Today we are going to jump right into a dialogue question. I am going to give you ten different if-then statements. Don’t try to do them all with the people at your table, but grab one, process it–have some fun with it–and share your THEN.
What would be your then?
- If you were one foot taller, then…
- If you were ten years older, then…
- If you were born on a different continent, then…
- If you were born in a different era, then…
- If you went to a different university, then…
- If your parents had different jobs, then…
- If you lived in a different country, then…
- If you had gone a different direction vocationally, then…
- If you lost someone close to you, then…
- If you had more time, then…
Today we are finishing our conversation through the letter of Colossians. Two weeks ago we started the conversation by looking at chapter 1. Paul was writing to a church community in Colosse that he didn’t personally start (plant), but he had been informed that there were some struggles in the church community that he wanted to address.
Paul was in prison in Rome as he penned this note. He had been imprisoned for sharing his faith, for telling people about Jesus, for evangelizing–and in the midst of his imprisonment he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
He received an update on the church in Colosse and he responded by penning this note, the letter of Colossians. He also wrote the note to Philemon, a letter encouraging Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave, not as a slave but as a brother.
Paul starts off with a greeting: We are thankful for you, we are encouraged by you, we are praying for you. And then Paul goes into a poem or thesis or declaration that he probably has given hundreds of times–a declaration that Jesus is set apart, different, above all.
You see, the good news about Jesus arrived in Colosse and was accepted; it was embraced and the church grew. But the cultural challenge was that the city was known as a polytheistic, gnostic community that practiced syncretism, the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought. The culture was very theist, believing in gods. And because of this, when Jesus was introduced, He was just added to the list.
Paul starts off with a loaded discourse on how Jesus is not just one to add to the list of gods, but He is set apart from all others:
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1:17-18)
Two weeks ago, we brought dozens of declarations from the Old and New Testaments about Jesus, the Messiah, into our conversation. What we really need to process is analyzing and evaluating who Jesus is and how that creates life in us. We ended with the conversation, “What are some things that build your desire to know Jesus better?”
After Paul makes the declaration, the remainder of the letter is based on the then. If Jesus is set apart, THEN…
In chapter 2 he gives a grouping of warnings, and in chapter 3 he gives a grouping of solutions. If Jesus is set apart, then you can’t keep on... If Jesus is set apart, then you should…
Before we dive into this, think about what happens if we twist the if-then process. What if you skip the IF and go right to the command–whether that’s you need to go to church or you need to be more like Jesus or you need to read your Bible or you need to love your neighbor or you need to trust God…?
What are some of the impacts of asking people to change because of Jesus without first internalizing His set-apart-ness? (skipping the if and going right to the then)
Paul fills chapters two and three of Colossians with warnings and advice. This could be a “because I said so” moment–but what good would that be? What would that actually change?
But beyond this being some emphatic command, there is a call for more: a call to respond, react, process, internalize, choose to change. These things cannot be done to you, no matter how emphatic the call, command, or advice is. So let’s open the door to deeper processing of this.
How do you determine whether advice is good or not?
This determination is complex. It might be fully understood or just a gut thing. It might come out of relationship or the absence of it. Maybe it’s because of authority or experience, or just whether you like the advice or not. But sometimes even good advice is NOT followed. How do we process whether or not it will have any impact on us?
How do you determine whether you will follow advice that you have decided is good?
Here’s one more foundational thought to work through. There are directives that are universal, regardless of time or culture, and others that are not for everyone.
How do you determine if a general directive or piece of advice is for you or not?
Paul moves from his declaration that Jesus is set apart to the THEN realities. He starts off with some warnings, first against hollow and deceptive philosophy (Col 2:8-10):
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Beware of being cheated by philosophy and empty deceit (Col 2:8). In Christ dwells the fullness of God, and you are complete in Him (Col 2:9-10).
Next, he warns against Judaistic ceremonialism (Col 2:11-17):
In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ. (Colossians 2:11)
In Christ you have a circumcision made without hands (Col 2:11-12). You are made alive in Christ, and the handwriting of requirements that was against us has been taken away at the cross (Col 2:13-15). Therefore don't let anyone judge you in regards to food, festivals, or sabbath days (Col 2:16-17).
Paul warns against angel worship (Col 2:18-19):
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:18-19)
Don't let anyone defraud you of your reward by appealing to angel worship and imagined visions of a fleshly mind (Col 2:18). Such people do not hold fast to Christ as the Head, and from whom true divine nourishment comes (Col 2:19).
Lastly, he warns against asceticism–severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons (Col 2:20-23):
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules? (Colossians 2:20)
Having died with Christ to the world, you do not need to submit to human ordinances (Col 2:20-22). While having appearances of wisdom, such practices have no value in controlling the indulgences of the flesh (Col 2:23).
Here’s a complicated question:
If Paul was writing to us in the American church today, what warnings do you think he would write to us?
Paul then spoke to some solutions.
First, he says, set your mind on things above (Col 3:1-4):
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)
Since you were raised with Christ, seek those things above (Col 3:1-2). For you have died and your life is now hidden in Christ, to be revealed when He appears (Col 3:3-4).
He writes, put off the old self (Col 3:5-9):
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
Put to death your members here on the earth, for the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience (Col 3:5-7). Put off the old man with his deeds (Col 3:8-9).
Paul says, put on the new self (Col 3:10-17):
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
Put on the new man, renewed in the image of our Creator (Col 3:10-11). As God's elect, put on Christ-like qualities (Col 3:12-14). Let God's peace rule in your hearts, and be thankful (Col 3:15). Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another with song and singing with grace in your hearts (Col 3:16). Do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, with thanksgiving (Col 3:17).
Finally, Paul writes about cultural responsibilities (Col 3:18-4:1):
Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. (Colossians 3:25)
He writes of the responsibilities of wives toward their husbands (Col 3:18), of husbands toward their wives (Col 3:19), of children toward their parents (Col 3:20), of fathers toward their children (Col 3:21), of servants toward their masters (Col 3:22-25), and of masters toward their servants (Col 4:1).
If Paul was writing to us in the American church today, what solutions do you think he would write to us?
Paul ended with this:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6)
Here it is again, but in The Message version:
Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them. Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. (Colossians 4:2-6 MSG)
Devote yourself to prayer–a physical act that demonstrates personal trust in the reality of God, the love of God, the care of God, the compassion of God, and the hope for His response to your reaching out to Him. Be aware of all the things to be thankful for. Pray for others. Pray that Jesus would be known. Be wise in your interactions with people who don’t know Jesus, and make the most out of every opportunity. Be known as a person of grace–seasoned with truth, so truth can be known, so Jesus will be known.
If Paul was sharing these final directives to you, how do you hear it, how do you respond, what changes over time?
Take it Deeper Questions
- Read Colossians 4:2-6.
- Are you better at giving advice or receiving advice? Why?
- What is the importance of these: prayerfulness, watchfulness, thankfulness, open doors, closed doors or chains, wise actions, opportunism, graceful talk, salty talk?
- How do these things tie into knowing how to answer everyone?
- Why was giving an answer to everyone important to the hearers of this letter in Colosse? (Do some Google searching if necessary!)
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 1 Chronicles 21
- 1 Chronicles 22
- 1 Chronicles 23
- 1 Chronicles 24
- 1 Chronicles 25