25 Apr 2014

Some thoughts regarding Colossians 1:23

Submitted by theshovel

I had added this as a gigantic footnote to my Colossians Shovelation, and because it will probably be overlooked I decided to put it front and center for a bit.

Regarding Colossians 1:23, I suspect that a natural-minded fear drives many people to focus upon the IF Paul used in such a way that the very confidence of the gospel he preached becomes mired in doubt and confusion. I don’t object to the conditional suggestion created by Paul’s use of the word “if,” but I do object to the misguided attempts of the religious mind that keeps believers constantly wondering if they will be able to “endure to the end.” You see, when someone examines everything but the one and only real condition Paul referred to — and then try to pass those beliefs off as coming from the Bible — that is a problem.

Look, maybe you can tell me what Colossians 1:23 DOESN’T mean, and then you might even be able to tell me how the Greek word for “if” sometimes means “since” … even though it really does mean if in this verse. You might even offer some really great verses that speak of the assurance of salvation in Christ. Hey, that’s all fine and good, but you still might not have a clue as to the reason Paul stuck it in there like that. I’m telling you, he didn’t do it because he wanted to bolster his reputation as one who was “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). My own experience has taught me that it’s all very straight forward, and it had been staring me in the face the whole time. I just had to get past the idea that it was just one of those difficult or problem passages that required some kind of theological degree. No, my friend, if anything, it has been those with theological degrees that have helped to make it seem difficult.

I think the whole matter being expressed in this passage would have been more obvious to us had Paul’s letters not been so thoroughly influenced and twisted by centuries of human reasoning and religious propaganda. I’m convinced that the same fallacies pushed by the scribes and Pharisees of the first century have been integrated into the language of the very writings that had initially exposed them. Consequently, those embedded fallacies have become assumptions to many of us who have read and/or heard them. I’m not saying that the words as they have come to us are necessarily wrong, but that how we understand or relate to those words often line up with the natural wisdom we’ve learned in this world.

…yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach– if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard…” Colossians 1:22-23

If you are like I was, this verse has caused you much discomfort. Tell me if you haven’t felt a sense of failure in hearing an emphasis that puts everything upon YOU: If YOU continue … if YOU are steadfast … if YOU are not moved away. Yeah, it can be quite unnerving when your Christian life doesn’t seem to be everything it’s supposed to be, can’t it? We hear something like this and we find good reason to doubt because we already know we have a real problem with finishing anything we start. It should come as no wonder, then, that so many Christians live in a constant state of doubt and insecurity. But what if we’ve been reading this all wrong? I’m saying that the IF refers to something other that what we’ve assumed.

The condition Paul posed to the Colossians had nothing to do with their ability to keep their faith going. Actually, the conditional aspect of Paul’s ultimatum had nothing to do with anything about THEIR faith or THEIR faithfulness at all, it had to do with the very essence of the message Paul had preached to them. Here are a few questions that might help capture Paul’s point: Was the faith Paul established among them able to keep THEM going … was IT worthy? Was there continuance to be had in the faith that Paul had firmly established among them? And what it all boils to down to must consider whether or not the Jesus Christ that Paul preached was everything he claimed him to be. You see, Paul brought it all to a head in writing what he did as he did.

Let me insert an important contextual consideration at this point that I believe has gotten lost in all the details and the attempts to prove or disprove the conditional aspect of salvation that many teach. I’m referring to what I consider the parallel or companion verse to Colossians 1:23, which is Colossians 2:7. Let me lay them out for you:

if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Do you see how similar they are? Both refer to being established in faith. “Firmly rooted” mirrors the steadfastness referred to in Col. 1:23. And whereas Paul referred to “the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed” by himself, 2:7 reflects the same point in the phrase “just as you were instructed.” Please realize that this similarity was NOT coincidental but was purposely laid out by Paul in such as way as to set up and support his demand regarding the full assurance found in the gospel as he had preached it. His presentation was masterful, for it slammed head on in the face of that which was being pushed by the deceivers among them.

Consider the flow of Paul’s argument to the people in Colossae. He first established the amazing reality of the grace that had delivered them so completely, for they had been removed from the domain of darkness and transferred (or translated) into the kingdom of Christ. Having written that, Paul went on to describe the one by whom and in whom their forgiveness was brought about.

What Paul wrote about Christ was not merely included as a doctrinal position, but it was penned to establish how Christ, and Christ alone, was the one in whom all is accomplished. As the one by whom everything created came forth, the one who is the head of all who have been called out of darkness and into the light, the one who is the heir (firstborn) raised from the dead — as all that he is, there is no possible way that anything regarding our deliverance is not found in HIM. In every conceivable way, Christ is first. He is the origin, the beginning … of everything created and everything raised from the dead.

The truth of Christ that Paul included is so important to hold onto when considering what comes next. For his language shifts at this point so as to hang it all in the balances before them — not to make what Christ accomplished to somehow depend on them, but to challenge the fallacies taught by the philosophers who were seeking to take them captive. While they probably used lingo the Colossians were familiar with as they tried to draw them in with their logic, their teachings did NOT need Christ to be first in everything. In truth, I don’t think their teachings needed Christ to be first in anything.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Colossians 1:24

Alright then, we come to the part where Paul talked about how he suffered for them, and then he claimed to be “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings.” What was Paul trying to say, that he somehow made up for what Christ had not accomplished? A quick search online tells me that most who tackle the questions posed regarding this verse are mostly clueless as to how it fits the context. A small few offered a good point on how we come to know him and his power by sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, but most commentaries seem to address what the verse cannot be teaching than what it does teach. Admittedly, that’s how I used to handle it, when absolutely necessary. Really … I mostly avoided the passage. And then, somewhere along the line, it slowly began to reveal itself. You know, as most seem to have no idea why Paul brought this into the middle of his ongoing argument, to me, it coincides with the almost universal misunderstanding of Colossians 1:23.

As far as what it means for Paul to have made up for that which is lacking in Christ’s sufferings has everything to do with the truth of the gospel that he taught, which is that Christ is truly our life. The hatred of the world toward Christ has not changed, and it lashes out whenever it finds a target. Those who were apostles and prophets and teachers were on the front lines, and so they took the brunt of that hatred and with it, the suffering. Those who gave in because of the intimidation found a reprieve from much of the persecution that would have come upon them. So, guess who took the extra affliction? Yeah, people like Paul. Given the fact that he was the one who initiated this message among the people, he was already one of the prime targets.

So, the reason Paul included this statement at this point was for their benefit. He did a similar thing for the Corinthians.

We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. 2 Corinthians 5:12 NASB

All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 2 Corinthians 12:19 NASB

Paul had been regarded as a loser by those with reputation among the Corinthians, and even though it may not have been as obvious, he would have been regarded in a similar way by the philosophers in Colossae. Just the fact that he was receiving so much persecution would have been seen in a negative light. After all, he was in a Roman jail when he wrote the letter to the Colossians, and you’d better believe that some took the opportunity to use it to make him look bad. But Paul wanted them to know how much he was suffering on their behalf because it was a testimony to their hearts as to the nature of the one through whom the gospel had indirectly come to them. As with the Corinthians, Paul’s firm stance in the midst of so much conflict was meant as an answer for the Colossians to those who took pride in appearance, even when that appearance took an opposite form.

Consider also what Paul told the Philippians, and keep in mind that he also wrote that letter while in prison.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. — Philippians 1:12-18

You see, just as with the Colossians, Paul’s concern was that the message of freedom, the gospel, be proclaimed. But we also catch a glimpse into how the preaching of the good news message that came from Paul came back to him in the form of persecution, especially while he was in jail. In Philippi, there were some who purposely wanted to cause Paul more distress, and they figured that the best way to do that was to preach the gospel as Paul did and let the backlash come upon him. I can only imagine that when reports came in from Colosse that the people there were standing firm in Paul’s message of freedom it also added to him in the form of physical punishment.

So, rather than inserting a random comment about suffering that might serve as one more scriptural reference for our lists, Paul purposely brought this up to remind them of their commonality in the Christ that he preached to them. He wanted them to know that he didn’t despise them for the extra abuse he took on their account, but that he rejoiced because he heard that they were standing firm in Christ. Everything he told the Colossians in this section was not meant as a defense of himself but of the good news message he preached. For it was a mystery that had been hidden but now made known. Christ in you, the hope of glory. For in Christ are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Do you realize what that means? It means that there is no true wisdom outside of Christ. So when someone is offering you some special insight into God’s plan, and that plan doesn’t really need Christ, you can know that it is not wisdom.

Another statement that often seems out of place is found in Colossians 2:5, where most translations have Paul praising the Colossians for their “good discipline” (NASB) or “how well ordered you are” (HCSB) or “your morale” (NET) or “your orderliness” (EMTV) or “your order” (KJV). The literal meaning of the Greek word “taxis” has to do with an ordering, but the history and usage of the word at that time would indicate something other than what our religious imaginations seem to settle on. Consider how taxis/taksis is described here:

as an ancient military term, describes an ordered troop (“cohort”) arranged in descending rank. This term suggests a detailed ordering rather than simply a general disposition of an army

Although some might infer that Paul may have been describing some kind of ranking among the people, such as found in many religious setups, what does the context of the letter suggest? For if Paul meant to describe them as an ordered troop, what else would he have indicated other than that Christ was their head? For Paul to have been rejoicing to see them standing as an ordered troop under one head fits the context, whereas, phrases like “good discipline” or “your morale” seem like stabs in the dark. It’s almost like saying, We’re not really sure what this is supposed to mean, but maybe this will work. :)

If you happen to get this far, please know that I am not finished. I’m going to tie those parallel verses together so that it makes much more sense.

Okay then, here is an update:

Anyhow, to bring this thing back around to the verse in question (Colossians 1:23) — rather than making this into a breakdown of the whole letter — let’s take a look at what I brought up about the companion verse (Colossians 2:6) … especially that first word:

Therefore

It is no accident that Paul placed it just as he did, for it is meant to bring everything to bear upon what he continues on to say from this point. And the fact that he says “therefore” at the beginning of a statement that reflects back to Colossians 1:23 reveals a lot about the nature of the iffy-ness presented. Why? Simply because the same thing that was questioned in 1:23 is presented in total assurance in 2:6. In other words, whatever he hinted at being in jeopardy earlier has been cleared up in this statement.

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,

Don’t let the amazing grace of this statement cause you to miss Paul’s commentary on the basis of the vain philosophy. Now, maybe you didn’t come to learn this verse in the same way I did, so let me give you a bit of insight regarding that. The churches and Bible college I attended were based upon a “let’s get them saved first” attitude, and then we can spring the part on them about getting serious enough to serve the Lord.

Anyhow, this verse came to me as a call or an invitation to go beyond simply getting saved, it was to move into the next step: Walking in Christ. I mean, that can sound real good when you’re in the mindset of doing your part for God because of what he has done for you, but it misses the point … and the amazing reality of the life to which we have been called. Some of you reading this might get mad at me for being so blunt, but that whole approach is fleshly. I won’t tell you that God doesn’t work in spite of it, for it most certainly does.

Let me lay this statement out for you with two different emphases:

Therefore as YOU have RECEIVED Christ Jesus the Lord, so WALK in Him,
Therefore as you have received CHRIST JESUS THE LORD, so walk in HIM,

While I could say a lot about the emphasis in the first example, I’m more concerned with how the flow of the letter suggests the emphasis in the second. What do I mean by that? Simply that Paul was making a direct statement regarding where the continuance of those born of God is found. Consider how emphatic Paul was in his presentation of Christ as the beginning and end of all things, especially in relation to the new creation in Christ. The philosophizers in Colosse were trying to establish a follow-up to salvation that didn’t need Christ.

You might think that such a proposition sounds strange, but it’s only because our modern-day Christianity has so dulled our senses to the fact that most of what is called Christianity or Christian living can do quite well without everything that Christ is. Yes, yes, I know that many Christian denominations sometimes give a lot of emphasis to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, especially during certain times of year, but have you ever noticed how the care in how it is reserved for specific “applications” such as our ticket out of hell and into heaven?

As I heard it many times, “after getting saved” (or because of salvation), Christ’s death should become my motivation to serve the Lord. In other words, because he gave his life for me, I should give my life for him. Let me remind you that my Bible college made sure to make the unusual distinction at that time (the 60s and 70s) that we don’t serve God in order to BE saved but because we WERE saved. Nevertheless, our viewpoint of his death on the cross had primarily (if not, only) to do with the removal of sins and the way to heaven. Serving the Lord was presented as the “least that I should do.” We were taught (according to the Bible, mind you) that even after we had done all that we were supposed to do, we were still unworthy servants.

Here’s the thing. Even though many Christian teachers and preachers might speak of walking in Christ, all too often it has nothing whatsoever to do with actually walking IN HIM. Instead, it’s more about trying to do what we’re supposed to do. Look, if we hadn’t accepted it all as part of the package of Christianity, we might remember or recognize our own objections where we asked, “What does the one have to do with the other?”

Hey, I know that I have been at what many must consider “Jim’s viewpoint” for a long time now, but if you don’t think I remember what it was like “way back then,” then you are projecting assumptions upon me that are not accurate. For I am still uncovering things (or maybe I should say, having them uncovered for me) that cause me to realize how I still can hold to ideas of deliverance that don’t need Christ. And when it’s not my own fleshly notions that are being challenged,

On top of that, I cannot help but to be reminded from having received hundreds of similar objections from those who are basically asking me the same question. Yeah, just read a few of the Q&A posted on my website (theshovel.net) and pay attention to how many of those questions come from a place where a sharp dividing line has been constructed between what Christ did for us and what we should do for him. Other ways to make this distinction come in the phrases: salvation versus service, God’s work versus our responsibility, God doing it for us versus our doing it for him.

Just consider how many Christians have been engaged in arguments over this distinction for years. Denominations, as well as whole systems of theology, have risen from that ongoing battle. My point is not to argue one side or the other, but rather to show how the reasoning of this world is the very thing that creates a sense of need for that dividing line.

Anyhow, when we read a verse like Colossians 2:6, it shouldn’t be our doctrinal position that causes us to accept one emphasis or another, it should be the context itself that won’t allow us but to read it any other way than how it was set up to be understood.

Therefore as you have received CHRIST JESUS THE LORD, so walk in HIM

No, there is no pleading to the Colossians to finally step up to the place of serving the Lord, as if they were glad to receive but hesitant to walk. No, no, it was not about WHETHER they should walk because of having received, it was ONLY about WHERE the believing one was to walk.

Let’s reflect back:

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach– if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister — Colossians 1:21-23

Can we not see that the “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast” was referring to that which is IN CHRIST? What else was Paul demanding in the phrase “the hope of the gospel that you have heard” other than the same essence of the life of Christ that he so plainly and clearly expressed to them in both chapter one and two. The MYSTERY before them was not some cleverly constructed philosophy that could reasonably fit as the follow-up to the amazing work of Christ; rather, it was “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) that was the only mystery of their ongoing lives.

If you approach this as being doctrinal in nature, then you’ll probably conclude that the Colossians were going through something much different than we go through today. But if you see it in view of how the same spirit by which deceivers operated back then holds true today, then you’ll realize this simple truth:

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. — Galatians 2:4

What was going on with the Galatians was the very same thing that was going on with the Colossians, and it’s the same thing that has been going on with you. It just comes in a different disguise. Someone (or a group of someone) is always following behind the miraculous working of grace through Christ, and those folks recognize fertile ground upon which to work their deceptive logic. There are whole denominations, groups and theologies built upon a stated need for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as part of the membership requirements that have follow-up teachings that totally avoid or even deny the absolute need of Christ to be the ongoing life.

Listen, when you think about the many teachings and viewpoints that propose a secret to successful Christian living, how many of those demand that it is Christ in you, the hope of glory? When you hear a teaching about a Christian mystery, how often is the nature of that mystery something other than Christ himself as your life? When you are presented teachings on how to life the Christian life (or maybe you are the teacher of such things) how often is Christ himself, the one who has died and taken us down into that death so that we could be risen with him, presented as the one and only reality of the life that has taken on his name?

I’m telling you right now that if you can’t understand how this is happening all around you, then you cannot begin to understand what Paul was telling the Colossians … because it is the very same thing.

The big IF that Paul alluded to in Colossians 1:23 had only to do with whether or not the truth of Christ that had come to them was actually true. The momentary sense of insecurity Paul projected in that statement was answered in how he followed it up. His follow-up came by making sure they understood the extremes to which he went for them as he took the abuse that would have come upon them for insisting upon Christ, and Christ alone. For there were those who came in with a persuasive reasoning that sounded very Christ-like … but was not. Paul’s answer to the philosophizers arguments on how they were to live their lives makes it very clear that their teachings presented a continuance in the faith that was not in Christ. That is why he wrote:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in HIM, HAVING BEEN firmly rooted and now being built up in HIM and ESTABLISHED in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. — Colossians 2:6-7

Paul made sure the Colossians understood that the questions regarding whether they would continue in the faith came from the deceptions of those who tried to build upon the foundation that he himself had established.

New Testament: 
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Comments

I was scanning through this a bit more for a few minutes and came across this:

 

Therefore as you have received CHRIST JESUS THE LORD, so walk in HIM

No, there is no pleading to the Colossians to finally step up to the place of serving the Lord, as if they were glad to receive but hesitant to walk. No, no, it was not about WHETHER they should walk because of having received, it was ONLY about WHERE the believing one was to walk.”-Jim

 

It is a tragedy that our minds IMMEDIATELY have been trained by our religious minded influences to read this passage of Paul's as a kind of “right thing to do”. Let me ask you something here. Does that even remotely sound like Good News to you dear friends? Not me. It's a death call full of the depressed thinking of the world. I have not read Jim's points all the way through but, one thing I can tell you about this phrase is that I see it in the eyes of my heart saying that we are NOT to walk in ANY OTHER form of fleshly wisdom for ritouesness, closeness to God or service than Christ alone. Do not be led away from your PURE devotion to Christ in you. He is ALL you need. Unfortunately the Colossians WERE being tempted  away from that reality, Christ in them, the fullness of God with nothing to add or subtract as it was swirling around them as such.

 

Adam

I haven't most likely read all of the updates since the timing of my days seem to be a little off from the times of your writings Jim but, There is something I wanted to throw in here to support what you are saying with regard to this little word "if" that Paul used in this letter.

Let's face it, Paul had a way of communicating that is very different than the way I might communicate things to you. He had a "style" if you will. I have a style, you have a style, we all have some sort of style forged by living life in our respective worlds and bodies.[flesh] Am I saying that Paul somehow could care less who understood him so that he stuck to his "style" at the cost of the readers understanding? No, quite the contrary. For he went out of his way to use "human" analogies and current folklore and practices just so his reader would catch what he was saying as thoroughly as possible.

But he did use words and phrases that are particularly unfamiliar to ME and YOU when torn out of a writing without any build up that would bring some symbolic color to it if read without prejudice and seen through the eyes of our hearts experience in Christ.

So what ABOUT that little word "if"? How can lil' ole me support your insight on that tiny little word? Well before today, I might have had nothing to offer but, as I flipped through the Bible this morning while being basically woken up from the flu virus[coughing, sneezing] at 4 in the morning I ran into a passage that struck me as oddly familiar.

It was when as I was reading Ephesians Ch.3 that I ran across this phrase here:

"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-IF indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation..."

..that I was clued into something special. I jumped over to another letter and noticed it again..Galatians Ch.3 [yeah I know, weird coincidence on the chapter thing]

"..are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain-IF indeed it was in vein?"

Paul seemed to have really liked this word "if"! Just as he loved words and phrases like "dead to sin" and "what shall we say then?", he used this "if" word to draw out a spiritual meaning in probably most of his writings that we have possession of. He seems to use it as a sort of "hinge". It was like saying "if what I am saying is REALLY from God then, things are NOT at all as you have been supposing!"

Does this help in any way??

Adam

theshovel's picture

This is an excellent addition, my brother. :)

This is great Jim. I am so encouraged by this. I can remember a many of days where I would skip over passages written by Paul, because I either couldn't quite understand them and/or understood them from a religious standpoint. Reading your encouraging words helps bring a much better and clear understanding to his message.

I've come to understand that the gest of Paul's writings was to minister the good news of the gospel of Christ, to steadily minister life to us and encourage us where we are in Christ, also to bring to our attention the cunning craftiness of the mind of the flesh from the religious spirit that is in the world. Just to hear Paul's messages broken down to its rightful context without changing the true and living meaning of his messages is a blessing to every member of Christ's body that read and/or hear your writings concerning every topic.

Thank you Jim for your encouraging messages.

theshovel's picture

I also used to ignore or gloss over most of the verses surrounding the few that I sought after. I had memorized many Bible verses but could rarely tell someone what came before or after. Nevertheless, I came to regard my isolated bits of knowledge as really giving me a handle on the Scriptures, especially when others would say something along those lines. I thank God that he popped my bubble before it got very big. LOL.

Jim

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