27 April 2010

Colossians studies 14: thanking God — twofold reason (1:4)

by Dan Phillips

Last time we studied the timing and significance of the thanks Paul and Timothy gave for the Colossians. Now we begin to study why they thanked God, today focusing on Colossians 1:4 — "having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which you have for all the holy ones."

What in a congregation would bring Paul joy, and lead him to give thanks? Expressions of honest doubt, social programs, massive numbers, popularity with the world, artistic worship? Hardly. Paul gave thanks to God because of two signs of life he saw in the Colossian church, two particular species of spiritual fruit: faith and love.


First fruit: FAITH
The participial expression literally rendered "having heard of" is causal (= "because we heard of"), and it introduces the reasons why Paul and Timothy always thanked God for the Colossians. they thanked God, first, because they had heard of "your faith in Christ Jesus."

Faith is the indispensable element, the sine qua non, of the Christian life; and the word of God is the indispensable element in faith.
  • The Word of God gives birth to faith (Romans 10:17)
  • We are rescued from the power and penalty of sin through faith (John 3:16)
  • We live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • We continue to please God by faith (Hebrews 11:6)
Thus, faith was a crucial sign of spiritual life in Paul's eyes. If a person has genuinely been saved, he will exhibit faith in Christ. If a person exhibits no faith in Christ, there is no indication that he has been genuinely saved. This truism was Christianity 101 to the apostles, but seems to have eluded their much better-educated (and much less wise) modern would-be successors.

What is faith? Faith is never just a free-floating quality, valuable in and of itself regardless of its object. Biblical faith is all about the object. Biblical faith, as I recently discussed in another connection, involves at least two fundamental elements:
  1. A word from God
  2. Personal embrace of that word, involving the whole man
What is the specific word from God that Paul has in mind? It is God's testimony to Christ. Paul says it is "faith in Christ Jesus," which is to say faith in God' Anointed and sole Savior. Now, that is the point. You see, Paul is not thanking God merely that they have faith of some sort. Paul is specifically thanking God that they have faith in Christ Jesus.

Nor can we imagine, in our most feverish hallucinations, that Paul meant anything like, "Faith in Christ Jesus — whatever you mean by those two words." Paul is concerned only with what God means by those two words. He would have no part in reinventing, or creating "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4). I don't think you'd ever catch him speaking of a resurrection-denier as having passionate faith in and love for Jesus.

As Paul will go on to teach, forgiveness, redemption, love, life, real wisdom ─ everything of spiritual value —  is in the real Christ Jesus. So Paul rejoices that they have come into possession of all that by believing in that Christ.

This, too, is why Paul can call them "faithful," as he did earlier. Clearly, they are being troubled and tempted by false teaching. But at present they as a church still hold to the real Christ Jesus in faith. If they lose that, they will have nothing.

Second fruit: LOVE
Paul speaks of thanking God for "the love which you have for all the holy ones." This is the second dimension of Christian living. The primary dimension is vertical: our relationship with God ("your faith in Christ Jesus"). The secondary dimension is horizontal: our relationship with others ("the love which you have for all the holy ones").

This is one of the thirty-seven times that he uses the Greek word for "all" in this letter. This is a significant fact. The false teaching was evidently splitting the Church up into the "haves" and the "have-nots." Paul rejoices that the Colossians, in their faithfulness, still embrace all their fellow-saints in love.


When Paul speaks of "all the holy ones," he lightly touches on the fact that all who have trusted in Christ, without exception, are holy. (For a study of the aspects of holiness, see part 11.) This is positional holiness, a holiness all Christians share by definition. Everyone who trusts in Christ is set apart to God's ownership and service in Christ, and is therefore positionally holy in Him.

The common translation "saint" is unfortunate. Nobody today understands it without specific instruction, and we have this utterly unbiblical idea (thanks to Rome) that there are special believers who deserve to be called saints, in distinction from all the other believers. Paul does not use the word to part believer from believer. Rather, in speaking of "all the holy ones" Paul underlines that which all believers have in common, as well as the love which binds us all together.

What is love? The word agapē is not a magic word. Its richness is not inherent, but comes from the ways it is used. Consider three passages of Scripture:
  • Luke 10:29-37
  • Galatians 5:13-16
  • 1 John 3:17-18
What can we deduce from those passages?
  1. Love is not primarily an emotion, a mood, friendship, or just a nice thing to say
  2. Love is a personal commitment to pursuing the highest good of another, born of a mental attitude and expressed through action
This love may or may not affect our emotions at any given moment. It certainly will affect our words and our deeds. It is, after faith, a crucial Christian virtue (cf. Colossians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 13:13).

The health of any local church depends on Christians growing in love for one another. True, the local church is the place of learning. But it is also the place of practising what we learn. That practice must involve learning of and meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters in the assembly in love.

So the false teaching was troubling the Colossians, but it had not yet parted them as a church from Christ, and it had not yet parted them as believers from one another. Notice the rather emphatic phrasing: "which you have [i.e. which you still maintain] for all the holy ones." They were still fundamentally accepting one another, loyal to one another, and striving to meet each other's needs. The false teaching threatened this. In time, were it embraced, it would destroy it. But as of yet, the bond held sure, in real Christian unity.

For these two sure signs of spiritual life, Paul gave thanks to God.

Dan Phillips's signature

40 comments:

Jacob said...

Honest feedback:
That last picture in your article (Pyro+Graphics+164.jpg) is disgusting. I don't seem to remember the imagery here being quite as extreme in the past (but I don't read every single article so I'm sure I could have just missed it in the past).
Some articles (this would be one) I can't forward to certain contacts who generally appreciate the theological perspectives here because the imagery is getting out of hand and they've mentioned it either bothers them and they don't wish to see it, or it distracts them from the text. (I guess I could copy the text and remove the imagery and send it to them, but that would take pageviews from your site and be more work for me than simply linking them to a given article.)

DJP said...

Don't know what you're seeing in it that I'm not. They look happy to me. But you got your say.

Now we move on.

tanz said...

Jacob
I agree with your honest feedback.
I really appreciate the perspectives this blog offers however I don't forward posts because of the imagery. I think the imagery takes away from the solid biblical thinking.

Phil said...

Dan,
The monkey dude is terrifying, it was hard to keep my eyes on the text and mind on your point. I mean, really terrifying.

David Rudd said...

the fact that phil refers to the man in the last picture as "the monkey guy" should be enough.

it's shameful.

DJP said...

Oh no! And David Rudd would never wring his hands about something if it wasn't really serious!

David Rudd said...

that's fine, Dan.

it doesn't change the fact that your graphic is terribly offensive. if you can't figure out why, I'll explain it.

it is a horrible mis-characterization of a group of people who are made in the image of God. it is precisely the kind of image that has been used for centuries to advance and keep alive sinful stereotypes.

phil's "monkey" comment (i'm assuming he did it innocently) demonstrates exactly what i'm talking about.

perhaps you put the graphic up without thinking through these things. we've all done insensitive thing unintentionally. but now that several have spoken out to you, you should really listen...

especially when "love" is a central theme to your post.

DJP said...

In case my response wasn't sufficiently clear, David, I cast this with other things that have put a pea under your mattress, and the "gravitas" net is ZERO. The truth is, when you like a post, it worries me. No joke.

The graphic was created by someone for whom (by contrast) I have endless respect. If someone with credibility has a worry, I'll reconsider. You not liking it is actually a vote for the graphic.

Clear enough?

And to prevent future days full of angst and woe for you, it really is fine with me if you don't ever read my posts again. I don't know what evil witch has been forcing you, but I free you. Go forth. Be carefree. Frolic.

Stan McCullars said...

Dan,
I must have missed the memo about not laughing.

Word Verification: zooter

Stan McCullars said...

David,
Who exactly is group of people? Rednecks?

Jake said...

http://ref.ly/Ro14.13-23

Does this apply at all? Your brothers are telling you that your choice meal is a stumbling block to them and you respond by describing every bite.

I've been reading this blog daily for a little over a year and I continue to do so because the posts are edifying and biblical. I am not offended by the graphical choices of the site owners and I often forward links to articles. This particular series has been outstanding and I've enjoyed it very much.

However, I see DJP's response--"Don't know what you're seeing in it that I'm not...But you got your say."--over and over and it irks me.

Obviously we shouldn't bend to every objection and wisdom is certainly needed but the question is when do we bend?

DJP seems to be saying ("you got your say. Now we move on.") that, though we are entitled to our say, his is the final word on discernment. As of this comment, there are three objections (not counting Rudd). Two of those objections suggest that this graphic will prevent them from sharing with others teaching which they consider solid and biblical.

Again, I'm not with Jacob, tanz and Phil and it's hard to know to what degree they are just piling on--everyone loves criticism--but come on. Replace the graphic with a "Censored" logo or something clever but don't die on this hill.

David said...

People can't handle weird.

But if you're in the church, you've got to learn to love weird.

DJP said...

Here's what I saw, the first time I saw that picture.

A gal and her guy, at a fair, pausing to pose for a picture. She's happy as a tic, he makes a face for the camera. It cracks my boys and me up, and that's it.

Now I see it was photoshopped by a deft artist, but that's still all I see in the picture.

Here's another thing I see. Post on Colossians, 11+ comments, not on the passage, but on a picture into which they've read something offensive. Now they're offended that their feeling of offendedness isn't enough to cause me to fly into action to alleviate their emotional response.

What placid lives people must have.

Stan McCullars said...

Offensive?

Stumbling block?

I somehow doubt the these terms apply to the photograph in any Biblical sense.

If so, I'll trump those who claim to be offended.

I'm offended any time someone other than me is offended. Stop being offended since doing so is offensive to a brother.

GrammaMack said...

Thanks for the post, Dan. Others having the gift of faith in Christ and love for our fellow saints is certainly something to be thankful for!

DJP said...

Fifteen comments to get one on the post itself. Thank you, Gramma; your special place in my heart remains secured.

Phil said...

15 comments to get to the point of your post, so either you are at fault or we are.
But it surely must be the fault of our flaccid intellect, pliable jello like spines, our easily offended natures, perhaps our child-like attention spans. Surely we are to blame, and not the chimp thing you refuse to listen about. Good call that.
There is a time and a place for "toughen up" and "I don't care what you think". But then again they fired Edwards because he didn't listen, so there is a time under the sun for listening.

DJP said...

< shrug >

This is a big issue to you, dude, a lot of people would envy your life.

Matt said...

Not that my comment matters, but I see no problem standing firm and not backing down on matters of sound Biblical Truth. But good grief, I am not sure that the continual snide responses given by every DJP comment truly reflect the grace and love spelled out in the actual blog post on a daily basis. It is your blog and it is just a stupid picture, the content is what matters, but maybe there is something to the fact that many of the responses point the same thing out...maybe not.

God's Grace

Jacob said...

Thank you, that's how I felt about DJP's response as well. I feel like it's borderline mocking me for sharing an honest opinion/feedback about the imagery he chose, without any serious consideration for the way it might be impacting his readers and brothers/sisters in Christ.

And I wasn't even thinking about the potentially racist implications so much as just how that dude's grille is grotesque and not what I'd expect to view on a Christian site (abortion imagery aside, and even those come with disclaimers).

I apologize for sending the comments on such a divergent path but it is encouraging that I'm not the only person who was bothered by the image and perhaps more so by DJP's responses.

Stan McCullars said...

Man up people!

It's a picture. A funny picture at that.

If something so trivial has you feeling out of sorts I suggest the problem may lie with you.

The picture is described as: disgusting, extreme, out of hand, terrifying, really terrifying, shameful, terribly offensive, horrible mis-characterization, sinful stereotype, insensitive thing, choice meal, stumbling block, stupid, racist, grotesque.

Do such comments deserve a serious response? Not hardly.

Stefan said...

1. On the post:

Interesting that all these great abstract principles of human experience—faith, hope, love, unity, peace, etc.—all have a biblical object (direct or indirect): Jesus Christ.

Faith in Christ (especially in His crucifixion and resurrection).

Hope in Christ (especially His power to save and His return).

Love of God and our neighbour grounded in Christ.

Unity with fellow believers in Christ, and around the person and work of Christ.

True peace won by Christ.

...and so on.

2. On the image:

Consider the point of the image, in the context of the post: to illustrate Christian love.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Is there a cultural connotation there, intended or unintended? And if there is a connotation, is it objectively there, or is it in the eye of the beholder? Clearly, different people see different things in it.

BUT consider the context. In the context of the post, the couple is meant as an illustration of love between a brother and sister in Christ who appear in worldly terms to be utterly different, and yet are united in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. The intention was benign, and the image was meant to illustrate the point of the post.

And insofar as they are meant to depict a brother and sister in Christ (not necessarily the real people, but as the subjects of the image), we are to construe them as our brother and sister in Christ.

And this is the kind of love we are called to in Christ: real, hard love that shatters all of our preconceptions. If we are called to love even our non-believing neighbour as the despised Samaritan loved the traveller who'd been assaulted in the highway, how much more are we called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how utterly different they are from us?

DJP said...

Stefan: bingo.

Just a cute image that looked like two happy-looking people who loved each other. Still not at all persuaded it's anything other than that.

Matt said...

Not quite sure Man Up is the answer to everything. Being a Man has nothing to do with whether you like or dislike the picture. Nonetheless, lets be honest, the picture is benign, I do not really think much about them except that I figured they are simply included as a shock factor. How about we just put it to rest. Isn't it interesting what we will spend our time talking about ;-) DJP, keep posting the Truth. I do enjoy reading

Phil Johnson said...

After consulting with Dan Phillips, I changed the picture so as not to cause further offense to the weaker brethren. Longtime readers will recognize this picture of Chiquita (post-conversion) from one of our early comment-threads that broke into controversy over one of our graphics.

We do apologize. We're amateurs when it comes to art and questions of political correctness.

David said...

Stefan!

You said what I've been mulling for the whole dagnab day!

And better too!

Grr.

Dan, this was a great post, and the graphic made it better. And now you took it away!

YOU LET THE TERRORISTS WIN!

We in the church are called to love some people who aren't very pretty, and face it, we aren't very pretty ourselves. But when the faith bone is connected to the love bone, it covers a multitude of ugly.

Stan McCullars said...

A lady clothed in a burka would be more appropriate. So much of her neck is exposed.

DJP said...

So, Phil, reviewing that earlier thread, I'm seeing a pattern:

1. You make a graphic.
2. I love it
3. I use it
4. I catch unholy heck for it
5. You change it
6. You look like a hero
7. I... not as much

I think I'm beginning to discern the big picture here.

DJP said...

David, thank you. You can lead "Breathe" at a church I pastor anytime.





But only once.

David said...

What? And ruin my "your song is too theological" street cred?

Stefan said...

Does this mean I'm challenged to love the pious suburban church ladies with too-perfect hairdos, too?

Hoo boy, this is too much conviction for one day.

David: If that is the complaint you get, you must be one unique worship pastor.

Jacob said...

Oh David, it has nothing to do with loving people "who aren't very pretty" and you know it. In fact, taking that track is irritatingly insulting (and that probably makes you happy to know).
Way to twist a complaint about an obnoxious image into "oh you just don't love people as much as I do". Good grief.

Anyway, thanks for changing the image, for what that's worth. Good night, gang.

Phil Johnson said...

Jacob:

I'm curious about which of our images have been so bothersome that your friends have complained and asked you to stop forwarding articles. If you know why they found the imagery offensive, I'd be curious about that, too. I'm responsible for most of the graphics, and while some of them are deliberately eye-catching, none of them are purposely offensive. I scanned our recent images, and the ugliest one I could find was the second one here. But I can't imagine anyone being so turned off that they would issue you a cease-and-desist order.

Help me out here. You made some fairly potent remarks, but if you don't give examples and say why you're bothered, I can't help you.

Rachael Starke said...

I knew it.

I had to be offline for a measly two days, but I just knew I'd miss a good brouhaha with one of you guys.

Actually, one of the reasons I started reading Pyro was the graphics. They add bite and wit to often really weighty topics. I'd even go so far as to say they're edgy, but I wouldn't, because that might start another round of ....somethinorother.

So I will instead say that I especially appreciated the illumination of the term "love". Especially for us women, it's a term that so often is diluted to mean warm gooey feelings and constantly saying flattering things, at the expense of sacrificial deeds, or truth that hurts to heal. I always appreciate being reminded of the definition of true Biblical love.

Jacob said...

Phil: The feedback I've received from certain folks is that they find the imagery distracting or detracting from the text. This is the first image I've chosen to lodge an opinion about, probably because having just received that type of feedback it was fresh in my mind to consider the images as I read the article and considered forwarding the link to my friends.
(I'm hesitant to mention that some of these friends are older folks, for fear that will just give more ammo to the detractors.)
It is also the first image that has actually weirded -me- out, which means it's certainly 'out there'.

Perhaps the real issue was uncovered in the responses to my opinion - particularly a defensive attitude that would be more at home with emergent types who love to respond that way with a twist that throws it back on the person who dares make a statement as though it is my fault that I find an ugly mouth shoved into the lens grotesque, or accuses the one who makes an observation of not being loving enough as if that had anything to do with it at all, or to stridently ignore the Biblical exhortations as Christians to consider and care for one another, not effect stumbling, and not pseudo-piously defend things that aren't lovely, pure, true, etc, on the basis that "I can handle it so you should too."
When those attitudes are present, one often finds the spiritual maturity level is about the same as the mental one.

Peace.

Jacob said...

And lest the point be further missed, the irony is that I'm seeking to care for brothers/sisters in Christ and yet I'm accused of being unloving when my intention was to use that vivid example image in noting that such imagery makes it tough to share links with fellow Christians who find such things distracting/detracting from the text, and since someone else brought it up, possibly even offensive. I don't find it offensive (just ugly in this case), but you're right - some might even find it offensive.

Rachael: I am not requesting a removal of images from the site. Far be it from me to even think I could make such a request, nor would I want to even if I could. It's part of what makes this site what it is.
In consideration for those who do not want to see images such images, I can do the old copy/paste thing into an email (with a link back to the source) as I am left to do now. Or if there's a print-ready version of the page that removes the imagery, I would link to that, but I don't see one.

Phil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Jacob,

My comments were in no way directed at you and were meant to impugn no one. I was looking for a connection from the picture to the words next to it. And hey, I found one. May have been the wrong one, but maybe try correcting me on that, instead of accusing me of gleeful insult.

Stefan said...

Jacob:

I did have an initial reaction to the image. Since different people saw the image in different ways, however, I didn't know if I was reading more into it than was there.

My comment yesterday was an attempt to think through the image and the intention behind it against my own sensibilities, and certainly not to impugn the sensibilities of anyone else.

Stefan said...

And thank the Lord God for older believers, who've been walking with and living in the faith and trust of our Lord and Saviour for so many years, and are a model for the rest of us to follow.