Thursday, 10 May 2012

Thoughts on Colossians 1

I've not read or written much over the last few weeks so, in an effort to address both those points, here goes with a little series on the Letter to the Colossians. I won't go into a load of theological detail and I certainly don't intend to cover every verse. This will be more of a journey through the Letter, focusing on those points that particularly grab me. Let's start at verse 6. I've written myself about what I think the 'Good News of Jesus Christ' might be all about; Paul (he's generally thought to have written this letter) said about the Good News that it is:
...bearing fruit by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace
The Good News is God's grace, his overwhelming goodness towards us, and it changes our lives. The next passage I want to look at is verses 9-12. When we pray, it often seems to be along the lines of 'Lord, please fix things for us'. But I don't see much praying like that in the New Testament. Instead, it's 'Lord, please fix us!' - like here in Colossians:
We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding... We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.
There's another marvellous prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23, which covers the same ground and more:
I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Pray those things for me right now, would you please!? My last thought on this section is about the point of the Colossian prayer. ' We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will...' but for what purpose? Well, let's see:
We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
That's the point – to live fruitful, God-pleasing lives and to grow in spirit!

On to verses 15-20 now. Some scholars think this passage was already in existence as a creedal statement that Paul is quoting. This would make it perhaps the earliest piece of writing we have regarding Christianity. It's also one of the key passages where the idea of Christ being somehow part of God (not just the mightiest of God's creations) comes from – it is said of Christ that he 'existed before anything was created', 'is supreme over all creation' and 'holds all creation together'.

There's also the simple point that this passage does rather read like a hymn. Christ is being praised in a way that Jews would reserve for God himself, seeing as they were very strongly into monotheism, which is the idea that there is one supreme being who alone should be worshipped. The hymn is arguably elevating Christ to the status of God; indeed, one modern author has said, 'a higher Christology does not exist in the New Testament'.

I'd like to pick out one more point in chapter 1 of Colossians. Sometimes we think and act as if everything depends on our own strength or skill. On other occasions we wait passively for God to sort things out. Paul chooses another option: 'I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ's mighty power that works within me.' God doesn't want us just to let life happen around us, but neither should we think we can shape the world as we see fit, by sheer force of our will. It reminds me of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
Jesus promises rest in the midst of work, not rest from work. Although Paul in Colossians 1:29 uses rather more forceful terms than Jesus ('struggle' doesn't sound much like a burden that is 'easy to bear'), I think they're talking about the same thing.

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