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Ministry is Servanthood – Colossians 1:25

As I mentioned before, in Colossians 1:24-29, the apostle Paul talks about his own ministry.

paul-iconIn verse 24 he talks he says “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” I have commented on that verse here: Sufferings for Christ’s Sake. Now he goes on to talk about his ministry in terms of servanthood.

I have sometimes encountered resistance to the idea of the “Servant Leader.” A colleague in the ministry, many years ago, was contemptuous of the idea. If you are the leader, you are in charge — that was his point of view. If you were a servant you served at the wishes of those were in authority. To him, it was a matter of who gave orders, and who served. Yet, in the New Testament, both Jesus and the apostle Paul take a very different view. Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NRSV). It seems strange to me that my old colleague in ministry could not wrap his head around this principle from the teaching of Jesus. But, it is clear that the apostle Paul also subscribed to this view. To him, true leadership was also a form of servanthood. (more…)

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Sufferings for Christ’s Sake – Colossians 1:24

IFIn Colossians chapter 1, verses 24-29, the apostle Paul talks about his own ministry.

I find passages like this some of the most interesting parts of Paul’s letters. Here we see his motives in ministry. Here we see what kept him going. Paul is often very open about his discouragements and failures, as well as his successes. In that regard, I have always found 2 Corinthians interesting as well. Here we get to see the apostle’s motivations, his discouragements, his goals.

In the verses before, he has dealt with more theological issues — though these are issues which have very serious bearing on their lives. He writes to correct misconceptions which have become prevalent in the Colossian church. He believes that ideas influence behavior — and that is why is is so often concerned to correct mistaken theological ideas. (more…)

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The Cross: the Means of Reconciliation – Colossians 1:21-23

IFOn March 3 I wrote about the theme of reconciliation in Colossians 1:21-23. Yeah, but I left something out.

I said that the passage seemed (to this person who has spent a large part of his life looking for such things) to fall into a nice, neat sermon outline:

  1. The need for reconciliation: “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds….”
  2. The purpose of reconciliation: “…as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him….”
  3. The condition of reconciliation: “…provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard….”
  4. The scope of reconciliation: “…which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”

Nice little (old-fashioned) sermon outline, huh? Yes, but it’s missing something. At the time, I was very consciously leaving out point #5: The means of reconciliation. (more…)

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Reconciliation – Colossians 1:21-23

greek-nt-openIn this early part of the letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul has been emphasizing the greatness of Christ. The verses just before this speak of Christ as the Head of the Church.

Paul now personalizes the message: reminding his readers of the way Christ has changed their lives: reconciling them to God.

Καὶ ὑμᾶς ποτε ὄντας ἀπηλλοτριωμένους καὶ ἐχθροὺς τῇ διανοίᾳ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς πονηροῖς, νυνὶ δὲ ἀποκατήλλαξεν ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου παραστῆσαι ὑμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους καὶ ἀνεγκλήτους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ, εἴ γε ἐπιμένετε τῇ πίστει τεθεμελιωμένοι καὶ ἑδραῖοι καὶ μὴ μετακινούμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς ἐλπίδος τοῦ εὐαγγελίου οὗ ἠκούσατε, τοῦ κηρυχθέντος ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν, οὗ ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ Παῦλος διάκονος.“And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.” (NRSV)

Jesus Christ is the reconciler. Paul writes in verse 20: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” The ideas here remind us of 2 Corinthians 5:19: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself….” (more…)

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The Head of the Church – Colossians 1:18-20

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophia_656x800By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ is the supreme authority in the church. Christ is the source of our life and the basis of the connection between believers in the Church.

καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι᾿ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (NRSV) (more…)

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Creation’s True Unity is in Christ – Colossians 1:16,17

faith-in-scienceSome people see Christian faith as something wholly internal and spiritual. It is an inward experience of meaning and hope.

Certainly it is that — or it should be.

But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life.  Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.

Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)

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The Self-Revelation of the Creator God – Colossians 1:16,17

Bible-messageSome people see Christian faith as something wholly internal and spiritual. To them it is an inward experience of meaning and hope.

Certainly it is that — or it should be.

But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life.  Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.

Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)

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The Image of the Invisible God – Colossians 1:15

Christ_ThroneExalted views of the Person of Christ arose quickly in the early Church. In the light of the resurrection, Jesus was recognized as the one who come to reveal — in his very person — the God of Creation. We need to remember that it was the resurrection event that gave rise to the Christian faith and the Christian Gospel as we know it. In the midst of the remembrance of Jesus’ birth and as we study Jesus’ life and teaching, we need to recall that the significance of Jesus’ life is revealed in the resurrection. No resurrection, no Christian faith. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 NRSV.)

And this exalted view of Christ is what we find in the letter to the Colossians. In verse 15 we read:

ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” (NRSV). (more…)

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The Gospel’s Freedom – Colossians 1:13, 14

The apostle’s prayer in verses 9-12 is followed by a statement about the Gospel’s effect on his readers’ lives.

They have been:

  • rescued from the power of darkness and
  • transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.

ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·

[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (NRSV).

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley comments:

Power detains reluctant captives, a kingdom cherishes willing subjects.

In those words, he captures what I believe is the basic contrast contained in this passage: a tyranny vs. a kingdom; Oppression vs. loving service. The Gospel of Jesus Christ (in this view) does not initiate a new faith-based tyranny — it is, in fact the basis for freedom from all human tyrannies — be they political or personal. As Jesus says in John 8:36: “… if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” God is the great AntiTyrant. Because God loves and respects and values each human being, service to God is the only kind of service that need not be tyranny and oppression. (And, if it has become this for you, something has gone wrong — very likely you are in an oppressive and cult-like fellowship. You need to find the freedom and hope of faith.) (more…)

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Ben Witherington: Does Romans 7 Teach that Christians Will Continue Sinning?

Here is another great video from the Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seven Minute Seminary series. Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, addresses the often-disputed interpretation (and common misuse) of Romans 7. “Some point to Romans 7 as the proof-text for the saint-sinner paradox, suggesting that if even the apostle Paul struggled with his unrelenting flesh, Christians must face defeat in certain areas of their Christian life as well. On the contrary, Ben Witherington reveals that the ancient context illuminates the text in a way that eliminates Paul as the subject of this passage and paints a more optimistic picture of God’s sanctifying grace.”

 

 

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Growing in the Knowledge of God – Colossians 1:9-12

greek-nt-openAnd, now, having gotten some preliminary issues out of the way here and here, some comments on the text of the prayer itself:

9 Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἀφ᾿ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν, οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι, ἵνα πληρωθῆτε τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ, 10 περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν, ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ, 11 ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν. Μετὰ χαρᾶς 12 εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί·

9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (NRSV) (more…)

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A Prayer for the Church – Colossians 1:9-12

paul-iconYesterday I introduced this prayer from the apostle Paul and gave some some personal reflections. There was a time when I don’t think I could have talked about the ongoing stages of the Christian journey without reference to the power of the Holy Spirit. And, that would be the way I would still speak of it today. But, in Colossians Paul uses terminology that is more focused on Christ than on the Holy Spirit.

So, as I was saying, this section of the letter displays another common feature in Paul’s letters to the churches.

He generally assures the Churches to whom he writes that he is praying for them. Churches should know that their pastors and leaders are praying for them. (more…)

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But, What About the Holy Spirit? – Colossians 1:9-12

paul-iconAs is generally the case with Paul’s letters, he begins by letting the church know he is praying for them. He really believed in the vital importance of prayer.

Prayer is at the foundation of all church renewal. We are regularly encouraged to pray. “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV). We are given the examples of Jesus and Paul, who made prayer and intercession priorities in their lives and ministries. Before we need new ideas and quick fix solutions, we need prayer.

Prayer is at the heart of Christian ministry and at the heart of the life of the Church. This part of the letter is very important, and it’s going to take me a while to fully discuss this.

I need to begin by pointing out something about this prayer that seems odd at first. So, first some brief introductory remarks, and then some personal reflections. (more…)

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On the Colossian Heresy

 

church-fathers

People sometimes get idyllic notions of what the early Church was like. It is imagined that the early Church was more Spirit-filled, more unified, free from many of the problems the Church has today.

It’s just part of that instinctive yearning people have for “the good old days.” I don’t know why people believe in this notion. It seems to be intuitive: sometime, way back when, people didn’t have the problems we have today.

But, a careful reading of the letters of the apostle Paul in our New Testament will quickly disprove this notion. The letters of Paul were often written to correct false teachings and false practices that had arisen in the churches to which he wrote. Much of the New Testament we owe to the problems in the early Church.

Some of the unique features of Paul’s letter to the Colossians can be explained by the fact that the apostle Paul is replying to a type of false teaching (or false teachings) that were circulating in the Colossian church. This concern comes to the surface, for example here: (more…)

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Faith, Hope & Love – Colossians 1:3-8

greek-nt-openAs I pointed out earlier, the words of greeting with which Paul begins this letter are pretty characteristic of his letters in general. The language he uses is fraught with meaning, but the greeting itself is nothing unique at all. So it is with the words that follow. It was characteristic of Paul to begin his letters with words of encouragement and congratulation. Now, as we read further in this letter we will discover that he wrote it to correct false ideas that were current in the congregation. But, however concerned he may be about the false teaching at Collosae, it did not approach his anger and outrage over the false teaching at Galatia. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he leaves the encouragement paragraph out altogether and launches into his angry words of correction. But, here he wants his readers to hear a good word first. he takes time to give them encouragement and praise. (more…)
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