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Beneath the main article in Short Stops
Paul now alludes to some other very important aspects of the Christian life: prayer, our evangelistic witness and our speech. Each of these builds the kingdom of God as we treat others with kindness and respect. When we pray for others we build community and oneness. As we pray we become bound with others by feelings of love and compassion. Their suffering becomes ours. As for our Christian witness, we must make use of every opportunity that comes our way to share the gospel, but in the right way. We must consider the other person, listen and learn where they hurt so we may properly apply scripture, compassion and the love of Christ to the point of their need. We are to use Godly wisdom as to how we approach others. Our attitude and words ought to win them with kindness and peace.
This matter of kind speech must also be applied to our fellow believers and to every one of our relationships. Our words and expressions have power to encourage and heal but also to hurt. Too often we say things that are mean and cruel because we are not thinking of the needs, temperament or pain of the other. We are thinking too much of ourselves, how the other’s behavior reflects on us, or how much the other person disgusts us or how superior we may feel about such weak people with issues and problems. We need to speak with grace so that Christ is glorified and praised. He will enable us to do so as long as we realize we are His servants, just as were the believers whose names Paul lists at the end of this letter. They all served God by helping Paul. They did not seek honors or kudos for their efforts but are a testimony and example to us of faithful and unselfish service.
Paul now offers his own words of wisdom that will help the believers grow into the image of Christ, to gain spiritual maturity. This does not involve learning spiritual secrets or following the law or adopting an ascetic lifestyle. The way we grow in Christ is by putting off our old way of living and thinking. When we became Christians we died to the old self and became new creatures in Christ. This death is symbolized by baptism which graphically proclaims that entry into the kingdom of God that only comes by death. This death must take its effects over every aspect of our passions, lusts and selfish desires though it takes time and the disciplined work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish as He motivates us to set aside the old ways and put on the new.
And in this new life we are joined to Christ and so joined to all other believers as well. Men and women, slave and free, black, white, yellow and brown we are all equal in Christ so we should treat everyone accordingly. We are to focus on being tender-hearted and kind toward all people. We need to forgive always even as we have been forgiven. We are never to seek our own agenda.
This attitude of unselfishness may disturb us because it will mean we will usually have to quietly accept abuse, scorn and reproach from our fellow human beings when we are really tempted to justify and defend ourselves to prove others wrong. The good Christian realizes however that his sense of worth and identity come from Christ not from other men so it does not really matter what they say. So when we think we speak our mind to others we should be very careful that we don’t do it to show off, justify ourselves, or put others down. We should speak the truth in love and humility so others may be edified and blessed.
The nature of the false teaching that appeared at Colossi seemed to be a blend of Jewish legalism, Greek, philosophy and mysticism. This syncretistic form of mysticism put humans at the center of life, and claimed that they had the ability to control their own destiny. They tended to downplay the deity of Christ, preferring to consider him as a demigod or lesser type of divinity. Thus humans could work to be like him, demigods as well or godlike. The way to achieve this was through a process of meditation, thinking, and works of asceticism or self-denial such as Paul mentions here concerning fasting from certain foods or celebrating certain days and feasts. In this way one could attain secret knowledge that brought them to the upper echelon of spiritual enlightenment.
All this mystical thinking made believers forget that the whole reason they came to faith in Christ in the first place was because they were trying to reach God through the use of all these same means all without success. They were still alienated from God, unable to make themselves right or good.
Paul brings them and us back to our true focus and our head, Jesus. On the cross, He performed the ultimate act of unselfishness by dying for us, we who were alienated from God without any hope of ever achieving oneness with Him no matter what we did. We cannot go back to using those same useless ways and methods that we tried before we came to faith in Him. They only enslave us and give us a false sense of security that leads us away from the will and purpose of the Lord. What is even worse is that we teach it to others under the guise of godly wisdom as we can see in what passes for “popular” Christian culture.
Paul writes to the church in Colossi, one he has not personally visited and had no hand in founding. He praises the believers for their faith and zeal in Christ, words that form the prelude to an issue that is troubling the church and Paul as well: syncretism, the watering down of the Christian message through the adoption of human philosophic and or scientific principles to explain reality. And so in language that is stirring and emotionally charged, he describes for them the fullness of Christ, that is, He is God, eternally existent. This great God is unique and dwells apart from mankind and yet He lives with His people in the church by His Holy Spirit. And He is truly man as well. He God incarnate who gave His life as an atonement for the sins of man.
This assertion of the divinity of Christ and his reality as a human being are meant to counteract false teachings that take Jesus away from the central part of the faith and put the individual human being there. The Colossians needed to be reminded of the truth because someone was telling them that Jesus was not sovereign God but a lesser deity. Someone is telling them that Jesus did not really come in the flesh, that he only appeared to. Denial of either or both of these principles destroys the whole faith for as Paul points out, they contradict the truth of the atonement. For the death of Christ to be efficacious He had to be both fully God and man. In addition this work of atonement is all of Christ. We add nothing to it by following the Law or by good works.
Today there are many false prophets and teachers who are corrupting the church. They come in the name of Jesus. Many mainstream Protestants and even evangelicals teach a form of universalism. They deny the uniqueness of Christ and His sacrifice in favor of a tolerance for and acceptance of all religions as equally valid. The bigger problem in the evangelical churches is that there is less focus on glorifying God and more on glorifying and exalting the self. Faith is all about exalting Christ and what He has done for us, not what we can do for Him.
Paul now presents some of the keys to living as a servant in the midst of the world which is constantly influencing us to conform. Our attitude should not be negative and complaining, but joyful and contented with whatever we have. If we look at those who are suffering in the world, we should thank God for what we have rather than what we do not. He urges his brethren to be gentle in their dealings with everyone, not angry or vengeful, but willing to do whatever is required by the Lord to win them to Him. In those times that we become anxious or afraid we ought to bring our concerns to the Lord and ask Him for strength to endure. That is a hard thing to do but we have to focus not on our impotence but on God’s sufficiency to carry us through every trial and circumstance and meet every need. He will give us peace in the midst of struggles.
In addition to all the rest, we must focus on the good things of the Lord and what He is doing. There is just so much negative news in our world that it is a struggle to remember all the wonders of the universe that the Lord has created and set in place. And as far as the bad things that happen and all the suffering our fellow human beings endure, we should work to alleviate that suffering as well through the use of our time, talents and finances. And we should work to counteract the evil in the world by doing what is right and good and true rather than praising those cultural idols, politicians, business men and celebrities who do not glorify God. In this way we will give glory and honor to the Lord by living according to the standards of God’s Kingdom.
Paul goes on to add that the true believers must emulate Christ. They must be in prayer for one another, support one another in the struggle against sin and help one another attain the fullness of Christ. They must also be wary of all those who come in His name but are not servants, be wary of those out to make a name for themselves or amass money and prestige or who demand obedience because of their authority and credentials. Paul is not that way at all that though he has earthly credentials and a fine Jewish heritage. He realizes that after all salvation and righteousness do not come from or works or our achievement but are the gift of God imparted to those He calls, to those He brings to repentance and faith.
Paul is not one to proclaim even his own righteousness because he knows that he is not perfect by any means. In fact as we see here he is painfully aware of his sins and shortcomings. Most leaders in the church would hesitate to admit such a thing. They want to be perceived as in control, having all the answers to all problems, with boundless energy, free from doubt as well as from the struggles of life and temptation that the plague the rest of us. They want to be perceived as successful and dynamic almost super human. And many believers want the same thing as well. They shudder at the thought of a pastor struggling with anything, or not having answers to their questions and the solutions to their problems.
This is quite a contrast to Paul. He admits he as not arrived yet at perfection. Yet he knows that his new life is assured in Christ and he wants to experience it in its fullness. That is why he presses on in ministry, forgetting the sins of the past, knowing that he is forgiven in Christ, ignoring the deprivation and suffering of the present and working toward the glory of heaven. In the end it is far better to have a pastor or minister who shares our temptations and sufferings rather than one who pretends to have all the answers.