A Letter from a Sojourner to Sojourners

January 6, 2015

Today we begin our Bible study on a book of the Bible near and dear to my heart. I confess that Colossians is one of my favorite letters because I learned it from Dallas Willard, who required me and my Doctor of Ministry class to memorize its entire chapter 3 in two weeks time. So while we organize ourselves and get the hang of studying Scripture together, as a spiritual discipline of sojourners, I decided to start in a familiar and warm place.

Why I Picked Bible Study as the Means for Healing of Sojourners

  • Assuming that you have been upset or frustrated about something—the focus of your unhappiness with the church—the discipline of Scripture reflection has power to reorient thoughts and feelings in a productive direction.

  • Perhaps you have been preoccupied with human voices demanding attention; it’s time to listen to God!

  • God’s Word will get you back on track emotionally and spiritually.

  • The discipline allows you to rest and feast and listen, to calm down and wrestle with your feelings without doing any damage to others.

  • Bible studies are edifying in a particular way when done in community; private study like this is one way to get hungry again for Christian fellowship. Let it be known that my goal for you is that you eventually get back into fellowship; your sojourn is only temporary! We shall walk this road together, so from now on the pronoun is “we.”

Why I Picked Colossians for Sojourners

  • It makes a strong statement about the person and work of Jesus Christ, covering an essential tenet of the Reformed faith.

  • Paul is writing within a culture that parallels ours to some degree. Perhaps within this letter we can find help for surviving in an environment culturally hostile to Jesus Christ.

  • His incredible, life-giving exhortations to the called life are encouraging to any Christian anywhere.

  • It’s not too long, so our experiment with format and pace won’t go on forever.

  • There are other books of the Bible that speak directly to the sojourner’s situation, and we will get to them eventually . . . but this one is high on Christology, which is a great place to begin.

So Let’s Dig In: Colossians 1:1-2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

The “book” of Colossians is actually a letter written by the Apostle Paul, in a format and style common to first century Roman letter writing. The letter begins with a typical MEMO heading, “From:” and “To:” The sender is Paul and the receiver is the church at Colossae.

We first meet Paul (in the Bible) in the book of Acts, chapter 8, when he was a Pharisee named Saul actively persecuting Jesus followers. Through a miraculous set of circumstances, Saul was stopped dead in his ravaging tracks by none other than Jesus Christ, who asked him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was silenced by the question, led into Damascus, met by a saint named Ananias who introduced him to Jesus. The rest is history. Saul’s name was changed to Paul, he learned from Jesus directly the content of the gospel and what he was to do with it. He embarked upon several tours through the Mediterranean region to share the gospel of Jesus Christ especially with non-Jews.

He passed through Colossae, a town in Asia Minor now known as western Turkey, during his third missionary journey in the summer of 53 AD. and lived close by in Ephesus for three years. This is twenty to twenty-two years after the crucifixion of Jesus and Paul’s subsequent conversion. The memories were still fresh, and his ongoing life with God was vibrant and trusting, even as it was relentlessly challenged. It is likely that this letter was written to the church some time around 60 AD from Rome, where Paul was under house arrest. His letter to the church at Colossae is remarkable for its grand vision of Christ Jesus’ identity and its implications for day-to-day living. We will be picking up clues from the letter itself as to why Paul needed to go back to the basics of doctrine about the Lord. In any case, it is clear that Paul also desired to reinforce the ministry of his protégé Epaphras, who had planted the church in town after hearing the gospel from Paul in Ephesus.

For sojourners, what jumps out at me in this simple letter greeting is that Paul is himself detached from the worshipping community, confined to an apartment in Rome under Roman guard while awaiting trial for activities disloyal to the Roman emperor, i.e. preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through letters and visits from Christian friends like Pastor Epaphras, Paul kept in touch with the larger church and continued to minister, despite his own discomforts. As we shall see, Paul held on to Christian fellowship dearly, and we should, too, even if we are people in exile or on the road without a church home.

 

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One Response to “A Letter from a Sojourner to Sojourners”

  1. Bruce Pope Says:

    Mary I had the pleasure of attending a class taught by Dallas at Oxford during a C.S.Lewis conference..he exuded Gods love…looking forward to “getting back on track”. Bruce PS

    DallasAWillard @DallasAWillard As we grow in grace, God’s laws increasingly form the foundation of our hearts; His love is our love, His faith our faith.

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