Monday, April 1, 2013

Colossians 4 - Community. Humility. Grace.

Counter Cultural Christianity in a World of Empire 
(part 5 of 7)
Colossians 4

This chapter is brimming with community, humility, and grace. The passage begins with direction to masters to treat slaves justly. It ends with the writer reminding us of his chains. We're directed to treat outsiders with wisdom and grace. We're reminded to pray for boldness for ourselves and those in chains, that we would speak the truth boldly, as we should, even though it may cost our lives or freedom. We are reminded of others in chains.

The distance between the members of community is felt as the writer describes his chains, and the distance traveled to deliver this letter. It is written in community. He sends greetings from others. It is sent in community. A group of people travel with the letter. At least one of the company will remain. It is sent to community. An entire church is to read and share its' contents. After it is read, is to be passed along to another community, reminding the first that they are not alone.

Relationships are acknowledged fondly by name. The writer honours each of the people he mentions with kind and true words of their hard work and service, while saying nothing about himself but that he is in chains, and need the community's prayer. From his chains, he repeatedly describes his desire that they should be encouraged.

The letter ends with a blessing of grace, the grace of God that sets us free, makes us one, and empowers us to live as Jesus did.

Colossians 4:2-6 (ESVUK)
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Proclamation of the truth of Christ is part of our role as the community of Christ on earth. It is not in our own strength, or for our own glory that we share. We must always be in prayer, led in wisdom by the Holy Spirit in how and when and with whom we share. The consequences and results of our loving and humble proclamation are not sure. What is sure is that as often as we are given an opportunity, we will share Jesus.

Colossians 4:7-9 (ESVUK)
Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

Onesimus was a slave, but he is described as a brother. Tychicus is a pastor, and he is described as a servant. A letter alone was not enough for Paul. He needed to send flesh and blood humans to share with the community. They were his letters with skin on. This is how Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to us. This is how we each now come to each other. We are the Body of Christ. Jesus places his Word and Spirit in us. Through us, he ministers within and to his body.

Colossians 4:14-18 (ESVUK)
Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfil the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Personal, individual relationships are important enough to mention by name in a community letter. Paul writes in his own hand, the closest thing to a personal contact he is able to give. His writing was likely very large and encumbered, considering the chains he mentions in the very next sentence. This is vulnerable, personal, and real. God's community people are real people in real relationships with real weaknesses. God's community desires to be together.

I am personally challenged by the vulnerability and warmth of Paul, one of the most highly respected of all the early church leaders. He truly does model the life of Jesus as he leads not in strength, but in weakness, allowing his humanity to be clearly seen, and Jesus' authority alone to be the power of his ministry.

My personal application of these passages is prayer and time. I will pray for members of my congregation daily, by name, as individuals. If anyone needs my time, I will put that time first, ahead of my sermon prep or office work, and even at the expense of either. My time spent with members of my congregation is a potentially far greater sermon than anything I can prepare and deliver in thirty minutes on a Sunday.

I love my church. 

vv2-6 – Final practical instructions.
v11 – Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles, and evidently most of his fellow ministers were among those converted by his preaching. He is comforted by the presence of Jewish brothers, and mentions that they are Jews, so the notability indicates that as the reason. I imagine Paul may have been frequently tempted to feel rejected by his Jewish brothers, as so much of what he preached was a challenge to them and he came under fire so frequently for it. He probably even questioned himself sometimes. Having Jewish brothers among his company who would encourage him in his preaching certainly would have been a comfor

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