Colossians: A Little Background

(I’m thankful for kind readers who catch an error and point it out. Previously I said the earthquake that destroyed Colossae was @ a.d. 46. Without realizing it, I was counting from the date of his birth, not the date on which he assumed the crown of Rome, which was @ a.d. 54. So I’ve changed the date of the earthquake to the more correct a.d.63. A tip of the hat to RJ Dawson.)

Colossae was a mercantile city situated not too far from Galatia, Ephesus, and Philippi. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the ninth year of Nero’s reign, (about 63 a.d.) and was rebuilt. The modern town of Chonas is at the ruins of old Colosse.

It is widely accepted that Paul did not start the church in Colosse. That credit goes to Epaphras, a fellow worker with Paul (Col. 1:2,7; 4:12). It is also believed that Col. 2:1 indicates Paul had not been there previous to writing the letter. It is commonly accepted that Colossians was one of the prison epistles, written around a.d. 61, when Paul was confined and unable to travel from church to church.

The epistle can be simply divided into two parts: Doctrinal, and application to daily living.

Religious syncretism, which has existed practically from the beginning of human history, is the practice of incorporating various themes and practices all together into one belief system. This happened before the Flood in Genesis, when idolatry had taken hold and Noah and his family were the only ones found in God’s sight to be faithful to His direction. It is still happening today. Believers tend to resist completely forsaking their early beliefs and practices, and weave them into Christianity. Doing so creates a great deal of confusion, because in the process of this interweaving, God is lost among the pantheon of gods created by those who worship them.
Syncretism is Satan’s ceaseless effort to humanize God and deify man. In today’s world, this practice is embodied in secular humanism.

The particular problem in Colosse was the inclusion of Judaic ceremony, and Gnosticism, which was a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was a representative of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric (known and understood by only a few special people ) knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit. (You may need to read that paragraph a couple of times to get the entire picture. I’ve reworked it several times to make is as clear as I could, but Gnosticism is difficult to put into simple language.) As you can see, the Colossian church seems to have wanted to hang on to Judaistic ceremony and include the mystical beliefs of Gnosticism into the Christianity they were being taught.

The Gnostic concept of emanations also removed purposeful activity from God’s purview. Here’s a brief definition: “The concept of emanation is that all derived or secondary things proceed or flow from the more primary. It is distinguished from the doctrine of creation by its elimination of a definite will in the first cause, from which all things are made to emanate according to natural laws and without conscious volition.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It seems to me that the Gnostics spent a lot of time and mental energy in their efforts to dilute the power and sovereignty of God and turn Him into nothing more that a distant, non-involved supreme divine being.

There was a lot going on, and apparently Epaphras and the other leaders felt incapable of dealing with all of it, and went to Rome to consult Paul (1:7-8). Paul’s letter of reply was sent with Tychicus and Onisemus (4: 7-9). The first half of Paul’s letter took down the heresies that were being taught and practiced. The second half encouraged new believers to embrace Christianity fully, forsaking legalism and the worship of man’s own imaginings.

It seems clear that Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he either wrote or dictated this letter (Acts 28:30-31; Col. 4:3, 10, 18).

If you are interested, as I am, in a more detailed history, you can find it here. I do not necessarily agree with everything the writer states, but the article stands up historically with everything else I’ve researched and reduced to this brief introduction.

Tomorrow we’ll start studying the epistle itself.

Do Right!

Eccl. 7: 15-18.

All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.

 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.

In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?

Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?

It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

(ESV)

This was a difficult passage for me. I chose to use both the KJV and the ESV (English Standard Version) to gain some clarity, but the most help was from a commentator I’ve come to appreciate. David Guzik offers this explanation of these four verses, which I have condensed and put into my own words:

Solomon complained that in his own empty life he has seen good men suffer and wicked men prosper, and it just isn’t fair.

Solomon rather cynically suggests that we be righteous, but not too righteous; be wise, wicked, or foolish–just don’t overdo it. He was suggesting that we do whatever works best, not going too far in any direction. I suppose he would have considered this to be a balanced way to live.

It is important that we remember Solomon’s perspective here was still that of living “under the sun,” from the human perspective. What he suggests here is actually a pragmatic approach: Do what gets you the best results. Don’t go too far, or people will think you are unbalanced. In v. 18, he seems to suddenly remember that God is actually in charge, and that we should keep that in mind.

It is a good thing to seek balance in our lives, but we must not forsake biblical righteousness in order to attain what seems to the world to be balanced. Think of the Apostle Paul. He was considered a fanatic, an unbalanced lunatic, by the world to which he ministered.

So was Jesus. After all, He spent most of His time with sinners, the poor, needy, sick, and forsaken. Not balanced at all.

I am reminded of a quote from Dr. Bob Jones, Sr, when he preached,  “Do rightDo rightDo right till the stars fallDo right.”

We learn what is right, and how to do it, from a consistent, faithful, humble study of God’s Word.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Pain

I tell people all the time, in my work, that we can learn something from every experience we have.  Easy for me to say, not always so easy for me to take my own advice.

How about this?  I think I’ve learned enough, okay? I mean, I’m learning patience; fortitude; endurance; how to work, when your pain pills are making you loopy, and you have to act as if you’re on your best game.  The dragging weariness at the end of a long workday when I’m  not sure  I can even make it home. I’m learning to accept interrupted sleep when I move  during the night and the pain wakes me up. I’m getting pretty good at going back to sleep quickly.

back-pain

I’m in waiting mode again.  I’ll have surgery to fuse my right sacroiliac joint. If it works as well as the left side did back in January, it will be an immense relief.  So I know that there’s almost certainly an end point.  For a while. Until something else get degenerated enough to cause pain. Then we’ll start the rounds of shots again, and if it’s possible, surgery.

Okay.  So, where do I go but to the Lord?  I can think of so many verses right now that it’s impossible to share them all.  The one that keeps rising to the top, though, is  this one.           II Corinthians 12: 8-10:

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

See, I’m not the only one.  And Paul suffered, truly suffered, over and over again. He begged God to remove something that was a source of some kind of pain to him, and God said, “No,”  So Paul accepted God’s Word and His will, and I suspect that it was partly because he knew it would be an encouragement for other believers down through the halls of time until Christ returns.

It’s true that my condition is a natural part of aging.  The body slows down, winds down, breaks down. And it is during these so-called “declining years” that many of us have to learn as never before to depend on His strength, which is made complete in our weakness.

So that’s what I’m learning. Slowly, because sometimes I’m just stubborn,

 

Sunday Morning Coffee: The Olympics, of Course!

Wasn’t it exciting to watch the final swim event, the relay?  Four medal-winning women, four medal-winning men. Amazing speed, amazing strength, just amazing.  We watched a newbie, Simone Manuel, achieve her first gold; we watched veteran Michael Phelps, who doesn’t seem to have lost an ounce of energy, strength or speed, power his way to his 28th gold medal.

michael-phelps-swimming-butterfly-olympics-700x466

The Americans hit a world record of getting 1000 summer gold medals, starting in 1896.  That’s something to crow about!

I like to swim.  It’s about the only exercise my back will tolerate, and I had to stay out of the pool for a few months while pain treatments did their job. Things seem to be under control right now, so last week, I went back and managed to do five laps, then six the next time, and seven yesterday.

I was joking with my husband last night, watching those amazing swimmers, that I could swim like that.  He didn’t even bother to respond.  The man has no sense of humor 🙂

I really do feel comfortable in the water, always have. I’m as slow as a snail moving against a strong wind, but swimming gives me a feeling of lightness and even power that nothing else does.

Watching those Olympic swimmers last night, of course, led me to think about the Apostle Paul’s statement: II Timothy 4:6-8.

6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Paul was nearing the time of his execution, which was the earthly prize he had earned for his faithful preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I find this passage incredibly encouraging.  I think Paul would have loved watching our modern Olympics, especially the foot races (congrats to the two Jamaicans and one American, women who just amazed me with their speed last night).

Paul had run a years-long race, filled with obstacles few of us would choose to endure. Yet, he did not dread his final sprint to the finish line. Instead, he looked back over his life with Christ, knowing he had run well.  He looked forward to the crown of righteousness that, in another passage, we know he will lay at Jesus’ feet.  He knew he was going to see the Lord before  many thousands of the rest of us who are still waiting, hoping for His appearance.

Until then, we have a race to run. I want to be able to say I’ve run well, fought a good fight, kept the faith; that I’ve not given up, not wimped out when things are difficult.  I want to have a crown to lay at Jesus’ feet.

Ambassador in Bonds

Ephesians 6:20. “For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Paul wrote  this letter to the Ephesian church from a position of bondage. He was a prisoner of Rome,  because he would not stop preaching Christ as God.  In Rome, Caesar was God.  Paul would eventually die for his boldness in continuing to speak boldly for the sake of the gospel.

I’ve always loved this phrase,  ambassador in bonds.  It teaches us that we can still maintain our testimony for Christ, still preach the gospel, still offer those around us the freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul knew what he ought to do, and he did it.

A Minister

Ephesians 3:7. “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.”

Paul understood that he had been given an incredible privilege by the grace of God; that his mission to take the gospel to the Gentiles was unique, and that he would be empowered to do that ministry through the grace of God.

I want to pause here to say a couple of things in regard to Paul. There are some who feel he gives himself too much credit, talks about himself too much; these same people tend to feel that he’s given too much credit for his epistles in the New Testament.

To the first complaint, I point to the many times Paul introduced himself as a servant of God, a prisoner of grace; he called himself the chiefest of sinners, and took no credit for the mission God had given him.

To the second complaint, personally, as I write these posts, I am fully aware that Paul was only the instrument, and God was the Author.  I think Paul knew it as well, and had no false pride.  In fact, I believe it humbled him that God had entrusted him with such a gift.

I don’t know how anyone can read his letters to the churches and to the people he loved and not see his compassion, his humility, and his lack of self-importance.

And I’m looking forward to meeting him in heaven.

The Mystery

Ephesians 3:3-4. “How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)”

“The mystery” referred to in this passage is the Church.  God revealed His plan to Paul, in order that Paul would take the gospel to the Gentiles.  Again, Paul established his apostleship in this passage, assuring his readers that the mystery of the Church was given to him directly from God.  That revelation is why he speaks with authority.

The Church still exists today.  In spite of Satan’s efforts to destroy it through many nefarious means, it has stood the test of time. Jesus said that the very gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. Satan is ramping up his efforts right now, using one of his favorite devices:  Division within the Church, as well as attacks from outside the Church.

Stay tuned. The rest of this book includes practical Christian living.  It’s rich and deep.

Dispensation of the Grace of God

Ephesians 3:2. “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to  you-ward:”

Remember that Paul, a devout Jew before he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, is writing to Gentile believers in Ephesus.  Here, he reminds them  that God appointed to him, Paul, the task of taking the gospel of Jesus  Christ to the Gentile world.  He offers to them the incredible grace of God that takes down the middle wall of partition between the Jew and the Gentile and unites them all in the Body of Christ.

The first four verses of this chapter are a legal brief for Paul’s apostleship.

Faith and Love

Ephesians 1:15-16. “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;”

The church at Ephesus showed the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the way they loved each other, and reached out beyond their own congregation to encourage and help believers in other places.  There is a wonderful unity of spirit among those who trust the same Jesus Christ, the same God.

Then why is there division and dissension among the saints in so many churches all down through the ages?

Good question.  The  answer lies, I believe in whether we are walking in the flesh or walking in the Spirit; whether we have been crucified with Christ, dead to self and sin. This awful condition of walking in the flesh happens in churches where Satan gets a foothold.  He uses the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life to tempt both the people and the pastors. In some churches, the people have grown cold. Sometimes, it’s the pastors who have left the job of shepherding and are busy making a name for themselves.  It is always heartbreaking when a pastor falls, but no more heartbreaking than when individuals in the church turn away from their first love.

Paul loved the Ephesian Christians because of their fervency. They had not lost their first love, and were busy about the business of reaching the lost. And so Paul was thankful for them, and mentioned them in his prayers.

Think of that.  The Apostle Paul praying for people by name, because of their love for God, each other, and other believers in other churches.

Almost makes me jealous 🙂

Grace and Peace

Ephesians 6:1-2.  “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:  Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Several noteable things always appear in Paul’s greetings to the recipients of his letters.  The custom of the day was to identify oneself at the very beginning of the letter, adding whatever information the writer felt important.

So the first thing Paul states is his apostleship by the will of God. Why is this important?

The original twelve were all men who actually walked with Jesus during His ministry on earth, so one requirement of apostleship was that one must have actually physically seen the Lord.

Paul did. His experience is different from the rest of the apostles, and you can read about it in Acts 26, and especially verse 16.  He was chosen by God to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Next, Paul clarifies that he is writing to believers. The saints were those who had accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, and had already heard the gospel of salvation. He was not addressing a different group when he said and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. The saints and the faithful were one and the same. All Paul is doing here is recognizing the faithfulness of the believers at Ephesus.

saint is not a sinless person.  A saint is a separated person, separated to God in Christ Jesus.  If you are a born again believer, then you are a saint.  Your faihtfulness is another matter, and is influenced by the degree to which you are dedicated to living holy in Christ Jesus.

We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.

Now, in verse 2, we have the apostolic salutation.  In a letter we might write today, we might say, “Dear  Susan,” or some other such standard greeting.  Paul offers them grace and peace from God, Who is their Father; and from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is His Son. This is not saving grace.  They already had that.  Rather, it is the grace to meet each day, and the grace of knowing our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

So often in this Godless culture we hear the plaintive notes of the wonderful song Amazing Grace, how Sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” And every time I hear it used at the funeral of some celebrity, politician, or otherwise famous person, I wonder.  Did the deceased have any true idea of what it is to be saved by grace?  To live in grace?  To have dying grace, and to look forward to eternal grace?

It is a sad and solemn thing to me that we have used this beautiful song with so little thought.

Similarly, to have peace with God is to know one’s sins are forgiven, and that eternity in heaven is secure. It is to be in right relationship with Him, and to look forward to the day when we see Him face to face. It is peace in the good times and the hard times, an inner peace that passes all understanding.

Isn’t it amazing, all that Paul has to say in two short verses? That’s because it was the Holy Spirit leading his thoughts and his pen.