colossians - an exhortation for unity in love
COMMUNICATIONS OF FELLOWSHIP
In our considerations over the last year or so, we have examined in some detail but a few of the many wonderful themes, Old Testament allusions, and practical teachings of this Epistle. But as our title implies, each of our studies has sought to focus upon the central message of the Epistle – that the hearers thereof might become united in love, as a single conglomerate Body with the Lord Jesus Himself as the Head. And we saw that this love is no mere shallow sentiment such as that which exists in the world, rather the inevitable effect upon believers of a mutual understanding and appreciation of the Divine Wisdom revealed in the Word.
Here then, is the central exhortation, as expressed in the words of Paul’s prayer for the believers: “that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of they mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (Col 1:2). Being united together in a “full assurance of understanding”, true brethren in Christ experience a joyous fellowship which greatly surpasses any friendship the world can offer. For the unity of the believers ought to mirror in measure, that perfect unity subsisting between the Father and Son. Thus the Lord prayed: “keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are … neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us … and the glory which thou hast given me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jno 17:11,21,22).
Being risen with Christ in the baptismal waters of a typical grave (Col 3:1), this is a powerful influence which irresistibly draws brethren together, irrespective of their personal differences. By contrast to the morass of humanity who seek only their own, whose only desire is to satisfy the grovelling instincts of the flesh, Christ’s brethren have no regard for the temporal advantages of this life. Rather, being One with him, and in him, they seek to set their affections “on things above, not on things on the earth”, (Col 3:2), for ‘above’ is where their Master is, and is therefore where their hope of life is hid (3:3). They are elements of a New Creation (cp 2 Cor 5:17), formed in the image and likeness of their maker (Col 3:10) – the constituent parts of a “new man” (Col 3:10), formed by the living influence of the Word upon the tables of their heart. And as a new man – complete in Christ, having no need of further addition by way of the traditions of men and the Judaising influence of those who would have them believe in “another gospel” – they stand whole, with mutual regard one for the other, “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another” (Col 3:13), even as Christ forgave them.
THE UNITY OF BELIEVERS – EXPRESSED IN WORDS
So it is that the central theme of this Epistle is that of the Unity of believers in Christ. And this theme continues through to our concluding section, from verse 2 of Chapter 4, to verse 18. Here, whereas the previous chapters spoke of matters of behaviour, and attitude; this section deals with words. For not only must the Spirit of Christ be seen in all our actions; our conversation also must be reflective of the One who always spoke his Father’s Word. And this is seen in 3 ways – words of Prayer (4:2-3), Proclamation (4:3-6) and Care for fellow believers (4:7-18).
That which ought to come first and foremost in the utterances of the Saints, is the offering of Prayer to the Father: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would upon unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds” (4:2,3). The saints at Colosse were to pray –but not simply a ‘shopping list’ of repeated requests, rather a watchful, thoughtful petition that the Father would be with the Apostle’s preaching, opening a door of opportunity for him that the work might continue.
And in this, we are given a significant insight into the mind of the Apostle. Bound in prison, in threat of his life, in dire circumstances; his overriding concern was not for himself, and for the severe discomfort he was enduring. It was for the fact that whilst he was in chains, he was unable to preach the Gospel to the dying sinners around him. That “they mystery of Christ” was not being “made manifest” by him, as he had been Divinely Commissioned to do. Thus, the primary – and indeed only – thing he besought the brethren to pray for, was that he might have such opportunity presented to him, even in such dire circumstances when preaching the Word may well be farthest from the minds of many hirelings who place present advantage over future gain.
The Apostle besought the brethren to pray for “a door of utterance”. Indeed, he had been granted such a “door” several times previous to this. At Ephesus (1Cor 16:8,9 and Troas (2Cor 2:12), so he informed the Corinthians, “a door was opened unto me of the Lord”. Here, a ‘door’ being an entrance or means of passing from one arena to another, the expression is used to denote the manner in which words might have opportunity to pass from Paul to the hearts of the hearers. Being alone, as when he was imprisoned at Rome, there was no-one to hear – the door was either closed, or was not even present at all. So, the ‘doors of his lips’ (cp Ps 141:3) were not permitted to allow the Gospel message to pass through them. But when it so fitted the Purpose of the Deity, opportunity was given; a ‘door’ was opened that Paul, and the message he bore, could enter beyond it, that the words of Life might not be bound.
And that the prayers of the brethren were indeed heard is evident from Paul’s Epistle to the Phillippians, for there he speaks of how his deliverance into Caesar’s palace was beneficial for “the furtherance of the Gospel”(Phil 1:12,13). And again, he refers to those who had received the word, upon the opening of the door of opportunity for it’s utterance: “all the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household” (Phil 4:22). So it was, even within the sufferings of imprisonment, the Gospel was preached – and received.
THE CARE OF THE SAINTS
One of the striking features of our Community, is the mutual interest which brethren and sisters have in one another’s affairs. Whether it be reading ecclesial Intelligence, or via the “Christadelphian Grapevine”, it is one of our communal tendencies, to want to know; and to seek after the wellbeing of those of like precious faith. And whilst the men of the flesh abuse this Scriptural, just disposition of mutual concern, debasing it into merely a desire to hear snippets of gossip and scandal; the true man of the Spirit will always seek after his brethren’s well-being. The case of Paul is testimony to this: “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here” (Col 3:7-9). Here is found the expression of true carefulness in fellowship. Not a cold state of detachment from others, but a warm and living relationship – a desire to know one another’s affairs, to help, encourage and pray for one another.
And in keeping with this spirit, the final words expressed in this epistle, are Salutatory greetings from brethren to those to whom Paul was writing. Aristarchus, Marcus, Jesus which was called Justus, Epaphras, Luke, Demas, and Paul himself sent their fraternal greetings to their brethren in a far off country – a token of their fraternal love, and sense of unity as a Divine Family, organised under Christ as Head. In some cases, they may have been those of like precious faith whom they had never met or seen, yet the bonds of true fellowship is not bounded by familiarity or geographical location. And this is the central, and powerful exhortation which runs through all we have meditated on in this series – that brethren of the Lord Jesus must strive to be united in fraternal love.