Re:Verse passage –Colossians 4:7-18 (day three)
“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.”
Paul means Jews. He’s glad for the company of fellow Jews. Paul regards with deep warmth everyone he names in this passage, but it is with just a few that he seems to sustain his deepest intimacies. Friendship is by nature an exclusive undertaking. It is a selective and restrictive kind of life that will require one to dispense with the noble-sounding aspiration to be equally a friend to all. This is so because the learning of another soul is a tender and vulnerable pursuit requiring the revelation of weaknesses and the calling forth of character in small, quiet moments of risk and trust. Love for the whole world is nurtured in the diminutive room of friendship.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 4:2-6 (day three)
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.”
It’s not uncommon for one to think of Jesus’s “fishers of men” phrase in terms of the dangling of bait and the hauling in of the prized catch. But one might also understandably recoil at the thought of baiting, or—to update the angling metaphor—“reeling in” a person. It seems more plausible that, rather than to the nabbing of unsuspecting prey, Jesus was referring to the traits of his disciples’ profession: patience, an understanding of habits and movements and times and seasons, a tolerance for unfruitful days, a respect for habitat, a willingness to learn from mentors, a comprehension of what threatens the work. Jesus leveraged these qualities to ensure that evangelism treasured people as people. Paul’s words teach us to do no less.
Re:Verse passage –Colossians 3:18-4:1 (day three)
“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters.”
Brought to you by the Bible, home of “Put to death men and women, children and infants”(1 Samuel 15:3), and “Show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2), among others. Will we ignore these words? Suppress them? Contextualize them? Think about this: Every children’s Bible you’ve ever seen in the hands of innocent little ones contains these verses. I know. Sobering. You’d think that if the Bible is supposed to reveal to us what’s right, it wouldn’t contain these problematic passages that people point to as reasons they distrust it. But the Bible isn’t just the story of God, it’s the story of God among us. And we change very slowly. Eventually, “Slaughter only in war” becomes “don’t slaughter.” “Mind your masters” becomes “submit to one another.” The Bible will leaven our hearts.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 3:10-17 (day three)
“There is no distinction between Greek and Jew.”
Okay, then how am I to know who I’m dealing with? Jock, gamer, libertarian, fundamentalist, Unitarian, Asian, woman: Give me something to go on. Paul says, “No, we’re not going to assume things about each other according to those kinds of categories anymore. This is the day of the new human.” And yet, look around at the church in today’s world—our controversies, our disagreements, our expectations of each other. If we won’t understand one another within the church apart from pre-conceived identifiers, how in the world will we ever make a claim to anyone in the wider world that Christ can transform the way a person lives? You want to be a better patriot, a better teacher, a better boyfriend? Get a mentor. But if you want to become new, start over with Christ.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 3:1-9 (day three)
“You laid aside the old man.”
Sexual preoccupation, revenge-seeking, fixation on material gain, grudge-holding. Might as well face it, you don’t know any other way to live. Even if none of these exact things are your jam, it’s the way things are done around here. And if you should refuse to give in to such vices, it seems you’ve really left yourself vulnerable to the powerful people who’ve learned the ways of the world. But Paul invites you to leave that way of being completely behind. It’s not that you or I have the opportunity to stop doing bad things, but to become, over time, a new kind of human. Not merely a being who does good things in a bad world, but a new kind of being whose life will light the way for those who knew no other way existed.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 2:16-23 (day three)
“No one is to act as your judge.”
Paul knows what he’s taking about. He left Pharisaism and entered a religious tradition—Christianity—already beleaguered by the most powerful rules humanity has ever known: unwritten rules. And this was a man who was shaping Christianity in its earliest expression. Even he found himself on the receiving end of condemnation by fellow believers. Paul encountered judgmental voices, and so will you. One of the most inviting ways to respond is to adopt the motto “Judge first lest ye be judged.” Is anybody listening to Paul’s words?
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 2:8-15 (day three)
“a circumcision made without hands…”
Modern Westerners get a little squeamish regarding language that refers to the human body. But unless we face forthrightly the practice and place of circumcision in Hebrew civilization, we will have no reference point by which to comprehend the meaning of Paul’s language. The cutting of the male body in this way stood as an irreversible and visible sign that the spiritual realm was making an inroad into the material realm so that the totality of the human person—spirit and mind and body and social context—was now devoted to God. This is why Paul adopts such a metaphor. The church’s irreversible and visible devotion to Christ will be conveyed in human language by nothing less than such a drastic term. The beauty of Paul’s metaphor will trump any polite squeamishness.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 2:1-7 (day three)
“I am with you in spirit.”
Is this a way of saying, “I’ve got you on my mind” or, “I feel like we’re close” or, “I support you”? For Paul, it wasn’t a metaphor. He understood that for those who live as apprentices of Jesus, space and time will prevent neither intimacy nor the strength and comfort and courage that intimacy produces. Jesus said much the same thing when he told his disciples (and us), “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” The Holy Spirit carries the very presence of Christ as close to us as if he were still present in the flesh. The Holy Spirit will do the same for us with one another. When we think of and pray for brothers and sisters not in proximity, we can begin to experience presence with each other.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 1:24-29 (day three)
“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”
When we read Paul, we’re reading someone who had become intimately familiar with the vast, unseen side of reality that many people—most, it seems—don’t see, don’t understand, aren’t aware of, or aren’t convinced exists. If one of those descriptions fits you, you’re certainly not alone. If you find yourself doubtful but wanting to know more, skeptical but willing to investigate further, then Paul writes for you. He imagines you as one who grows in your understanding of this unseen realm, coming to know more and more firmly the God who is at the center of it all. If that sounds like something worth turning your life towards, then you know why Paul thought his sufferings were worth it. Good news costs an awful lot to deliver into this world. Read on.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 1:20-23 (day three)
“To reconcile to himself all things…”
You’ve never seen the universe in proper working order. And, of course, the universe includes everything—solar systems, family systems, vascular systems. This is why Jesus, the most joyful human being who has ever lived, suffered profoundly during his time among us on this plane of existence. His all-encompassing suffering elicits from Paul no less than an all-encompassing statement of restoration. Some read into this statement a decree that all will be saved, thereby insulting the human race—and its Creator—by regarding us as drones without will or moral agency as bearers of God’s image. But for those who hear Paul’s words as a beautiful hymn of invitation to a life they’ve always wanted, a longing stirs deep within: Could this be the Savior?