On the Church and the World

11-12-2021 Colossians 2:1-7

It’s imperative that we recognize Paul’s conflict here. The church of Colossae was ridden with heresy, having blended Jewish beliefs with Oriental ideas. The heretics felt as though they were “adding” to the “Apostolic Church” with their many various ideas and theories. Things which seemed to contradict their personal thoughts and opinions on things were immediately dismissed and a new approach put in place to accommodate their opinions instead. They viewed Apostolic Christianity to be primitive and had this image in their mind of what the Church should be like, so they sought to implement updates into the doctrines to stay relevant to the times while allowing for better access to “spiritual matters.” And all of this was compounded by the fact that they had never known Paul in person. His guidance of the Church had been exclusively through epistle, thus making it even harder to move away from this “enlightenment” that they were encountering, this gnosis that had gripped the Church.

And yet, we find that this conflict that he has is not with them per se. It was the fact that since he was imprisoned, he had no way to know if they were truly accepting his teaching. We have to remember that he labored for the Church out of love, love for God, and love for his brothers and sisters. His conflict was with whether their “hearts were encouraged, being knit together in love, attaining to the full understanding of the mystery of God” (Vs 2), and as he knew that the heretics they were facing fed upon the “secrets of the universe,” he assures them that it is Christ who knows everything. It is not for us to know, and prideful to think that we ever could, so we must seek Christ alone, who alone is the Wisdom of God. In the incarnation, He may have become a servant for us, taking on our weaknesses and mortality, but even through all of that, through His mortality, through His suffering and torture, He remained the Lord of all.

It’s amazing to me how people will put their faith in other people, in science, in philosophy, in the occult, in money, in government. It’s so amazing to find people who will actually put their faith in literally anything but God. But, if we’re honest, in a way, it makes sense. Each of those things require sacrifice, but they’re not outspoken about it. Each of them has certain things that they will cost you, but it’s kind of in the fine print. Jesus, on the other hand, offers us short term suffering, self-denial; He offers that those of the world will hate you and revile you, you won’t fit in, your parents and brothers and sisters will despise you, your own children may turn away from you; and all for His name’s sake. But, in making those sacrifices, in losing the social media connections, in being ostracized for His name; it is in that very suffering that our faith is strengthened. He who remains to the end will endure.

And yes, this is often hard. It’s so much easier to give in to this gnostic belief that all things were done to make life easier. It’s so tempting to think that if you just give in this one time, then suddenly all of your friends will come back, you’ll be popular again. You feed your pride until you become glutinous for acceptance, you feed your desires until you become a slave to them. And it’s always so much easier to say, “I’m going to do whatever I want, I don’t care if you say it’s sin, because ‘God so loves me.'” Or even worse, to take God completely for granted. To never pray, to never give thanks. We all have that one friend, that friend who never calls unless they want something (though they usually say “need,” it’s almost never a need). And it gets to where we start to hate seeing their name pop up on the screen. Eventually we just start ignoring that call, because we already know what it is about. But then, we reverse the position. We find that it is us completely forsaking someone’s presence in our life, and we only call them when we want something. And that becomes our position with God. The only time we think to pray is when we want or need something. “Share this message and blessings will come your way.” “God, please, I know there are starving people in other countries right now, but I need a new car.” “God, please help me develop my ego by winning this contest.” And then what happens? What happens if He decides we don’t need a new car, or to win that contest? How do we respond? We immediately blame Him for it. I think of the alcoholic who frequently drives drunk. One night he gets pulled over for it, and suddenly he decides to pray that he be let go. The greatest blessing in the world at that point would be for him to be arrested, otherwise he begins to think that he can get away with him, or he thinks that he is god, and either way he’s free to continue down the same path until it’s too late. Again, keep in mind that St Paul himself was imprisoned when he wrote this letter. It is when we suffer the most, when things aren’t going the way that we’d like to them, that we strengthen in our faith. It is when we are not in control of everything that w are humbled by Him who is. And, to put this back into the previous analogy, the friend calling to ask for help isn’t in control of the situation, it’s the person that he’s calling that is in control.

And Paul concludes this with this false doctrine that has become so prevalant. We are able to do whatever we want with our lives, to abuse this love that God has for us. To actually think that we know better than He does what we need with our lives. Contemplate Paul’s words, “As you have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught.” The word received here is the word “paralambano,” which literally means to join one’s self to, so “as you have joined yourself to Christ, to not reject Him,” and walk is peripated, which means to regulate one’s life, to control one’s self. So, we get, “as you have joined yourself to Christ, to not reject Him, regulate and control yourself and your life accordingly.” “Rooting and built in Him, and established in the faith,” the predominant idea of confidence in Him and trust of Him. And concluding with, “as you have been taught,” as you have been instructed by Christ, through the apostles, through the tradition of the Church. I can pretend that I’m a doctor. I was a theater student, I could even act like a doctor, but believing I’m a doctor would be horrible for any of my patients. No matter how much faith I have that I’m a doctor, that faith alone will not save anyone. Likewise, it is through our faith in Christ and His commands that we are saved. However, if we do not believe those commands, or seek to warp them in some way or another, then is it truly Him that we have faith in? Is it Him, is it a doctor, a politician, a psychiatrist, or is it Him? Only one person ever claimed to be the “truth, the life, and the way,” and He is the only one in whom we can place our faith and it will come true. The world loves when the people of the Church walk away, or compromise their beliefs based on what the world seeks to convince us of. And if we don’t obey them, they will hate us. But, isn’t that what Jesus promised us would happen?

It’s so easy for us to become the church in Colossae, to pick and choose which passages to believe, if any, and still seek to turn to the world to justify it. It’s so easy to seek to modernize our faith based on our culture and it’s worldly ways. But, we must be careful to never do that. We must never let the priorities of the world interfere with our eternal faith. We must never let the fears or thoughts or institutions replace God in our lives. Instead, we must, as Paul here taught the Colossians, “join ourselves to Christ and conduct ourselves as Christ has commanded of us, according to the teachings and traditions of the Church which have been handed down through the Church from generation to generation. Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore, Jesus is the head of the Church, and it’s currently our generation which must defend the Church from the prince of this world, who would give all to see us fall. We must never let the world change the Church, as it has been striving to do for over two thousand years.

Christ is in our midst.

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