Monday, March 28, 2011

Jesus Above All

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you. (Colossians 1:9)

Their faith in Jesus the Messiah, their love for all the saints, the hope laid up in heaven for them, their love in the Spirit — Paul is thankful to God for all these things. Prayers of thanksgiving, such as Paul offered in Colossians 1:3-4, are about where we have been and where we are now, and they are quite wonderful in themselves. However, Paul now takes a turn in his prayer for them, a prayer that will launch them into where they are going. It is a pastoral turn, so I call this a pastoral prayer*.

In Greek, the word for “pastor” is the word for “shepherd.” That is what a pastor is, a shepherd. The concern of the pastor/shepherd is to guide the sheep to good pasture and protect them from wolves. It will become apparent, as we continue in his letter to the believers at Colosse, that Paul sees wolves (false teachers) circling and that he is writing to protect the sheep and direct them to safe feeding ground.

Commentators on the book of Colossians have never been certain of the exact nature of these teachers and the philosophies they were bringing, but the teaching seems to be a mixture of three things:
  • Jewish legalism — with an emphasis on things like circumcision, dietary laws, sabbaths and new moon celebrations (Colossians 2:16).
  • Pagan elements — “according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The “basic principles of the world,” particularly, seems to be a reference to pagan ideas of elemental spirits and hierarchies.
  • Christian veneer — These false teachers smuggled their legalist/pagan mixture into the church under the guise of Christian doctrine, but were actually exalting angelic hierarchies above Jesus.
For all that, we do not know exactly who and what these teachers and their doctrines were, although they may represent an early form of Gnosticism. Paul does not address them head on. He does not define the error for us; instead, he focuses on the truth. It is all about Jesus the Messiah, in whom and through whom God has accomplished everything that needs to be done in the world.

As we work through this letter to the believers at Colosse, we will see a number of “in Him” and “with Him” statements. It will help us see Paul’s point if we read them with emphasis on the word “Him” (that is, “in Him,” “with Him”) in contrast to the “basic principles of the world” and the erroneous emphasis on angels. This will also help us better understand, by a sort of mirroring technique, the error Paul addresses as he stresses its opposite, the all-encompassing truth God has revealed to us in Jesus.

*For more about the pastoral prayers found in the New Testament, see Praying With Fire: Change Your World with the Powerful Prayers of the Apostles.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

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