Monday, July 02, 2018

Reading Through Colossians #1 (1.1-3.4)

witheringtonThis post begins a quick read through of Paul’s letter to the Colossians accompanied by The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, by Ben Witherington III. Colossians and Ephesians are quite similar and provide commentary on one another. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Paul writes to the Colossians to deal with a teaching in their church that would add other requirements to the gospel to become a complete or an elite Christian. In other words, some were teaching that faith in Christ was enough to get into the family of God, but to take God's blessings fully required additional rites, secret teachings, mystical experiences or ascetic practices. Paul counters that Jesus, who is fully God indwelling human beings, is all one needs to move from entry into God's family to the fulness of glory that will be received in God's eternal kingdom. Jesus is all you need!   

Paul insists that not specific Jewish practices (calendrical, ascetic, ritual, or mystical) but rather a relationship with the one mediator between God and humankind, Jesus Christ, is what ushers one into the presence of God and the doxological center of the universe...Paul shows how Christian belief affects and transforms Christian behavior and relationships. Intro, 114

Paul begins the letter by making a positive connection with the people of the Colossian congregation. He thanks God that they are already making progress in Christian growth and he prays that it will continue. He is thankful that they have already made so much progress toward being complete in Christ. He then reminds them, in a hymn, that Jesus, who indwells them through the Spirit, has all the qualifications (He is God the Creator in human form) necessary to complete God's plan for them. Thus, to add other requirements to Christ adulterates and weakens the gospel rather than making it more effective.

Christ is the key both subjectively and objectively. He will fulfill the objective hope when he comes, but he is already the basis of the Christian’s subjective hope: “Christ in us” is both the foretaste of glory and the solid basis for the hope of human glorification. Colossians 1.1-14, 122

“All things” are repeatedly connected to Christ. Everything points to him... The hymn thus not only makes clear the basis on which the Colossians already have the salvific benefits they need and the reason they need not entertain supplements or replacements for what they have already believed and have been doing, but also provides a pattern or trajectory of the Christian life which involves death, resurrection, and eventual glorification. Colossians 1.15-23, 129–130

He begins to support this argument in 1.24-2.5. First, he points to the Colossians experience of receiving Christ and their initial growth. Their experience of coming to Christ was life-changing. They have already experienced victory over sins and the dark powers that had controlled them. God indwells them and there is no rite or human teaching that can accomplish what God can do in their lives.

In its eschatological sense this term (Teleion, “complete”) refers to a completely Christlike condition, the opposite of being lost, bound in sin, or alienated from God. This is the eschatological hope of the believer: to be fully conformed to Christ’s image and so made perfect by means of the resurrection, which puts one beyond disease, decay, and death, beyond sin, suffering, and sorrow. Such a goal is of course not fully attainable before the return of Christ and the raising of the believing dead. Colossians 1.24-2.5, 147–148

Secondly (2.6-3.4), the methods the false teachers were advocating to become spiritually complete do not work. Asceticism, mysticism, legalism and syncretism are inadequate for becoming what God wants Christians to be. The way one gets into the family of God, by reliance on Christ and what He has provided, is also the way to maturity in Christ. Believers are now called to live under the new covenant and leave behind the "shadows" and rules of the old one. Practically, this is applied as believers focus on Christ and growing in relationship with Him. This begins to change the believer's character and values into those of Christ.

God dwells in the embodied Christ in fullness or in person. This would mean that there can be nothing inherently wrong or evil about matter, which the ascetic teachers may have been suggesting, hence the rules about abstinence, and that the fullness and personal presence of God is to be found in Christ and nowhere else. Colossians 2.6-15, 156

Christians are not under such OT rules. Rather they are creatures of the new covenant...Christ fulfilled or brought to an end (or both) all such rules and paid the price so that believers are no longer in their debt. We owe the rules nothing. As Paul says in v. 17, these rules, while good in their day, are but shadows to be left behind now that the real substance that they foreshadowed has appeared—Christ. Colossians 2.16-23, 160–161

Paul sees the starting-point and source of the believer’s life in the resurrected Christ in heaven, from where it works itself out into earthly life (3:5ff.) and from where it will eventually be revealed for what it is (3:4).” Life, power, and spiritual vitality flows from the heavenly Christ into his body and cannot be grasped by human efforts...Heavenly-mindedness is not an escape from worldly concerns but rather provides the basis for structuring human relations and proceeding in human affairs. Colossians 3.1-4, 166

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