This Shoveletter was taken from the recent article I posted in the Colossians part of the Writings section, which was stimulated by the quoted statement below from my friend, John Elrod. I found myself stirred to respond with my thoughts on a commonly misunderstood verse in Colossians. Jim
The absurdity that is being highlighted is the idea that true life can be found anywhere outside of Christ!
While many try so hard to make the verse fit into grace so that it does NOT say we must do something to continue, Paul was so far away from even questioning any DEGREES of faith or steadfastness, etc. Instead, he was demanding the same absurdity you speak of, because the Colossians were listening to deceivers insinuating that true life could be found outside of Christ.
I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. Colossians 2:4
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, RATHER THAN ACCORDING TO CHRIST. Colossians 2:8
Somehow, we read this letter as if it portrays a faith in Christ that is built upon US rather than a faith we have received that is fully established in Christ. Because of this we find hints of insecurity and fear in ourselves where we should be overwhelmed with total assurance and freedom in Christ.
Paul began the letter with a detailed expression of the life and grace found in Christ, describing it in view of what they had been delivered from and what they had been delivered into -- being totally summed up in Christ. Then he throws in that...
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 1:23
Like I say (and I know this from my own past difficulties over this verse), we're so quick to assume this suggests a continuing condition based upon our OWN steadfastness in the faith, as if Paul was warning believers that they would lose the salvation of Christ if they didn't hang onto it. And yet the demand has nothing to do with OUR ability to continue in him, but with the ability of CHRIST to be the continuance - the very life - of those who have been delivered.
Paul presented the "if" as he did in order to challenge the absurdities that were being added into their considerations of Christ. Because so many religious authorities have demanded that every "if" found in the Bible must somehow present a condition laid upon us we have become intimidated by the very sound of the word, especially when it is located anywhere near a salvation verse. How is it that we got so brain-dead when approaching the words written by the apostles of grace that we can't recognize the just-as-legitimate use of the concept of "if" in applying to the OTHER party - such as in the oft-presented "if" of our continued living as long as our sun keeps shining and world keeps spinning? The other party in this instance (Colossians 1:23) being Christ.
I mean, just look at the phrase,
if indeed you continue in the faith
Why is it that we assume that continuance in the faith refers to our continuing to keep on believing? Consider how Paul had so-well described this faith, as well as our entrance into Christ's kingdom:
firmly established and steadfast Colossians 1:13
He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins Colossians 1:14
Why would we immediately assume that we are now the ones responsible for making "the faith firmly established and steadfast"?
Also, how is it assumed that being "moved away from the hope of the gospel" refers to us somehow moving ourselves away on an individual basis, instead of a factual shift whereby all would be truly moved away from everything Christ firmly established? The difference between the two is dramatic. The first says that WE can move away from this hope by not continuing to believe, while the second demands that the only way we could be moved away would be if Christ was NOT REALLY the life we continue in.
Now, consider also the fact that this one verse (Colossians 1:23) is not a finale, nor is isolated from the rest of what Paul went on to record, but is merely the BEGINNING of his demand to the Colossians. Realize that those who use this verse to reinforce a supposed Biblical conditional form of salvation are desperately hanging upon a word here or there. Oh yeah, they may sound as if they are standing upon every inspired word of God, but the truth of the matter is that they are validating their own authority, pride, insecurity, fear and judgment by exploiting what serves their own purposes.
What Paul began in Colossians 1:23 he continued till the end of chapter 2. Not only that, but he changed the IF proposition of this verse into a THEREFORE in Colossians 2:6-7 after challenging them by the simple consideration of how they had originally heard the message of Christ. First, notice the similarity between the two statements below:
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 1:23
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
Now, even though religious teachers of bondage have also inserted a sense of insecurity into the wording of the second passage it only makes sense because of the inherent fears within those who take heed to their teachings. Other than that, the demand of Paul's words settles upon the completeness of forgiveness, reconciliation, life and freedom in Christ.
* "Therefore as you HAVE RECEIVED Christ"
* "HAVING BEEN firmly rooted"
* "and NOW BEING BUILT UP in Him and ESTABLISHED in your faith"
* "and OVERFLOWING with gratitude"
Where is even the slightest hint that all of this is not totally of Christ? The same assurance of what had already been received in Christ carried over into the present-tense outworking of Christ's work within them.
Another thought. While many have emphasized Paul's statement...
Therefore as you have RECEIVED Christ Jesus the Lord, so WALK in Him
...is it not possible that Paul's intended emphasis would look more like this:
Therefore as you have received CHRIST JESUS THE LORD, so walk in HIM ...?
What's the difference? One revolves around us, the other around Christ.
The first plays into the intimidation factor of those who conditionalize the grace of Christ by providing an answer to that fear that says we fulfill the condition by faith. The second obliterates any hint of condition by demanding that we not only were brought into this salvation through Christ, but that it is also IN HIM that we continue. In other words, we BEGAN in CHRIST, and so we CONTINUE in CHRIST.
Any who assume this is merely a technical point must not be considering the whole force of Paul's concerns throughout the letter, for the truth is that this sums up the WHOLE point. After all, what is God's mystery other than...
Christ Himself, in whom are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
It was the challenge to the total sufficiency of Christ that the Colossians had been offered by those who came in with their modified version of the good news. The end result of the deceivers' message was a salvation that may have begun with Christ, but was continued in (lived out, established)...
according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:8
I don't think these false teachers were questioning the strength or endurance of one's believing in Christ, as many seem to suppose by the way these verses are often interpreted. No, instead I think they were quite satisfied with the prospect that there was a whole new market of devotees to God who would attribute Christ with having initiated their salvation. Just as long as the REAL part - the continuing life-sustaining force - of such a believer was attributed to ANYTHING OTHER THAN CHRIST they could be controlled by the authority of man according to the same elementary principles of the world.
Consider again how by inserting that if statement immediately after such a profound description of total grace in Christ that Paul would not have DISCOURAGED those saints in Colosse - an amazing understatement, to say the least - but would have given them a bone-rattling shock of Biblical proportion! :) Do we not see that Paul was making the demand that if it was NOT Christ who was the continuance of life then there WAS no salvation, PERIOD. If one COULD actually be "moved away from the hope of the gospel that (they) heard", which is Christ himself, onto another source, then EVERYTHING of that freedom and life found in Christ would be null and void.
If we cannot hear Paul putting all on the line regarding the message that GOD had given him (just as he also demanded of the Galatians) then we will miss the argument he made. And we'll be left trying to make sense of so-called difficult verses as well as finding ourselves left with disjointed statements that don't make much sense stuck in between some of our favorite verses.
I'm referring to the whole section, starting with the last part of Colossians 1:23 through the beginning of chapter 2. After all, how many have wondered what in the world Paul meant by "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions?" And why highlight his own ministry, in other words, why call such attention to himself ... and why here? And then why did he want them to know how great his struggle was on their behalf, and again, why here? We might like some of the verses in between, but I don't think I've ever heard any sense of the total connectedness of Paul's every statement in making his whole argument flow with incredible motion toward his demands regarding Christ.
The reason Paul wrote so much about his own ministry was for the simple reason that his ministry was not only a message of life in Christ - it WAS the life of Christ. For Paul to speak of having been made a minister was to make a living declaration, a witness, of the grace of Christ that had been freely given to one who had not only rejected it but had also sought to destroy it.
It was no secret that Paul, a Jew and a Pharisee, had been a highly esteemed law-man. While we might imagine a sense of prestige in claiming to be "the minister of the Gentiles" it would have only accentuated Paul's rejection from his own people, for they hated him for it -- and had vowed to kill him.
For Paul to speak of his ministry was to publicly make known his own weakness and failure, for he could not even broach the subject without declaring his utter helplessness and total need of the one he had rejected (remember his story of being struck down?). He had been a well-respected minister of self-righteousness, only to later speak of the only true righteousness found in Christ, that which was freely given. His ministry was a testimony to Christ as being the very source of the life of God. So, when he spoke of HIS gospel he spoke of the true righteousness of God, who is Christ ... and he was not going to bend it for ANYBODY.
...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 1:23
This is not some incidental comment thrown in so that he could get his name on the record, but instead it put the whole reality of Christ into perspective. Paul had put forth his very life as the testimony to God's grace before those who had not known the life of Christ until he came and declared him. The whole self-righteous struggle of those religious Jews who hadn't given a damn about the Colossians was exposed by this simple testimony: "the gospel that you have heard...AND OF WHICH I, PAUL, WAS MADE A MINISTER". Consider, Paul had made similar statements in most of his other letters.
In this, Paul had pitted the good news of complete freedom in the completeness of Christ that HE had preached against anything and everything preached by those who did not hold to Christ as is. The ONLY thing highlighted by Paul's insistence on HIS gospel was Christ. It was not HIS version against someone else's it was God's living declaration of Christ against religion's declaration of itself under the guise of Christ.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, Colossians 1:24
This is not some off-handed comment, or the start of another discussion, but instead fits perfectly with everything Paul had written up to this point so that it reinforces his demand of Christ. At the time, Paul was in prison as a DIRECT result of the contention of his former religious contemporaries. Paul had dared to take the promise of Abraham - THEIR promises - to the Gentiles, so that he became enemy #1 of the Jews. They followed him and stirred up trouble by the locals against him everywhere he went, and they also followed up with every gathering of converts so that they could control the flow of the knowledge of God. He was publicly denounced and criticized, especially now that he was out of the picture. He even became the target of Roman hostility while in jail because Christ was still being preached on the outside by those who believed (no doubt, some of this was provoked by these same religious Jews who constantly demanded his death). Are you getting the picture?
There's a contrast here. Paul can't minister Christ without catching hell for it, while others - including the ones who wanted him dead and who preached the religious versions of the gospel - didn't seem to have any problems whatsoever. Instead, these men even received the praise of men for their ministries. No doubt the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples would have been somewhat familiar to them.
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for my name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent me. John 15:18-21
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
No, there is no suggestion in the phrase, "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions", that Christ is still suffering for our sins. No, there is no basis whatever to the religious rituals that demand a continued sacrifice by Christ so that our ongoing sins might be paid for. That's merely religious superstition! Instead, Paul reminded them that the only reason they were not experiencing the full force of the hatred that was raging against them from both the religious and political world was that Paul had been catching it on their behalf. He was the target upon which most of the hatred against them had been carried out. And even though it was severe, Paul rejoiced that he provided them a period of relief. Consider what he told the Roman believers concerning this:
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.' Romans 15:1-3
But the strong ones who had come among them with their modified versions of the good news that Paul had preached to them were not bearing any of the weaknesses of those without strength, but were instead placing more burdens upon them. They were making slaves of them through their "philosophy and empty deception". They were also there for their own glory, which was very obvious:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by DELIGHTING IN SELF-ABASEMENT and THE WORSHIP OF THE ANGELS, TAKING HIS STAND ON VISIONS HE HAS SEEN, INFLATED WITHOUT CAUSE BY HIS FLESHLY MIND, Colossians 2:18
In his preaching to make Christ known among them, Paul was caught in the middle of a fight, one that he delighted in because it brought the freedom of Christ to these people. And he now wanted them to know the reason and the intensity of this struggle that was fought on THEIR behalf. The power of what Paul wrote would not come from their sympathy or their sorrow (as he asked for none) but was found only in the living demonstration of the one and only source of true life: Christ. It was a demonstration that could make no sense other than what was ministered through the Spirit of Christ that was in them.
What was stirred within these believers was an ultimatum that Christ was either one or the other: beginning AND end -- or else he was neither. The good news that had originally stirred their very hearts could not be modified to give anyone or anything else the place of Christ. The testimony of Paul's ministry, while despised by those of religious importance, only accentuated the truth that had been put within them by God. For the life of Paul so mirrored the heart of Christ that it probably shocked them back into the sanity of the sound mind given to them by the Spirit. In the end, it was not a convincing argument that Paul presented to them, for it was the constant demand that God's mystery was Christ and Christ alone.