Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reading Through Colossians

indexI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The twelfth volume of the series is Fullness & Freedom: The Message of Colossians & Philemon, written by R. C. Lucas. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

The letter to the Colossians was probably written to the 3 major churches of the Lycus Valley, Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Laodicea was the most prominent of the three cities. (Revelation 3:14-22) Paul had probably never visited Colossae (2:1). The church was probably founded by Paul’s convert, and ministry team member Epaphras.  Philemon and his slave Onesimus were also part of this church. Colossians was probably written from Rome during his imprisonment there, the same time as Ephesians and a little before Philippians and was carried by Tychicus and Onesimus, who likely was also carrying Philemon.

It was written to inform the Philippians that faith in the indwelling Christ ALONE is enough to move them to maturity, to combat false teachers who taught that to be truly mature one had to add Jewish law, “higher knowledge,” ecstatic visions or asceticism to the Gospel, and  to show that real spirituality is a new lifestyle, under Jesus‘ authority, lived out in human relationships. Paul wanted them to understand that the key to Christian maturity and to spirituality is to grow in your knowledge of Jesus and let Him live through you. Faith in Christ, without added human rules or ideas, is enough to move us on to spiritual maturity, which is seen in godly attitudes and actions lived out in daily relationships.

The way to maturity as a Christian is deepening relationship with Jesus. This comes through faith, not human rules or ideas. Faith in Christ is sufficient to grow the godly attitudes and actions of a successful Christian. Thus, we have all we are and everything we have because God lives in us and as we cooperate with God, who lives in us, we will grow to be and act like Christ. In Christ we are rescued, redeemed and forgiven.  (1.1-14)

The danger for the enthusiastic young convert comes from error within the churches, teaching that is largely, even emphatically, Christian, but which has been influenced more than it knows by the spirit of the age. Colossians 1.1-2, 21.

It is through great endurance that the servant of God commends himself. By it he learns to hold his position under attack, and quietly to persist in the paths of righteousness and truth. Through patience the Christian learns forbearance and self-restraint, especially with the people who test him; he also finds here the secret of steadiness when divine promises and hopes are deferred. Colossians 1.9-14, 40.

Jesus is able to make you into what God wants you to be because He is God and He has provided more than enough to make you what He wants you to be and to prepare you for eternal service to God. Our relationship with God depends solely on our relationship to Jesus Christ. He provides the resources for Christian growth within His body, the church. Jesus is ALL you need!

As in the Old Testament story, we in New Testament times can desire a king whom we can see and honour. When the church takes its mind and heart away from Christ and his words, human authority and tradition fills the vacuum. The ultimate consequences of this could be sterility rather than the constant increase and renewal of 2:19...The work of the teacher is to lead people to find their fullness in Christ alone: he does not possess anything beyond Christ to give to his people. Colossians 1.15-20, 52–53.

This is to say that people cannot know Christ better without knowing the Scriptures better. It is only through an expository ministry that the Word of God can be fully known: and it is only through the Word of God that Christ can be fully known. Colossians 1.24-29, 70.

The great apostle sees himself as having no authority to decide his message, his mission, or his methods of ministry. What God has given, that he teaches, neither more nor less. When God appoints him, he takes up his task. If God chooses to reveal Christ to the nations, there, to everyone, Paul goes. Above all, because the supreme activity of God is to disclose his Word of truth, Paul’s supreme activity is as a teacher of truth.  Colossians 1.24-29, 73.

There is a fresh responsibility laid on Christians to examine all teaching for the truthfulness of its content rather than the attractiveness of its packaging. There is a new call to be sceptical of exaggerated rhetoric, the tendentious anecdote, or the theatrical appeal, for nothing is so dangerous as feeble reasoning allied to fast talking. Colossians 2.1-4, 84.

So, Christian maturity comes through continuing faith in the Gospel, not human rules or ideas. We grow in Christ the same way you began in Christ, by trusting in His promises. Adding to the Gospel does not improve it. Instead, it dilutes it and makes it ineffective. Syncretism (adding human ideas to the Gospel) dilutes and weakens the Gospel. Legalism reduces gospel “life change” to outward rules and enslaves people. Mysticism creates false Christs and produces inferior worship. Asceticism is only external and actually increases the temptation it tries to overcome. 

To ‘receive Christ Jesus the Lord’, then, is to recognize as truth the marvellous news that, in Christ, the Lord who has power to redeem the world from error and misery has come. More than that, the words necessarily imply the appropriate submission to that Lord for personal deliverance. This means that ‘life in the Spirit’ is recognizable, according to Paul, by some genuine acknowledgment of Christ’s lordship. True conversion must imply a recognition of Christ’s right to be my Saviour (after all, most of us do not very much want to be saved from all our sins, only from their penalty). Colossians 2.6-7, 89.

Yet the apostle can dare to settle the matter by calling other traditions merely human, while his apostleship (and therefore his message) is ‘not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.’ The issue that arises when ‘the traditions of men’ clash with ‘the word of God’ has been decided by our Lord once and for all. There is no way of healing disunity in the churches if we shuffle or evade that decision. Colossians 2.8-15, 97.

One day, divine power will lift them out of this realm of tears and tribulation to enjoy life beyond death. What they have now is life before death, the new life of the Spirit, the life of faith, above all the life of union and fellowship with the ascended Christ. How can anyone teach them that by faith in God, they may enjoy some greater blessing than that?  Col. 2.8-15, 104

False zeal is responsible for much spiritual misery. It not only denies Christians what God has not denied them, and commands of them what God has not required. It also promises Christians what God has not promised them. Colossians 2.16-17, 118.

First, each Christian has the responsibility to hold fast to Christ. This direct link between the individual believer and the heavenly Lord is one of the special glories of New Testament church life...Secondly, each Christian, linked to Christ in this vital way, has some essential nourishment to give the whole body. What the Christians at Colossae needed for growth and fullness, was not the visitors and their divisive nostrums, but each other!  Colossians 2.18-19, 125.

How burdensome the rules and traditions of men have proved to be in the history of the church! But in Christ the Colossians have been freed from all this. How then can they return to such sore bondage? It is not for them now to call anyone master when Christ is Lord. Colossians 2.20-23, 129.

The key to Christian growth is to understand who you are in Christ and live it out in the power of the Spirit. We must focus on Christ and His spiritual and eternal values including our union with Christ and His blessings as we submit to His authority, the eternal, not the temporary, because our present life is an investment for glory. We must kill the old lifestyle and habits. That is not who we are any more. We must put on the attitudes and actions of Jesus as we put in the truths that transform. We must put on the attitudes and actions that reflect who we really are in Christ. The power to live out who we are comes as the Spirit activates the Word of God in our lives. 3.1-17

The chief business of the Christian is to maintain his relationship with Christ. When this is unsatisfactory, the other relationships of life cannot succeed. Colossians 3.1-8, 133.

"Christ is all" means, simply, that Christ is all that matters...Paul is convinced of the power of Christ, not to bring people together while remaining just what they were before, but to change them so that a genuine meeting of mind and heart is achieved. Colossians 3.9-17, 147–148.

There is nothing inhuman in the nature of genuine Christian spirituality...Holiness is to be recognized not by religious achievements or by a spirituality that is superior to the normal human condition, but by the development of a genuine human-ness, by a freedom that is unafraid to be, in Christ, the person God made us. Colossians 3.9-17, 151.

True Christian love does not seek its own, least of all a more heavenly fellowship of the like-minded, but must give itself in humility to the very heterogeneous fellowship of believers, of all shapes and sizes, whom Christ had called his own at Colossae. Only with them can completeness be found; there can be no path to perfection without them. A powerful dissuasive, indeed, to hasty separation! Colossians 3.9-17, 153.

The evidence of Christian maturity is Christ-likeness lived out in our closest relationships. The real test of maturity is the right attitudes and actions in our closest relationships. Marriage should be characterized by mutual loving submission. Parent-Child relationships should be characterized by obedience to loving direction. Work and social relationships should be characterized by mutual accountability to God. Church relationships should be characterized by caring, thankful prayer for one another. To the world, we should be tactfully opportunistic as we witness with life and word. Paul‘s co-workers were examples of what mature Christians look like.

The apostle’s paramount concern is not man’s relationships with his fellows, but everyone’s relationship with God. Paul does not attempt to resolve these human problems between slave and master horizontally. It is clear that he assumes that it is only by learning to serve the Lord Christ that each can begin to come to proper terms with the other. Colossians 3.22-4.1, 169–170.

Effective evangelism begins with persevering prayer...Prayer can no more exist without praise than true praise without prayer: the one fuels the other. Colossians 4.2-4  171–172.

While the apostle looks for many opportunities for direct evangelism and teaching, the typical Christian in Colossae is to look for many opportunities for responsive evangelism...Now Paul’s advice to the Christians is not along the lines of possessing oneself of better techniques with which to approach people. Rather he turns the problem right around so that the Christians can see their responsibilities in a much more promising light. Their privilege, simply put, is to answer everyone. That is to say they are to respond to the questions of others rather than initiate conversations on leading topics; they are to accept openings rather than make them. Colossians 4.5-6, 173–174.

So, as Paul says farewell to us, we need remember his fetters no more, for they have long since rusted away. But we do remember his encouragement to us, that in Christ Jesus we may enjoy fullness of life and freedom, and his exhortation to us to fulfil any ministry that we may have received while there is time. Colossians 4.7-18, 179

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