colossians - an exhortation for unity in love

THE BLOOD OF CHRIST – THE BASIS FOR RECONCILIATION AND UNITY

“You, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death” (Colossians 1:21,22)

In our introductory article, we saw how the first Chapter of Colossians introduces us to the theme of the Body of Christ – how the individual believers ought to be united as a single conglomerate whole by a mutual faith and love in things divine. But this latter part of the chapter also describes how that the real basis for peace and fellowship is peace with the Lord Almighty first – the unity of believers follows after, as a natural consequence of this. Speaking of the Lord Jesus, the Apostle describes how the Father has “made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself” (Col 1:20). Yet it is one of the bitter perversities of the human mind, that the subject of the Atonement – the very means used by the Father to make peace – is used by many today as a source of disunity and strife. Ever since the days of Robert Roberts – yea, before this, even the times of the Apostles (1Jno 4:2,3), there have been those who have sought to bring in new theories to explain the Atoning work of our Lord – and with them, new controversies, and new divisions.

But why is there so much strife over such a vital, elementary first principle of our Faith? The blood of Christ is the very means of our redemption – it is, in Scriptural terms, the whole basis of peace, not disharmony, as the chapter under consideration describes. But it is a Truth that: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: nether can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor 2:14). The provision of the only Begotten Son of the Most High God, as well as being the supreme expression of Divine Love and Mercy is also the supreme expression of Divine Wisdom (1Cor 1:24), something which is naturally at enmity with the Carnal Mind; and therefore hard for the natural man to accept. The wisdom of God in providing the Lord Jesus is too simple for the wise of this world – it is foolishness in their sight (1Cor 1:18), hence they perceive a need to devise new theories – which in turn create new divisions. But true wisdom is to disregard the theories of men; and behold the simplicity of the Truth as revealed in Scripture, for only then can the unifying power of the Sacrifice of Christ be permitted to exercise it’s full influence over us.

RECONCILIATION – FOR BOTH JEW AND GENTILE

The Blood of Christ then, is the basis of reconciliation between man and God – and that in more than one sense. The Lord Jesus died “for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament” (Heb 9:15), that those Israelites who had become separated from Yahweh by their iniquities (Is 59:2) might find peace with Him once more. But the efficacy of the Lord’s sacrifice is not limited to Jews only, for as the Yahweh spake concerning him: “It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the desolations of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6). And as Paul spake unto the Gentiles at Colosse: “you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled” (Col 1:21). So it is, that in the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles find reconciliation – together: “he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us … to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph 2:14-16).

Note the great emphasis being placed upon unity in these words: – “in one body by the cross”, the Lord has made of twain “one new man”. The key idea then, is that just as it was by one offering, made in one body that provides salvation for all of mankind – “unto the ends of the earth”, even so the offering up of that body provides a basis for the families of both Jews and Gentiles to be unified as “one new man”. So it is the logical outworking of a recognition of our Lord’s work of reconciliation – unity amongst the Body of believers, for in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus..

In fact, the unifying power of the sacrifice of our Lord is taught at our weekly remembrance of what he did for us; in the emblems which we partake: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1Cor 10:16,17). Much nonsense has been written elsewhere on this verse, claiming that the Bread, rather than representing the Lords body which was sacrificed for us – “the body of his flesh” (Col 1:22), it represents the body of believers. But the Scriptures are clear that both emblems speak of our Lord’s death – Jesus took the bread and “when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1Cor 11:25). No, the lesson drawn by the Apostle, is that just as there is one bread (i.e., the believers do not have a separate loaf each), even so those who partake of it ought to be one – one body, composed both of Jews and Gentiles.

ONE BODY – MANY MEMBERS

But this comparison between the believers and a “body” goes further than this. Just as in a human frame, there are many parts with varying functions and capabilities which join together to form a complete whole, so is the Body of Christ, “for as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many are one body in Christ, and every one members of another” (Rom 12:5). And again: “as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ … For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” (1Cor 12:12-17). Even so, in the Ecclesia, there are many different tasks which need accomplishment – some prominent, others less so. But let not those who take a less prominent part in Ecclesial activities assume that they are somehow less involved than others – let them not feel that they are not truly part of the body.

In our day, much emphasis is placed upon Speaking, as being of paramount importance, to guide, teach and edify the Body. And maybe there is an element of truth in this. But why is it assumed that this is the main, if not only duty of the Ecclesia? The call of the Gospel is not a call simply to become eloquent speakers from the platform, but to develop the various attributes of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) in our lives – to seek first God’s Kingdom and Righteousness (Mat 6:33). Not all members are speakers, even as not all members of the body are the ear, or the eye, or the mouth. Each have been given several abilities to be used in the Masters service, and all work together in a variety of ways, to ensure the general well being of the whole. And this applies also to those amongst us, who we may, quite wrongly have a low opinion of: “those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1Cor 12:23-25). Let us therefore, not judge one another according to the several abilities which God hath given, for it is He who has granted all that we have, whether they be possessions or talents. As the Apostle exhorted the Corinthians, that they ought “not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1Cor 4:7). Rather let “the whole body” be “fitly joined together and compacted (knit together) by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph 4:15).

THE REVELATION OF A MYSTERY

Although it had long been testified that Gentiles would have a place in Yahweh’s Plan of salvation (cp Gal 3:8), the extent to which this would be so, and the means whereby this would be brought about was hidden in a mystery to be revealed by the preaching of the Apostles. So the spirit through Paul describes it to the Colossians as “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:26,27). And again, to the Ephesians, the apostle spoke of the mystery “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph 2:5,6).

That Gentiles could have a hope of salvation through the promises of God to Israel was not previously unknown to “ages and generations”. This can be seen by the manner in which Gentiles were permitted to depart from Egypt with the children of Israel (Ex 12:38), and by the entry of certain Gentile men and women of faith, such as Ruth, Rahab, Caleb, Uriah, the Rechabites etc into the congregation. It was recognised therefore, that under certain conditions Gentiles could embrace Israel’s Hope, and become part of the congregation, in some cases, gaining prominent positions in the running and protection of the nation. But what was not revealed was the manner in which there would be a general invitation for Gentiles to become “fellowheirs” without becoming circumcised as Jews. Previously, for a Gentile to partake of Israel’s hope, they had to become proselytes (cp Mat 23:15, Acts 2:10; 6:5; 13:43), that is, to be circumcised, and be brought under the scope of the various commandments of the Mosaic Law. But what was hidden to previous ages, was the manner in which there would be salvation to Gentiles outside of the Law (cp Rom 3:30), through the “law of faith”. And one aspect of this mystery was the temporary cutting off of the Jews themselves, that in the intervening period before their restoration, Gentiles could be grafted in.

THE MYSTERY OF ISRAEL’S BLINDNESS

This aspect of the Mystery was revealed by the Spirit through Paul to the Romans, who boasted themselves against the unfaithful Jews which had been rejected. “I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom 11:25). The brethren assumed that Israel had been permanently cut off, and that Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree in their place, and so vaunted themselves against the children of disobedience. But the revealed Mystery is that Israel were only cut off temporarily, that Gentiles might partake of the fatness of the Israelitish rootstock – the promises made to Abraham. Thus, the exhortation was given: “if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee … be not highminded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Rom 11:17-21).

We showed earlier how that both Jews and Gentiles of faith have been united as fellow-heirs, as one body in Christ. Here, a similar principle is illustrated, but rather than the analogy of one body, the figure of one plant, an olive tree is used. The plant is nourished and borne by the rootstock of God’s promises to the patriarchs, and it was because of “unbelief” of the fulfilment of those promises in Christ that the unfaithful were cut off. But the promises themselves remain, and require the ultimate restoration of Israel for their fulfilment – Gentiles only have a hope in that through faith they embrace the Hope of Israel. They are graffed into a rootstock that requires the bringing in again of the Jews in order that the Kingdom might be restored to them, and in order that their King might commence his reign. Therefore, rather than to boast against the natural branches, Gentiles must recognise their proper place as adopted branches – “wild” branches, tamed by the Gospel message to become suitable material to bear the kind of fruits the master requires. This then is the true hope for both components of Christ’s body, both Jew and Gentile. This is the revealed mystery, that Grace might be extended to the Gentiles, outside of the scope of the Mosaic Law, that being “graffed in”, they might hope and long for the completion of the Olive Tree in the re-grafting in of the Jews. For truly, “if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead.” (Rom 11:15).

Chris Maddocks