Goodbye to the Colossians

April 30, 2015

When I write a letter or newsy email to a friend or family member, I often spend more time at the beginning of the letter with lengthy highlights and then at the end scramble to include all the little tidbits of news. At some point I realize that if I keep going, the missive will be too long to digest in one sitting! I get the feeling that Paul was in that mode with this last passage of his letter to the Colossians:

12Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. 13For I testify for him that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. 15Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. 17And say to Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”

18I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

“Now that we’ve got the doctrine down, and its ethical requirements are laid out, here are a few housekeeping items before I close.” What does Paul include?

Relationship cementing. Appreciate what Epaphras has done for you and your neighbors. I have tagged Luke and Demas in this letter. I see the woman leading a house church—give her a good word! Keep me in your prayers.

Instruction. Share my greetings with your neighbors. Exchange letters with the Laodiceans. Archippus, finish what you started of the Lord’s commission.

Final greeting. Grace be with you! It is I who greet you.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians has contained treatise and testimony. Here it also includes what we used to call touchy-feelies . . . Colossians has everything from lofty doctrinal statements on Christology to thoughts on “things above” as a spiritual discipline. What I find encouraging, challenging, and inspiring is this: as good a thinker and ethicist as he is, Paul loves the recipients of this letter. The relationships that exist between him, his protégés, and the churches of the area, are dear to him. This letter carries the affection of a spiritual mentor to his apprentices, and the hopes that all would carry on in the faith despite his incarceration.

His hope for them—and my hope for my readers now—is that we may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. This means, I think, that we continue to grow in our faith toward spiritual adulthood and that we rest assured that God is working out his purposes. We have not “arrived” anywhere but into the presence of our heavenly Father. There is still the completion of what God has started in our lives to aim toward.

It strikes me that this process of transformation—sanctification Paul calls it elsewhere— would be more steady and fruitful if we were to share Paul’s writings with one another. I imagine the Laodecians reading the letter they got from Paul out loud to the assembly of Colossian Christians, and visa versa: comparing notes, holding one another accountable, thinking about how it applies to the current situation or tomorrow’s demands.

I started this Bible study with the de-churched in mind, believers who nonetheless are out of church fellowship for the time being, discouraged with “organized religion” or otherwise alienated from congregations. This word is for you: the Word of God will dwell more richly in your heart if you share it with others, and, in the bond of the Spirit, hold one another up in prayer. There is a big hole not only in our experience but in our obedience if we isolate ourselves from other Christians. Yes, it can be a drag sometimes when our brothers and sisters in the Lord get side-tracked or we perceive a level of hypocrisy at work. [As one of my friends used to say to people with this objection, “Well, I am aware that some of our folks are hypocrites, but there’s always room for one more!”] But if Paul has taught us anything, it is that Christ is Lord and his supremacy is a reality that affects our life in community. We cannot fully live in submission to Christ without also living in submission within his Body the church.

With that, we will be moving on in the coming days to new topics related to current events in the church and the world. May the Lord bless you for sticking with this study, and I do hope to hear of some of the fruit it might have ripened in your life or in the lives of others.

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2 Responses to “Goodbye to the Colossians”

  1. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Mary, just curious: Do you think Paul is the actual author of Colossians, or was it more likely written by one of his students? Why or why not?

  2. revmary Says:

    Hi Jodie, Marianne Meye Thompson (Fuller NT prof) and I had a conversation about this while in Turkey. The literary data are mixed, though I believe the scale tips toward Pauline authorship with his intentional signature at the end. At the very least, he fully reviewed and approved the message. So for all intents and purposes, it’s his. I made my comments with the assumption that Paul was the author of the letter.

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