Yesterday, I listened to a story on NPR’s Here & Now about the history of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and its role in contemporary Independence Day celebration. I was struck by National Parks Service Ranger Adam Duncan’s remarks on the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s early draft included a passage indicting King George III for fostering the slave trade in North America. The document’s editors removed the anti-slavery passage from the final Declaration of Independence, and it would not be until January 1, 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation would legally free American slaves. So today, as Americans celebrate their freedom and independence, what better topic for us to return to than the Apostle Paul’s views on slavery?
The bulk of this chapter is personal greetings from Paul to his friends and associates. I don’t have much to say about them, except that they provide an example for investing in other people’s lives. You (the reader) may not know Aristarchus, but if Aristarchus asks you (Paul) to send greetings to the Colossian church from him and Barnabas’s cousin Mark and Jesus who is called Justus, then you (still Paul) send those greetings. Keep in touch with the important people in your life. (Confession: I am mostly terrible at this.) But today I wanted to focus on the first verse of the chapter, which concludes Paul’s previous words on masters and slaves.
Welcome back to Colossians 3 again. Paul is kind of all over the place in this chapter, and so shall I likewise be. Remember, if there’s a single theme to this chapter, it is: “Hey, you! Don’t do that! Do this!”
In my last few years of high school, I got into Dance Dance Revolution. I remember one song that began with a guy shouting, “Hey, you! Don’t do that! Do this!” And for the correct values of “that” and “this,” Colossians 3 is basically Paul telling his readers exactly that. It’s more moral instruction: having established where Christians stand in Christ, he discusses how they should therefore walk. Don’t do that; do this.
Remember our primer on mysteries in Paul’s writing? How a mystery in the ancient Mediterranean wasn’t something you call in a detective for, but rather a secret teaching revealed to initiates? And how Paul considers the gospel of Jesus Christ a mystery, a hidden knowledge from God into which he wants to initiate, if possible, every single human being? Yes? Okay, good. Because in his letter to the Colossians, Paul’s talking about the mystery of Christ again.
Today on All the Paul, having finished one Paul, we move on to a different Paul. This Paul is his letter to the Colossians.
Reading what Paul had to say about the Sabbath in his letter to the Colossians, I couldn’t help but think of a verse from one of his other letters: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The Sabbath isn’t meant to be a yoke or a burden; it’s meant to provide freedom and rest. And if you intend to keep it, it defeats the purpose to load it up with so many restrictions that keeping the Sabbath itself becomes work!