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Tag Archives: Epistle to the Colossians

Do you ever wonder about what you are to do with what you the Lord teaches you? When in grace Jesus shows you something, leads you to some fresh understanding, what are you to do with what you come to understand?

I often find myself thinking that what He shows me is solely for my “personal consumption.” That is, I think that what I am learning is, primarily and perhaps entirely, for my growth and benefit. But there could well be more to it than that.

As he draws his letter to the Colossians to a close, Paul makes a few remarks that suggests there might be more to what we learn than that view of personal consumption of truth. Paul is not specifically teaching the Colossians how they are to think, but as he offers his closing remarks we can learn something about how he thinks about this matter.

Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:14-16)

Although Paul specifically wrote this letter to the Colossians, with a view toward their particular challenges, with the intention of addressing the doctrinal matters they needed to better understand, he apparently did not think that the benefit of the truth imparted ended with the Colossians. There is a community of faith, connected by the truth. There are others who would benefit from what Paul wrote to the Colossians–and the Colossians would benefit from what Paul penned for the church in Laodicea.

There is a communal impact, a common benefit, to the truth we learn. There is an “us-ness” about what we have come to understand about life with Jesus, about the Gospel of grace, about the revelation God makes to us through the Scriptures.

Such thoughts call for me to reflect upon what Jesus is teaching me. How will I become a conduit for Gospel truth into the lives of others? In what ways will I intentionally pass on to others those things I have come to value in what Jesus is showing me?

Do I let what I have come to see of the glories of our Savior and the wonders of his message end with its impact on me? Or do I live with the realization that there is a communal benefit, a common sharing in, this journey into truth?

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There is a healthy way to think of our own uniqueness in Christ. We are each gifted by the Spirit for a particular kind of work of service for the benefit of others. (See 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12-16; Romans 12:3-8.) There is something that–by grace and through the Spirit–we “bring to the table” of ministry. We do contribute to the life of the body through the gracious gifting of God.

But there is also a dangerous way to think of our own uniqueness. Although we are each gifted, we can end up in troubling waters if we believe ourselves to be absolutely unique, if we think that no one could do what we do in the lives of others, if we over-value our own significance and importance in the life of the body.

When we live as if we are irreplaceable, when we privilege our particular way of saying of doing things, if we end up believing that the body would be irrevocably harmed if we weren’t around, we are at risk of wrongly understanding our own place in the body.

Although Paul is not purposefully addressing this idea, what comes through in his words about Epaphras in the close of his letter to the Colossians does help us keep perspective.

Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12-13)

Paul calls Epaphras a “bondslave of Jesus Christ”–a term Paul often uses for himself (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Titus 1:1). Paul touches on Epaphras’ fervency in prayer–something Paul highlights in his own life and ministry (Romans 1:10; Ephesians 1:16). Paul writes about Epaphras’ “earnest labor”–using the very language he uses to speak of his own work in ministry (Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 4:10). Paul notes that Epaphras’ desire is for the Colossians to “stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God”–echoing Paul’s description of his own ministry (as seen earlier in Colossians 1:29).

Taking together, it is clear that Paul sees Epaphras no different from he sees himself. Paul recognizes his own giftedness and his own unique call. But Paul also sees clearly that he is not the sole gifted minister to the Colossians, he is not the only one who cares for and shares with and builds up the Colossians in the grace of God.

In Paul’s words of appreciation, we catch a glimpse of Paul’s understanding of his own call and his own ministry. Although he knows his own call, Paul also sees himself as one among others. A very healthy self-awareness that is seen in a very honest expression of appreciation.

As he does in many of his letters, as Paul draws his letter to the Colossians to a close he adds some personal comments and greetings.

As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information.  For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. (Colossians 4:7-14)

It is easy to simply skip over these words, telling ourselves that this is just “personal stuff” and a common courtesy being extended in the closing of this letter. But is there nothing that might be of benefit to us in reflecting, just a little, on these words? Let me suggest a few things.

It is worth noting that even the “great apostle Paul” was apparently not a lone ranger. This is, perhaps, a startling observation when first made, particularly in light of the common view of Paul. It’s easy to default into thinking of Paul out there, on the mission field, on his own. A brave solitary soldier of the cross, laying down his life for the kingdom.

Look over the language that Paul uses to speak of those he names. Some know all about what is going on his life–he is fully known by these friends. Some he identifies as fellow laborers or fellow prisoners–he sees them as sharing equally in what he is experiencing.

Seeing those things, I am nudged to think about my own journey in faith. Are there any who “know the full situation” of what is going on with me in my journey with Jesus? Am I that transparent? Accessible? Are there any who I rely on as “fellow laborers” with me in what I am doing? Do I really live as part of body of believers or am I a bit too “on my own”?

Although Paul is not purposefully teaching about life in the community of faith in these closing words, what he does share opens my eyes to see myself, in the body, in fresh ways. These greetings move from being just a common courtesy at the close of the letter to a true challenge to engage in this life in Jesus in ways that reflect much more of Paul’s own thinking.

I find this troubling tendency in my own soul. I see the kinds of things Jesus wants for us–loving others, responding kindly, going out of our way to serve others, putting the needs of others before our own–and I genuinely long to live that way with those I come in contact with throughout the day. Except . . . I tend to think that there must be exceptions when it comes to those with whom I do most of life.

I think that we should love others, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35) . . . except with my spouse and kids. They should reciprocate my love and care! I believe we should value others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) . . . except with my co-workers. My priorities and wants are at least as important as theirs! I am sure that Jesus wants me to the servant of all (Mark 9:35) . . . except for family members. I shouldn’t be the only one doing all the serving in this house!

It’s sad . . . but all too common. I hold this internal debate about why I have already gone the extra mile–when I feel I am being imposed upon. I argue internally over having already laid down my life–when I feel that I have to surrender my wants and longings in order to serve another. I get frustrated when I am overlooked or my desires seem to be ignored–when I feel that I have already proved that I am attentive to the needs of others.

And then the words come out. Words that are not full of grace. Words that don’t build up and encourage. And my heart is challenged  by Paul’s words to the Colossians.

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Always, Paul? Should my speech always be with grace? Even when I am underappreciated, overlooked, ignored, or treated poorly. In those moments of what feels like neglectful treatment at the hands of other, I often am unsure of how to respond. Should I be defensive? Should I call the other person’s attention to the error of their ways? Should I contrast how he or she is treating me with how I consistently seek to treat him or her?

I wonder if my uncertainty about how to respond is rooted in my unwillingness to let my speech always be with grace. For Paul says that with that kind of “seasoning” I will know how to respond to each person.

When you first notice it, it is fascinating. Watching Jesus interact with people, as recorded for us in the Gospels, we see how he shares “the good news” with those he meets. And his variety in sharing the truth about how people must come to find life in him is startling.

Most of those who have been in “church life” for any length of time end up with a perspective as to how to “share the Gospel.” We learn a particular way to tell the “good news” about Jesus. It’s not that such models or templates (like “The Four Spiritual Laws” or “The Romans Road”) are not helpful. It’s just that we often end up sharing the truth with others in an identical way even when the people we are talking to are not living life in identical ways.

Jesus speaks to one man, Nicodemus, about being “born again.” But contemporary Christians use that language broadly, speaking to varied individuals with the language Jesus used for one. With a Samaritan woman, Jesus spoke about living water. With a struggling rich young man, Jesus talked about commandments and riches. Although Jesus was clear about what was essential in his message–that people rightly relate to him so that they might experience life with God–this message of grace came in varied ways designed to reach the particular person to whom Jesus was speaking.

I believe this is the idea behind Paul’s words to the Colossians about their “sharing the faith” with others.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Whenever we speak, we should be alert to the possibility of sharing the Gospel, making most of each exchange. In so doing, we need to be sensitive to flavor all such conversations with grace. The last phrase in this short encouragement highlights the “particularization” of the message that we see in Jesus.

We need to think well about how we should respond to each person as a particular individual. Although the Gospel is a “one truth for all people” message, the way the Gospel comes home to someone, the way the truth first breaks into his or her heart, the particular aspect of Jesus’ character and care and love reaches a heart, is not a “one size fits all” endeavor.

To the weary one, Jesus is the one who gives rest. To the spiritually dry, Jesus offers living water. To the religious “doer,” Jesus calls for new birth. For the hard-working rules keeper, Jesus invites extravagant abandonment to himself. To the spiritually bound, Jesus extends freedom. To those who cannot see spiritual realities, Jesus provides new sight.

Ultimately, every individual on the planet needs to meet and know this Jesus and experience the life he alone can offer. But that initial introduction to Jesus–that might come in a variety of ways. That might come through grace individualized for the need of the moment, for the sake of the one who needs to hear.

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