8 9 Week 2 Colossians 1:24-2:15 Professor James D. G. Dunn A PERSONAL STATEMENT (1:24 – 2:5) Paul and the Gospel (1:24-29) A characteristic theme in Paul is his re- joicing in suffering (e.g. Rom. 5:3; 8:18; 2 Cor. 7:4). It was not that he rejoiced in the thought of personal martyrdom; rather that he accepted, indeed welcomed, suffering on behalf of those to whom he wrote – presumably because the suffering was an unavoidable consequence of his ministry. He lists such sufferings in 2 Cor. 11:23-28. Paul’s theology of suffering was richer still. Suffering meant suffering with Christ, sharing in Christ’s sufferings (cf. e.g. Phil. 3:10-11). This thought of identification with Christ, expressed in his regular use of the phrases ‘in Christ’ and ‘with Christ’, was central to Paul’s understanding of the gospel. What is special here is the further thought that Paul’s own suffering on behalf of his churches somehow completed the saving effect of Christ’s death and resur- rection (1:24). PREACHING POINTS How helpful do you find Paul’s theology of suffering? Paul insisted at the letter’s beginning on his apostleship. But here he does not hesitate to describe himself as a servant of the church, as he had already described himself as a servant of the gospel (1:23). His com- mission is ‘to make the word of God fully known’ – the ‘word of God’ even richer than the gospel (1:25). It is further defined as ‘the mystery hidden throughout the ages … but now revealed to his saints’ – the gos- pel as the climax of God’s purposes from the beginning (1:26). And what is this ‘mystery’? Nothing other than what had been revealed to Paul in his conversion: that God had always intended to include at the last Gentiles together with Jews as his people. This was the key both to understanding history and to Paul’s own mission, as he explains more fully in Rom. 11:25-26; see also Eph. 2:11-22. The working out of this mystery is summed up as ‘Christ in you, the (sure) hope of glory’ (1:27). In contrast, Paul hastens to express his confidence in the firmness of their faith in Christ (2:5). The passage closes with Paul’s testimony as to his own vocation, his goal – what can be more profound and challenging than ‘to present everyone mature in Christ’? – and the source of his ‘energy’ powerfully inspired by Christ (1:28-29). THE LETTER THEME (2:6 – 4:6) Paul and the Colossians (2:1-5) Paul’s depth of concern for the churches for which he felt responsible must have been well known. The ups and downs of his relationship with the church in Corinth in particular would probably have been to some extent familiar to the churches of the Lycus valley. So, in case it was thought that Paul was only concerned for those church- es which he had personally founded, it was evidently important to make it clear that he was equally concerned for those churches formed by members of his team, churches which had never met Paul personally (2:1). His prayer for them focuses not on practice or belief. Paul’s desire is for their fuller (assured) understanding and appreciation of Christ and of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge revealed in him (2:2-3). Then comes the first indication that Paul is concerned about them, explaining why he is writing in the first place. There is a danger that they may be deceived by plau- sible but mistaken arguments (2:4), which will become clearer as the letter proceeds. PREACHING POINTS How do you think Paul would address your church? What concerns/advice/ rebuke might you expect him to focus on? Thematic Statement (2:6-7) Note the integration of faith and practice. Initial commitment is just that – initial. They had received (the traditions about) Christ as Lord. But that was hardly the whole story. They needed to ‘walk in him’, that is conduct their lives as motivated and inspired by him (2:6). These traditions pro- vided a ‘root’ from which they should grow, a ‘foundation’ on which they should build, and a ‘guarantee’ for their faith (2:7). PREACHING POINTS How should a faith ‘abounding in thanksgiving’ (2:7) best express itself? THE CROSS AND HUMAN TRADITION (2:8-23) The Power of the Cross (2:8-15) For the first time a specific danger is referred to. There were some seeking to win over the recipients of his letter to what Paul described as a ‘philosophy’, a term used for a wide range of religious and pseudo-religious teaching. Probably in mind were the sort of popular religious speculations which must often have been proffered by soap-box ‘philosophers’ in the market place. Paul dismisses it as ‘empty deceit’, product of ‘human tradition’ and speculation about the cosmos, how it came about and functioned. The key for him was that such speculation ignored the key to understanding reality which was Christ (2:8). PREACHING POINTS What philosophies are a threat to Christianity today? This key is summed up by Paul’s repetition of the phrase ‘in him’. It starts with the astonishing claim that ‘in him’ was encoun- tered nothing less than the embodiment of ‘the whole fullness of deity’ (2:9). Even more astonishing, the Colossian Christians had been given to share in that fullness ‘in him’, the one who was the head of (inestimably superior to) every ruler and authority – that is, including any genuine cosmic powers that the Colossians might be attracted to (2:10). PREACHING POINTS Are Paul’s regular uses of the phrases ‘in Christ’ and ‘with Christ’ helpful in your understanding of his teaching and practice of your faith? The theology is rich. Circumcision, like bap- tism, had a deep spiritual significance. So although Paul was adamant in insisting that Gentile converts should not be circum- cised, he did not hesitate to use the meta- phor of circumcision both for the stripping away of fleshly desires and for the death of Christ (2:11). But his preferred metaphor is that of dying with Christ, buried with him in baptism, and raised with him – an ‘already’ anticipation of the final climax of complete salvation (bodily resurrection) (2:12). Note how the ‘with Christ’ has come in to com- plement the ‘in Christ’. The range of metaphors becomes still richer: conversion as a being made alive, as well as receiving forgiveness of sins (2:13); Christ’s saving act as an erasure of the le- gitimate charge against the sinner – ‘nailed to the cross’, a brilliant adaptation of the usual practice of nailing to the cross the charge for which the individual had been crucified (2:14); and the stripping off of the powers under which his incarnation set him, and the triumph over them, which his resurrection achieved (2:15). The meta- phors do not fit easily together but express the rich variety and depth of Paul’s and the readers’ experience.