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?
Re:Verse passage –Colossians 1:15-19 (day three)
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.”
There’s a way to live such that death will not put an end to life. That way is not a narcissistic fountain-of-youth fantasy (which has no basis in reality), but rather an intimate fellowship with one another through forgiveness, generosity, faithfulness, kindness, humility, and sacrifice. Jesus is the one person in all of history who has lived that kind of life. In the future, everyone will live like Jesus. Or, to put it another way, everyone who has life in the age to come will be alive only because he or she has learned the eternal kind of life. This is Paul’s point, that Jesus is the first of his kind, the first human being who lives the eternal kind of life, and the one—the one—who will teach you to live it.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 1:9-14 (day three)
“growing in the knowledge of God…”
Knowing is for science, believing is for religion. Is that how you think about reality? We say “faith-based” when we talk about an initiative that springs from a spiritual motivation. We say “evidence-based” when we speak of a practice or program that proceeds from a scientific paradigm. We hold in high regard the stories of “persons of faith” who seemingly are proven right despite what all the “persons of knowledge” have said to the contrary. But does faith trump knowledge? Surely that’s not faith’s trajectory. When, for example, you have received God’s provision for a need, that is one instance in which having faith that God could do something has become knowledge that God is actually capable of doing it. It is possible, then, to grow in spiritual knowledge. This is Paul’s prayer for us.
Re:Verse passage – Colossians 1:1-8 (day three)
“We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have.”
We moderns tend to translate events into quantifiable data; therefore we might imagine Paul had heard that many had “prayed to receive Christ”. But the witness of the New Testament is that when this new movement generated news, the biggest story wasn’t that people were “walking the aisles”—celebration-worthy though that would be—but rather that forgiveness began to happen, patterns of living began to change, enemies got reconciled, the poor began to be noticed, resources got shared, family wounds began to heal, and people sacrificed their lives for others out of love for Christ. Living in such a way is all but unheard of in this world. When it happens, it is momentous news. Paul’s words give us hope that we can generate such tidings again.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 28:18-20 (day three)
“I am with you always.”
If a person sets out to speak to his neighbor according to a pre-conceived series of talking points with a pre-determined goal, chances are life with that neighbor will not grow very dear. That’s because people aren’t pre-fab slabs of protoplasm that respond predictably to meticulously applied stimuli. Revealing Christ to people requires less flow chart and more flow. Difficult questions, surprising twists, painful honesty, personal weakness—these all must remain on full display if you are to speak to someone about your own faith. That’s not good salesmanship. But Jesus is not a product. He’s the teacher of an eternal kind of life. And that’s why he says you will rely not on a set of principles, but on him. He never left you his notes, because he never left you at all.
Re:Verse passage –Matthew 22:35-39 (day three)
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“The Lord our God, the Lord is one”—and he exists as an eternal fellowship of three persons; he cannot exist otherwise and still be God. God created us in his image. To be human, then, is to bear in our being certain characteristics that we share with God. This commandment, both in its original iteration in Leviticus, and as quoted by Jesus here, in addition to the implicit ways in which it appears throughout scripture, indicates that life in fellowship with others is one of those characteristics marking the image of God in us. We cannot reject fellowship with others and still remain the fully human creatures God intended us to be. To fail to pay attention to your neighbor is not self-preservation, but the beginning of the extinction of the human race, yourself included.
Re:Verse passage –Exodus 20:17 (day three)
“You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Your neighbor is the one whose life draws near to yours in ways it doesn’t draw near to another’s. You each have the ability to encourage each other’s well-being and happiness. In fact, your neighbor is the best hope you have for being cared for in this life. And you are your neighbor’s best hope. Your taking issue with that particular ecology might be evidence for how much distance you’ve longed to put between your neighbor and yourself. The Bible sure spends an awful lot of time and energy pointing out how to structure life with neighbors for this to be the minor factor of life that many often take it to be. If your neighbor isn’t for you, who else have you got? The Bible would seem to say, “Very few.”