One True Mystery: Colossians 1
In Summary: Paul writes to the church at Colossae, a body of believers that he did not found as a church. There is some speculation that Epaphras may have founded the church, a likely scenario but one which must be admitted to be an inference. Whoever is responsible for the founding of the church, Paul clearly holds himself responsible for their well-being. We can see this by comparing Romans with Colossians. Romans is a theological treatise from a master scholar, while Colossians is a personal instruction (including rebuke) from a pastoral leader.
In this first chapter, Paul establishes his credibility as an Apostle and attributes that role to the will of God. While we see in Timothy, for example, that one can desire to be an overseer (or elder), there is no Scriptural warrant that anyone ever chose to be an Apostle. That title was also not given by man, but only appears to be given by God. You can see some support for this idea in that Paul, though he often has co-writers for his letters, never attributes the title of Apostle to them. Timothy is listed here as a co-writer, one to be considered also sending the letter, yet he is “our brother” and not “an apostle.”
Paul’s concern for the Colossians revolves around his love for the body of Christ in general. In this letter, this concern manifests a correction of doctrine that has crept into the church. Many of the commentaries refer to “the Colossian Heresy” with capital letters, but we are left without a definition of that heresy. All told, we have Paul’s repudiation of the heresy, and so must work backwards. Yet knowing the heresy is less important than knowing the truth.
In Focus: Overall, though, we see a heresy that revolves around the idea of “mystery” in Colossae. Then as now, many people loved the idea of knowing something that others did not. Across the Roman Empire, there existed many religious groups called mystery religions, and it appears that some of the ideas had sept into Colassae and begun to affect the church.
The essence of the mystery religions, boiled down for blog purposes, is that there were invisible realities behind the universe. These were unseen and unknowable unless you were deep within the religion. The costs had to be paid first, and could vary from all your money to more intimate costs, depending on the leadership within.
Paul highlights that Christianity is not one of those mystery religions. Christ is the image of the invisible God, made visible. The focus of this chapter is that the price is not paid by the adherents of Christianity and there is no hidden mystery to be bought. Instead, all the cost is paid upfront by God through Christ. This is the mystery of Christianity, and it is all on the table as you get started. The rest of our religious concepts are that we live up to what has been revealed. We hold to a faith that claims the invisible was made visible, so that the temporal could become eternal: Christ became the image of the invisible God, transferring us from the dominion of darkness to His marvelous Kingdom!
In Practice: What do we do, then?
First, we stop pursuing esoteric knowledge. When we see people proclaiming “new secret paths” to draw closer to God, walk away. The path is open, obvious, and clear. Few find it not because it is hidden but because they refuse to follow the clear Word of God. It is not unlike the way I once spent 4 hours trying to find my way through Nashville while ignoring my GPS. The path was clear. I was dense. The path is clear to the gate—don’t be dense!
Second, we proclaim openly, freely, what God has done for us through Christ. Rather than waiting for someone to get “inside,” we tell the world about Jesus. That’s the goal.
In Nerdiness: Epaphras appears in Colossians and in Philemon—apparently in prison with Paul at the writing of Philemon (Philemon 23). He appears to be the one responsible for carrying the Gospel to Colossae and surrounding regions.
He also would have been a new believer, and not well-trained in all the nuances of theology or church leadership. Yet he did what needed done. What about us? Are we waiting too long to obey?