Tuesday 28 May 2019

Bible Book:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth ... (3:2)

Colossians 2:20-3:4 Tuesday 28 May 2019

Psalm: Psalm 24


Although the authorship of the letter to the Christians in Colossae is now hotly debated, it was traditionally understood to be written by Paul (see Colossians 1:1 and 4:18) during his final imprisonment in Rome as a defence against ‘false teachers’ who were threatening to lead the Colossians astray. Variations in style, vocabulary and theology from other (more conclusively) Pauline letters suggest that it may have been written by one of Paul’s followers after his death; however, attitudes towards authorship in the early Church differed from ours, and the question of whether Paul did indeed write the letter “with my own hand” (4:18) would have carried far less weight than it does for some today.

This passage forms a ‘hinge’ where the letter moves from focusing on doctrine ("the false teachers will tell you … but we believe …") to practical ethics ("in light of this, you must …"). Of course, it is unhelpful to draw too clear a line between the two, as outward behaviour can both reflect and shape our inner life – as the letter’s author knew all too well.

On Thursday, when the Christian Church celebrates Ascension Day, our reading [LINK to Thursday’s ‘A Word in Time’] will feature the apostles being gently admonished for gazing up towards heaven, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Jesus. Conversely, the letter to the Colossians instructs the readers to set their mind “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:2). This apparent contradiction starts to unravel when we realise that the Colossians had been told (by the "false teachers") that they could attain "heavenly things" by following certain earthly rules and abstaining from handling, tasting and touching certain things. As an ‘antidote’ to this particular heresy, the author reminds them of the message of their baptism, through which we share in Christ’s death and resurrection, dying to sin, and being raised to new life. The challenge, therefore, is to live this new, heavenly life in the midst of our earthly reality – which means paying close attention to earthly things, as well as those above.


To Ponder:

  • Why might the Colossians have been drawn to this particular "false teaching"?
  • What does baptism mean to you?
  • The letter sets out ‘heresies’ and systematically argues against them. Today, is this the best way of addressing viewpoints we believe to be wrong? Alister McGrath and others have suggested that it is preferable to ‘tell a better story’ instead. What do you think?
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