Dr. John Dickson

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

Talk 3. Jesus and the New Humanity: Studies in Colossians

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INTRODUCTION

Benjamin Franklin and his moral regime

“It caused me so much painful attention, and my faults vexed me so much, and I’d made so little progress and amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt.” (B. Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)

Walter Isaacson, in his book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life said that late in life, Franklin felt let down by his own failings, and those of his deist friends.

The Colossians and their moral regime

The Christians of Lycus River Valley in AD62 became enamoured with their own innovative external regime to mend the human condition.

1) THE APOSTLE AND HIS GOSPEL (Col 1:24 to 15-2:5)

1.1    For Paul, ministry is all about Christ – suffering for Him and preaching Him (Col 1:24)

The words “Christ’s afflictions” don’t refer to Christ’s death on the cross but to his ongoing suffering in his body the church; persecutions of the church are ‘afflictions of Christ’ (Acts 9:4-5 and 15-16)

1.2    Everything is about Christ (Col 1:25 and 28)

Paul suffers for Christ because he preaches Christ.

Christ is the content, Christ is the means, Christ is the goal.

1.3    Paul is working for the Colossians (Col 2:1-3)

1.4    Pivot point (Col 2:4-5): someone is causing trouble

2) THE INFLUENCER AND HIS PHILOSOPHY (Col 2:8-23)

2.1    The Influencer is a ‘Jewish new ager’

The Influencer’s philosophy concerns human ‘traditions’ and the spiritual ‘forces’

2.2    “elemental spiritual forces of this world” refers to the Greek concept of ‘the elements of the cosmos’ (Col 2:8)

Many ancient Greeks/Romans believed the universe was made up of completely unpredictable, capricious forces—the ‘elements of the cosmos’.

The goal of religion (and some philosophy) was to placate these forces/elements so one could navigate life with as few bad encounters with them as possible.

An inscription, discovered in the Apollo temple at Hierapolis records the ‘oracle’ that the delegation received.  It’s all about appeasing the capricious forces of the world:

You are not alone in being injured by the destructive miseries of a deadly plague, but many are the cities and peoples which are grieved at the wrathful displeasures of the gods. I bid you avoid the painful anger of the deities by libations and feasts and fully accomplished sacrifices. Firstly then to Earth, the mother of all, bring a cow from the herd into her hall, and sacrifice it with sweet-smelling incense. Secondly, sacrifice an unfeasted offering to the Aither and to the gods of the heavens, all sweet smelling with incense. To Demeter, as your custom is, and to the gods of the underworld, perform rites with victims free from pollution, and to the heroes in the ground pour drink-offerings in accordance with the precepts. Also around all your city gates consecrate precincts for a holy statue of the Clarian Phoebus equipped with his bow, which destroys diseases, as though shooting with his arrow from afar at the unfertile plague. Moreover when after you have wrought appeasement and the evil powers have departed, I instruct your boys with maidenly musicians to come together accompanied by libations. If you perform what it is seemly for god-fearing men to accomplish, never will you be in painful confusions, but with more wealth and better safety .(H. W. Parke, The Oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor. London, Croom Helm, 1984, 153-55)

2.3    Paul’s answer to the Influencer (Col 2:9 and 10)

Why would you chase human tradition when you already have the fullness of God in Christ?

2.4    Circumcision and baptism just human signs of God’s salvation for Israel (Col 2:11 and 12)

For Paul it is all about: “faith in the working of God” (Col 2:12)

2.5    Metaphor 1. Sins have been “nailed to the cross” (Col 2:13 and 14)

“the charge of our legal indebtedness” refers to a handwritten note of debt, duly signed, which put a person in the red

2.5    Metaphor 2. Christ has disarmed the powers and authorities (Col 2:13-15)

The language in these verses is especially evocative to ancient readers as it is the jargon of a Roman victory parade.

When an emperor vanquished a foreign army, the prisoners of war (and all the booty) were paraded down the main street of Rome to rapturous applause. “public spectacle” and “triumph” (v.15) are exactly the terminology used.

And victory comes through a CROSS

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

2.6    Paul’s rapid-fire denunciation of all additions he knows the Influencer is proposing.(Col 2:16-23)

Paul is saying that, in light of Christ’s majesty & grace, the additions are all totally unnecessary.

The additions are a fusion of Jewish custom, invocation of angels and pagan mysticism

Marian: an example from ancient Galilee

Ancient life was a life of great anxiety: negotiate ‘powers of the cosmos’ through ritual, angels, incantations, moral regimes.

Into this world, the gospel of the reconciliation of all things through the cross of the Lord of heaven and earth was a breath of fresh air and the very breath of life.

CONCLUSION

Patricia’s journey to Christ

“Suppose for several days in succession—preferably at the same time each day—you go to some quiet place where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Take a pencil and a piece of paper with you. Ask God to show you any unconfessed and unforgiven sins out of your past, including those half-forgotten memories which you have pushed down into the subconscious mind. Don't be afraid of the word ‘sin’. It's a sturdy, old-fashioned word. It's an honest word. Then you take your list, all the things of which you are ashamed, and you claim for yourself that wonderful promise that “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness.”

When every uncomfortable memory has been confessed before Christ, he will keep his promise and remove those sins completely. He will take away the guilt and shame. You will make you feel clean again. And you may then tear up or burn your list—and, by the grace of God, begin life anew.” (Peter Marshall, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, pp 159 and 160)

Christian life isn’t about advancing beyond Christ: it’s about “continuing to live in him” as Lord’.

Perhaps above all it is about a life “overflowing with thankfulness” (for all God has done in Christ)

An example of Patricia’s ‘living by gospel of Jesus’

Shortly after finding God’s grace, Patricia’s maid in Fiji was discovered to be stealing from her.

She reasoned that her maid probably stole because she was poor, so, instead of sacking her, Patricia gave her a raise! This inspired the maid’s loyalty and love, and eventually the maid’s conversion to Jesus Christ.

Grace inspires a life of thankfulness.

That was true of the maid’s response to Patricia’s grace. But Patricia’s grace itself was a thankful response to God’s grace.

The Christian life, in other words, is not much more than the thankful overflow of God’s grace toward us in Jesus Christ. by whose cross all the powers of the cosmos are tamed and our sins are cancelled.

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