In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
New Year’s Eve – It’s the end of another year. As we tend to do, we typically look back on the year that has passed and simultaneously look ahead to the year to come. Some of us can honestly say that we had a great year – others of us can equally honestly say we had a terrible year. For most of us, it’s probably some of both. Some good, some bad, and an awful lot of ‘meh.’ But it begs the question, I suppose, how do we know?
What do we even mean by the question? Do we mean how much pleasure did we experience or how much pain have we avoided? Do we mean how much we accumulated or how much we lost? Are we talking about how much distance we traveled on the road to our destination? In which case, what exactly is the destination? Another way to think about this is, “how do we arrive at the criteria by which we measure?”
What I hope is obvious is that how we answer the question (and how we even form the question) depends on your frame of reference. What may be less obvious is how much our frame of reference is formed by forces external to ourselves. These forces vary from culture to culture and shape the way we see things and how we do things.
What I want to suggest is that perhaps we are quite simply using the wrong criteria. We are often looking at the wrong things in our quest to quantify and qualify our lives and, because we are looking at the wrong things, we pursue the wrong ends and we come to the wrong conclusions. And because we are looking at the wrong things and pursuing the wrong ends, we have a wrong understanding of what life is actually about. This, I think, is the real spiritual warfare – that we assign to irrelevant things, ultimate value.
As Christians, as the people of God, we should presumably have a better, clearer understanding of the meaning of life – of what the right questions are. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Oftentimes, we’ve simply taken the world’s criteria and put a Christian spin on them.
We judge success by how many times we’ve read the Bible. We determine faithfulness by how many people “we’ve brought to Christ.” In a communal or congregational context, we look at church attendance – are we bigger this year than we were last year; or we look at programs (which we label ‘ministries’) or examine budgets and tithing.
Now I want to affirm that none of these are bad things. And I want to affirm that it’s okay to care about these things. I suppose the simple question is “why do these things – or any other things – matter so much to us?” From where do we get our values? Our sense of right and wrong and what’s really important? Are we informed by the word of God and the Spirit of God, or are we actually led by the spirits, the powers and principalities of this world? (it’s probably some of both).
Over the next several weeks, we are going to be taking a look at the book of Colossians. This means that we will be extending our break from our survey of the O.T. We are doing this because at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, it seems appropriate to consider, what exactly are we doing? What are we doing as Christians and what are we doing as a church? How are we living out the salvation to which we have been called? How are we living out the Kingdom of God of which we are a part? How are we looking to and pointing to Jesus Christ as Lord? Further, this begs the question of, is what we think we are doing what we actually are doing? Are we really honouring and serving God? Or are we actually lifting up ourselves and following the world?
So first, a couple of very brief notes on Colossians.
Like most things, in academic circles, there are lots of questions and debates about the book of Colossians. Some of these debates revolve around whether or not Paul actually wrote this letter, and to what extent did he actually write this letter. There are also questions around when and from where this letter was written. Tied up with both of these questions will naturally be questions of why was this letter written – what is the issue or issues which occasioned Paul’s writing.
I bring this up not because I want you to doubt the authenticity and the authority of the word of God, but rather because I think it’s important for us to always maintain an attitude of learner.
Again, I want to point out that most of these questions (and resultant answers) have little to do with, or rather will not overly change how most of us understand most of Colossians. Mostly, I believe, they have to do with nuances or shades of truth. Frequently, inasmuch as we arrive closer to the facts, they may help us better focus our understanding. However, I am not advocating that any of us spend too much time or energy wrestling with such questions.
The point that I want to make is that, as learners/students and as disciples, we should be compelled to think about what we believe and what we say we believe. I think that many of us tend to believe a thing because someone somewhere said something which stuck with us. Why did it stick? It might be because it’s the first thing we heard, it might be because it sounded nicest to us (it affirmed something we already happened to believe or think), or it might simply be because it’s the only thing we’ve heard and we just went with it.
Basically, what I want to say is that it’s actually important that we think about what we actually think. This seems to be the major problem that’s going on in the church at Colossae. One of the major things that seems to be going on in the church is some sort of false teaching. What exactly that false teaching is, where it came from, why the Colossians are misled by it, is unclear. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the emphasis for Paul is to draw people away from these false teachings and back to Christ.
I am not saying that we should doubt what we believe (as we read Colossians, for example). Nor am I saying anything so dramatic as, “everything you thought you knew is wrong!” What I am saying is that we should always seek to go deeper. We should always seek to know God more and to understand His word more clearly. It is only when we hear God clearly, that we are able to drown out/make sense of/identify the other voices around us.
It is for this reason that we should seek to continually examine ourselves, continually examine what we believe or what we say we believe, continually examine why we believe it – is it from God, from scripture (properly understood)? Am I/are we in line with a tradition of orthodoxy (because God speaks and has spoken through the historic church)? Or are we informed by local customs or individual preferences? Are we properly exegeting the culture in which we find ourselves and rightly applying scripture and scriptural principles? Or are we simply trying to be new and different and exciting (a constant temptation for academics, for example)?
Again, these are all kind of preliminary thoughts and considerations. Let’s take a look at our passage today. This is Paul’s initial greeting and prayer for the Colossians before he enters into the meat of his letter:
9b We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
Without parsing it too deeply, Paul is saying, in light of what’s going on in the church (the reason for his writing), that his desire is that the Colossian church would grow in the knowledge of God and in the knowledge of living the God-life, the kingdom life.
We’ve seen that phrase “a life worthy” in Paul’s writing before – in the book of Ephesians. It means something along the lines of, what we believe matches what we actually live out. That the life we live, how we actually go about it, should fit with what we claim as our faith and the source of our faith.
So What Now…?
As Christians, as people of God, as people who are seeking God, isn’t this what our measure should be? Isn’t this the criteria by which we should determine whether or not we’ve had a good year? And isn’t this what we should set as our goal for the year to come? To know Him more deeply. To trust in Him more completely. To listen and to follow – and not just in the moments that seem “Christian moments”, but in all of life.
In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams quotes from Henry David Thoreau who, in his book, Walden, says:
I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.
This reminds me so much of what John seems to say in his Gospel about eternal life:
- For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
- For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life…(John 6:40)
- The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
- And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Our goal, as Christians, as a church, and as part of the Church, is (I think) to live the life of Christ in and for us. To put to rout all that is not life. And not, when we come to die, discover that we had never truly lived.
The issue in the Colossian church is false teaching: a false interpretation of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is; a false understanding of what life is actually about. As we will see, the corrective to which Paul is exhorting the Colossians – the real answer to which he points – is simply Christ. So, perhaps, when we think about the year that has passed and as we think about the year to come, perhaps we can consider how much of it has been and will be the life of Christ in us?