Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Servant To Every Person

As we read the Colossian letter, we must find ourselves carefully attuned to the underlying concerns of the Apostle, this church, the churches of Asia Minor, and the church-at-large, that we might be able to grasp the monumental scope of the kingdom project and hear it being referenced when Paul writes “This Gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant” (1:23b).  The “all” of “all creation” resounds with theological and eschatological gravity!  It is with such gravitas, as he willingly, in the manner of His Lord, adopts the position of servant to the previously unwashed masses of Gentiles, that Paul writes “I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship from God---given to me for you---in order to complete the word of God, that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints” (1:25-26).  These “saints” now include Gentiles, who had been previously excluded from the covenant people, and could only enter upon that covenant by adopting the Jewish covenant markers.  Now, Paul insists, they enter into the covenant people of the Creator God, as Gentiles, through the confession (in word and deed) of a trusting allegiance to the Gospel of Jesus (He is Messiah/Lord/King of all). 

Pressing that button, he continues, writing “God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).  Here, it is helpful to replace the Greek “Christ” with the Hebrew “Messiah,” re-reading the affected portion of the sentence to say “this mystery among the Gentiles, which is the Messiah in you, the hope of glory.”  Paul places the Messiah in the midst of the Gentiles, referring to Him as their hope, and ultimately, to their confession of Him as Lord of all as the foundation of their ability to participate in part of God’s purposes for His covenant people, which is to reflect His glory into the world.  Beginning with the call of Abraham, this had been the task assigned exclusively to Israel, with the attached and concordant blessings that would flow to them for successfully carrying out this endeavor.  That which indicated one’s status as a member of Israel were the covenant markers (by the time of Jesus and Paul, circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, dietary laws).  With the coming of the Christ, and with the dawning of the new age of the new creation portended by His Resurrection, with an ongoing sense of “already but not yet,” this task of participating in God’s purpose to be the people (individually and corporately) that reflect His glory into the world, is now assigned to the church of the Christ that is composed of all peoples. 

Building to a crescendo in this portion of his letter, Paul adds “We proclaim Him,” that being His Lordship contra-Caesar and all of the world’s pretenders to power, “by instructing and teaching with all wisdom,” though it may seem like the height of foolishness to proclaim the imperial reign of one crucified by Caesar, with such foolishness amplified by the subsequent and attached message of that person’s resurrection from the dead, “so that we may present every person mature in Christ” (1:28).  We do well to hear “every person” as yet another extension of the inclusive and world-embracing “all” which, if one was to take careful note of it, has so colors the first quarter of the letter to Colossae.

Moving along to the second chapter, Paul’s inclusive language expands, and we join together with the gathered church at Colossae to hear “For in Him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” (2:9).  This “Him,” of course, is the previously referenced “Messiah in you, the hope of glory.”  Not only is there an “all” in the filling that has resulted in “all the fullness of deity” dwelling in Him in bodily form (a basic messianic premise), but Paul emphasizes the totality of that filling, extending it to the church, composed of Jews and Gentiles, looking at them as the manifestation of Jesus in the world and writing “and you have been filled in Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority” (2:10).  As we can see and hear, Paul not only provides assurance to Gentiles while also exhorting the church in general, but he also seizes upon the opportunity to assert Jesus’ Lordship and His kingdom as superior to all other kings and kingdoms.  Thusly, he reminds all believers, both then and for all time, as to where their patriotic loyalties should primarily lie, while also reminding them that their loyalty to Jesus, to His kingdom, and to the call and demands of that kingdom, will infiltrate all aspects of their lives.    

That settled, the sensibility-shocking (for his Jewish hearers) inclusive language expands, and Paul bursts through all manner of tradition and history, as he insists that “In Him you were also circumcised---not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ” (2:11).  By this, Paul completely dismisses any idea that the covenant marker of circumcision is necessary.  Of course, we know that the sole covenant marker to which Paul holds as absolutely crucial is the confession of Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Lord of all (the Gospel), which will manifest itself in the quasi-covenant marker of a self-sacrifical and other-preferring love.  This confession is the means by which a person, be they Jew or Gentile, is justified (becomes a member of God’s covenant family, with the subsequent responsibility to concern themselves with reflecting God’s glory into the world by rightly bearing the divine image that has been exampled out by Jesus of Nazareth---paradoxically, God-manifest).    

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