Last week, we looked at the background to Colossians: how Paul was writing to guard against the temptation for his audience to incorporate the philosophies of this world into their way of following Jesus – and so water it down into just another human scheme. One of Paul’s key arguments throughout the letter is for the superiority of Jesus over everything else this world has to offer. We’re going to see this throughout the coming week as we look at just six verses – but six very famous verses, often called the “Colossian hymn.”* (Read it now, if you have a minute, although we’ll be dissecting it over the next few days.)
Yesterday, we read Colossians 1:1-14 and saw how Paul used two strategies to encourage his audience to “live a life worthy of the Lord” and not be swayed into incorporating into their following of Jesus the human-constructed philosophies of the world around them. He asked them to remember what Jesus has already achieved for them, and to remember the teachings they had already embraced. Today, we see two more strategies.
Over the past two days, we’ve seen how Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written to guard against the temptation to incorporate the philosophies of the culture around them into their own philosophy – their own way of life in following Jesus. Instead, they are to “live a life worthy of the Lord” (1:10) and “continue to live their lives in him” (2:6).
And he does this by using, ironically enough, some of the strategies used by the moral philosophers of his day. Philosophers would often write to persuade their readers about the benefits of their own school of philosophy over those of rival schools; so here, Paul is simply arguing for the superiority of the Christian way of life in the usual manner. He asks his audience to remember four things:*
Yesterday, we introduced the purpose of Paul’s letter to the 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). Although there is much discussion about what that alternative philosophy was, the most plausible explanation was syncretism: where Christians were being tempted to add elements of the various religions and philosophies of the culture around, including Jewish practices, pagan mysticism, and the ascetism of some Greek philosophical schools. And we ended with the question: how are we tempted to incorporate the “philosophies” of our culture into our way of life as followers of Jesus?
Colossians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
This week, we begin a new series through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. But before we get into the text of the letter itself, we’re going to spend a couple of days laying down some important groundwork. Today, we look at what Paul’s letter was trying to achieve in the lives of those who first heard it read out in the Colossian church. Tomorrow, we’ll then look at how it might do something similar as we read it in our own day.
This is our final day looking at Paul’s letter to Titus. It follows on directly from yesterday (Titus 3:1-5) when Paul reminds us to live as model citizens of our world, interacting with the wider society considerately and gently – after all, it’s only by God’s mercy that we’ve been saved from their hopeless state before God. This salvation was entirely the work of God, not deserved by us, and brought about by the cleansing of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual “rebirth and renewal.” This Spirit, says Paul, is the one:
Titus 3:6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
We move to the third and final chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus. Again, we find Paul giving some instruction to Titus about the kind of behaviour he was to teach, followed by a theological reason/motivation for it. The “behaviour” section is straightforward enough, and it focuses on how believers relate to the wider world:
Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.