Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Colossians 1:1-14

This passage is found in the RCL year C, last appearing in Summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is unlikely see much preaching time because it is paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan!  But there is some interesting stuff in here, especially as one considers the rest of the letter.  Overall, Paul really expects the people who believe in Christ to live differently than the rest of society.  Living as a follower of Christ never was, is or will be easy.  But no fear, for Christ is the true hero, the one who has come to rescue us.

Key words:
αγιοις (hagios, meaning "saint", 1:2)  This word is a tough one to translate.  Literally it means "holy ones" or latinized, "saints."  In the original church, the believers viewed each other as saints.  Overtime, this term came to refer to a small number of Christians (the "marines" if you will).  But in the original church it was everyone.  So do we translate this as "saints" reminding people that they, as Christians, are saints, or do we avoid this word to avoid its every day meaning as a "1-in-1000 person who someone how rose above the rest of us."

ευχαριστουμεν (from ευχαριστω, "eucharistoo", meaning "thanksgiving", 1:3)  Just a quick reminder that our fancy Holy Communion term "Eucharist" meanings "thanksgiving."  It was used in the New Testament not simply to refer to the action of Jesus in Holy Communion (he gave thanks) but also to refer to any giving of thanks to God!

καρποφορουμενον (from "καρποφορεω", meaning "bear fruit", 1:6)  This summer's Biblical theme ought to be fruit.  Although we've left Galatians, Paul continues to talk about the idea of bearing fruit!

αξιος ("axios," meaning "worthy", 1:10)  Some scholars consider Colossians deutero-Pauline, in that Paul did not write it.  Typically such scholars really do not like the housevcodes at the end of the letter. I don't agree with this assessment; I think Colossians is very much like Paul; if not him, then someone who studied a great deal under Paul and who was him or herself brilliant and inspired wrote it.  But lest we think that worthiness is not a Pauline concept:
Philippians 1:27     Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
Romans 16:2          So that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:12    Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
See also Ephesians 4:1:    I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

Some words on atonement and the work of Christ
The letter to the Colossians quickly shifts away from prayers for the believers and moves into a hymn of Christ's praise.  In this week's passage we read a few metaphors used to describe for the work of Christ:
- κληρου (from κληρος, "kleros" meaning "inheritance", 1:12)
We gain an inheritance in Christ.
- ερρυσατο (from ρυομαι, "hermai" meaning "rescue, 1:13)
Christ rescued us from darkness (literally the word is hero!)
- απολυτρωσιν (from απολυτρωσις, "apolytrosis" meaning "redemption, 1:14)
Christ redeemed us through forgiveness.

In some ways, these are all classic theological notions involve the Christ who suffers and then defeats death.  What new insights or perspectives might Colossians offer us?  It seems though that the redemption is not (or at least not primarily) from God's wrath, but rather the powers of sin.  Sin has a really power to captivate us.  This does put us before God's wrath (3:6), but this is not the real problem, rather sin is.  To put it another way, Colossians is not describing substitutionary atonement (where Jesus takes our place on the cross and therefore the punishment of our sins) and more of a synthetic atonement where Christ's death and resurrection have cause in us the death of the old and the rising of the new.

We need a hero.  Who has finally arrived!

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