[First and appropos of little, peer-pressure has done its work on me, and I have now yielded to the siren call of Twitter. Why? Because the cool kidz are doing it. And now you know that.]
Last time we outlined the false teaching that loomed as a threat to the young church in Colosse. Now we begin to study how the apostle responded.
First, I notice that Paul does not detail the false teaching. This is why there has been such debate and variations among students of the letter, through the centuries, as to the exact configuration of “the Colossian heresy.” We are left with allusions, mostly in chapter two; and with hints we glean from Paul’s emphases.
Rather than laying out the opposing view in detail, and then refuting it point by point, Paul mostly issues a positive corrective. He does not say, “Teacher X says 123, but that’s not true, because of 456. The real truth is 789.” Instead, Paul says in effect, “The truth is 789. You know this. Why ever would anyone settle for 123?”
It would be false to conclude from this that there is never any place for doing what Paul does not do here. For instance, in Galatians and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul does dedicate more space to presenting and refuting specific error. That is not the case, however, in Colossians.
Second, I notice that Paul doesn’t name this single false teacher who is threatening the flock. Sometimes, he does name the false teachers (1 Timothy 1:20), and sometimes he doesn’t (1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 6:12). I don't know a simple formula that will explains the apostle’s choices in each case.
I can, however, observe that what the apostle actually does has the effect of focusing attention on the cure, rather than the disease (or its carrier). It is as if Paul is saying, “This man is nothing. What he is saying is of no consequence. That’s precisely what puzzles me: given that Christ is who He is, and that He has done what He has done – why would you pay any attention to such things, rather than stay as far away from them as you can?”
So what does Paul do, to counter the false teacher? I’ll lift out two related facets today, and then (DV) develop more next time.
FIRST: Paul supports the teaching of Epaphras (cf. 1:4-7, 23; 2:7 [DPUV]).
...having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which you have for all the holy ones, 5on account of the hope which is laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word of the truth, the good news, 6which has come to you, just as also in all the world it is bearing fruit of itself and growing just as also among you, from the day in which you heard it and came to know fully the grace of God in truth; 7just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-slave, who is a faithful servant of Christ for your sake,
1:23 assuming that you remain on in the faith, abidingly founded and settled and not being shifted away from the hope of the good news which you heard, which was announced in all creation which is under Heaven, of which I, Paul, became a servant
2:7 abidingly rooted and being built up in Him, and being confirmed by the faith just as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving.Paul speaks of their faith (1:4a), love (1:4b), and hope (1:5) — and then says that they had learned these truths from Epaphras. That is Paul's seal of approval on Epaphras' teaching. In this way, the great apostle tells the Colossians, "What you already heard from Ephaphras is the real deal. It is the one saving, sanctifying, and preserving and true Gospel. There will not be another. You have no need for another. There will be no second editions, no upgrades, no supplements. What there is to know, you have already heard. Epaphras is the man."
Then 1:23 reaffirms that they are not to leave nor shift from this faith that Epaphras had taught them. What is more, it is the "catholic" faith — which is to say that it is the one Gospel that is preached everywhere, without alteration: full salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This teacher has nothing they need.
Then 2:7 again reaffirms that all the confirmation they need in Christ, they will get from the faith Epaphras had taught them. No new revelations are necessary.
So, they had already heard the right truth.
SECOND: Paul supported the character of Epaphras (cf. 1:7; 4:12, 13)
1:27 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-slave, who is a faithful servant of Christ for your sake,
4:12 Epaphras greets you, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, in order that you might stand mature and fully assured in every aspect of the will of God. 13For I bear him witness that he has much anguish for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.
Not only did they already have the right truth, but had already heard if from the right man.
This, then, is Paul's opening salvo. It speaks to us today. Epaphras was not an apostle, but he had grounded that church absolutely sufficiently, by laying the church's one foundation: the preaching of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). It was not necessary that he have special standing or special, supernatural, revelatory gifting. What was necessary was that he preach Christ — and he had done that.
This tells us who are pastors to preach Christ, and we can be assured that we stand within the apostolic tradition. This is the true apostolic succession: the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. If you are dedicated to Christ's service, and if you preach the Gospel, you could cherish the hope that Paul would also write a letter commending your ministry because and only if he could also commend your message.
SIDEBAR: don't miss the sad irony here. The sect which today most famously makes the biggest noise about "apostolic succession" — doesn't have it.It tells all us sheep, as well, to stick with the Gospel. Hear it straight, then stick with it. Expect our adversary to send persuasive salesmen with "new and improved" versions to appeal to our restless discontent. Expect, and prepare to ignore.
As we shall continue to see, Colossians brings us a very contemporary, much-needed message: Christ is supreme and sufficient. Accept neither supplement nor substitute.