Week of Feb. 3: The supremacy of Christ in every facet of life
By HELEN AND REV. SAM ROGERS
Scripture Lesson: Colossians 1:15-20
The letter to the church in Colossae opens a new chapter for Paul. He had never visited the city. This church was begun by Epaphras, Paul’s companion while he was in Ephesus for three years. Epaphras is also the “pastor” of the churches in Laodicea and Hieropolis.
He is the one who brings Paul news of the church while he is a prisoner in Rome. Paul responds by sending letters back to the churches in Colossae and Laodicea, as well as a personal letter to Philemon (4:7). In other words, communication was hand-to-hand, and the persons involved in the growth of the Christian community in Asia Minor (Turkey) are all well known to Paul. By the way, the letter to the Laodiceans mentioned by Paul has obviously been lost, and one wonders how many others he might have written.
Mostly, Paul is pleased by what he has heard about the church, but there is something that disturbs him. For want of a better term, we call it “The Colossian Heresy.” From what Paul says, there is a blending of religions, philosophies and mysterious practices that dilute the power of Christ and, if unchecked, could be fatal to full understanding of the person and work of Jesus. We of the 21st century are not immune to the same danger, where people pick and choose what they wish to believe, shuffle them together and arrive at their own brand of religion, without regard to the truth of the Gospel.
So what is Paul saying? He makes several powerful assertions about the all-sufficiency of Christ. (1) He is the image of the invisible God. (2) All things were created by him. (3) He was before all things. (4) He holds all things together. (5) He is the head of the Church, the body of Christ. (6) The fullness of God dwells in him. (7) Through him God is reconciling all things to Himself.
In seminary we learned such language is called Christology. Like in Ephesians, this Christology had never been expressed before by Paul, and so there are some who deny either letter is written by Paul. Again, we disagree. Just because the language and thought of earlier letters were different from Ephesians and Colossians does not mean Paul could not have written them. In prison, he has had time to ponder the experiences he has had with Christ, and the evolving circumstances in the churches. As a result Paul reaches new heights of thought and expression that soar above all he has thought or preached or written before.
So many factors were diminishing the person and work of Jesus Christ. Matter was thought to be evil, and so an incarnation of a divine person was impossible for some to consider. If only spirit were important, then what a person does on earth would not matter. There would be no sin, and individuals would be free to do as they pleased. Two heresies that were to attack the later church are here in an embryonic form in Colossae (and the rest of Asia Minor). These heresies are called Gnosticism and Antinomianism. The first attacked the sufficiency of Christ for salvation, and the second undermined the moral basis for a Christ-like life.
Gnosticism, with its philosophical levels of understanding and attainment, struck at the heart of the work of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of the world. The Greek word “gnosis” means knowledge. Only a select few intellectuals would achieve the higher levels of knowledge, and the rest of humanity would be left behind. Christianity at its best emphasizes the work of Christ for the reconciliation of the whole world to God. This reconciliation includes not only people, but the creation itself. Read what Paul wrote in Romans 8:19-23. Here is a biblical basis for Christians to take as a sacred trust the preservation and protection of the good earth, of which we are trustees.
Ecology and environment are not just scientific issues for our society to learn, but they are part of what Paul says about the work of Jesus reconciling the world and holding all things together. Since Christ was present at creation, the purpose of that creation is reflected in everything we know about Jesus. His love, his grace and his compassion encompass everything. For these reasons, Gnosticism’s affirmation that matter was evil is totally unacceptable to Paul.
The other heresy gaining adherents in Colossae would be called “antinomianism.” The Greek word for law is “nomos,” and thus the heresy was against any legal restrictions on the behavior and actions of people. When you are saved by grace not law, then the law is totally abolished and no longer binding. The consequence is a freedom from any restraint on an individual’s moral actions.
Although we are not saved by obedience to the Mosaic Law, as children of God we want to please Him with how we live. The Ten Commandments are still in effect, not as a vehicle of salvation, but as a standard for living. Hopefully, we do not grow up obeying our parents out of fear, but obeying out of love! The same is true of our relationship to God—trusting and obeying is the way for true happiness and a fulfilling life.
So Paul wrote to the Colossians: Jesus is supreme in every facet of life—from creation to redemption. He is God’s agent of creation, and He is God’s agent to redeem the world. He is the Head of creation and the Head of the Church. No wonder we love to sing, “How Great Thou Art!”
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.