Yesterday, we read Colossians 1:1-14 and saw how Paul used two strategies to encourage his audience to “live a life worthy of the Lord” and not be swayed into incorporating into their following of Jesus the human-constructed philosophies of the world around them. He asked them to remember what Jesus has already achieved for them, and to remember the teachings they had already embraced. Today, we see two more strategies.
Firstly, let’s re-read one of the key sections so it’s fresh in our minds:
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world —just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
3. The way of life modelled by the teacher.
A helpful way of remembering this teaching is to look at the life of the one who taught it.
Why? In the ancient world, a philosopher’s life had to match their teaching, or they wouldn’t be taken seriously, hence the sometimes extreme antics they got up to. For example, some philosophers would wander around homeless and possessionless, performing all sorts of inappropriate acts: even urinating, defæcating,* and copulating in public. These days, of course, we call them footballers. But back in ancient times they were called Cynic philosphers, and they not only taught, but demonstrated their philosophy for living a life of contentment: a lack of dependence on possessions or the approval of the people around them.
Although Jesus is the one who first taught the way of life which the Colossians had adopted, here Paul gives an example that’s closer to home for his audience, whom they have known and seen in the flesh: the one who founded their church.
Colossians 1:7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf
By invoking Epaphras’s name, Paul reminds them not just of his teaching, but of his example.
Who are the ones who taught you the way of life in Christ? Did their walk match their talk? Did they show you the supreme value of following Christ, rather than the philosophies of the world around us? Do you regularly contemplate their lived-out example, as a reminder not to compromise?
And more than that: are you being that kind of example for others? That’s important to those whom you lead, and over whom you have influence. And it’s also important for yourself, as well, as this is Paul’s final strategy…
4. The experience and progress in this new way of life.
Paul also reminds them of their own example, as a way of encouraging them to keep on going: “we have heard of your faith… and love” (v.4); God’s grace is “bearing fruit and growing… among you,” which you “truly understood” (v.6); Epaphras “told us of your love in the Spirit” (v.8.).
Contemplate your own progress in this way of life – perhaps where you’ve seen God change you; or the hardships you’ve endured for Jesus’ sake; or the selfless acts of love Jesus’ example has encouraged you to perform; or the way in which his Spirit has prompted you to resist sin and pursue obedience.
Although progress might be slow, it works. Don’t go looking for anything else to add to it, because Jesus is enough! Don’t think you have to incorporate the philosophies of our world – either their goals, or their strategies – because Jesus is enough!
And don’t think that by following Jesus in this way you’ll be missing out on all the “fullness of life” this world has to offer. Because true fullness comes only in the person of Jesus. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as that’s where next week’s passage comes in.
* I’m bringing the æ diphthong back. Just deal with it.