Colossians 1:12-14: The De-Churched Should Expect a Transfer

January 14, 2015

We move on to the extension of Paul’s prayer, which in essence is a plea for knowledge of God’s will and the strength to carry it out. What follows is a riff (that goes through verse 23) on how that knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and strength was made available to us and by whom:

11May 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 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

As we joyfully receive the gifts of strength and endurance for life’s tests, it is appropriate that we give thanks to the giver, our heavenly Father. It is he who established the relationship that qualifies us to receive these gifts! God has included us in his will, so that we might inherit what is intended for “the saints in the light.” God intends that we hear and receive the gospel, which notifies us of the salvation made available through Christ’s redeeming work. God gives us the passcode, so to speak, so that we might gain access to a secure source of blessing, all that God promised his people.

God’s salvation is nothing short of rescue, that is, retrieval from a dangerous, life-threatening situation (the consequences of our sin) and transfer into Christ’s kingdom. In other words, in Christ, we have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness (the world under a different ruler in opposition to God) and into the kingdom of light, godly rule, and mercy (forgiveness of sins).

We would do well to cultivate appreciation for what God has done, even when we are stuck in difficult or dangerous conditions for which we need strength and wisdom. Paul’s run-on sentence here ties together our need for strength with the One who can give it by bringing to bear all the resources of his magnificent kingdom. The saints’ inheritance is a new kingdom in which Jesus’ values are embraced, God’s intentions are fulfilled, and the saints’ lives are turned around.

Please understand that the word “saint” is Paul’s normal name for those who have trusted Jesus Christ and believed in his Name. No other special virtue is implied. A saint is one who has been rescued and transferred, redeemed, and forgiven.

For the sojourner, this passage might reinforce the thinking that says, “Hey, I know that I am saved, and that is all that is important. I don’t need the church in order to be just fine spiritually.” However, note that Paul’s prayer includes praise to God for transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. A kingdom is not a “bubble-realm,” a collection of individuals separated into their own little pietistic bubbles. No, the kingdom of God is a robust, interdependent, relational community of saints who work together for God’s glory and purposes. We see this in the great choruses and communities of praise in the book of Revelation (e.g. Revelation 5:9–12). I think there will also be great, awesome silences and every person will feel himself to be loved and singled out in one-on-one relationship with the Father. But I am pretty sure we will never be alone, isolated, or out of community. We are called to practice that in this life so that we can stand it in the next!

Nevertheless, there are decommissioned, de-churched saints among us in the here and now, and we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, we are accompanied on the journey by the One who set the path with his own footsteps. But we also need healing, the laying on of hands, the growing sense that the quality of our life and the focus of our activity is not dependent merely on our own comfort.

I just had a conversation today with the director of pastoral care services at John Muir Medical Center. In the background, I am proud to say that the hospital has had a strong, community-based, chaplaincy program for over twenty-five years. I and many other local pastors have been invited to help provide on-call spiritual care. We have received training and information that enable us to cooperate with the overall treatment given to patients. Anyway, the director and I were commenting on the fact that many of the people who are admitted to the hospital have not been recent church attenders, a lot like the unchurched, de-churched, and decommissioned Christians I am addressing in this blog. And yet, under the distressing circumstances of hospitalization, they realize they need spiritual care as well as physical cure and indicate a denominational affiliation on their admittance forms. Consequently, we community-based chaplains (pastors of local congregations who volunteer some hours at the medical center) become a temporary safe havenm spiritually-speaking. We get to remind people of Whose they are and the availability of a local faith community. [Our program, by the way, engages mostly Christian pastoral care givers, because the vast majority of the patient population identifies as Christian; but we are also committed to helping Jewish patients, Muslim patients, and other groups get the spiritual care that they request.]

If Paul were praying for them—patients and staff at a regional trauma center like ours—Paul would be asking God for a reassuring knowledge that they were part of a spiritual family that promotes healing so vividly evident in the kingdom of light. And we can pray for that for one another, too.  

So church without walls, think about this: how can you show loving care to other Christians in exile around you? What can you do to bring healing: Listen well? Intercede? Anoint with oil? Share mission? Study the Word? Venture forth to sit in the back row of a new church for awhile? Weep in lament? Visit in the hospital? Utter reassurances of pardon? Think creatively about this, my friends, because some day the Lord is going to say, “Okay, it is time to transfer into fellowship with the saints in light. Take up your pallet and walk!”


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