The Problem with Add-Ons (Col 2: 4-10)

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In Colossians 2 we start to see the real reason why Paul is writing this letter. He says: “I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.” He was worried about the influx of newer non-Christian ideas.

But there was a problem: I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ.”  He;s trying to encourage them to stay firm.

6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.”

And now he sketches the problem at hand:

8-10 Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly.” (Col 2: 4-10)

The letter to Colossian believers was written against a kind of “Christianity plus…” thinking.  Can you have “Christianity plus…” Think of the add-ons on a computer program: you sign up for one thing and lots of extras attach themselves.

It’s like marrying someone and all her family moves in with you.

Colosse was a new, early church that grew out of Judaism from an evangelism campaign by one of Paul’s young teams. They were in a tough, Greek, pagan culture and being influenced and confused by all cults and false religions around.

So one of Paul’s traveling teams, led by a local named Epaphras, helped these Colossians embrace the Way of Jesus. They accepted his teaching and responded to the Holy Spirit but then came a whole barrage of possible add-ons. Christianity plus…something else…

False teachings, mysticism, philosophy, legalism, and traditions seemed very strong counter-influences: the young believers were under siege. Some of these additions seemed very credible, plausible and not wholly anti-Christ.

So why not have both?

For example: Jesus came out of Judaism, so why not strap Judaism on to what was being taught. Wasn’t that ok? Some pushed it.

Again, most of these believers would have come from the local culture and local beliefs: which included family loyalty, community participation and identity. It’s a bit much to ask me to just cut loose from all of these. Can they be added on?

Some would have delved more deeply into contemporary philosophy, like the stoics, the ascetics and the Gnostics. Couldn’t “Christianity plus” elements of these be acceptable?Some still had the draw of friendships and family that would pull them into their version of worldliness> Were all these things to be totally shunned? And if some could be enjoyed…could they not be added on to Christ?

We haven’t changed so very much have we?

Alan Kreider spoke a similar word to our own generation: “Missiologists have in recent years begun to think seriously about inculturation, and historians have begun to learn from them. When the Christian message is inserted into a cultural framework, if the messengers are insensitive to the local culture the result can be cultural imperialism. On the other hand, if they grant too much hegemony to the local culture, the result at best is ‘syncretism’ and at worst ‘Christo-paganism.’ Things are most wholesome when sensitive interchange takes place leading to ‘a truly critical symbiosis.’ But for this to happen, there must be a second stage – a time of ‘pastoral follow-up work,’ of catechizing and life formation enabling the new faith to express its genius in the institutions and reflexes of its new host culture.”

And this is precisely what Paul was attempting.  He wasn’t building a new legalism -perish the thought! -and neither was he interested in taking these people out of their cultural context. Such a thing is not really possible. We are all, profoundly “in the world.” But we are also “not of it.” Paul sought to challenge these add-ons. Christianity was the solution, but the new fancy philosophical theories were as catchy and powerful then as today’s false teachers and their deceptive TV ministries that fleece the flock and leave people empty and devastated along with a bad reputation in the wake. Thus, the church was in a mess.

So Paul writes. What does he write? Generally, one crucial message. I remember an interviewer saying to me in the crucial short-list interview: “The main point is that the main point stays the main point.” And for Paul, the point was as clear as day: “Stick to the main point to be faithful for our Lord Jesus Christ so God continues to pour out His grace so we can have peace in abundance.”

As I said, it’s no different for us today. There are always add-ons that slow down the efficiency of the discipleship process. So Paul keeps it simple: My counsel for you is simple and straightforward.” Don’t trust anything complicated! “Just go ahead with what you’ve been given.” He accepts the validity of their Christian background and builds upon it. “You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught.” Anything else  is “not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. ” In a wonderful sense, following Jesus is not rocket science. It’s not even hard. It’s what you were designed for ! Stay cool. Stay close. Stay in love. Check your batteries.

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We’re still standing! (Col 2:1-5)

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This battle I am facing is huge. And I want you to know I do it for you, for all those at Laodicea, and for everyone else (even those who have never seen my face). I’m working hard to comfort and encourage them so that they will be knit together—that many hearts would become one through His love. I do it so they will be rich in understanding and have full knowledge of God’s mystery, which is the Anointed One Himself— in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed. I only tell you this to warn you about those who would try and deceive you with their arguments. They seem plausible enough; but in the end, they are false. Even though I cannot be there in the body, my spirit is with you; and I’m happy to know of your good order and your solid commitment to the Anointed One, our Liberating King.”

At the heart of the good news is a mystery hidden in ancient Scriptures but now exposed to the world through the lives of the church’s holy ones. Paul never refers to just one “holy one”; he always uses the plural. He knows that holiness is a corporate endeavour. It’s a mutual lifestyle, not an individual accomplishment by a few celebrities.

Sainthood is definitively not an accomplishment. Each of us has to be called and equipped by God, but we also have to be accompanied by others who’ve answered the call. Those who say “yes” to Jesus become the church, the company of those rescued from darkness and ultimately from death. Paul is fond of calling the church the body of the risen Jesus. Our own hopes and dreams for the future are concentrated in Him. Not only do we dwell in Him, but He also dwells in us.

Us together.

However, there’s another side to it. Paul worked extremely hard to bring groups of believers to corporate maturity. It was his life’s work. It was his passion, privilege and constant sorrow. In this passage, he describes the endeavour as a “huge battle.” He goes on: “I’m working hard to comfort and encourage them so that they will be knit together.” It takes time to trust and time to develop relational unity. Family doesn’t happen overnight. The words used here are significant. “Comfort” means to put strength in. “Encourage” means to put heart in. Together they speak of an emotional maturity that is not easily fazed or flustered by circumstances. And this strength and courage results in a knitting together “that many hearts would become one through His love.” We are pushing towards this, but it is His love which forms the hub of the wheel towards which all our spokes are leading. That is the central reality without which there is no cohesion or staying power at all. Just a bunch of disparate bits.

And then Paul cuts to the reason: “I do it so they will be rich in understanding and have full knowledge of God’s mystery, which is the Anointed One Himself— in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed.”

It’s fascinating how often Paul refers to the need of the believers to have the right information. Quite often, one senses that it is not inspiration that builds up the local church but information. They need- I think Paul is saying- to be built up in their knowledge of Christ. That doesn’t mean so that they can lord it over the less knowledgeable or parade their badges of merit in some way, but simply that they can know just who they are in Christ and work from that perspective.

That information has to be accessed and assessed with Spirit-led wisdom, gentleness, and insight. Love is our interpreter. Paul is saying: “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery!”

The picture is of one of those Roman army shield arrangements where one soldier provides protection for his fellow and all the shields are interlinked. We need the support and consideration of those with whom we work.  “I only tell you this to warn you about those who would try and deceive you with their arguments.” The battle that rages is one of deception and confusion. There were strange new ideas seeping into the church and Paul is warning them before it gets too serious.

It’s only like today when we get crazy fundamentalists in one corner, wanting everything one way and not accepting any nuance -and crazy liberals in the other, accepting everything and leaving it all up to the individual (and, us sane ones in the middle, right?). We have a confusion of denominations, warring over doctrine, worship style and Bible translations… until you realise that pretty everything can be the cause of a split if you try hard enough!

In Paul’s day the heresies were different, but they were certainly there, and causing just as much trouble. “I only tell you this to warn you about those who would try and deceive you with their arguments. They seem plausible enough; but in the end, they are false.”

So what should we do? At this point Paul simply commends them: “I’m happy to know of your good order and your solid commitment to the Anointed One, our Liberating King.”  He offers a couple of strategies for coping with doctrinal disorder. The first is a commitment to one another. That’s what “good order” implies. It’s that picture of the interlocking shields. Watch out for one another. Keep abreast of the situation. Stay alert for one another. The second strategy is to keep close to Jesus. He commends their“solid commitment to the Anointed One, our Liberating King.”  He repeats that same emphasis on Jesus as “anointed” and “liberating.” These are the Christ-descriptors that enable us to cope with crisis and division. We stay close to one another, circling the wagons and staying watchful; and we stay close to Jesus with a “solid commitment” and experience him in the liberating power of HIs anointing and His powerful Spirit-presence. 

Remember that old song? “And with Christ in the vessel, you can laugh at the storm.” We’re still standing because Christ is central. He is centre-stage. He calls the shots. We stand in His anointing and in the freedom of His liberation. And we are solidly committed to Him, despite all our inadequacies and personal faltering, we stand in Him. And with each other too. We stand together.

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Paul: The Work of the Word (Col 1:28-29)

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“We are preaching Him—spreading the Word to all with equal amounts of wise warning and instruction—so that, at the final judgment, we will be able to present everyone to the Creator fully mature because of what Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, has done. 29 This is why I continue to toil and struggle—because His amazing power and energy surge within me.”  (Col 1: 28-29)

This passage is a subtle blend of spiritual gifting, practical sense, perspicacity and optimism. Paul knows what he can do himself, both in terms of limitations and strength. He knows the things that he’s good at. It’s foolish to pretend that you’re not good at something when you are. It’s a kind of inverted pride. Real humility – by contrast- admits its own strength but puts it in perspective to what God is doing. God is working in you, using every ounce of you, to bring himself glory and to demonstrate his kingdom through you. It’s a sheer waste of time and a kind of an ego-trip, to pretend yourself worse than you are. It’s the sort of thing you do when you’re secretly hoping someone else will disagree with your self-deprecation  and sing your praises!

So look at that last verse, for example. Paul knows the high level of determination in his own character. He knows he is forceful, zealous and indefatigable. And we know this too, because this was how he behaved before he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus! But there’s a new note here. Being Paul, he admits “I continue to toil and struggle” but the driving force of his motivation is “because His amazing power and energy surge within me.” God energises me. God keeps me cooking.

That sense of watching and working with what God is doing spills over into everything Paul does. We know he’s a learned man, an intellectual, and a very competent scholar and teacher, so those qualities too come into the mix: “We are preaching Him—spreading the Word to all with equal amounts of wise warning and instruction.” Paul brings his intellect and teaching gifts to the table, along with his determination, but it is Christ he preaches, and no more of that old-time religion that made him once stand by approvingly as someone was brutally killed before his eyes.

And now he spreads the word about God’s loving grace in Jesus with wisdom, discernment, rebuke and instruction in equal proportions. That’s an interesting concept. It speaks of balance and providing something nourishing and palatable. There’s a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. We proceed gently, courteously, warning and rebuking everyone we meet, but in words that they are going to receive.

Truth does not confront, you know. Mostly it dawns.

And he has a constant eye to the big picture of what God is doing. The big picture in this context is the final judgement of Christ. God is not going to let things just keep rolling on without the announcement of a coming judgement. It’s like those posters that say: “Electric Fence- You have been warned.” There is danger ahead. If you keep on in this direction, you have only yourself to blame. “We are preaching Him—spreading the Word to all with equal amounts of wise warning and instruction—so that, at the final judgment, we will be able to present everyone to the Creator fully mature…” 

Paul is discipling people, just as Jesus commanded. The road of discipleship is like a course at university. It has many parts to it. There’s a lot of information to absorb, and a lot of practical application to take on board. You have to be tested again and again. Sometimes it’s rigorous. In fact, it gets harder as you go along. There are points at which you feel like giving up and some, indeed, do not make it. But the reward at the end of the process is that that you are fully validated and approved. You are now in a position to demonstrate in your life the things that you have learnt.

And you are summoned to disciple others.

So all of this is a process, a huge, corporate process of kingdom building, not in buildings, or businesses, or organisations, or mega-churches, or celebrity, or even religious success-stories, but in fully mature people. “People who know their God are strong and do exploits.” That’s what Paul was about, and it took every fibre of who he was to do it.

But in case this sounds like hard work -which of course it is!- there’s one more thing to consider. It is Christ who has called you. It is Christ who is in you, the very hope of glory. It is Christ towards whom you are journeying. He is initiator, journeying companion and final destination. Everything finds its alpha and omega in Him. “We will be able to present everyone to the Creator fully mature because of what Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, has done.”

Because of what Jesus has done. And he has done it because of the three descriptors that follow: He is anointed (and we share that anointing). He is liberator (and we are both delivered and sent out as deliverers to people in bondage). He is king (and we operate in that royal authority).

So that’s the verse I need for my today.

  • Lord, give me eyes that see the range of possibilities in front of me today.
  • Lord, open up the opportunities and give me the courage to wade into them.
  • Lord, help me to know myself thoroughly and use every gift like a wise mechanic with his toolbox, knowing that it’s you that gives me strength, it’s you that gifts me and its you who creates all this mad mystery of life and brings it to its conclusion.
  • And Lord, teach me how to work with the family and friends to whom you have called me.
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The very hope of glory! (Col 1:25-27)

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 “I am a servant appointed by God to preach the Word of God until it is known to you and all over—what I am talking about is nothing less than 26 the mystery of the ages! What was hidden for ages, generations and generations, is now being revealed to His holy ones. 27 He decided to make known to them His blessing to the nations; the glorious riches of this mystery is the indwelling of the Anointed in you! The very hope of glory.” (Col 1: 25-27)

This is the Voice translation of the New Testament. It presents Paul’s long (and sometimes convoluted) sentences in spartan simplicity. I find that very helpful as an aid to comprehension. It unpacks the meaning in a way that makes explicit the driving mechanism of Paul’s life and ministry.

“I am a servant.”

Of course, we know full well that Jesus said “I no longer call you servants but friends.” We know too that Paul himself taught about our adoption as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. I am, indeed, a child of God and no longer a slave – or a servant- to fear. But there is no contradiction here, just a reminder of another side of a multi-faceted truth. We see that truth in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'”  And when we face our Maker on that final day, we look to hear the words “Well done my good and faithful servants.”

That is to say, we are -and remain- servants. We are summoned to serve and to pour out our lives as a ministry. So here, Paul reminds us of that fact, that calling, and claims it for himself. I am a servant.

But that’s not all. He goes on: “I am a servant appointed by God to preach the Word of God…”  It’s good to know the direction and focus of our ministry.  For myself, I sensed a specific calling to preach and teach. That’s what I’ve been about for all my adult life. For the bit before that, perhaps the less said the better, but even then, I was a preacher in training. To an extent, and in a certain sense, your ministry is what you do already. It;s also the thing that comes most naturally to you and you feel comfortable with. God loves you and uses you like a wise carpenter selecting the right piece of timber for a specific job.  Paul claimed to be a preacher of the word of God. He said he was “appointed.” That means “validated” or “credentialled.” He expected others, like Timothy, to bear the fruits of their ministry and to see things happen around them. He called it “proving” one’s ministry. You are known by your fruits. 

It’s interesting, then, to recall the straightforward way in which Paul presents himself as a preacher. To the Corinthian Christians (in 1 Cor 2:1), he said: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God….” He was trained for eloquence and “human wisdom” but this appointment was from God and required God-shaped approval.

What was that? He goes on: “My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” That was the approval that he was looking for -and it’s the one I seek too!

But Paul went further: In 2 Cor 10:1 he acknowledges what other people say about him, that “I am humble when present in your midst, but bold toward you when absent.” And, quoting the gossip, that his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” (2 Cor 10:10)  And in the next chapter he says, diffidently, “Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things…” (2 Cor 11:5-6)

So Paul’s calling to preach and teach was nothing -ultimately- to do with human ability but everything to do with obedience and anointing. And it bore fruit, and changed the world.

That’s because of what he says next: “I am a servant appointed by God to preach the Word of God until it is known to you and all over—what I am talking about is nothing less than the mystery of the ages!”

In other words, his subject is so large and his insider-information so fantastic that he knows it is utterly world-changing. The secret was that the covenant of Israel was going large. It was news for the whole world, through Jesus Christ. This was staggering. A game-changer. Religion was being abolished and a God-man relationship was being established like nothing anyone had ever seen before.

It was the word made flesh. The speaking energy of God, encapsulated in a man, and bearing fruit in peoples’ lives, changing character, redeeming communities, impacting empires, and toppling corrupt rulers. This was heady stuff.

“What was hidden for ages, generations and generations, is now being revealed to His holy ones. [that’s the new People of God in Christ.] He decided to make known to them His blessing to the nations; the glorious riches of this mystery is the indwelling of the Anointed in you! The very hope of glory.”

Christ in you! Emmanuel. God with us. The hope of ages coming to roost, incarnating Himself in our lives. No wonder he didn’t worry about his hermeneutical excellence! He had Jesus!

The very hope of glory! Remember that Transfiguration scene when Jesus shone with a brilliant light? That was the Christ that Paul encountered on the Damascus Road, and the same one that John talked about when he said “We beheld his glory!” and Peter testified to “when we were on the holy mount.” The hope of glory is in you.

And hope is not a wish but an anchor. We are moored to something -someone- utterly fixed and powerful. We need never be ashamed. We need only to stay the course, rooted in faith, not depending upon our own resources,  but acknowledging His lordship and bearing His word for our world.

 

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Poured Out (Col 1:24)

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“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”(NIV)

“Now I rejoice in what I’ve suffered on your behalf, but even more suffering is ahead for me as I take on and complete what remains of the Anointed’s suffering for the sake of His body, the church. “(Voice)

Here are two versions of Col 1:24. It’s a powerful verse, packed with meaning and easy to misconstrue. In its simplest terms it says this: Paul suffers, and he says that in his sufferings he fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

But what does that mean? Surely the sufferings of Christ are complete?

Yes and no. What’s missing is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. We must carry those sufferings to them. And those who do so – in a sense- fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others.

Paul sees his own suffering as the visible reenactment of the sufferings of Christ so that they will see Christ’s love for them. It’s the polar opposite of self-indulgence. It’s being poured out…

Similar words are used in Philippians 2:30. Epaphroditus was in the church at Philippi. When the church there gathered support for Paul they decided to send itto Paul in Rome with this trusted man. En route, however, Epaphroditus almost died.

You should honour him, says Paul, “Because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete [i.e., fill up] what was lacking in your service to me.” It’s virtually the same phrase.

So how was the service of the Philippians to Paul “lacking” and in what sense did Epaphroditus “fill up” that lack? Marvin Vincent put it this way:

The gift to Paul was a gift of the church as a body. It was a sacrificial offering of love. What was lacking, and what would have been grateful to Paul and to the church alike, was the church’s presentation of this offering in person. This was impossible, and Paul represents Epaphroditus as supplying this lack by his affectionate and zealous ministry.

Christ has prepared a love offering for the world by suffering and dying for sinners. It is full and lacking in nothing—except one thing, a personal presentation by Christ himself to the nations of the world and the people of your workplace. God’s answer to this lack is to call the people of Christ (people like Paul) to present the afflictions of Christ to the world—to carry them from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

In doing this we “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” We finish what they were designed for, namely, a personal presentation to the world of people who do not know about their infinite worth.

But notice how Paul says this in verse 24: He says that it is in his sufferings and in his flesh—that is, his actual, suffering body that he does his share in filling up the afflictions of Christ. So Paul sees a very close connection between his sufferings and Christ’s afflictions.

What this means, I think, is that God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people. God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we offer the Christ of the cross to people, they see the Christ of the cross in us. We are to make the afflictions of Christ real for people by the afflictions we experience in offering him to them, and living the life of love he lived.

The suffering love of Christ for sinners is seen in the suffering love of his people for sinners.

I think what we see in Colossians 1:24 is the living out of Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” The pathway of salvation is the pathway of “losing one’s life for the sake of the gospel.”

The point is that taking the gospel to people ordinarily requires sacrifice and suffering, a losing of life or a denying of self. This is the way Christ means for his saving sufferings to be taken to the world, through the sufferings of his people. Suffering is God’s strategy for completing the Great Commission.

Notice the word rejoice in verse 24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” The Calvary road is not a joyless road. It is a painful one, but it is a profoundly happy one. You can’t escape pain; why not make it meaningful? When we choose the fleeting pleasures of comfort and security over the sacrifices and sufferings of missions and evangelism and ministry and love, we choose against joy.

Why get bogged down in self-indulgence when you can be spent out for others. “I am already being poured out as a drink offering…” (2 Timothy 4:6)

God is calling us  to live for the sake of the gospel and to do that through suffering. Christ chose suffering, it didn’t just happen to him. He chose it as the way to create and perfect the church. Now he calls us to choose the same journey. That is, he calls us to take up our cross and follow him on the Calvary road and deny ourselves and make sacrifices for the sake of presenting his suffering to the world and ministering to the church.

Oswald Chambers wrote this: “After you have gone through the fire, there will be nothing that will be able to trouble or depress you. When another crisis arises, you will realize that things cannot touch you as they used to do. What fire lies ahead in your life?Tell God you are ready to be poured out as an offering, and God will prove Himself to be all you ever dreamed He would be.”

 

Drawing from sermons by John Piper, Marvin Vincent and Oswald Chambers 🙂

 

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The Supremacy of Christ (Col 1: 15-17)

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Paul wants to describe Jesus to a group of new believers. He’s never met them and at this stage in the game, he’s not sure he ever will. He has spent a lot of time recently with a wonderful friend – one of the unsung heroes of the early church – called Epaphras, who is a believer from that town, and so he decides to send this man home with a letter, explaining Jesus. The journey is over 2000 km, over mountains and seas and is pretty dangerous. It’s possible he’s saying goodbye to Epaphras too. But such is the importance of the content of the letter, he decides to do it.

The letter is Colossians and the words about Jesus are simply staggering

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

It’s such a high view of who Jesus is. When people talk about Jesus they either talk top-down or bottom-up. That’s a rather childish way of saying they think of Jesus as either primarily a man who was somehow God (Achieved Godness? NO. “God was in him? Better) or as a God who “laid aside” his Godness to become man.

But Paul caps it all. Remember that he has spent his adult life with people who have seen and talked with Jesus. They’ve known him “in the flesh.” There could be no pulling the wool over their eyes or exaggerating the facts.

So the claim must be said to be substantiated. Here’s a newer version:

“He is the exact image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. 16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. 17 He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together.”

Think of his rule, his supremacy, his level of control.

Think too of the scale of ownership. “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Some of the words used in this section are words that elsewhere are used of demonic powers:  thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. These too are under the authority of the Christ. The things that are unseen are spiritual realities.

It must be so, mustn’t it? Otherwise you have a kind of dualism of equal entities. So the Bible has both – the authoritative creation of God and the rebellion of angels and the fall of Lucifer. But “all authority has been given to me….” said Jesus. He is the mirror of God -the exact image. Creation occurred “in him,” “through him” and “for him.” God spoke a word to create the world and the word was Christ. He is the speaking energy of God, the creative force of the Most High.

He is as close to God as the word is to the speaker. The word “firstborn” here doesn’t denote dependence so much as preeminence.. It speaks of inheritance, rule and authority. For, simultaneously, he is described as “before all things.” It reminds you of the “lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” And think too, of that word “Before Abraham was, I am.”

Is Jesus God? Man faces no greater question.

Today we live in an age and society where atheism appears to be on the rise. What is worse, modern day unbelief is often accompanied by an emotion-powered “devangelical” fervor of religious indifferentism. 

This lack of concern about Jesus’ claims of divinity exemplify the intellectual and spiritual stagnancy of our times. We live in a culture of complacency.

Yet, we must face this question, for it holds the prospect of eternal destiny in the balance. In the words of Pascal, “You are embarked. Which will you choose then?” Faith or rejection appear to be our two options.

When it comes to believing in something, however, it is important to have supporting evidence to help make an informed and responsible choice. Do Christians have such a thing as “good evidence” for their belief in the divinity of Christ? I would argue we do.

How can we know that Jesus was who he said he was—God, the second person of the eternal Trinity? Many Christians have turned to the great Oxford intellectual, C.S. Lewis, for answers. Most famously, they have turned to his classic work of Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity. Here the former atheist presents an argument known as the “Trilemma,” also known as the “Lord, liar, or lunatic” argument

Lewis says:

“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse.. I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

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“Presenting you holy…” (Colossians 1:22-23)

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“He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1: 22-23)

This is a powerful passage, isn’t it?

We see first the past tense of the opening verb.He has reconciled you.” That means, of course, that this action of reconciliation has happened in the past. It is something that has been done for you, like the ending of a war effected by the sacrifice of a country’s army. They died that we might live free.

And in this context, Jesus has died so that we might be reconciled with God. It’s a done deal, a past completed action. That verb in the past tense is worth considering thoughtfully. Without due consideration, you tend to think that there’s something remaining for you to do, that somehow, some way, it’s up to you to achieve a moral victory in the decisions that you henceforth make. But that’s not Christianity -it’s religion. And Jesus died to give a deathblow to religion.

In fact, it cannot be said too many times that Jesus is not seeking converts to a new religion, but bringing dead people alive. In an important sense, he is not for or against Islam, Hinduism or even Christianity – his aims are much bigger. “I have come that you might have life.”

And the death of Christ was how this reconciliation was effected. “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.”

Second, we see the purpose of reconciliation. “He has reconciled you … to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” In a nutshell, this is life as it was intended to be lived. It is life with all the shortcomings taken out. There are three aspects. 

First, because of the reconciling death of Jesus, you are presented holy in God’s sight. Second, you are without blemish. Third, you are free from accusation. In the marvellous term used by the older versions: we are “unreproveable.” You cannot be told off!

Why is that? Think about the process of reconciliation. In the work of reconciliation, God didn’t meet us halfway. God meets us all the way and invites us to accept it. One may use two different ways of understanding human need and God’s salvation. We can see God as the judge, and we are guilty before Him. Therefore, we need forgiveness and justification.  We can see God as our friend, and we have damaged our relationship with Him. Therefore, we need reconciliation.

Both of these are true; neither one should be promoted at the expense of the other.

But he overall and final effect is the same as that stated in Jude 24: “God is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

The stress of the sentence is upon God’s strength and not on our ability. That’s a remarkably comforting concept. “None shall pluck you out of my hand.” “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” The Bible is replete with the promises of the enduring presence of God.

“To present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” This is the result of God’s work of reconciliation. Taken together, these words show that in Jesus we are pure and can’t even be justly accused of impurity.

Clearly, the idea of presenting us “holy and blameless” before God may recall the terminology used when priests inspected potential sacrifices. We are presented to God as a living sacrifice.

A desire to be saved means a desire to be “made holy, and blameless, and above reproach” and not merely a desire to escape the fires of hell on our own terms.

God is working on his masterpiece.

“If indeed you continue in the faith.” Those truly reconciled will truly persevere. Paul’s main focus is continuing in the truth of the gospel (“continue in the faith… not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard”). It is important for Christians to continue in godly conduct, but we are not saved by our godly conduct. So it is even more important for Christians to continue in the truth of the gospel because we are saved by grace through faith.

If the gospel teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it teaches at the same time that the saints are those who finally persevere – in Christ.

Continuance is the test of reality.

“God is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

What’s the secret of continuance? It is love. That’s the reason we use the metaphor of reconciliation. We are brought into a love affair that is enduring and redeeming and shown that there is no possibility of life anywhere else. So the word about continuance is not a summons to try even harder, but a call to be in love.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ”
― Brennan Manning

Love is the final word. Love is the journey and the destination.

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