If we consider Paul of the new testament an older brother in the faith, and our coach or mentor, how would he guide us on our quest to carry out our calling as the church that follows Jesus today? I have a goal of looking over Paul’s writings with this question in mind and see what falls out as recurring themes. Below are my notes from reading his letter to the Colossians, with summary comments at the end.
Many of those who would read this letter of Paul’s were people he didn’t personally know that well – he hadn’t even met some – so he takes the time to give some orientation on what he’s all about, and what he feels is fundamentally important in the gospel message.
What Paul said are his purposes:
- being a servant of Jesus’ gospel message, charged with presenting this message to others
- proclaiming Christ – using all wisdom to admonish and teach everyone
- The goal is that everyone would be “perfect in Christ”
- he wants people’s hearts to be encouraged and united in love
- he wants people to be have the full riches of complete understanding
- he wants people to know God’s mystery – that is, Jesus Christ, who contains all treasures of wisdom and knowledge
What Paul desired for his readers:
- be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through spiritual wisdom and understanding
- live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him:
- bearing fruit in good works
- grow in knowledge of God
- be strengthened in all power
- have great endurance and patience
- joyfully give thanks
- be orderly and firm in faith in Christ
- be rooted and built up in Jesus
- be strengthened in the faith
- be overflowing with thankfulness
- Keep your heart and minds focused on Jesus, remembering that He is our very life now.
- Be immersed in
- forgiving others
- peace in your hearts
- the word of Christ: teaching/admonishing one another with wisdom, singing, spiritual songs and gratitude in your hearts to God
- and above all, love.
- Wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters: be submissive, loving, obedient, fair, etc. – as if doing it unto the Lord himself
- Work at things with all your heart, as if working for Jesus, and he’s got an inheritance waiting for you as a reward
- Be ruthless about getting rid of behaviors that come from a sinful nature.
- Be devoted to being watchful and thankful in prayer, praying for others – to the point of “wrestling in prayer” for others to stand firm in all the will of God, being mature and fully assured.
- Let your actions and conversations with outsiders be wise and gracious, so you’ll always know how to respond to them in any situation.
What Paul wanted his readers to avoid:
- don’t be deceived by “fine sounding arguments”
- don’t be captivated by deceptive, but hollow, philosophy that depends on human traditions and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ
- don’t allow yourself to be trapped/condemned/judged by earthly principles and human teachings regarding rules about eating, drinking, religious events, special days, etc. They can be tricky and sound “wise”, but have no power for right living. People who get caught up in these have lost connection with Jesus, the Head.
What Paul indicates are the essentials of the Gospel message regarding Jesus Christ:
- We are rescued from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son, redeemed and forgiven from our sins
- said another way, we were dead in sin, but God made us alive to Christ due to our faith in God’s power, that raised Jesus from the dead
- Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities that were against us (making a public spectacle of them in plain view for all) by his death on the cross and then resurrection
- Faith and love spring from the hope we have in heaven
- It’s a message of God’s grace
- Jesus is supreme over all other powers, rulers, authorities, and is the head over all the church
- Through his death, Jesus made us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation —
- this requires us to continue in our faith, staying established & firm, not departing from the hope
- that’s in the gospel
- It’s a message cloaked in mystery, which is that Christ lives in us, and is our “hope of glory”
- All the fullness of God is in Christ, and we have get all the fullness in Christ
Summary of primary themes for our purposes:
1. Paul’s overall goal is to admonish and teach everyone in all of God’s wisdom so that they grow to be “perfect in Christ.”
The meaning of this clearly hinges on people having the character qualities of:
- be strengthened to stand firm in faith and in God’s will (in the face of opposition)
- being mature, that is fully assured and confident
- being rooted and built up in full wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God
and living worthy lives, demonstrating love, compassion, gentleness, patience, thankfulness (mentioned many times), wrestling in prayer for others, and several other qualities listed.
which all comes from investing ourselves purposefully, intently in Jesus – that gospel mystery where Christ is in us. It’s all about being very, very vested in knowing Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the Supreme being over all of earth and all of heaven, and what he’s all about by making us his people on earth. Paul didn’t point people to any man that they should learn from. In fact, he said be wary of how people can philosophize about junk and lead others astray.
2. I’m struck by Paul emphasis on the gospel message being a mystery-yet-now-revealed-by-Jesus, and his intent on proclaiming it clearly as such: Jesus will come and live inside people, and open to them treasures of all wisdom and knowledge, and he becomes our hope for glory in our personal existence. What an awesome and appealing message!
Putting the above points together, he’s all about getting people connected with Jesus, the Supreme Head, so they embrace the gospel mystery (get saved), which joins people into this band of Jesus-followers called the church, and together we all continue living our whole lives from that connectedness to Jesus to fulfill his intentions (get perfected). There’s no escaping these high-level directives, which
must happen so that the Head, Jesus, fulfills his purposes in and through us.
So much of today’s church is patterned after modern business, which is all about having specific objectives, strategies for accomplishing them, which translate to specific objectives and actions at each level, which all roll up to the stated corporate objectives. At each level you have people acting as “heads” over their piece of the bigger picture, knowing what the need to accomplish, how it fits into the bigger picture, and planning/strategizing how to accomplish it. But my understanding from Paul here is that the Kingdom of Heaven is different in that there is only one Head, and the rest of us comprise the body. I see Paul trying to get everyone to fulfill their role in the body in “perfection in Christ”, and having the perspective that “we’re in this together as a single overall body”, but I don’t see him trying to help people be good “heads”, nor does he attempt this either. Jesus, the Head, has the master strategy for accomplishing his objectives, and we don’t need to go about trying to make up any new ones, or even require ourselves to know what his are, beyond what he’s clearly given us for fulfilling our parts. And our strategy for fulfilling our part in perfection is to live out of that connectedness to the Head. The way on is the same as the way in – come to Jesus and follow after him. This needs to be central to all we do.