- Written by: Steve Webster
Sermon by Steve Webster, Vicar, St Michaels North Carlton (Used by permission)
Have you ever noticed if you travel to another town or city that the drinking water can taste a bit “funny”? (Did anyone say Adelaide? ) Melbourne water, of course, has no particular taste to it, isn’t that right?
Colossae existed beside a bubbling stream of fresh, pure mountain water – the very one in this photograph. I’ve tasted that water! But, when I read the so-called “Rules for Christian households” in Colossians 3:18 – 4:2, “wives submit”, “children obey”, “slaves obey” – I get a “funny”, unpleasant taste in my modern mouth. Was not this the same Apostle who declared that in Christ “there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28)? Had Paul’s radically egalitarian Gospel calling people to freedom and from old inequitable structures of society changed? These instructions taste a bit off today!
- Should we join those who say the Apostle was really a misogynist and supporter of slavery? No! Paul supported women as co-workers in the Gospel. He helped Onesimus the slave to become a Christian. Unlike any of his Roman contemporaries, he addressed women, children, and slaves directly, treating them as independent, personal, moral agents.
- Should we adopt the view that God prefers males to be in charge? No! Roman patriarchy is not God’s blueprint for gender roles! Paul makes no reference to either a “natural” hierarchy or a creation order in the text. Instead, he appeals to the new nature in Christ.
- Should we join with conservatives who say, “If only we would return to the traditional Christian family model.” But which tradition is Christian? From which era, which continent, and which expression of church in history shall I find the Christian model? As I shall show, in Colossians chapter 3 Paul is helping Christians long ago to navigate inequitable legal obligations set by Roman law, not prescribing a model household.
- Should we take view that Paul wanted to protect the reputation of the Gospel by restraining Christian freedom? No! Christianity was already on the nose across the empire. That horse bolted long ago. Besides, Paul appeals to Christians to serve others humbly and respectfully as the way of life for all situations as it is the way Christ has modelled life for us.
Col 3:1-17 - Connecting heaven and earth
- Written by: Chris Appleby
Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed; anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language and lying. No, this isn’t the plot of a Netflix series; nor is it a description of an average day’s viewing on TV; nor a summary of the night’s news headlines from Parliament House. Rather it’s a description of Colossae in the first century. Here was a place where the constraints on human behaviour appear to have been removed. People simply did what they liked. Free love, plenty of passion but focused in the wrong direction, greed and lust, desire running free, tempers unchecked, abuse, physical and verbal violence. You couldn’t trust anyone, because lying was a normal way of life. Factionalism and partisanship were also normal. So if you were Greek, you looked down on the Jew, or the barbarian or the Scythian. If you were a Jew you looked down on those who were Gentiles. He doesn’t mention it here, but no doubt if you were a man you looked down on women. If you were a woman and were free, at least you could look down on those who were slaves.
Sadly it could also be a description of much of the world today. We don’t seem to have progressed much in 2000 years do we?
This was a place where the grace of God wasn’t apparent. In fact the opposite: it was a place that God wasn’t happy about. He says: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” But that had all changed when the gospel came. Now things were different. He says, “These are the things you did when you were living that old life, but now a change is needed.” They need to begin to exhibit the sort of behaviour that befits those who are followers of Christ.
But how are they going to do that? How are they going to overcome the habits of a lifetime? How do you go about making changes in your life? Here are a couple of ways people try. The more strong minded among us probably say, “You just resolve to do it and then get on with it!” It’s what many people do on New Year’s Eve: “I resolve to eat less chocolate.” “I resolve to stop kicking the dog.” “I resolve to listen calmly and reasonably to my teenage son or daughter and never lose my temper.” Or if you’re the teenager it’ll be “I resolve to listen calmly and reasonably to my parents and never lose my temper.”
Col 2:6-23 - Staying Alive
- Written by: Chris Appleby
We’ve been watching a series lately called “Inventing Anna”. It the semi true story of a con-artist who convinced lots of wealthy people in New York that she was an heiress and managed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from them and others without them having any idea of the danger they were in. Clearly they weren’t expecting someone to lie so effectively and when you’re unaware of danger you’re much more vulnerable than when you’re looking out for it. And that unawareness of danger is the crux of the story.
It’s also the crux of the situation into which Paul writes this letter. The people in Colossae were in a dangerous situation but they didn’t realise it. The false teachers sounded so plausible. So Paul writes to warn them, and to remind them how they were taught to live the Christian life.
He begins with three warnings, then he gives three principles, then he sums it all up, in 3:1&2 with an overriding principle for Christian living, “Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
So what are the warnings he gives?
Col 1:13-23 - All God Has To Offer
- Written by: Chris Appleby
The popular narrative around religion today is that all religions have something to offer and none is any better than the others. I say the popular narrative because the adherents to a number of religions including Christianity would strongly deny that final assertion. We can certainly learn some things from other religions but at the centre of Christianity is the understanding that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and that no-one comes to God except through him. Muslims would disagree of course as would most Buddhists. But because we’re supposedly a Christian country we especially get criticised for that claim to uniqueness.
Well, you may not be surprised to know that nothing much has changed in this respect over the last 2000 years. As I mentioned last week, the church in Colossae was being infiltrated by a group of people who claimed that belief in Jesus was OK but he was neither the only way to God nor the most effective way. In fact it seems they had a three pronged approach to getting closer to God.
They claimed that they could show you a special form of spiritual knowledge and faith that would allow your spirit to be freed from the limitations of your physical body. This was important because in their view the material world was evil and therefore so too was the human body. Connected with this, they taught that Jesus didn’t really have a physical body otherwise he would have been tainted by sin. Rather he was a purely spiritual being with just the appearance of a human.
They promoted the observation of various forms of personal abstinence that would assist you in overcoming the shortcomings of your material body: for example prolonged fasting, which they thought would help you to achieve personal perfection; not bodily perfection but spiritual perfection.
They also suggested that you needed the assistance of angelic beings and other mediators to communicate most effectively with God.
The result of this teaching was twofold: on one hand it led to severe asceticism, denying the body through fasting, etc.; and on the other hand, because the physical body didn’t matter, any sort of physical sin was just fine.
So Paul sets out to demonstrate how wrong these false teachers are. His first corrective is what we saw at the end of the passage last week. They needed to remember that
Christ is the Saviour and Redeemer of Us All
Grace in Action
- Written by: Chris Appleby
How are you at being thankful? Has it been harder over the past couple of years to give thanks as we’ve gone into one lockdown after another? It was hard to be thankful when holidays had to be cancelled and we weren’t allowed to travel more than 5km from home. It was even harder for those of you who had elderly parents locked away in nursing homes unable to be visited, or worse, who had loved ones die and they couldn’t have a proper funeral to farewell them with all their friends and extended family; or who had grandchildren born interstate or overseas and had to wait for months and in some cases years before they could meet them. If you were one of those who had to quarantine in one of our quarantine hotels you might have been thankful for the first couple of days but I imagine that was wearing off by the end of the second week.
I was coming home from the doctor’s a few weeks ago having been told I had another ailment that needed treatment and I have to say there wasn’t much gratitude in my mind for having been allowed to live to old age; and that’s speaking as an optimist! Imagine how pessimists must be feeling. If you’re one of them then I hope the rest of your life will be better than it probably will be!
More seriously though, when Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians he was in prison in Rome. Sort of like being in hotel quarantine but without the comfortable bed and regular food deliveries! In fact a very unpleasant experience, I imagine: guarded by soldiers who probably wished they were somewhere else; totally dependent on his friends for food and warm clothing; perhaps wondering whether he’d survive the judgment of Caesar. Yet what we find as we open up his letter is an outpouring of thankfulness and encouragement, not to mention commendation of these Christians that he’d never even met.
Colossae was a small town not far from Laodicea and Hierapolis, the two main towns in the region. It’s not mentioned in Acts because Paul never went there. The gospel was brought to them, we read, by Epaphras, probably around the time when Paul was in Ephesus.
Joshua 20 - Seeking Refuge
- Written by: Chris Appleby
Seeking Refuge Audio
You may wonder what this short passage has to do with the conquest of the land. Is it just a bit of padding added in to make up the 250 pages requested by the publisher? Well, no, in fact it’s an important piece of civil ordering for the nation of Israel.
You often hear people complaining about the violence we see in the Old Testament. You may be one of those people. We cringe at the thought of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It all sounds so barbaric.
Yet, how do people deal with personal injuries inflicted on them by someone else in a world where there’s no police force, no criminal justice system, no courts? One way people deal with it is by the vendetta, seeking vengeance for an injury done to them. But a vendetta, as you probably know, soon becomes a blood feud. It’s often between two families or clans, begun because of an injury by one person to a member of the other family that needs to be avenged. But it easily escalates to the point where each injury is repaid by a greater injury. And the justice of the situation soon becomes irrelevant. You knock out my tooth and I’ll come back with my big brother and knock out two of yours. You kill my sheep and I’ll kill your cow. You kill my brother and I’ll kill your children. It’s like an episode from some crime series, except there’s no police force to help you. The only law is the law of the jungle. The stronger or the more organised will always win.
But what if you want to have a people who’ll live justly among themselves? What if you were God setting up a civil law for your newly formed nation? How would you do it?
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