Category Archive: Bible – NT – Colossians

August 16, 2012

Ethnic Division

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If God is the creator of the whole world who wills ultimately to redeem the whole creation — if the death of Christ was the means whereby ‘God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross’ (Col. 1:20) — then how can the church that is called to bear God’s message of reconciliation in an unredeemed world (2 Cor. 5:1-20) scorn or reject people of any race or tongue, whether they are Christians or not? …

When the identity of the community is understood in these terms, participation in any form of ethnic division or hatred becomes unthinkable, and ethnic division within the church becomes nothing other than a denial of the truth of the gospel — Richard Hays.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:50 pm | Discuss (0)
August 15, 2012

Creation & Church

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“If Christ is the head of the church, it means that the destinies of creation and the church are bound together and that God’s purposes for all creation gestate in the church’s congregational life” — David Garland.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:48 pm | Discuss (0)

Church and Cosmos

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“To assert that Christ is head of the church does not narrow his cosmic mediatorial role; rather, it expands the significance of the claims made for the church” — James D. G. Dunn on Colossians 1:15-20.

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August 14, 2012

If (Col 1:21-23)

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In Colossians 1:21-23, Paul tells the Colossians that they are reconciled in the body of Christ’s flesh, through death, to be presented before Christ holy, unblemished, and blameless if they continue in the faith, established and steadfast and not shifting from the hope of the gospel.

On that “if,” John Calvin writes:

This is an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes them that all the grace bestowed upon them hitherto would be vain, unless they remained in the purity of the Gospel. And thus he intimates that they are still en route and have not yet reached the goal.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:41 pm | Discuss (0)
August 13, 2012

“What Is Lacking In Christ’s Afflictions” (Col. 1:24)

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What does Paul mean when he says “I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of the Christ in my flesh on behalf of his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24)?

Many commentators hold the view, which I’ve heard has its origins in Richard Bauckham, that Paul is referring to “the Messianic woes,” which figure in some intertestamental Jewish thinking. The idea is that the end of the Old and the beginning of the New — the Messianic age — would be a time of great upheaval and suffering for God’s people.

Wright, and others, move from that idea to the claim that Paul thinks there’s a certain set amount of suffering (say 90,000 sufferings) and that if he bears a bunch (say 10,000 sufferings), there’ll be less for everyone else to bear. To my mind, that’s just plain weird.

Andrew Perriman and David Garland have leveled a devastating critique of this view in their respective writings. One or the other points out, among other things, that it’s not as if the Colossians would have a book of intertestamental Jewish thought from which they could learn all about “the Messianic woes.”

Nor were the “woes” a certain set amount of woes; rather, they were seen as a fixed time — and no amount of suffering on the part of one person in that time could shorten the length of time. Furthermore, Paul never talks as if his suffering means that Christians elsewhere won’t have to suffer; rather, he expects that we all share in the suffering of Christ.

I think it’s important to translate the passage correctly. Several commentators make it read “I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the church.” But “in my flesh” in the original Greek is wedged in between “the afflictions of the Christ” and “on behalf of his body.” 

Paul, it seems to me, is not talking about Christ’s suffering on the cross. In fact, Paul never uses the word “afflictions” to refer to Christ’s suffering on the cross, but only for our sufferings as His body. Rather, Paul is talking about “the-afflictions-of-the-Christ-in-my-flesh-on-behalf-of-his-body” — all one unit. 

One possibility, then, is that Paul is simply saying that he is going to go through all the sufferings God has appointed for him, all of which he sees as a sharing of Christ’s suffering (Phil 3). I’m not convinced of that interpretation, because I don’t think that’s how “fill up what is lacking” is used in the Bible.

Paul uses that language in two other passages. In Philippians 2, he says that Epaphroditus risked his life in order to “fill up what was lacking” in the Philippians’ service and care for Paul. In 1 Cor 16, he says something similar about two other men: they filled up “your lack” — that is, what was lacking from the Corinthians.

What does Paul mean in Philippians and Corinthians? He means that the Philippians cared for Paul, but that their care didn’t reach Paul for his benefit until Epaphroditus traveled to Paul in prison. What was lacking was their personal presence, their care in a way that actually benefited Paul.

So let’s work out the parallel:

(1) Fill up what is lacking in your service
(2) Fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions in my flesh for his body the church

In (1), filling up what is lacking means bringing the Philippians’ service (and care) to Paul so that he can benefit from it. In (2), then, filling up what is lacking means bringing Christ’s afflictions in Paul’s flesh to the church, and especially the church in Colossae, in such a way that they can benefit from them.

Paul is very conscious in his letters of his bond with Christ, of the fact that he who once was persecuting Christ by persecuting the church has now been commissioned to suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 9). He tells people that he bears the marks of Christ in his body. He sees all of his suffering as a partnership (koinonia) in the sufferings of Christ (Phil 3).

Now, Paul is telling the Colossians that he is not only sharing in Christ’s afflictions in his own flesh, but that he is doing so in such a way that the church can benefit from them. In all his labors and struggles for them, he is sharing Christ’s sufferings. In fact, even in this letter to the Colossians, Paul is seeing to it that (like Epaphroditus bringing the care of the Philippians to benefit Paul) Christ’s afflictions in him are coming to Colossae for the benefit of the church.

In short, it seems to me that “what is lacking” is personal presence. Paul is in prison. But even in prison, he is still laboring on behalf of the church. It’s not as if he’s sharing in Christ’s afflictions all by himself and they’re not of any benefit to the church. Even this letter is one way that he’s “filling up what is lacking,” so that his suffering benefits the Colossians.

At least, that’s the current state of my thought on that phrase.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:22 pm | Discuss (0)
August 8, 2012

Grumpy God?

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There are two lies which the world often tells about God’s intention for human behaviour. First, people say that God doesn’t want us to have a good time; second, they say that even if we try to live as he wants all we’ll ever get is a grudging approval. People often imagine that God is eager to spot the slightest wrongdoing and tell us off for it.

This verse [Col 1:10] shows how wrong both of these are. God’s intention is for human life to flourish and bear fruit…. And when this happens God is personally delighted. Paul often declares that genuine Christian living gives God pleasure. It is we, with our little faith, who have imagined him to be grumpy and hard to please — Tom Wright on Colossians.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:39 pm | Discuss (0)
August 7, 2012

Paul’s Prayers

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Paul’s habit of reporting his regular prayers on behalf of his addressees … should not go unremarked. He will not offer teaching, advice and encouragement except in the context of prayer. His apostolic work is not his own idea. It is part of God’s plan. Conversely, prayer brings the assurance that his ministry is being used within God’s overall plan (Col. 1:24-29), and consequently that characteristic confidence which, outside this context, could sound like arrogance — N. T. Wright on Colossians 1:9ff.

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