest mission is to escape this physical world, not redeem it.  There were also two opposing views on how to deal with this physical body we live in: 1) deny your flesh and beat it into submission to your superior spiritual willpower, and 2) indulge your flesh and satisfy your physical desires wantonly showing that you have the spiritual strength within your pure soul to wallow in the mire of life and not be affected adversely by your physical behaviors. If an early form of Gnosticism was present in Colossae, the details of the letter suggest it was of the ascetic variety.

Personally, I don’t think we can downplay the fact that the main threat to the early Christians in Asia Minor at this time were Christian and non-Christian versions of Judaism.  Note that circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, holy days, and food laws — all hallmarks of Judaism — are mentioned often in Colossians.  In my opinion, the likeliest explanation for the Colossian Heresy is that the young Gentile Christians of Colossae were being be swayed away from the gospel of grace alone in Christ by a legalistic version of Jewish Gnosticism that emphasized law observance, physical asceticism, and the belief that the work of Jesus was not enough to save people.

In this letter, we will see Paul warn the Colossian Christians that there is nothing fulfilling or lasting in this “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8) because true fullness, power, wisdom and life are found in Christ (2:3, 9-10; 3:4).  His desire is that “you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (4:12).

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