Thursday, 13 November 2014

Colossian 1:1 grace and peace

From the corners of my memory, I recall that Paul's standard greeting in his letters is an transformation of typical Greco-Roman letter greeting, greetings. Paul isn't simply saying, hey there Colossians, how's it goin'?

A blog post I came across discusses Paul's actual greeting with an interesting twist. The phrase is usually translated as "grace and peace to you" but in the Greek it is literally "grace to you and peace." Theologian Gordon Fee thinks this is significant.

Grace is unmerited favour. Paul elsewhere says that salvation is by grace as a gift, and not earned (Eph 2:8-10). Paul constantly reminds his readers (and us) and being saved (in all of its significance) is about free gift. It is as Miroslav Volf says, Free of Charge. Grace is giving freely, being gracious and not just doing gracious things. Christ's grace reminds us of our own need to be gracious, as well as grateful for the grace extended to us.

Bonhoeffer reminds us that grace is not cheap, even though it is free. Grace brings with it the call to sin no more, and the means by which this might happen. Amazing Grace might be a very oversung hymn, but it is an inexhaustible concept.

For Fee, Paul is saying that peace comes after grace, it is a consequence of it. Elsewhere, Paul says that peace is a result of being justified by faith (Rm 5:1). The implication is that without this, there is no peace. Romans 5:10 says that those apart from this faith are enemies. Grace makes enemies into friends of God (Jn 15:9-17). This is why we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Mt 5:43-48).

The Greek word picks up on the Hebrew idea of Shalom. Peace is something that encompasses  all of life. For example, in Leviticus 26:6, peace means freedom from enemies and wild beasts - an agricultural paradise in an age well before people were more willing or able to live along side wild animals. That this peace comes from God reminds us that the material and spiritual are not meant to be separated - ultimate peace is all encompassing.

Finally, peace with God is not merely rational, not fully understandable and transcends our understanding. A sense of peace is not merely a "warm fuzzy", but that which keeps our intellect and affections in Christ.

May your day be filled with grace, and peace.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Colossians 1:1 Paul the apostle

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, (NASB)

I wanted to start a series on Colossians. It's a relatively short book, and a valuable one. I'm going to step through it slowly, and as practical and reflectively as possible.

It begins with an indentification of its author, and I'm reminded of NT Wright's comments that the Pauline corpus is small enough not to have to argue that Colossians is Pauline simply because some of the vocab is unique. 

Firstly then, Paul is an apostle or sent one of Christ by God's will. Paul has a divine calling to this role. As a representative of Christ, he carries an authority unlike anyone else. To live in an apostolic tradition is not so much about some sense of apostolic succession, but the carrying forward, teaching and living out of the message given from Christ, by Paul. 

It's worth thinking about the idea of apostolic authority then. Postmoderns rankle at the thought of authority, but when it is from God we must accept it. Note that a particular interpretation of Paul might not have the same authority as Paul himself (his comes from God, ours), but we are not at liberty simply to write Paul off without understanding what, why and to whom first. Hence, the present series of blogs.

Secondly, what stands out to me is the idea of the will of God. Lots is said about God's will and how it is manifest and carried out. It was God's will that Paul should be an apostle. Elsewhere (Rm 1 for example) Paul identifies apostleship as his calling. In a sense it was an imposition; Paul was an enemy of the church. On the other hand, as one schooled in the law of Israel, he was ideal for the task.

Everyone has a calling, and we can identify them as valid (testing the spirits) to the extent that they are under apostolic authority. Everyone's will be unique; they may be at 90 degrees to the direction we thought we were taking, but they may also suit us perfectly.

Finally, Paul very often began letters by acknowledging those with him, in this case Timothy. Even one called to such authority (which was ultimately service not lording it over) worked as part of a team. We've seen time and time again, men in leadership fall because they thought themselves above those around them. Paul didn't do this, so neither should we.