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Colossians

Warning

Colossians  2:1-12

In composing this delicate letter to people he has never met, Paul is at some pains to explain why he is interested in them at all. If you think of all the energy expended in various church factions – and how little result – you should understand the reason. If you are concerned with extending your own power and authority, you cannot write this type of letter. On the other hand, Paul is confident in his authority: Apostle to the Gentiles. As always happens within the kingdom of God, when God gives authority, he gives responsibility too.

Paul’s struggles for the Colossians

1I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

We are rather accustomed to telling someone, “I will pray for you.” Often we say this because we have a desire to help – but there seems to be no other way. Prayer for someone else is what we do when we’re out of options. As such, it tends to get lazy.

Have you ever had anyone offer to struggle in prayer for you? That’s what Paul tells the Colossians (and Laodiceans, and others) that he has been doing for them. He struggles for the church he loves. There are two things he goes after:

  • First, that they may be encouraged in heart.
  • Next, that they may be united in love.

Why these two? We may see this in a variety of situations, but here are three:

  • There is the ordinary dreariness of life. Things go on pretty much like they did last week. It’s easy for us to “gray out” – just going through the motions. We need that encouragement of heart. It’s also a time when the pinpricks of our fellow Christians tend to be amplified, causing disharmony over the most trivial items. For this we need union in love.
  • There are the normal life events we meet. When a man dies, we often say to the widow, “If there’s anything you need, please ask.” What a time for encouragement of heart! We should be speaking of the glory of the resurrection. And what a time for practical Christian charity! We should be showing the world the union of love we have in Christ.
  • Then – it always seems to pop up – there is the real danger of persecution. Those who persecute us think in the world’s way; if we can just chew on them a bit, their bubble will burst. What a time for encouragement! There are churches today who face that. Dare we proclaim the union of love to them by way of encouragement?
Desired Result

All this is so that his readers might know “the mystery of Christ.” It was veiled to the Jews, hidden from the Gentiles – but now is revealed to the world. That mystery is the coming of Christ.

Christ, the Word of God, is now to be our source of knowledge and wisdom. At first glance this seems absurd; despite the ravings of some of our more fundamentalist brothers, the Bible is not a science textbook.[1] It’s much too important to be that. In it we find the wisdom that guides us and the knowledge that gives us eternal life – and we find this nowhere else.

The importance of starting well

Paul praises his readers for two things:

  • They’ve made a fine start at becoming mature Christians.
  • The are doing so with the order that comes from faith.

That last is important. When you begin to systematically put things together, that’s when you begin to understand the whole of them. For example, suppose you were the world’s first butterfly collector. At first you would have only the most beautiful ones you could catch. But after some time you’d begin to get curious; just how many are there? Are there others in other lands? What part does their coloration play in their lives? Order and method, careful observation would answer those questions, eventually. So it is with Christ. Be diligent and orderly in your study of him, and you will be greatly rewards.

There is one warning in this: the deception of worldly philosophy. By his praise Paul tells these people they are on the right track – now just keep going that way.

Christian Growth

6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

The operating word in this passage is “continue.” You have it right, just keep practicing it. You received Christ as Lord, now continue to live in him.

Paul uses an agricultural phrasing here: it is reminiscent of Jesus talking of the true vine and its branches. It’s worth another look.

Living in Him
  • We are “rooted” in him. What does that mean? It means that our past, our desires, our way of living come from him. Some despise it as tradition; we see it as experience that works.
  • We are to be “built up.” How do body builders do it? Practice! Exercise – in this case, exercise the faith.
  • We need to be continually strengthened in the faith. That’s why you are encouraged to pray, study, meditate – regularly.

If you do this, Paul tells us, you will soon be overflowing with thankfulness. At first glance that seems a little odd. But let me offer you a parable.

Suppose you are driving a large truck – in a snowstorm. You’ve already put the tire chains on, but the snow is deep and treacherous. Along comes the snow plow. As it goes by, you fall in behind him and put your wheels into his track. That can be difficult, but as long as you’re doing that, you know the truck will keep moving. At first that’s difficult, but as you get the hang of it, you begin to feel pretty grateful to the guy driving that snowplow. Especially if you’re a new truck driver who’s never driven a truck in snow before.

Responsibility

Again, Paul warns us that we are responsible for telling the fake from the real. There will be plenty of fakes. How do you know who they are?

  • One sign is that they base themselves upon human traditions – even if they’re not called traditions. There are churches that are proud of the fact that their worship is called “contemporary” – they’ve always done it that way, so it’s traditional.
  • They operate using the basic principles of the world. I always worry about an evangelistic organization which does market research surveys.

The Fullness of Christ

9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature,£ not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

The argument, you see, is very simple. You’ve been given a gift from God – the fullness in Christ. Since in Christ all the fullness of God lives, you can see that this is a very precious gift indeed. Understand what this word “fullness” means. It’s a Greek word which carries with it the idea that you have all you need for whatever purpose it refers to. In this instance, Christ is all we need for our salvation and resurrection.

We have been given

Let’s take this one step at a time:

  • We, That’s all of us, not just the selected few – everyone who names the name of Jesus. We have no choice about others; the choice is ours. We are responsible.
  • Have been. It is a past tense event. Christ was crucified once and for all on the Cross. It’s history.
  • Given. It is a gift; the grace of God. It is a very precious gift, as it cost Jesus his life. That makes it all the more special.
The fullness of Christ

How has God the Father given fullness to Christ? Consider this passage from Hebrews, chapter 5:

8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

He became perfect (i.e., perfectly suited for the task) by suffering.

In so doing, God has granted him all authority in heaven and on earth. If you are a Christian, you acknowledge that authority. Indeed, we call upon the Lord for salvation. We do so in baptism – a type of burial and resurrection.

Please, note two things, both past tense:

  • You chose this. No one pointed a gun at your head and said, “be baptized.” Christians are volunteers.
  • You did so because you had faith in God. You believed he can and does forgive; you believed he can and does love his children; you believe that he can and will raise the dead.

When you started on this adventure called Christianity, you called upon the power of God to save. That power is still there; we need only to keep the faith.


[1] Go read 2 Timothy 3:14-17 again. It says nothing about being a science textbook. There are more important things at stake here.

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