The apostle Paul, the church in Colossae, and the rest of us

Andy, our pastor, is out of town this weekend for the state swim meet and he asked me to preach in his place.  I said I would, Lord willing (!), and as far as I know I’ll be preaching page one of Colossians.  Page one in my Bible is Colossians 1:1 through 2:5, and that amounts to the “indicative” part of the letter — the part where Paul tells us “what is.”  In 2:6 he starts with a “therefore” and so begins the “imperative” part of the letter, telling us “what should be” because of “what is.”

What drew me to page one is the way that Paul seems to weave the gospel through that whole section – starting with the effect of the gospel in the lives of the believers in Colossae, then on to the heart of the gospel in the supremacy of Jesus Christ in creating all things and in saving people like you and me who were hostile towards God, and finally to the continuation of the gospel in time and the world through the proclaiming of Christ by people like Paul and so many others after him.

So I was reading through the chapter on Colossians in An Introduction to the New Testament by Don Carson, Doug Moo and Leon Morris, and it seemed to me that their summary paragraphs were worth repeating here:

Paul had never been to Colossae and had not met members of the church there (2:1).  The love and the tender concern for them that comes through in every line of the letter are all the more significant.  This letter brings out, as perhaps no other New Testament writing does, the truth that all believers form one church.  Paul is emphatic that in the church there is “no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (3:11).  We belong together, we who are members of the body of Christ, and we cannot be indifferent to the concerns and the interests of other members.  The letter makes clear for all of us the importance of concern for the whole church and not only that little segment in which we live.

But along with that emphasis on the oneness of the church, we should heed the teaching of the letter that there are differences that distinguish believers.  Paul gives directions to wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters (3:18 – 4:1).  All are servants of Christ and must live as such, but that does not obliterate relationships in society.  Our positions differ, and while a common obligation to live out the faith rests on all of us, the precise form that takes differs according to our circumstances.

In every generation Christians are tempted to go along with the philosophy of the times.  It is never a comfortable thing to be out of step with what our community holds to be the best thinking of the day.  But that thinking may be out of step with God, who made us all.  Paul’s warning about “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world” (2:8) is never out of season.  At the same time, we should listen to the warnings about distracting religious practices, the observance of religious festivals that detract from what is central (2:16), and the habit of making rules the essence of religion (2:20-21).  Such practices generate a false humility and really promote unspirituality (2:18).  Nothing can make up for losing connection with the head [Jesus Christ] (2:19).

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