Tag Archives: Colossians

Education and the Pursuit of Wisdom

Taylor University Prayer Chapel

Taylor University Prayer Chapel

Proverbs 3:13-18 identifies wisdom as the most valuable treasure in this world. Here is the passage in the NIV:

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, 
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.”

Notice the exhortations to actively pursue wisdom: “find wisdom . . . gain understanding . . . take hold of her . . . hold her fast.” With these words the father is appealing to his son, “make this your life quest!” And why? The passage makes it clear: an investment in wisdom pays great dividends, contributing to a life of shalom (peace) as well as fruitfulness in work and health.

What a great word for college students. The goal of a college education is not simply to become employable, to make lifelong friends, or to enjoy four years of enriching experiences. Those goals become meaningful only when aligned under a greater goal: growing in wisdom and understanding about God and the world he created.

How does one proceed on this journey towards wisdom and understanding? Proverbs 9:10 gives the starting point: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” And in the wake of the new covenant, Christ is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

A truly wise life emerges only from a right relationship with God, in Christ, by the Spirit. I’m so glad that learning at Taylor is experienced within a context of faith and discipleship, so that growth in wisdom can take place!

 

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Renewal in Christ, part 2 – New Creation, New Community

Waterfall in the Rockies

Christians enjoy a transformation in their lives that changes them from the inside out and touches every part of their existence. From last time, we saw that Paul unfolds the foundation for and process of renewal in Christ, in Colossians 3:1-10. For this post, we will observe the outcome and community of renewal in Colossians 3:10-14.

How does the daily process of living out our union with Christ through leaving behind the old self and growing into the new fit into God’s eternal plans for our lives and our world?

The outcome of renewal in Christ is that believers are “renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator” (Col 3:10).

The very word renewal in English and Greek (ανακαινοω) implies a return to an initial, ideal status. Along these lines, the pairing of “image” and “creator” takes us back to Genesis 1:26-28, where humans made in the image of God are commissioned as creators and rulers under God. Against this Scriptural background, Paul pictures Christ-formed believers creating and ruling under God in the new creation, in parallel with the original creation ideal. This should engender a sense of wonder, creativity, and responsibility among those who are being renewed in Christ.

Ultimately, our renewed lives will be lived out in a renewed creation of the new heavens and new earth (see Revelation 21-22). But in our current lives renewal towards that goal can still be experienced in all areas of life. The depth of renewal is as limitless as the depths of the riches of Christ (see Col 2:3), and the scope of renewal is as wide as all of creation, particularly in the vocations to which we are called. The process of Christ-centered formation is not somehow cordoned off from “real life” and limited to private spirituality but is at the core of an integrated renewal that touches all areas of creation and new creation.

One other implication of the outcome of renewal in Christ is that through the process of putting off the old self and putting on the new self we are being restored to our authentic selves. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that God somehow wants us to abandon and be untrue to our authentic selves when we grow as disciples. But the new self we embrace through renewal in Christ is a return to the original, authentic vision God has for humanity. It is the distorted and temporary false self that is being cast aside when we put off the old self and are made new in Christ.

Finally, the community of renewal is the body of Christ in all of its diversity (Col 3:11).

Believers all share a common union with Christ. We partake in a common renewal, from old to new, as we are being restored to the image of God. Rigid categories that separate us are eliminated – “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free.” Christ’s work of renewal does not eliminate diversity but secures equality in Christ among those diverse believers, so that  “Christ is all, and in all.”

The “new-self” practices Paul identifies in Col 3:12-14 are community/corporate practices, encompassing relational virtues such as compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, along with habits of forgiving and loving one another. We see some of these in action in Paul’s letter to Philemon, where Paul challenges Philemon to live out the implications of this equal status in Christ with his slave Onesimus. It is in the closeness and messiness of real relationships that renewal into the image of God is experienced.

With Christ at the center of our identity and renewal, we grow together towards the original vision of humanity God gave to us, and toward what we will enjoy together with him, eternally, in the new creation.

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Renewal in Christ, part 1

Wilderness of JudeaIt is always fun to wake up just a bit more refreshed the first day or two after gaining an hour through daylight savings time. It is sad though how quickly that extra hour seems to get spent! The demands of life catch up again, and that fleeting time of renewal is quickly gone, like a morning mist.

What does true renewal look like for a Christian? It moves beyond simple refreshment to the experience of Christ’s life within us. How then does Christ bring about this renewal, and what is our responsibility as believers for our own renewal?

In Colossians 3:1-14 Paul presents a lasting renewal in Christ. In the passage, Paul describes:

1) The foundation for renewal.

2) The process of renewal.

3) The outcome of renewal.

4) The community of renewal.

First, the foundation of renewal is Christ and our union with him. In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul further develops the logic of being united with Christ. Paul has already established the reality of a believer’s union with Christ in Colossians 2:10-13, where he proclaims that we have been made complete in Christ (2:10), we have been buried and raised with Christ (2:12), and we are now “alive together with him” (2:13). Christ’s death and resurrection is something believers share in, through faith, so that we are now dead to sin and alive to God. In chapter 3, Paul continues to press the full implications of our union with Christ. Believers are even “raised with Christ” and “hidden with Christ in God” (3:1-3). Paul sums up union with Christ by saying that Christ “is our life,” and that we will one day live together with him in his glorious existence (3:4). In other words, a believer’s identity and destiny are now shaped fully by Christ.

Second, the process of renewal consists of putting off the old, putting on the new. But for Paul, growth in Christ is not simply about behavior modification or sin management. Maturity and renewal in Christ is the outworking of being united with Christ.

What does this process look like? This putting off the old and putting on the new is developed against the backdrop of a series of contrasts: the contrast between earthly things and heavenly things (3:2), between the old self and the new self (3:9-10), and between a current world marked for judgment (3:6) and a glorious destiny for believers (3:4). Given these contrasts, Paul calls for a clean break in which the believer abandons the old life of corruption and embraces the new life of renewal and holiness. Putting off “earthly things” and the old self means leaving behind things that belong to a world that recklessly resists God. Putting on the new self and heavenly things means embracing things that are a preview of the glorious new creation yet to come. But this process flows from union with Christ. The resulting script for a believer’s obedience follows along the lines of “because I am united with Christ, I will put off X and put on Y.”

Pond in China

The beauty of this teaching is that the obedient process of renewal always stands on Christ’s foundation of renewal. When I lived in China, a five or six year-old boy was playing with his friends beside a murky pond near our apartment complex (see picture). All of a sudden he lost his balance and fell backwards into the pond. He began flailing his arms, with a look of fear on his face. As several bystanders prepared to jump in and rescue him, the look on his face abruptly changed. He calmly planted his feet on the bed of the pond, stood up, and walked to dry ground. The pond had turned out to be shallow, with solid ground underneath. In the process of being renewed in Christ believers can remember that Christ is our solid ground beneath us. Instead of flailing about on our own to grow in Christ, we can plant our feet on the firm foundation that Christ provides for us.

The theological principle for this is known as “the indicative and the imperative.” In grammar, the indicative mood presents fact and reality, while the imperative is the mood of command. In Paul’s letters, he first establishes the indicative (what Christ has done to bring us salvation and life) before he delivers the imperative (commands to live consistently with what Christ has done for us). The pattern of indicative first and imperative second means that Christians are growing into the renewed life that Christ has already secured for them. We are being renewed into the person God designed us to be, in Christ.

More to come next time: the outcome of renewal and the community of renewal.

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Portrait of an Apostle – my first book

A long-term project recently came to fruition when my book on the apostle Paul was published two weeks ago. The title of the book is Portrait of an Apostle: A Case for Paul’s Authorship of Colossians and Ephesians.

Portrait of an Apostle

Over the course of my research I had a great time navigating my way through large sections of Colossians and Ephesians containing Paul’s direct description of his ministry (such as his calling to reach the Gentiles) and his personal circumstances (such as suffering and being imprisoned). My aim for the project was to respond to arguments that a later imitator of Paul wrote Colossians and Ephesians. 

Most people are not even aware that many scholars dispute that Paul wrote these two letters. What I found is that while a number of scholars reject Paul’s authorship of the letters, their reasons for doing so are not convincing when subjected to careful analysis.

I decided that the easiest way to detect or rule out forgery (or pseudepigraphy, the more technical term) was to examine how Paul is actually portrayed in the letters. Someone who wanted to imitate Paul would need to describe his personal experiences and sense of calling in ways that are consistent with Paul’s depiction of himself in other letters. But if the imitator sounded too much like Paul, without any freedom or variety in expression, our suspicions would be raised that we were dealing with forgery.

There actually are two letters, from the 2nd or 3rd centuries, that are written under Paul’s name. The letters known as 3rd Corinthians and the Epistle to the Laodiceans are widely acknowledged as forgeries, and they give telltale signs that the author is someone other than Paul himself.

But with Colossians and Ephesians, we see fresh and unstudied articulations of Paul’s ministry and calling that nonetheless align comfortably with Paul’s description of himself in his earlier letters. Through a verse-by-verse investigation of relevant passages, I demonstrated that it makes much better sense to credit Paul himself with the authorship of Colossians and Ephesians.

Colossians and Ephesians are beautiful New Testament letters that point to the sacrificial love of Christ, his reign over all things, and God’s plan to bring reconciled people together as part of Christ’s body, the church. I hope that this study encourages Christians to be confident that God spoke powerfully to us through the apostle Paul in these letters, so that we can read the letters with attitudes of complete trust, worship, and obedience.

More information about the book can be found by following this link: Publishing info for Portrait of an Apostle.

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Paul’s and John’s Churches in Western Turkey

Though both Paul and John likely had ministries based in Ephesus, their mission extended to other cities in Asia Minor. In recent days on the trip we saw some of these cities:

Smyrna:

Smyrna was the second city to receive a letter from John in Revelation. Here is the “basement” level of the agora in that city:

Smyrna agora 1

Sardis:

The fifth city whose church received a letter from John in Revelation, Sardis had a significant temple to Artemis (whose “headquarters” was in Ephesus):

Temple of Artemis in Sardis

Laodicea:

Paul addressed this church in his letter to the Colossians (Col 2:1, 4:13-16), and John wrote to them as the seventh of the churches he included in Revelation. Here is a main street going through the city:

Main road at Laodicea

Colossae:

This town is nothing but an unexcavated mound today, but Paul wrote to Colossae’s church, which had been planted by his co-worker Epaphras. Philemon and his slave Onesimus were also from this city. Here are sheep grazing on the side of Colossae’s acropolis:

Sheep at Colossae

Hierapolis:

This is the third of three cities mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Just a generation later, the bishop Papias served in the city. Hierapolis has calcium deposits on its hillsides known as travertines. This gives the terrain a snowlike appearance:

Travertines Hierapolis

The whole area of Asia Minor is known for its belief in spiritual forces, and this is illustrated with the Plutonium at Hierapolis. This opening in the earth emitted noxious fumes that were deadly to creatures. The people associated these fumes with the god of the underworld – Pluto. The opening has now been covered, with just a small cutaway leading to the pit:

Plutonium

These are cities that were steeped in paganism, idolatry, and emperor veneration. But the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ found fertile ground in these unlikely places.

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