Dr. John Dickson

Australian speaker, author and historian, and public advocate for the Christian Faith

Talk 1. Jesus and the New Humanity: Studies in Colossians

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INTRODUCTION - OVERVIEW OF THE LETTER

Anniversary reminders

Marriage pledges renewed

Christian believers and anniversary reminders

Sometimes we need “anniversary” reminders of our vows to the Lord (and of the Lord’s vows to us).

Paul’s letter to Colossians is a kind of ten year ‘anniversary card’

In the 10 years since the Colossians first heard the gospel, they had begun to add beliefs and practices to ‘improve’ their faith (Col 2:16ff):

  1. Doctrines about ‘elemental spiritual forces:’ mystical experiences to enhance worship
  2. Time-honored traditions: Jewish food laws / festivals
  3. Rigorous moral regimes designed to make them more focused / disciplined.

When Paul heard about these additions, he wrote to the Colossians, calling them back to basics by restating Christ’s vows to them, and calling on them to reciprocate.

If the fullness of God is in Christ, all who have Him are full to overflowing.

The Colossians (and today’s Christians) don’t need more doctrine, traditions, mystical experiences or moral regimes. They just need the One proclaimed in the Gospel.

The connection between God’s fullness in Christ and our fullness in Him is a golden thread through the letter (1:9, 1:19, 1:25, 2:2, 2:9, 4:12).

As Paul puts it in Col 3:9-11 “new self being renewed in image of its Creator”

  1. Humanity is intended for God’s glory
  2. Humanity has fallen short of God’s glory
  3. Christ is the fullness of God’s glory.

1) GREETING - Paul begins with a customary greeting (Col 1:1-2)

1.1.    Not just Paul’s letter 

Paul’s and Timothy’s letter to the Colossians

Paul happily honored others: at end of letter (Col 4:7-9) he honors Tychicus and Onesimus (former slave) with the task of giving the apostolic update

1.2    Paul wishes two things for the Colossians: i) grace and ii) peace

‘Grace’ is not just the first word of blessing in the letter; it’s also the last (Col 4:18)

‘Peace’ with God is the theme of Col 1:20; ‘peace with each other’ (Col 3:15)

2) THANKSGIVING - what he’s been thanking God for (Col 1:3-8)

2.1.    Paul’s prayers for the recipients of his letters generally

Many of Paul’s letters open by telling the recipients how he’s praying for them and these opening prayers usually contain the key themes of the rest of the letter.

In other words, Paul doesn’t introduce his themes as an essayist; he prays his themes as a pastor.

2.2    In this letter, Paul thanks God that the Colossians embraced the same gospel as the rest of the world

2.3    Classic Pauline triad: “faith, hope, & love” (Col 1:5) (cf 1 Cor 13:13, 1 Thess 1:2-3)

Faith/hope/love is Paul’s way of thinking about the whole Christian life: 

Faith in what Christ has done in past,

Love for all in present,

Hope for future kingdom.

2.3    Paul is ratifying the Colossians as sound Christians, he drives the point home in Col 1:6

Paul has some critical things to say about ‘additions’ to Gospel later but he first thanks God that the Colossians have accepted the true Gospel.

2.4    Strategically, Paul is also setting up the fact that the solution to the Colossians’ problem is a return to the basics of:

Simple faith, hope, love and trust in the ‘gospel’ (probably why Paul alludes to their conversion in Col 1:7).

Almost always in the Christian life, the solution to our problems—ethics, doctrine, experience—are resolved by a greater realization of the basics (not ‘advancing’).

3) PETITION - what he has been asking God for on their behalf (Col 1: 9-14)

3.1    Fill/fullness

Two kinds of ‘fullness’: i) knowledge (v.9b) & ii) lifestyle (vv.10-11)

Colossians are tempted by extra sources of knowledge as well as extra aids for Christian living.

3.2     In Christ we have full spiritual wisdom and full power for life and these two are inseparable: 

Right knowledge of God leads to right conduct toward others and good theology results in “good work” (Col 1:10)

For Paul, THE good work is love (Col 3:14)

How many Christians are growing in the ‘knowledge of God’ but failing to bear fruit in ‘every good work’?

4) REASSURANCE - Colossians already have all that they need to flourish (Col 1:11-14)

4.1    Paul’s transition from prayer to his reassurance

For Paul, the ongoing Christian life is powered by God. It’s not divine ‘grace’ to get in, then human works to carry on.

And nor is Paul saying that because of this divine power working in us we will eventually attain qualification.

The Colossians (and us) have already qualified (v.12).

Christian living is not about attaining mercy through growth in theological conviction and social commitment. Instead, the beautiful simplicity of Christian faith is about responding to the mercy already secured with a thankful exertion to know God better and to love people more

CONCLUSION

The Colossians were in danger of clouding this beautiful simplicity of Christian faith by a desire for more complex dogma, elaborate ritual, deep mystical experience and moral rigor.

This letter calls them (and us) back to first principles.

If the fullness of God is in Christ, all who have Him are full to overflowing.