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: 5 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.