Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All The Saints (part 3)

Thus, through recollection of these scenes as recorded in the book of Acts (which, though the stories would have been shared, were not available in written and standardized form to the churches of the day), we are provided with a glimpse into the struggle.  There were doubts.  There were prejudices and ancient biases.  There was a fear that the status gains of one group (Gentile Christians) were coming at the expense of another (Jewish Christians).  In an honor and shame culture, in which honor was a limited good (one only gained honor at the expense of another’s honor), this is more than understandable.  There were church-wide conflicts.  There were intra-church (as congregation) conflicts.  There was a lack of unity on a number of issues, both within bodies and across the body.  There were stances taken by one church that would not be taken by another church.  Indeed, a review of the New Testament letters informs us that each congregation dealt with different problems at different times and in different ways.

All of this lays the groundwork for our look at Colossians.  In co-ordination with the title of this study, it can be said that “all” in Colossians, seems to play a strategic role.  This “all” takes on multiple forms, and when we read the letter with the questions concerning the inclusion and acceptance of Gentiles as part of the covenant people of God, minus their adoption of the markers of that covenant, this communiqué takes on an interesting character.  Paul is very much interested in the elimination of long established, perhaps cherished barriers (in some corners), in the name of the creation of a unified, new creation, kingdom people.

We can feel the warmth of the bright shining light of this entrenched interest when we sit alongside the gathered Colossian congregation, joined together in their customary meal gathering in honor of their Lord, as the letter from the Apostle is read aloud and we hear “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints” (1:3-4).  With the background provided, we should not skim quickly over this “all.”  We should hear it with all of the world-altering potential contained therein.  After a quick bit of praise from Paul, while making mention of the Gospel that he says “has come to you” (1:6a), he adds an “all” emphasis with “Just as in the entire world this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing” (1:6b).  As with the “all” of verse four, we do not take lightly this talk of the “entire world,” given the backdrop of the exclusiveness that limited entrance upon the covenant.  Contrary to this, and contrary to his former way of life, Paul’s words, along with the sentiments expressed by Peter (as recorded in Acts), represent the realization of the flinging open of the doors of God’s covenant to all people---the entire world. 

It is in this mindset that we then go on to hear the words of verse twelve, where Paul writes of their “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light” (1:12).  This qualification speaks to the issue of inclusion.  Prior to Jesus, and prior to the announcement of His Gospel as the means by which one enters into the covenant (is justified), it was the works of the law (the accepted covenant markers and practices that identified and separated the people of Israel from all other people) that provided qualification to be a “saint” and to share in the promised inheritance that stretched all the way back to Abraham.  To that, reinforcing the “all,” “entire world,” and “qualified” language, Paul adds “He delivered us,” a word of unity, “from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14). 

“Redemption” is a loaded term with a strong history, rooted in the history of Israel, and firmly connected to the exodus, which was an incredibly important component of the story by which Israel identified itself.  Redemption is, in effect, exodus.  Throughout the Scriptures, the symbol of God’s redemption of His people was their exoduses, which were many.  Exodus, be it exodus from Egypt or exodus from Babylon (or from any other oppressor, whether inside or outside of the land of promise), was crucial to the story of Israel, and was a unifying theme for a people that took an “us against the world” stance.  Redemption, or exodus, which implied a deliverance from exile (which was the result of Israel’s “sins”), was by and large (it’s not really the case for the Egyptian exodus) the evidence that Israel had been forgiven of its sins of covenant violations.  Therefore, Paul’s use of this language, as it is encompasses both Jew and Gentile, draws the Gentiles into the story of God’s redemptive actions on behalf of Israel and the world through Israel, providing them with an exodus of their own, thus folding them into the people of God.    

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