I Double Dog Dare You
I've previously mentioned a friend of mine who preaches down in northwest Arkansas. He is an expository preacher, whereas I am a topical one…and we've had some fun going back and forth about the benefits and detractions of both.
Well, this past week he said, "This year all I want is to hear you preach through a book of the bible 🙂 pick a short one like 1 John or Ruth and see how it goes."
And then, in a follow-up tweet he said, "I double-dog dare you ;-)"
Now…being male…when you are double-dog dared, you have no choice…no matter how crazy or dangerous the challenge is you've got to do it! 🙂
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. Also, heads-up…one rather blunt member said, "You are a far better topical preacher than expository one" and the only other direct feedback I got was someone saying it was "interesting." You know, like you tell someone when you don't want to hurt their feelings. So, be forewarned if you listen. 🙂 ]
Can I get an amen from the guys?! 🙂
Men and boys sitting before me, I double-dog dare you to read through the Bible in one year with me. All you have to do is catch-up after church through Genesis chapter 24…today's reading is chapters 23 and 24.
Well, just like some of the boys and men will conveniently ignore the double-dog dare…I definitely wouldn't do some expository preaching just because Daniel used those magic words… 🙂
But, I thought about it…and although I hesitated some…I figured, why not? As long as I don't choose a book that is too long, if it turns out that you all don't enjoy the approach then it would be just a couple painful months for you.
Well, that is, as long as I don't go at the rate I am going to today…where the book we are going to study has 95 verses and we'll only cover 2. If you do the quick mental math on that you would be, rounding .5 up, listening to this experiment 48 weeks. 🙂
So, all that remained was choosing a book. Up until yesterday I had basically settled on 1 John. When Nick and I were visiting on Thursday night I mentioned how his dad seemed to really appreciate it. So, Friday night I read through that book…figuring on Saturday I'd dig into the studying part.
But something wouldn't let me settle on 1 John, and yesterday I started checking other short books…there definitely are some good options…1 Thessalonians especially stood out to me…think about it…you inevitably get to "…a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Is there anything better to have in your queue than to preach about than the return of our Lord?
Guys, can I get an amen to that?! 🙂
But one little book wouldn't let itself escape my short list, so when Scott and I had lunch I asked him which one he though I should preach on, Colossians or 1 John. He didn't hesitate and said Colossians.
And Scott, you were right, Colossians is a lot more theologically thick than I though.
Colossians it Is!
So, Colossians it is. It should be a small meal for the Antrim Church of Christ…only being four chapters…and how many verses did I say it was?
That's right…95…not even 100. We can do it!
Now, although the plate does seem small compared to any of the Gospels, Romans, Hebrews, and so on…as I just mentioned, Scott was right when he said it was theologically thick…so we are going to have to pace ourselves and make sure we take small bites and properly chew our food.
Our bites won't be quite as small as today…where we are doing two verses…because of the time an introduction to a book and a series of sermons takes.
Oh, and both today's sermon and the series are called:
Dear Least Important Church…
Don't worry, that'll make sense before you escape those pews today. Well, that is, if I do my job right. 🙂
Let's Jump Right In
Before we actually do the introduction to Colossians, let's read the verses today's talk includes…and turn together to Colossians 1:1-2. Although we'll hop to a couple other places today, it probably makes sense to put your Bible's ribbon right there to make it easier to race me to a Scripture. 🙂
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Pretty simple, huh? It's a standard Pauline introduction that says who it is from, who it is to, and gives a blessing.
Trudy…I can't remember…but do you bring an interlinear Bible with you? Assuming I have that right and she showed everyone the English word-for-word under the Greek it would still be simple…something like:
Paul apostle Christ Jesus through will God and Timothy the brother the in Colossae holy and faithful brother in Christ grace you and peace from God Father we.1
Well, I never said it wouldn't sound cryptic…the Greek language structures things differently than English 🙂
But, as you can hear…the two verses aren't terribly complicated…they are simple…
"Not much to see here…just move along."
But, considering the study of a book should have an introduction those two verses are quite apropos…because a normal introduction includes discussing who wrote it and who it was written to. In answering those you often delve into other "standard introduction" areas…for example when it was written, why it was written, and themes…
So, let's probe a bit into the author and recipient and see how much of a good introduction we complete.
The question of who wrote Colossians seems quite simple for those of us who trust Scripture, doesn't it? We just read:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, (Colossians 1:1)
It doesn't take any sleuthing like some of the other books of the Bible, eh? All we have to do is actually make sure we are awake. 🙂
And if that wasn't enough, we have two other occasions in our short book where it is reiterated:
if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Col 1:23)
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you (Colossians 4:18).
So…three times…including the very first and last verses…Paul says he wrote it. Case closed, eh?
Well, once you get biblical scholars involved, nothing is ever that easy, is it. 🙂
First the question with a possible answer that doesn't implicitly question the inerrancy of Scripture. Did Paul write it alone, or was it written by Paul and Timothy, as indicated in verse 1?
I didn't read a single commentary that believed that Timothy actually coauthored it…and if you think about what we read in the two other verses where he gives his name, it is only Paul listed. Also, 12 verses in Colossians use the first-person pronoun "I"…kind of odd if the "we" of Paul and Timothy were writing it.
So, how do we explain the "and Timothy our brother" part of verse 1?
With one of my favorite "sound really smart by using a hard word" words—amanuensis (a-man-ew-en-sis).
Does have their ESV Study Bible open to the introduction to Colossians? It makes a pretty simple statement under Author and Title:
Paul and Timothy are explicitly named as the authors of Colossians (1:1). Timothy probably served as Paul's secretary (amanuensis) since the first person singular ("I") is used throughout the letter (e.g., 1:24).2
Luckily the ESV Study Bible use amanuensis parenthetically, so we have a "normal" word for Timothy's position…he was acting as Paul's secretary. It's Paul's letter with Timothy being his penman.
And we have plenty of reason to believe something like this. First, do you remember part of what Paul emphasized in the last verse…where he said, "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand"? It is reminiscent of another time he did said that…let's shuffle over to Galatians 6:11 for that occurrence:
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
I agree with theologians (and others) who believe Paul probably had a vision problem…perhaps it being the "thorn…given [him] in the flesh…a messenger of Satan to harass [him], to keep [him] from becoming conceited" that he speaks about in 2 Corinthians 12:17.
Well, whether the thorn is bad eyesight or not…there is a really good chance that Paul needed help because of bad vision, and we know for a fact that people did write for him. For instance, Romans 16:22 says:
I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Romans is pretty universally accepted as having been written by Paul…and when we get to the end of it's 16 chapters we see he had a little help. There is a good chance that Timothy had Tertius' job when it comes to the letter to the church at Colossae…but even if he didn't, it wouldn't be unlikely for someone to write a letter and address it from more than one person. Have you ever gotten a letter from a husband and wife? How many actually have been written by both? Probably not many…
But, Did Someone Pretend to be Paul?
Great, Paul wrote it with Timothy as his secretary.
Or did Paul write it? Now onto the discussion that implicitly questions the inerrancy of Scripture.
Not everyone believes Paul is the author…least worst-case are those who believe that a disciple of Paul may have written it with Paul's thoughts…but many go much further and say it was written quite a bit later by someone just pretending to be Paul…using his name to gain authority (an act that was decently common in antiquity). For instance, M.S. Mills (who does believe Paul wrote Colossians) explains in Colossians: A Study Guide to Paul's Epistle to the Saints at Colossae:
Conservative scholars generally agree that Colossians displays genuine Pauline characteristics. However, some critical scholars deny Pauline authorship on the grounds of fifty-five ‘[there is a word that doesn't show correctly in my electronic version]' (words that, in the NT, are unique to that book) in the epistle; because it presents what they regard as an ‘advanced' Christology (e.g., in 1:13—20) more in keeping with the time of writing of the Gospel according to John; and because they date the heresy of gnosticism later than Paul. This reasoning is based on an evolutionary hypothesis for Christianity, but the biblical testimony is that Christ delivered it fully developed, so Christology did not develop and the Christology recorded in John's Gospel dates, not from the time of writing, but from our Lord's time. 3
He then goes on to say:
Furthermore, Phil 2:5—11 contains many of the same Christological principles and the Pauline authorship of that epistle is generally unchallenged; moreover, it is unlikely that Satan needed a century to breed incipient gnosticism!
The canonicity of this epistle has been recognized by the Church at large from a very early date and has never really been challenged.4
As for Gnosticism…I will admit that I scratched my head when I read The Pulpit Commentary and it said:
It is the more evident that the emergency which called forth this Epistle, and the questions that had arisen at Colossæ, were in his view of the most grave and ominous character. For in this remote country town had appeared the first symptoms of a heretical movement, so well known under its later name of Gnosticism, whose outbreak in this region St. Paul had already predicted (Acts 20:29, 30), and which was pregnant with deadly mischief to the Church of Christ.5
Yes…I read through Colossians pretty quickly…but I didn't pick up any hint of fighting Gnosticism, even an early version. The ESV Study Bible is not alone in rejecting claims that this was part of Paul's purpose:
A previous generation of scholars thought that the problem at Colossae was Gnosticism, an early heresy that taught that the world was created by an inferior god, that the material world is evil, and (in some cases) that asceticism should be practiced. But an improved understanding of Gnosticism, aided in part by the discovery of Gnostic documents in Egypt, has led most scholars to discount this interpretation. Missing from Colossians is any polemic against the Gnostic view that there is an unknown god who is distinct from the creator God. There is also no discussion of the Gnostic conviction that matter and material existence are inherently evil.6
So, claiming that Paul didn't write Colossians because it speaks against a belief system that doesn't yet exist isn't convincing because…well…it doesn't speak to it at all. 🙂
Finally, what about the words that are unique to Colossians?
Personally it doesn't surprise me because it appears that Timothy (or someone else) wrote it down for Paul, and short of it being dictation an amanuensis could affect the wording. Now, to save time, I'm not going to do justice to all the answers for the "unique words" concern…but I did like what Mills quotes from a guy who I'm pretty sure is not behind the dangerous chocolate Easter eggs some of us have gone into sugar convulsions from:
Cadbury summarizes the position choicely: "Which is more likely—that an imitator of Paul in the first century composed a writing 90% or 95% in accordance with Paul's style, or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging 5% or 10% from his usual style?"4
Trust Cadbury and Mills…and other "conservative scholars"…and trust God's providence in making sure only His books made it in the canon…
Paul wrote Colossians.
Well, now we know who wrote it…what about the recipients?
The second verse makes that clear:
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae… (Colossians 1:2a)
It's to the "saints and faithful brothers"…that is the members of the church…in Colossae…not terribly surprising given the name of the book in our Bibles is "Colossians," eh? 🙂
In his study Bible, MacArthur gives a pretty good summary about the city that housed that church that got Paul's personal attention:
Colosse was a thriving city in the fifth century B.C. when the Persian king Xerxes (Ahasuerus, cf. Esth. 1:1) marched through the region. Black wool and dyes (made from the nearby chalk deposits) were important products. In addition, the city was situated at the junction of the main north-south and east-west trade routes. By Paul's day, however, the main road had been rerouted through nearby Laodicea, thus bypassing Colosse and leading to its decline and the rise of the neighboring cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Although Colosse's population was mainly Gentile, there was a large Jewish settlement dating from the days of Antiochus the Great (223—187 B.C.). Colosse's mixed population of Jews and Gentiles manifested itself both in the composition of the church and in the heresy that plagued it, which contained elements of both Jewish legalism and pagan mysticism.7
Although MacArthur gives us a great quick summary about Colossae, it was something repeated in two other commentaries that really stuck out to me, and led to the title of this sermon and the series it began. In Opening Up Colossians and Philemon, Ian McNaughton writes:
Colosse lay about one hundred miles east of Ephesus and about twelve miles from Laodicea and Hierapolis, its more important neighbours (4:13). It is unlikely that Paul had ever been to Colosse (2:1) and it seems that it was Epaphras who founded the church there (1:7). He had probably been converted during Paul's stay at Ephesus and had carried the gospel back to his ‘own'. Epaphras, as pastor, had come to Paul in Rome to seek his advice (1:7). So this epistle was Paul's pastoral response to the church's internal problems. It was written from Rome around A.D. 63—65. Colosse was the least important city to receive a letter from Paul.8
Did you catch that? "Colosse was the least important city to receive a letter from Paul."
And that comment doubly stood out because I previously not too long before read the Word Biblical Commentary state:
So by the time Paul wrote to the Christians living at Colossae the commercial and social importance of the town was already on the wane. What effect this might have had on the townspeople, or the Christians among them, we do not know. Last century Lightfoot (16) commented: "Without doubt Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St Paul is addressed"—and this may well be true.9
"Without a doubt, Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed"…and if you think that's bad…I just happened to actually have the book that quote came from, and J.B. Lightfoot is even "crueler":
We shall therefore be prepared to find that, while Laodicea and Hierapolis both hold important places in the early records of the Church, Colossæ disappears wholly from the pages of history. Its comparative insignificance is still attested by its ruins, which are few and meagre, while the vast remains of temples, baths, theatres, aqueducts, gymnasia, and sepulchres, strewing the extensive sites of its more fortunate neighbours, still bear witness to their ancient prosperity and magnificence. It is not even mentioned by Ptolemy, though his enumeration of towns includes several inconsiderable places3. Without doubt Colossæ was the least important church to which any epistle of St Paul is addressed.10
Ouch…double ouch…and then Lightfoot then even uses the fact that the name of the city isn't always spelled the same way in ancient documents "as another indication of its comparative obscurity and its early extinction."11
Triple ouch! You are so unimportant people don't even care if they spell your name right. 🙂
Okay, Lightfoot didn't say that (it just appears the spelling changed over time), but clearly Colossians didn't deserve a letter from Paul because it was such a huge, important, bustling metropolis, or because the church would have a long, famous (or infamous) history.
So, why did Paul write the believers in Colossae?
Going back to McNaughton, he expresses the heart of our Lord when he pens:
However, it is good to observe that Colosse was not too out of the way or too insignificant for God. God had something to say to them; God was watching over his people.12
And should it surprise us that God cares just as much about the "least important" as the "important"? Isn't that what Scripture attests to over-and-over…that (as Peter states in Acts 10:34)…"that God shows no partiality"?
Not to mention, as we continue through Colossians we will ultimately reach chapter 3, verse 11. Now, this verse isn't near as famous as one that makes the same point in Galatians 3:28, but it also gives comfort to those who normally might be left out:
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11)
Why did Paul write the Colossians? Because, just like the God who he worshipped and so admired…he was no "respecter of persons"…and cared just as much about the least important church…even one he didn't personally found…as he did any other one.
Antrim Church of Christ
And, it seems to me, that that should be very good news to a humble church like our Antrim Church of Christ. I hope the Lord will use all of us sitting and standing here today to cause this building to overflow at some point…that we and Antrim will not fade away into obscurity (or rubble for that matter) in the future…but for now…
Aren't we fairly called a "least important church"?
But, like Colossae, God doesn't see it that way…and I wouldn't be surprised that just like he inspired Paul to write the Colossians, He had a hand in having Scott "inspire" me to choose this book for my first real foray into expository preaching. Little did I know it would be a perfect book for a "least important church" like us.
One More Thing
Again, I have left out so much I wanted to share…and at the expense of a truly comprehensive introduction to Colossians. However, I knew by now I would already be running long.
- We've covered the author…
- We've covered the recipients…
- We've touched on a bit of the why…with the best part being because God cares about the "least important" churches too.
- And you may have missed it, but we also spoke to the "When?" (It was in on of the "least important" quotes…A.D. 62-65.)
But, even though one could argue we spoke a bit about themes…we really didn't delve into that. Not only are we out of time, but even before seeing exactly how long this introduction would be I figured speaking about its themes, in some ways, would prejudice the interpretation going forward.
So instead we will, with one exclusion, pick up on themes as we go through the book together in future weeks.
Now for the "one exclusion."
Look back at the first two verses. They mention a lot of different people, but only one person twice.
Who is that?
Not Paul…not Timothy…not "the saints and faithful brothers"…
But, Jesus…once as Christ Jesus, and once as Christ.
Now, who remembers how many verses there are in Colossians?
Do you know how many of those 95 verses mention Jesus…and I'm not even including pronouns for Him…just Jesus, Christ, or combinations thereof?
That means that over 25%…one quarter…of the verses in Colossians speak of Jesus one way or another.
No matter what else Paul had to say to the Colossians…there is one thing that is absolutely clear…
That whether you are an important church or a least important church…
Jesus is most important!
"Dear least important church, let's talk about Jesus…"
1Harris, W. H., III. (2010; 2010). The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament: SBL Edition (Col 1). Logos Research Systems, Inc. (Please note, for simplicity sake I changed "holy, holy one" to just "holy" since I assumed it was showing the alternatives instead of actually saying the original Greek word meant "holy, holy one." That word is actually most often translated as "saints.")
2Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2289). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
3Mills, M. (1999). Colossians : A Study Guide to Paul's epistle to the Saints at Colossae. Dallas: 3E Ministries.
5The Pulpit Commentary: Colossians. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (v). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
6Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2289—2290). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
7MacArthur, J. J. (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.). Nashville: Word Pub.
8McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (10). Leominster: Day One Publications.Pub.
9O'Brien, P. T. (2002). Vol. 44: Word Biblical Commentary : Colossians-Philemon. Word Biblical Commentary (xxvii). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
10Lightfoot, J. B. (1886). Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. (8th ed.) (16). London and New York: Macmillan and co.
12McNaughton, I. S.