Today’s Chocolate: Madécasse 92% Cocoa Pure Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Colossians 3
Welcome back to Colossians 3 again. Paul is kind of all over the place in this chapter, and so shall I likewise be. But remember, if you’re looking for a single theme in all of Paul’s exhortations and admonitions in this chapter, it’s: “Hey, you! Don’t do that! Do this!”
First, I wanted to revisit Paul’s opening lines. He opens this section of his letter by drawing his readers’ attention upward, arguing that since they have been raised with Christ, they should keep their eyes and minds on higher things. He tells them, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3-4). His exhortations to moral behavior hinge on this identification with Christ. And obviously, since his readers are still breathing, he isn’t talking about physical death, and since they’re still standing on the face of the earth, from which Christ has departed (Mark 16:19), they’re not literally, spatially hidden with Christ. But in a very real sense his readers have died, risen, and are awaiting Christ’s (and their own) revelation in glory. I don’t want to dismiss that as “mere” metaphor, and it informs and undergirds the morality that Paul posits.
Which leads us to another verse that struck me. Paul posits that the Colossian believers have laid aside their old, evil selves and have put on new, renewed selves. He characterizes it as “a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (11). Here’s the thing, though: the words “distinction between” are supplied by the translators. Paul’s original Greek words are saying something like that there’s no place for Greek or Jew or circumcision or uncircumcision here.
And I find that kind of scary. Honestly, I’m not too fazed by the idea that your social, cultural, or ethnic identity is trivial at best, though I can see how unpalatable that idea might be to some. But that phrase “Christ is all, and in all” makes me uneasy. Are we talking about complete dissolution of identity here? Is all one, has the law of non-contradiction broken down in Christ, all the boundaries erased, everyone bleeding into everyone else as the illusion of individual distinction fades away? I don’t think so, if we remember that “Christ” or “Messiah” is a title, meaning “anointed,” and note that Paul uses it without a definite or indefinite article. I think Paul’s saying that everyone’s a Messiah, everyone in the body is chosen by God and spiritually anointed. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Messiah, is in every believer.
Each of us is still himself. It’s just that our overriding identity is a Messiah among Messiahs under the headship of the divine Messiah, Jesus. I’m haunted by ghosts of my formerly-held ideas, sure, but I don’t think they hold up exegetically. We check our selfishness at the door, not our selfhood. There’s room for individuality in the body of Christ.
On to the next stop on this tour, one that’s both quicker and more pleasant. Paul encourages his readers to sing, “with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (16). This isn’t just music for an aesthetic or emotional experience; it’s singing with intellectual content, singing you can learn from. How often do you get that from your Sunday morning worship service? I hope you get it often.
A friend of mine recently introduced me to the idea of a “7-11,” a praise song that repeats the same seven words eleven times. And they have their place, but man does not live by 7-11s alone. I’m looking at you, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.”
And the final stop: in vv.18-25, Paul delivers the Cliff’s Notes version of Ephesians 5:22-6:8, with instructions for wives, husbands, children, parents, and slaves. (The next chapter has instructions for masters.) To the slaves in particular, Paul commands, “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (22). I’ve recently been reading Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, a biography of William Wilberforce focusing on his crusade to end the slave trade in late 18th-century England. Wilberforce was preeminently and all-consumingly motivated by his faith in Christ and understanding of scripture in his fight for abolition, but sometimes I wonder: what did he make of passages like this? If I could sit down with him and ask him whether Paul’s commandment allows for humane slavery, how would he respond? I feel like one of these days I’m gonna have to face the matter of slavery in scripture head-on.
But for now, we’ve got a lot more of All the Paul to get through. And it’s just about time to put a lid on this chapter, but there’s one more thing to cover before I move on.
On my Patreon, supporters can sponsor a Chocolate Book doodle, similar to the Meeseeks of Christ or God controlling the flow. My mom, who of course is one of my patrons, sponsored a doodle based on Colossians 3:12-14:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
And here is the doodle.
Thanks for your support, Mom!