Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Paul & The All (part 2 of 2)

The nineteenth verse of Colossians one continues Paul’s emphasis on the “all,” stating “For God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in the Son” (1:19).  This reinforces that which has been asserted in verses fifteen and sixteen, while contributing to the heavy theme of “all” that appears to be so crucial to Colossians in particular, as well as to Paul and the church in general.  It is appended by “and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross---through Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20).  As can be seen in this creed, “all” features from first to last, is here linked to reconciliation and “peace,” is contexted by the “cross” (which ties neatly back to the “dead” of verse eighteen), and drawing conclusions from the formulaic setting forth of some of the earliest doctrines of Jesus, flows nicely into the twenty-first and twenty-second verse, where Paul insists that “you were at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds, but now He has reconciled you by His physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before Him” (1:21-22). 

The use of “strangers” and “enemies” seems to be directed towards Gentiles, as they were looked upon as being strangers to the covenant.  “Strangers” could easily be heard as “foreigners” or “aliens.”  Here, it is quite useful to call upon the letter to the Ephesians, as it can provide a helpful expansion (not a proof-texting), verbalizing what may have been already (likely) understood by the Jesus-as-God-and-Lord-worshiping Colossian congregation that was probably composed of Jews, Judaizing Gentiles, and Gentiles. 

In the second chapter of Ephesians, following a few verses that could easily fit alongside, and even substitute for the creedal expression of verses fifteen through twenty of Colossians one, we read, “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh---who are called ‘uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘circumcision’ that is performed on the body by human hands---that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:11-12).  We would be hard-pressed to hear talk of “strangers and enemies” in Colossians in a way any different from the more explicit presentation here in the Ephesian letter.  The situation of Gentiles and their inclusion is very much at hand. 

Continuing in Ephesians then, which provides us with a more well-rounded understanding of the movement in Colossians (and if we consider the extreme likelihood that Ephesians was originally a circular letter, designed to be heard by a number of churches, possibly even those of Colossae, then our understanding is even more greatly enhanced), we read “But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13).  We can transport the “far away” and “brought near” into a Colossian context, with knowledge of the Gentile association of those words, so as to increase our sensitivity to the subject matter at issue.  Employing the same type of inclusive language in Ephesians, Paul continues, writing “For He is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when He nullified in His flesh the law of commandments in decrees.  He did this to create in Himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed” (2:14-16).  Paul insists that there is no longer any division between Jew and Gentile.  They are not to be held apart.  There is to be nothing that divides them. 

More than anything, this allows us to glimpse the mindset of Paul, even if such things that are explicitly mentioned in Ephesians go unsaid to the church at Colossae.  It should be impossible for us to separate this type of thinking from our assessment of Colossians, as the Jew/Gentile, appropriate covenant marker conflict (the law of commandments in decrees), colors in the landscape in which the church of Christ in Colossae and the letter directed to them is set.  Visiting again the “strangers and enemies” reference in Colossians, and understanding that it is said in Ephesians in the context of bridging the divide between Jews and Gentiles, we could easily find Paul employing words such as “And He came and preached peace to you who were far off,” Gentiles, “and peace to those who were near,” Jews, “so that through Him we both,” that being Jews and Gentiles equally, “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17-18). 

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