Colossians 2:20-23

Over the last two days we’ve looked at two things that we can be tempted to add to our way of life in Christ – religious practices, and spiritual experiences – in the mistaken view that they will, in themselves, enable us to live a life pleasing to God, or that they will somehow enhance our status within the people of God. Today, we look at a third: the world of self-help gurus. But first, let’s read the next few verses in Colossians:

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Colossians 2:18-19

Yesterday, we saw how Paul’s Colossian readers were tempted to add Jewish religious practices as a way to live a life pleasing to God, and to fit in with his people. (And we looked at ways in which we’re susceptible to elevating our own religious practices to a similar status.) Today, while the background may still have a Jewish flavour, the focus moves to those who would chase mystical experiences as a way of connecting with God.

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Colossians 2:16-17

Last week, we looked at Paul’s central appeal in Colossians: to encourage his first hearers to live their lives in light of their belief that Jesus is Lord (2:6), and not to be taken captive by an alternative way of life (“philosophy”, 2:8). This week, we see something of a description of what those alternatives involved, for Paul’s Colossian readers, beginning from 2:16.

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Colossians 2:11-15

Yesterday, Paul encouraged his readers to continue basing their worldview and way of life on Jesus as Lord, and not be deceived into looking elsewhere – to the human philosophies of this age – to experience “fulfilment.” (We’ll look at those in more depth next week.) The reason he gave is that in Christ we already have the fullness of God – so why look elsewhere? And we are being brought into that fullness. How? That’s what he talks about in today’s passage.

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Colossians 2:6-10

Over the last few days we’ve looked at Paul’s “sales strategies” to get his Colossian readers (and us) to trust him and his message. Today, we get to the heart of the message of the letter: the thesis statement of his argument. Firstly, he puts it in positive terms:

Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

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Colossians 1:24–2:5 (Part Two)

Yesterday, we looked at the first of the “sales strategies” Paul uses in this passage to persuade his audience to trust him and his message. (You’ll need to read it first, if you’re just joining us.) Today, we look at the second strategy: the idea of scarcity – whether it be scarcity in time (limited time offers), product (until stocks last), or information.

This works well in sales. For example, Robert Cialdini* tells the story of an experiment performed by a beef wholesaler in the US. If he told customers about an impending shortage of Australian beef, he doubled sales. If he also told them that the news about the shortage was from their “exclusive sources,” the orders increased sevenfold.

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Colossians 1:24–2:5 (Part One)

Paul would have made a great used car salesperson. 

OK, so hear me out on this one. What I mean is, in seeking to persuade the Colossians of the supremacy of Christ over all of the other cars on the lot competing philosophies of the world, in today’s passage Paul uses two strategies often employed by used car salespeople. (For vastly different motives, of course, but you’re adults, you can cope with metaphors with a single point of comparison.) So what are the two strategies?

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Colossians 1:15-20 (Part Two)

This week, we’re looking at the Colossian hymn as a word against the competing worldviews of Paul’s audience. Yesterday, we looked at how it presented Christ as superior to all that Judaism was looking for – indeed, Jesus is its fulfilment – as well as superior to the local pagan mystery religions, with their desires to connect with the spiritual world. Today, we ask what it might have to say to the Graeco-Roman world as a whole: to citizens of the empire.

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Colossians 1:15-20 (Part Three)

Having looked at what this hymn said against the background of the competing philosophies of the first century – and against the rhetoric of empire – what might it say in our time and culture?

I think the key to reading it today lies in the overwhelming message given to everyone in Paul’s diverse first-century audience: don’t settle for an inferior, derivative copy when we have the real thing. We’ve got Jesus: accept no substitutes. Accept no pale imitations.

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