Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Reading Through Colossians #2 (3.5-4.18)

witheringtonThis post concludes 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’ point is that faith in Christ produces all the Christian needs for a lifestyle that honors God and accomplishes His  purposes for his people. 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.

Life by grace and faith does not mean that believers live without restraint. Because they are new persons they cannot live in their old ways. They must live their lives with the attitude and wisdom of Jesus. Thus, they must "put off," like old clothes, the selfish, unrestrained actions they did before they knew Christ and "put on," the new clothes of Christlike, unselfish, service according to the example and teachings of Jesus and his apostles. This should especially be seen in relationships within the Christian households. Christians, especially those in power, should rethink all their relationships so that they serve Christ and one another. The world should be able to look at a Christian's closest social relationships and see the evidence of Christ's love, submission to one another's needs and high regard for everyone, regardless of social station, as the image of God and equal before Him. 

According to v. 17 the Christian life is also to be characterized by being and showing oneself thankful for all God has done, and by doing and saying all that one does and says in the name and according to the nature of Christ. Colossians 3.5-17, 181

In Christ, whoever one is, one is a new person, because Christ is all and is in all these different kinds of people...Paul does not mean that these distinctions and differences cease to exist when one becomes a Christian. Greeks are still Greeks and Jews are still Jews, of course...What matters is that all are equally new persons in Christ and equally in the process of being renewed. There is then a spiritual basis for real equality in Christ. The basis of any kind of ordering in the church is according to what one is called and gifted to do, a rather bold break from the way things tended to be determined in the pagan world, and also to a larger degree in the Jewish world. Colossians 3.5-17, 179

Paul is, rather, trying to ameliorate the harm the existing structure does and can do. Chrysostom grasped the spirit of what Paul was trying to accomplish in these exhortations to husband and wife: “Observe again that Paul has exhorted husbands and wives to reciprocity.… From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield” (tenth homily on Colossians). Colossians 3.18-21, 191–192

The head of the household as a Christian must alter his conduct in his relationships with his wife, children, and slaves so that the Lord will be pleased. It is this curtailing and Christianizing of the head of the household’s rights, privileges, and roles that especially stands out in these exhortations as Paul, attempts to transform the character of Christian household relationships by ameliorating the harsh edges of the existing institutions of slavery and patriarchy. 3.18-4.1, 196

Paul closes his letter with one final exhortation and closing greetings from his fellow workers. Ultimately, Paul is all about the gospel so he asks the Colossians to live and talk in a way that draws people to Christ. He urges the letter to copied and read in Laeodicea as well. 

Christians are to “walk wisely” toward non-Christians (this echoes 1:9–10; 2:6–7). This means they are to act in a way that is cognizant of who is watching and of the impact their behavior may have for the gospel. Colossians 4.2-6, 199

What we do have a hint of here is how the process of collecting and later canonizing Paul’s letters transpired. Letters were exchanged or copied and exchanged, and precisely because they were seen as of ongoing value they were kept and reused. Colossians 4.7-18, 206

The bottom line in Colossians is that 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. As we focus on Christ and trust him he enables us to "put on" the behavior and attitudes of Christ. As the Spirit works within the church, His people work together to produce Christlikeness within the church and enables the church to do the mission of discipling the nations. 

Paul in Colossians is dealing with a specific sort of spiritual problem—aberrant forms of worship engaged in by Christians. Christians were striving through ascetic acts to enter the heavenly worship with the angels, perhaps to enter into a visionary or ecstatic state. Here we have the use of ascetic acts in hopes that they will trigger some specific “spiritual experience.” Yet in fact genuine spiritual experiences cannot be triggered by some human “technique.” They are caused by the Holy Spirit, who blows in whatever direction the Spirit chooses. If the Spirit is not moving, the experience either is not happening or is contrived and not genuine. 209

There needs to be a community of saved sinners that is forming into an accountable body of Christ, helping each other to grow in grace. Instead of pointing fingers, we need to hold outstretched hands and help each other follow all the proper moral paths for the Lord’s name’s sake. Tolerance of sin is no more a virtue than hypocritical condemnation of selective sins. We are all called to accountability, and will have to render account to Christ one day as well. 211

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