There is life beyond death. But not life as we have it today. Not life full of trials, despair, or let downs. No loneliness or manipulation or violence. Yes, there is life beyond death, but it will be almost completely unrecognizable to us that we will struggle to even call it life. It will be life with all the bad stuff taken out and all the good stuff amplified to the point that we will hardly be able to bear it. And yet we will know it, find rest in it, and feel as though it is precisely the thing we were made for.

The funny thing about this life, though, is that it’s a person. With a name.

Jesus.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the life.” Jesus is the life that we will experience in heaven. He is the one in whom we will find rest, the one to whom we will shout in ecstatic discovery, “You are what I have been waiting for!”

Heaven-Kept-Hope-WebThis is the hope that Christians have – the hope to which Paul alludes in Colossians 1:5. It is our heaven-kept hope. Sure, we catch glimpses of it, of him, in this life, like we are peering through a keyhole into a gloriously sunlit courtyard full of blooming flowers and fruit-bearing trees. But we don’t experience the full fulness of him today. We walk by faith, not sight.

Our hope is that death is not the final sound of heaven’s door being locked and bolted forever, but rather the first rush of light in the morning, bidding us to wake from our fitful dreaming and behold the glorious reality of God’s presence. Death is not the fearful enemy, but rather the welcome transition from this life of faithfulness to the eternal life of fulness in the presence of Jesus.

It is this hope that allows us to live with such fierce love and faith today. We love because of the fulness of love that awaits us, and that we taste in parts today. We live in faith now because of the power of the presence of God that we are destined to experience in heaven. Heaven-kept hope is not simply delayed infinite gratification; it is the source and strength we need to live each day on this side of death with faith in Christ Jesus and love for all God’s people.

Getting Acquainted – 1:3-8


3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

When Paul and Timothy pray for the Colossians, their prayers are full of thanksgiving because of the power of the faith and love the believers exhibit in Colossae. Though Paul did not plant the church in Colossae (his disciple, Epaphras did that), he still considered it one of his congregations, and assumed apostolic care for them in prayer. This is a powerful encouragement (by example) for pastors and leaders to pray, not only for those in their direct care, but also for those who may be in congregations nearby, or which are in some other way tied back to them.

The report Epaphras brought to Paul and Timothy about the church in Colossae emphasized their faith in Jesus and the love they had for all believers. Love for fellow believers is a big deal to Paul (see especially 1 Corinthians). The way that Paul constructed the phrase the love you have for all God’s people “reveals two truths about the nature of the church’s concern. First, it was sacrificial. The term agapē reminded them of the sacrificial love of Christ for them. Second, within the Christian community it was indiscriminate. The love was directed to all the saints.”[i] The love that defines Christian community is the same love Jesus displayed on the cross – both sacrificial and indiscriminate. Christians cannot love some and not others.

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grace and peace

We live in a culture that is becoming increasingly vengeful and shame-oriented. Through social media, we have self-appointed watchdogs seeking to destroy people who make seemingly racist, homophobic, or otherwise objectionable comments. Justine Sacco’s life was ruined by vengeful internet shamers after she sent a sardonic tweet before boarding a flight to Africa in 2014. This kind of shaming goes far beyond what justice demands, gleefully devastating the lives of those who are deemed to have crossed the cultural line.

Vengeance and shame are, ironically, attributes that are often ascribed to God. Yet it is we who, upon laying claim to the throne of Judgment, take on these very characteristics. It is into a chaotic, swirling environment of judgment, vengeance, and shame that Paul boldly proclaims, “grace and peace to you from God our Father.” When God opens his mouth to speak he increases neither the anxiety-inducing shame nor the fear-engendering vengeance of our world. Instead, he disarms both by speaking grace and peace.

Grace-and-Peace-WebFrom God our Father.

To you.

Comes grace.

And peace.

Because your soul doesn’t need any more hypocritical, self-righteous watchdogs spewing shaming invective. No, what your soul needs is a Father who speaks grace and peace over you. Shame and vengeance create fear and anxiety; grace and peace foster love and hope.

Yes, it’s true, God did say once, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) And how did he repay the sins of humanity? By sending us his Son, in whose death we find full and free forgiveness of all our wrongdoing. This is grace. Here is peace. And it is for us, from God.

God is not a part of the shame and vengeance cycle; he has offered the only way out – through his son Jesus. Will you take it? And by taking it, will you live it? Become a true child of God, speaking grace and peace to souls in desperate need of it.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quoted in every post is taken from the NIV 2011.

Paul’s Greeting – 1:1-2


1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

This is a fairly standard opening to Paul’s letters, and follows the custom of the time. There are a couple of interesting things about this greeting, however. In his letters, Paul changed the customary Greek greeting (charein) to “grace” (charis), and he added the customary Jewish greeting of peace (Hebrew, shalom; Greek, eirana). Thus, we get “grace and peace” in many of his letters. This is a small, cultural change that reflects a deeper theological reality: Christians are people of grace and the true God is a God of grace. Our world is redefined by grace, so much so that it changes the way we communicate with each other down to the most mundane details. “’Grace’ pointed the readers to the basis of their new life in Christ, as well as the state of grace in which they were to conduct their lives.”[i]

Paul calls God “our Father,” and immediately afterward calls him “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is significant, if unspoken, meaning for our relationship with Jesus here. Moreover, it is clear that we are to understand our relationship with God as familial – he is our Father and we are his children. This is a radical departure from the way the Colossians related to the Roman gods they worshipped in their old, pagan way of life. Though it was possible for a pagan to call Zeus or Jupiter his “father,” what that meant was that he owed everything to the god. But for the Christian, God the Father has given everything to, and especially for, him. Not only do Christians have a family-based relationship with God, they also are brothers and sisters of one another. God’s holy people, in Colossae, Ephesus, or wherever, are his personal family, bound up together in Christ.

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Note: A blogentary is a “blogged commentary” on a book of the Bible. I am writing this blogentary on the epistle to the Colossians. My hope is that this commentary will be useful and encouraging to those ministers and laypeople who discover it. Subsequent posts will deal with small portions of the text, and will appear as I am able to finish them.

Introduction


Authorship

Maybe you didn’t know that certain books of the Bible have what scholars call disputed authorship. Lucky you. As it turns out, Colossians is one of those books. Traditionally attributed to Paul, the authorship of this letter has come under significant scrutiny in the past two centuries. Scholars point to differences of style and theology in Colossians (as well as Ephesians) when they compare it to the no-doubt-written-by-Paul books like Romans and 1 Corinthians. What are we to make of this? Is Colossians so obviously different from Paul’s certified letters that it’s possible he didn’t write it? And if he didn’t write it, what does that mean for us? What does it mean for the integrity of the New Testament?

We could just throw up our hands and say, “Well, it’s in the Bible, and I trust that God wouldn’t let anything get into the Bible that’s not supposed to be there. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who wrote what. The Spirit inspired it. God included it. I believe it.” We could say that, but there’s really no reason to concede the authorship issue.

N.T. Wright has come to conclude that “the main reason why Ephesians and Colossians have been regarded as non-Pauline is because they fly in the face of the liberal protestant paradigm for reading Paul which dominated the scholarly landscape for several generations, but which has been undermined from more or less all sides over the course of recent decades.”[i] In other words, Colossians doesn’t fit the liberal template created in the 19th century. So rather than adjusting the template to allow for Colossians, the letter has been discarded as “non-Pauline.”

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