to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent, day 3: Saying Grace (part 2)

The apostle says “thanks” (1:3) not just because he means it but because he’s an apostle, which for Paul means he sets the example. As he tells the Philippians, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” And I can’t help but think, more than anything else, Paul wants to instill in the Colossians a spirit of thankfulness. Consider the following:

·       1:12 with joy giving thanks to God the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
·       2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
·       3:15-17: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
·       4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

What’s more, 2:6 and 3:17, I think, summarize very well the key theme(s) of Colossians, and thanksgiving is an integral part of both. Paul wants the Colossians to be thankful.

I’ve dwelt long in Colossians and most of what I want to say about Jesus and about our life in him comes back to this letter. I began some time ago to write a book on Colossians and it progresses, as with all my writing, very slowly. As I was thinking about how to focus my book, I wanted to focus on the Christology (teaching about Christ) in Colossians, which is heady stuff, yet exceedingly relevant for our daily life. Yet while I enjoy dwelling on Col 1:15-20 (a hymn to Christ) or Col 3:1-14 (on being raised with and clothed with Christ), I keep coming back to the fact that these and the other parts of this wonderful letter serve a singular purpose: to move the Colossians to a state of thankfulness.

That’s it: thankfulness. How does one write a great theological treatise on such a seemingly banal topic as saying thanks?

Actually, it’s not so much banal as ironical. When one wrestles very frequently with anxiety and worries almost as much as he breathes, as I do, thankfulness is about as alien a concept as you can imagine. To be sure, I have much gratitude for many people and I ‘thank’ God a lot, but if I abound in anything its catastrophism, not thanksgiving. Yet here I’ve pitched my tent, in this little letter that wants nothing more than to get me to say thank you and to experience the joy of meaning it. And to do that, the apostle marshals just about the greatest Christological confession every expressed (Col 1:15-20, second only to John 1) and the most thoughtful and sustained teaching on the accomplished fact of our salvation (and in particular, the significance of our baptism, Col 2:9-3:14). He holds Christ up not as a dry academic exercise or as simple poetry, but so that his readers can behold the truth of what God has done for them in Jesus. He talks of our intimate union with Christ, having died with him (2:20) and having been raised with him (3:1), not to argue for an arcane liturgical right but to argue that we are set free and have nothing to fear.

Nothing to fear. The Colossians knew fear. They were victimized by people and systems that played off it. And Paul sought to rescue them from such fear, or better to show them that God had rescued them, and that they could be at peace, they could sing freely, they could be thankful and not be anxious.

I hope to show in the days to come a little of how the Colossians were made fearful and then how Paul sang of Christ to break their fears.  But my goal is personal; As a anxious catastrophist who stews in worry over things little and big, I need this letter, I need it’s message, I need to know that I sit already enthroned in the mystery of God’s grace, far above all the powers and forces that say they can give me access to divine security and control but provide only empty deceit and chimeric wisdom.

I guess what I’m saying is that through this series I’ll be preaching to the preacher as much as anyone else. I am sorry that I’ve not learned the lesson yet, but like a moth to the flame I keep returning to Colossians.

1 comment:

Anna Shea said...

I always thank God for you, Dr. Cox! This is going to be a rich Lenten season. Thank you for blessing us by setting up camp in this holy place. I will look forward to following along with you, specifically as we all explore the significance of the resurrection.

Ever your student, friend, and sister,

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