The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

Linda Brooke 17 July 2016

Colossians 1: 15:29

Luke 10 – at the home of Mary and Martha

 

Four verses that are the subject of such a lot of debate, and sometimes resentment.  Poor Martha, we say, doing all the work and then Jesus puts her in the wrong.  The wonder is that she did not clock him one with a frying pan.  Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus are obviously close friends of Jesus, they appear often in the gospel narrative – not as people who follow Jesus around, but as people who open their home to him regularly and care for him – and probably his band of disciples as well.  Any woman here will tell you that the sudden arrival of 13 hungry men wanting to be fed is not going to be an easy task and the more help she can get the better.  Incidentally, they most likely also had servants – but a younger sister’s help would be appreciated. 

 

Mary is enthralled by Jesus’ teaching and she sat at Jesus feet, listening to him.  That does not shock us in the 21st Century anything like as much as it would have in the 1st.  Women did not sit at the feet of a rabbi, they were not supposed to be learning stuff, unless their husband or father taught them – and that would get some censure, believe me.  So Mary is not just skiving off from the cooking, but also breaking a pretty big protocol of the time.  Jesus’ chastising of Martha was gently done, but nevertheless, it raisess many important questions.  Luke records this story immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we heard last week.  In that parable, it is the good work of the Samaritan that gains praise.  Maybe the Pharisee and the Levite were on their way to a scripture teaching, but it is the work of the Samaritan that is correct in those circumstances.  In the household of Martha; it is the listening to Jesus’ word that is the most important thing.  The lesson is not the black and white it is so often presented, but it is that we must use discernment to know which priority is needed.  At times, we are called to serve – Jesus is our model, the servant king – but at others we must stop our work and listen to God.  God’s message to us is always important and some of the tasks we perform can wait. 

 

But I want to talk more today about Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Humph and Wendy were worried about including that reading today; Paul’s letters are so hard to understand, they rightly said.  Our solution has been to read from a very modern (if slightly Americanised) translation, which is easier for us.  And I have agreed to explain it more in the sermon.  So, settle down comfortably as I begin.

 

Let’s get some background in.  You know who Paul is.  The Colossians might not be so well known to you.  They were the inhabitants of a town called Colossae, which as far as we know, was never visited by Paul.  The church there was founded by Epaphras, who had heard Paul teaching in Ephesus and worked with Paul.  It was near to Laodicea, which we know mostly from the book of Revelation and John’s letter recorded there.  It is situated in what my text book describes as the “beautiful valley of Lycus”.  It was on a trade route and had all the usual problems of such a place.  A vast mixture of people from vastly different backgrounds.  The converts in the church were made up from all walks of society (as usual) and the problem that was arising was what we call ‘syncretism’; the merging of belief systems; the ‘cherry picking’ of the good bits from different faiths.   Paul calls this ‘false teaching’, a simple phrase, and easy to skim over, but this is a serious problem today, just as it was then. 

 

You will all know of the debate that evolved with the Jewish converts – the debates about the law, circumcision, etc., and you how that was dealt with, because it is explained fully in the book of Acts; and of course, it has been the subject of many teachings.  But here in Colossae, the problem was one of influence from the gentile world.  The gentile mix was mostly Greek, but with influences from the east and eastern beliefs. 

 

The biggest influence was Gnosticism.  Gnosticism was an appealing belief system, because it seemed somehow to resemble the Christian teaching.  There was a supreme being (a god) who was not on this earth.  Mankind was imprisoned in its material form and souls wanted to escape to be with the Supreme Being.  You start to get the similarities?

 

But Gnostics believed the material of which mankind is made was essentially evil, and as the Supreme Being could not have created something evil, mankind was not created by it.  The evil body would be left behind at death, so it didn’t matter what evil it committed in life.  Any evil practice could continue and I will leave you to image what atrocities could occur. Pure Gnostics say that the souls of only a select few can be released with special secret knowledge – but only a few.  This is very appealing, as we like to be special, one of the few, those with the secret knowledge.  Incidentally, this is a similar (but not exactly the same) teaching to modern day Jehovah’s witnesses, who say that only 144,000 will get to heaven. 

 

Dealing with the evil body gave them options; there were ascetics - asceticism meant the evil body had to be severely punished, starving oneself, beating oneself – and we come across that sort of belief as well nowadays.

 

Then there was the idea that, as nothing evil could approach the Supreme Being; intermediaries were needed, sometimes known as Aeons, but most often as angels.  Angels were said to have created mankind, and must therefore be worshipped.  I have come across this kind of belief in Angel worship in some of the so-called ‘New-Age’ philosophies.  These are just some of the false teachings that Paul was concerned about.  And syncretism – the keeping the bits you like, or find hardest to stop believing or cannot give up – syncretism was diluting the true message.  Syncretism is alive and well today and we have to be aware of it, which is why it is so important to read and understand Paul’s letters.

 

Paul’s letter to this church starts by giving thanks that the people of Colossae have indeed had such good teaching to base their Christian belief on.  Paul’s friend and fellow worker, Epaphras, aided by Philemon and Onesimus, have been taught about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  They have a solid foundation to build on and they have taken this gospel (good news) back to Colossae and converted many people.  Now the church is standing on its own feet and these men have gone on to Rome with Paul.  Paul clearly wants this church to do well, to thrive and bring God’s saving power to others.  So he writes a letter of encouragement to them from his prison in Rome – and he addresses problems they are facing. He sends the letter with his friends, Tychicus and Onesimus.  He sends greetings from Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus called Justus, Epaphras and Luke.  It’s very a very personal and caring letter, even though he has not actually been to the place.

 

We are studying two paragraphs from the beginning of the letter, but it would not take long for you to read the whole letter in your own bibles at home.  The first paragraph (verses 15-20) we read today is sub-headed in most bibles as “the supremacy of Christ”.  Scholars believe that this passage was known as the “Christ hymn” and formed part of a liturgy that the believers would have been taught.  Those of you who do not like liturgy, can see here the value of using and learning a liturgy to ensure continuity of true teaching. 

 

The hymn teaches that God did create everything; that Christ is from God himself with full authority and it is through him and the shedding of his blood, there is peace.  No need to appease cosmic powers, nor of intermediaries.  And Paul says you are holy IF you continue in your faith. (I’m paraphrasing, I strongly urge you to read it again for yourself).

 

So, a lot of lessons for us today.  Food for thought for the coming week.

 

There is lesson of the Gospel – learn to discern the priorities in life and when to apply them – be a servant of Christ and remember to take time to be continually listening to God.

 

The lesson from Paul’s letter: do not be lead astray by false teaching – no matter how feasible it sounds.  I cannot stress enough how important this is, Satan is out there, tempting us away from God and he can corrupt the message so easily with pleasant sounding adaptations.  As the sign in the toy shop says “if in doubt read the instructions”. Never, ever stop listening to God – in regular bible reading, in regular prayer and in our worship together.

 

 

 

 

 

Cosmic reality as presented through the Christ hymn helps the letter’s recipients understand that they do not need to perform an array of ascetic practices or seek ecstatic visions either to appease cosmic powers who otherwise will vex them or to experience a fuller relationship with God as some false teachers have claimed. Christ has pre-eminence over all the powers of the cosmos and through his death everything in all creation including such powers have been reconciled to God. Thus through the hymn’s claims regarding the cosmic Christ, the author provides his audience with an assuredness in who and whose they are.

(Richard Carlson 2013, professor of new testament, Gettysburg)