10 11 Small Group Resource Week 3 Week 2 (Colossians 1:24-2:15) Colossians 2:16-3:17 Meditating on Colossians In this section of the letter, Paul reflects on his ministry and his hope for the Christians at Colossae (1:24 – 2:5), highlights the importance of growing in Christ (2:6-7), and shows the power of the cross over the rulers of this world (2:8-15). A small group discussion could focus on the key themes that emerge in this pas- sage, such as Paul’s commitment to making the gospel known, the riches of the mys- tery of Christ, and being buried and raised to new life with Christ. You could also help others to engage with this section of Colossians through a group meditation. While there are a variety of ways to meditate, one helpful approach was developed by the great Reformer Martin Luther. Luther encouraged every Christian to read and engage with the Bible, and described a way of praying with Scripture through a ‘garland of four strands,’ namely: instruction, thanksgiving, confession and prayer. Considering a biblical text with these four dimensions in mind can be a powerful way of entering into biblical meditation, either as an individual or as part of a group. Approaching the text Read Colossians 1:24-2:15 aloud twice. Make sure that everyone has a Bible or a copy of the text to read for themselves. Invite members of the group to read and reflect on one of the small- er sections within this passage (1:24-2:5; 2:6-7; 2:8-15), focusing on the following questions: a) Teaching: what does this text teach me about God or my faith? b) Thanksgiving: what can I praise and thank God for in this passage? c) Confession: How can this passage lead me to confess and turn away from sin? d) Prayer: How can this passage guide me in my prayer now? Spend some time together praying through each of these areas, allowing the reflections to shape your prayer. Discuss in the wider group the different dimensions of the text that emerged. How did the passage speak more powerfully through considering it in this way? Further Reading Martin Luther described this approach to prayer in his A Simple Way to Pray. A helpful and accessible recent guide to the approach is Michael Parson’s Praying the Bible with Luther: A simple approach to everyday prayer (Abingdon: BRF, 2017). Professor James D. G. Dunn Free from Condemnation (2:16-19) Clearly what is imagined is a situation where the Colossian believers were being criticized for their conduct in respect of dietary rules and festival days (2:16). They were not observing the rules regarding clean and unclean foods (Lev. 11:1-23; Deut. 14:3-21) – the make-or-break issue at the time of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 1:62-63). This was one of the most crucial issues for earliest Christianity, and it is where decisive steps were taken by both Peter (Acts 10:1-11:18) and Paul (Gal. 2:1-14). PREACHING POINTS Paul was criticizing the Colossians for putting certain rituals and practices before their belief in Christ. Is that a danger for today’s Christians? Equally important in Jewish religious prac- tice were ‘sabbaths, new moons and feasts’ (e.g. 1 Chron. 23:31; Isa. 1:13-14). So it is clear that the Colossian believers were being criticized for being only half-converts – believing in a Jewish Messiah, but hold- ing back from full commitment to Judaism. Paul’s response is emphatic. Such beliefs and practices were only foreshadowing what was to come, that is, the Christ (Col. 2:17; cf. Heb. 10:1). Using the metaphor of a race, Paul envisag- es the local synagogue authorities disqual- ifying the Colossian believers. They were insisting on acts of humility, probably fast- ing. ‘Worship of angels’ is puzzling, perhaps suggesting particular beliefs and practices rooted in visions, but at some remove from (Jewish) religious traditions (Col.2:18). An alternative is to interpret the reference as joining with the angels in their worship. 2:19 is a vigorous variation of Paul’s earlier vision of the church as the body of Christ (as in 1 Cor. 12, 14). Here the thought is of the body’s complete dependence on the head (Christ) for its nourishment and growth. Clearly indicated is the interde- pendence of the members of the body and their mutual dependence on the head. Free in Christ (2:20-23) The critique of the Colossian ‘philosophy’ is rounded off by emphasizing what the Colossians had been rescued from. The ap- peal is the same as in 2:12, to that decisive event of baptism in which they identified themselves with Christ in his death, his death marking the end of their identifica- tion with the world to which Christ died. The ‘elemental spirits/forces’ could be ‘the laws of nature’, or more precisely, the rules and social conventions which order society, and to which we all conform. Hence the question: why do you live as though you still belonged to this world? (2:20). The ‘regulations’ which are quoted are all to do with purity and food – a reminder that such rules governing ritual are seen by all religions as a means of maintaining harmony with the spiritual forces behind perceptible reality. Again it would appear that characteristically Jewish concerns are in view, particularly the distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, raising issues which confronted Jesus, as in Mark 5:1-34 (2:21). PREACHING POINTS What are the ‘elemental forces’ which shape and order society today? Following Jesus (Mark 7:7, Matt. 15:9) Paul alludes to the rebuke of Isaiah (Isa. 29:13): honouring with lips, while the heart is far from God, worshipping by rote, parrot-like, giving permanence to what was never in- tended to be more than temporary (2:22). In 2:23 the text becomes difficult as a result of a sequence of unusual terms, probably drawn from the Colossian phi- losophy. The warning that ‘appearance of wisdom’, ‘self-made religion’, (pretend?) ‘humility’, and ‘severe treatment of the body’ are of no value in checking self- indulgence is a sobering warning against over-enthusiastic religion (2:23). A NEW PATTERN OF LIFE (3:1 – 4:6) Life with Christ (3:1-4) The message of Jesus’ death on the cross would not be gospel without the message of his resurrection – and of their sharing in both: ‘buried with him’ (2:20) and ‘raised with Christ’ (3:1). The completion of Christ’s saving work was his exaltation to heaven, now ‘seated at God’s right hand’, echoing Ps. 110:1, one of the OT passages most quoted in the NT. It is from here that the Colossians, listening to the letter being read, should draw their values and guiding principles. They should not follow the val- ues and goals of contemporary society (Col. 3:2). For their old way of life and values had been left behind, and their whole point of living was bound up with Christ, ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (3:3). That challenge was far from easy, but the climax of what was to come would be their vindication. The sharing in his death and resurrection would climax in a sharing in his glory (3:4). PREACHING POINTS ‘Christ who is your life’ (3:4): how well does that resonate with you and your relationships?