When Wil Owens became the pastor of Clovis Evangelical Free Church (where Cheryl and I previously attended), his first sermon series was from the book of Colossians and from that series, the church developed its new mission statement: In all things, Christ supreme! In a nutshell, that is the theme of this amazing letter. There is no way I can do it justice in this blog, so remember, these posts are not exhaustive but just a few devotional thoughts to help you as your read through the bible with us over the next three years. Let me break up my thoughts by chapter:
- In v. 4-5, Paul lists the triumvirate of Christian virtues – faith, hope, and love. Most of us are familiar with these three at the end of Paul’s famous “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13:13), but we see them mentioned here in Colossians and next week, we will see them again in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. These “graces” are always present in the life of a Christian.
- This year, my hope for our church is that we would begin to develop a stronger, more vital culture of prayer; that we would become a praying church and not just a church that prays. One way to do this is to use the prayers of scripture as a template for our own prayers, and this one in Colossians 1:9-12 is a magnificent sample. Paul prays that the Colossian church would 1) be filled with the knowledge of God’s will; 2) walk worthy of the Lord; 3) bear fruit in every good work; and 4) be strengthened to endure. I’ll make a deal with you guys: if you pray that for me, I” pray that for you!
- Colossians 1:15-20 is about as high a Christology (belief about the person of Christ) as you can have. Don’t let people tell you that the bible never declares Jesus to be God! Horsefeathers! (Pardon my language.) Just look at the way Paul describes Jesus to the Colossian church:
- Firstborn – meaning the preeminent one, not first of many.
- Image of invisible God – He reveals who God is. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen God.
- Creator – Everything was created by, through, and for Jesus.
- Eternal – He was before all things.
- Head of the church – This is a big deal, not just an aside.
- Fully God – The fullness of deity dwells bodily in him.
- Reconciler – All that was broken is being renewed and our separation from God healed.
- Beginning in v. 4, Paul begins to address the theological problem that gave rise to him writing this letter. There has been a lot of ink spilled by commentators over the exact nature of this controversy, but one of the most persuasive arguments I have come across is set forth in a book written by Clint Arnold by the memorable title of The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface Between Christianity and Folk Belief in Colossae. There’s a title that’s bound to catch your eye and make you want to pick it up and read (and fall asleep!). But the gist of Arnold’s work is that the problem Paul had to address in Colossae was one of syncretism, meaning to combine or to mix. Specifically, he argues that the Colossians were trying to “combine Paul’s teachings about Christ with local pagan and Jewish folk beliefs that ended up keeping them captive to the fear of evil spirits, dependent upon the power of magic, and blind to the liberating power of the indwelling Christ.”. Even today, we all probably know people who sprinkle a little Christianity onto their own spirituality and call it good. Paul knew the danger of such a lie.
- Look at Colossians 2:13. Doesn’t that remind you of Ephesians 2:1-5? Once again, Paul sets forth the gospel in a nutshell. Jesus paid our debt, redeeming us and in so doing, pulled the plug on Satan’s power over us.
- Verses 16ff give a little more insight into the false religion the Colossians were developing. A quick way to put the problem is to say that they were following the shadow instead of the real thing. I’m from Texas and anyone from Texas loves Dr. Pepper. Now, please don’t offer me a Dr. Pepper knockoff like Dr. Skipper or Mr. Pibb. They aren’t the same at all! Anyone who knows Dr. Pepper won’t be fooled and if given a choice, will always pick the real stuff over the copy. Likewise, Paul tells the Colossians not to put all their eggs in the “do this, don’t do that” basket. The law pointed to Christ but it isn’t Christ. All our attempts at looking righteous and depriving ourselves (asceticism) are wasted attempts at reconciliation with God. Formal religious practices and ceremonies may point to the real thing, but they aren’t the ultimate answer. As Paul says in v. 17, “These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.“ Christ has already triumphed over sin, death, and the devil on the cross. Why would you place your hope in anything or anyone else?
Good question, don’t you think?