Saturday, 8 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Colossians

Ruins near the area of Colossae, in modern-day Turkey

This is my second blog post where I discuss the Bible verses that really spoke to me from one of the letters of the New Testament. My hope is that these verses might speak to someone else, and that I can encourage others to study the Word and pray over it, asking God to illuminate to them some truths that will help them grow in their walk in Christ. Keep in mind these are my own thoughts on the specific verses that jumped out at me -- I am in no way a Biblical scholar, and I am not trying to teach anybody -- just to encourage!

As Catholics, we sometimes don't pay as much attention to the Bible as our Protestant brothers and sisters, especially our evangelical family in Christ. Thankfully, many Catholics are now focusing on reading their Bible daily, and I am one of them! So without further ado, here is Learning through the Letters: Colossians.

St. Paul wrote this letter to the church located at Colossae, a town east of Ephesus in Asia minor. While he did not establish this church, St. Paul did send out workers to it, and so felt responsible for the believers there when he heard that false teachers had infiltrated their group. These false teachers were instructing the Christians at Colossae that to be fully saved they needed to worship spiritual rulers and authorities and had to observe strict rules about things like the food they ate.

The first verse that really spoke to me as I studied St. Paul's letter to the Colossians is Colossians 1:11-12: May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. 

There is so much in this verse to love! Where do we start? Let's work our way backwards this time. Isn't it wonderful to realize the truth that God has reserved our birthright that Christ guaranteed for us? That it is waiting for us in the "kingdom of light"? How encouraging and inspiring! Knowing that we have this amazing birthright waiting for us makes the trials of this world that much easier to bear.

Then, we see that St. Paul once again asks the believers to be joyful and thankful to the Father. Joy is such a huge part of the Christian life, but it can be hard to grab hold of in this day and age. We get busy, we get stressed, we get fearful and bitter. But if we can find ways to keep hold of the joy -- and, as St. Paul suggests, being grateful is a great way of doing this (by the way, therapists and psychologists will also attest to the power of gratitude to bring about happiness), we can truly live out the message of Christ.

And at the very start of the verse, St. Paul tells the believers to be strong -- but not with their own strength; with the strength that comes from the power of God, which will allow them to endure all things with patience. What are you going through right now? How is your patience being tested? When you remember that you, as a believer, have the strength of God on your side, you can let go and let God in trust and patience.

The next verse I really like serves as a reminder to those of us who have been on our walk with Christ for a long time. As a Catholic, I don't see myself as being "saved" or "born-again". I realize that with my baptism I was washed from original sin and incorporated into God's family, and that my salvation is an ongoing process, but all down to the grace of God. I feel like this verse backs that up: You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. Colossians 1:23

We all go through cycles in our life, and our faith life is no different. There are times when everyone feels like their spiritual life has become dry. But one person I once encountered on a Catholic forum online said that God values whatever fruit we offer up to Him -- even the fruit of spiritual dryness. Even if we feel like we're not in a place where we're making much progress in our walk with God, as long as we still have faith that He is on this walk with us -- as long as we don't remove ourselves from the path -- we can be confident that we are on our way to being ever closer to Him.

God's plan is to make known the secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. Colossians 1:27

Just pause and let that sink in for a bit. Read it again. Really savour it. Christ -- the Son of God, one part of the Holy Trinity, is in US! Just as we are -- despite our struggles and our sins. He is in our hearts...and we will all share in God's glory because of Him! How immense. What better motivation do we need to treat ourselves and each other with dignity, kindness and love?

Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:7

This is another life-verse for me. Just because, as a baptized Catholic, I've had my original sin washed away, that does not mean that I don't still struggle with sin itself. I've been praying that God would give me a true conviction in my heart for an aversion of anything I do that He does not approve of. In this way, I hope that I can live in true union with Christ and, as the beautiful imagery St. Paul uses in the above verse says, to keep my roots deep in Him, where they will be enriched and nourished by His love and sacrifice. How do I do this? Well, I go to Mass. I receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and I take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I spend daily time in the Word and in prayer, and I ask the Blessed Mother and the saints to guide me along the way, and to pray that I am brought ever closer to Christ. And when we look at the richness of the Catholic faith -- of the many great examples that the saints and other believers have left us -- the guarantee that Christ would never leave our Church -- how can we not be filled with thanksgiving?

I was recently listening to some writings of Pope Francis in an audio book, and in it he talked about how we need to place lots of importance on remembering, honouring and living out our baptism. I think that the Holy Father's teachings fall exactly in line with this verse, Colossians 2:12: For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. But how can an infant who is baptized have faith, you may ask (if you are not Catholic, lol!). Faith is not of our own doing -- it is a gift from God, and He bestows it with love. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him.

There's a whole section in St. Paul's letters to the Colossians that deal with "the old life and the new". Here is what he has to say:

You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed (for greed is a form of idolatry). Because of such things God's anger will come upon those who do not obey them. Colossians 3:5. What more motivation do we need to put aside our old sinful natures? We will never achieve perfection, but that doesn't mean that we should tolerate sin in ourselves without constantly striving to be better.

Again, St. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:8-10: But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself. I think it would really benefit me if I wrote this out and stuck it somewhere I often look -- near my calendar, or on my fridge, perhaps. If I read this daily, perhaps when my sinful nature takes over and I get frustrated, angry or bitter towards someone or something, I can guard myself against falling into such sinful patterns, and instead trust God to finish the good work He has started in me.

And, now that he's listed the things we should avoid, St. Paul goes on to describe the kind of attitude and behaviour we need to strive for in Colossians 3:12-14: You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So, then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. This reads like a recipe, and perhaps it is: a recipe to encourage holiness in ourselves. This is how St. Paul wishes us to treat other believers, but what about non-believers? In Colossians 4:5-6: Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have. Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.

St. Paul gives us a lot to think about, and a lot to strive for, in his letter to the Colossians. It can seem like a tall order at times, but not if we remember that God is always at work in us, to help us on our way.

photo credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37174512@N03/4791202166">5062</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

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