Introducing Colossians – Part One

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.

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Introducing Colossians – Part Two

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?

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Colossians 1:1-14 (Part One)

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:*

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Colossians 1:1-14 (Part Two)

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.

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Colossians 1:15-20 (Part One)

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.)

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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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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 1:24–2:5 (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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