Live as you were taught
Rooted, built up, established, abounding
Col 2:6-7 represents somewhat of a challenge for the commentator as they seek to partition off sections of the letter to deal with them as units. Should we take these two verses as the start of what’s about to follow and as an introductory preamble as Colwright (Col 2:6-4:6) and Colbrien do (Col 2:6-15) or as the conclusion of what’s preceded as Colcar and Colbruce (both Col 1:24-2:7)?
It seems best to take the word ‘therefore’ and accept it in the most logical way possible - that is, it brings together what’s been written prior to its use into a conclusion which is being immediately stated and, consequently, these two verses should be taken as a ‘full stop’ in the apostle’s train of thought.
Even among the commentators that see the two verses as an introduction, however, the idea is still one of conclusion but, in their case, it’s an intermediary point from which the apostle will launch into a warning concerning false teaching. So Colwright writes that
‘These two verses [Col 2:6-7] sum up neatly the message of the entire letter. In them Paul draws together the awesome Christology of the introduction and the practical teaching that is to be based on it...’
and Colbrien also that
‘In the space of a few brief words, the apostle encapsulates many of the important ideas already spelled out in the letter...’
It seems best, then, to take these two verses as the pivot upon which the entire letter turns. On the one hand, the incredible pronouncements concerning the Christ are summed up in the statement about ‘receiving’ Him and, the practical outworkings of their relationship with God which follow are covered by the command to continue ‘living’ in Him.
Paul has laid a foundation of the importance of Jesus Christ which will securely root the believers in an understanding not only of the centrality of the One they’ve experienced but also of the move of God throughout the earth of which they’re a small part. Even if they hadn’t come to terms with the significance of the Way (and it’s very unlikely that most people who come to commit their lives into God’s hands in Christ realise the depth and width of the Gospel message to the end of the total salvation and restoration of the created order), there could be no mistaking it now that they’ve reached this point in the letter.
With that foundation, then, that sees in Jesus everything that the believer will ever need, the apostle can pivot round to direct his attention to right living and conduct, undermining error for the danger it is while proclaiming the work of the cross and the correct response that Jesus Christ now expects from His people.
From here on in (and for a fair while before, too), commentators are taken up with discussing what the ‘Colossian heresy’ might have been that Paul and Timothy were addressing. But as I’ve previously noted on numerous occasions, we don’t find any rebuke for wayward beliefs or believers - rather, as I noted on the previous web page, the apostle states unambiguously that the fellowship was in ‘good order’ and that they were firm or steadfast in their faith.
It hardly seems possible, then, that Paul could be commenting on something which had infiltrated their ranks but, instead, appears to be laying down some general warnings that might have been either known to be prevalent in the area (as Paul was resident in Ephesus, a short distance away, for a lengthy time - Acts 19:10) or been related to him by Epaphras (Col 1:7-8).
Whatever, Paul’s words read like a father who wants to safeguard the life of a child rather than an attempt to straighten out a rebellious youngster who’s kicking against what’s good and beneficial to him.
The concept of a man or woman needing to ‘receive’ Jesus Christ into their ‘heart’ or ‘life’ has become almost a byword of evangelistic believers, akin, perhaps, to the time when I heard a Sunday School teacher tell some young kids that they had to look upon their problems ‘with the eye of faith’. What those children made of such a statement I could never imagine - perhaps they thought it was a pair of glasses that were on sale at their local corner shop but, whatever it might’ve meant to them, it’s unlikely that they could have understood exactly what the teacher was talking about.
And that’s a bit like the phrase ‘receiving Christ’ when we insist from the front of the meeting that, to become ‘born again’ (another difficult phrase for the unbeliever), the man or woman must open up their heart (and that’s another difficult phrase) and allow Jesus Christ to come on in.
What does it all mean for the unsaved? Perhaps we might rejoice in the fact that God still does the miraculous work of salvation within people in spite of us rather than because of us for a simple pronouncement of the Gospel message is often couched in terms that mean little or nothing to the religiously uneducated.
That was one of the reasons why I began my series on ‘The Cross’ and why it appeared first and foremost on the web (actually, I had very little else that I was happy with at that time - that was another reason!) - because we tend to use religious jargon in our day-to-day dealings with the world and so often fail to get across the simplicity of the Gospel in language that they can readily understand.
It’s true, of course, that God must move to convict an individual before the message will ever hit home and that He must also respond to the life who wants to be changed by doing a miraculous work in the same manner as He brought the original Creation in to being - but men and women often give themselves over to Jesus Christ because of what they ‘feel’ rather than necessarily because of what we ‘teach’ and, for the next few months of their new life, have to come to terms with all the implications and, even more fundamentally, what it was that both they and Jesus did at that first point in time.
Paul’s words here point back to that initial conversion when each of those listening to Paul’s words being read out in the fellowship responded to the simple preaching of the message of the Kingdom through, more than likely, Epaphras (Col 1:7). So, he begins by urging them to remember the time that they
‘...received Christ Jesus the Lord...’
and, in so doing, points them towards a continuance in what they must press on to outwork throughout their experience. But the idea of ‘reception’ here is unlikely to carry with it the same idea as that which we often use it for in the present day. The Greek word which lies at the root of the RSV’s ‘received’ (Strongs Greek number 3880) has a context in both first century Judaism and the Greek world that we need to pay particular attention to.
In the latter, Kittels notes that the word’s employed
‘...in the mysteries for the inheriting of special rites and secrets although with a stress on oral impartation rather than supernatural revelation’
That is, even though we might accept that some of those things which were passed on from generation to generation came about through no written code, their source was still the agency of man and, perhaps just as significantly, had their origin in man. There’s also the thought in the Greek world that the teacher in philosophical schools was regarded with equal weight as the words which they brought so that a disciple was meant not simply to learn the words which came from the master but was also expected to experience the manner of living as he developed towards being a fully trained pupil (see my notes here in the section ‘Make disciples’).
In Judaism, however, the authority lay in the commandments and regulations rather than necessarily in the teacher, according to Kittels. They note that
‘Students may be grateful to teachers but the authority rests with the Law (as handed down by the prophets and exegeted by the Rabbis)’
Certainly, this appears true in the main but, if one reads the Mishnah, one can’t help but notice that the interpretation of the Law as to how it should be outworked into experience rests upon the interpretation of Jewish authorities who are recorded for consideration by the reader. That the teacher acquired authority as well as the words to be handed down is necessary for such a work to make sense or else one might have expected a simple statement of interpretation would have been all that would have been necessary (see my notes on delegated authority here and how Jesus undermined the authority structures of His day by His own actions and how He likewise condemns our own present day Church ones).
Nevertheless, it’s not incorrect to see that what’s ‘received’ is either oral or written precepts that are binding upon the person who wishes to please God by service. Therefore, we find the same Greek word used in Mark 7:4 where the writer observes concerning the scribes and Pharisees that
‘...there are many other traditions which they observe [have received], the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze’
and to which Jesus is recorded as asking the Pharisees (Mtw 15:3) as to why they were transgressing
‘...the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’
where the interpretations of man were negating the clear statements of God as recorded in the Mosaic Law (see my notes here for more details as to how the authoritative writings and man’s secondary interpretations had swapped places in first century Judaism - in much the same way as man-centred teaching in the present day Church has also chipped away at the clear statements of Scripture concerning matters).
One must remember the central place that the ‘tradition of the elders’ or the ‘oral law’ had in the life of Judaism, interpretations which appear to have been handed down orally in the most part, even though the presence of ‘scribes’ implies that there must have been scrolls of discussions and decisions which could have been referred to and which may have been the basis of the first attempt at harmonising the interpretation in the Mishnah (c.200AD).
The ‘receiving’ of the spoken law by subsequent generations was an integral part of Jewish religious life. As it says in the Mishnah itself (Aboth 1:1)
‘Moses received the [Oral Law] from Sinai and committed it to Joshua and Joshua committed it to the elders and the elders to the prophets and the prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue’
Quite clearly, then, if the leaders of a movement were able to claim authority through successive lines of transmission from the time of the beginning, they would necessarily have put themselves into a position of unequalled and unquestionable authority.
Paul’s use of the Greek word here, then, is all the more significant for he observes that the Colossian believers haven’t received a law that’s to be observed, they’ve received Jesus Himself as their ‘tradition’ for he writes
‘...you received Christ Jesus the Lord...’
‘...you received the teachings of Christ...’
showing that the way of salvation is not tied up with dead legal observance of a received written or oral code but with a living Person, Jesus Christ (as it is also in John 1:11 where the same Greek word is used - though not in John 1:12). It at once separates ‘religion’ from ‘christianity’, the former being a series of beliefs that are ‘received’ in new converts’ lives whereas the latter is the effect of a Person who’s experienced, who brings with Him His own law and writes it upon the believer’s heart (Jer 31:33).
It’s important to remember that the foundation of Christianity is a Person and not a theology; a living Being and not a doctrine; the God of the universe and not a statement of faith or a creed. It’s Jesus who comes first in all things and from Him flows true theology, right doctrine.
A believer is not a believer because he’s ‘received’ the right doctrines but because he’s experienced the Person and, in this case, the statement holds true that it isn’t what you know but who you know that makes all the difference. Knowing the Person will, of course, change a man or woman’s belief - but a person doesn’t become a disciple of Christ by cerebral adherence to a set of theological statements but by commitment to a person.
Colbruce’s two statements here that Col 2:6
‘...introduces us to the concept of tradition in apostolic christianity’
‘the teaching which has been delivered to the Colossians embodies the apostolic witness derived from Christ’
go too far toward saying that the reception of Jesus Christ is just another tradition handed down by word of mouth resulting in the Colossians’ adherence to it. The sentence, rather, cuts across the concept of tradition by its insistence that a Person is received rather than a doctrine about Him.
Having said this, it would also be beneficial to look at the occurrences of the Greek word from which the RSV gets ‘received’ for, as we’ll see, there is a sense in which the message of the Gospel can be considered to be that which is ‘handed down’ or ‘passed on’.
The message of the Gospel - and not just Jesus - can be thought of as being that which is received by those who would follow Him (I Cor 15:1, Gal 1:9, I Thess 2:13) and even that certain exposition which was based upon the message of the Kingdom can be labelled the same (I Cor 11:23, Phil 4:9, II Thess 3:6 - where each of the contexts seems to show that a secondary explanation of believers’ conduct is what’s in mind).
However, the danger for us is to think of the message of the Gospel as being purely a belief system that was generated in the mind of man both from an exposition of OT Scriptures and from pure imagination and fanciful assertions when the source of such a message is also clearly announced in the NT as being God.
When Paul lists the ‘important’ doctrines (I Cor 15:3ff), he notes that he delivered only the message that had been received which, if left to stand on its own, might be misconstrued as being an indication that he was only being honest to the tenets of the theological seminary that he’d attended or the particular denominational slant that he’d been impressed with.
Rather, we get the origin of the message in Gal 1:11-12 (my italics) where Paul states
‘...I would have you know, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached by me is not man’s Gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ’
and a couple of verses (Gal 1:15-17) later he observes that, when confronted by Jesus on the Road to Damascus and, after having received his sight
‘...I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia...’
The Gospel which Paul preached, then, wasn’t the product of the more established Jerusalem church, neither was it gleaned from the theological studies which he undertook in college in Arabia but, rather, it came as a result of revelation. Therefore he can announce to the Thessalonians (I Thess 2:13) that
‘...when you received the word of God which you heard from us [note - ‘Word of God’ clearly means that which is spoken here], you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God...’
so that the source of the message is clearly divine and not earthly. This is also the source of authority in the Church (or, rather it should be) as the reader can see on the previously cited web page so that all things are supposed to come directly from the Father by one intermediary at the most.
That this doesn’t happen generally in the Church today shouldn’t detract us from the clear statements of the NT. Part of the problem of the lack of success of evangelistic outreaches isn’t that the message is the wrong one but that it lacks the authority from God because it’s come through the impartation of a message from man rather than as a revelation direct from Heaven itself. The steward has authority because he’s been appointed by God Himself, his message comes with authority because it’s the commission which has been given to him as the fulfilment of that commission (Col 1:25) and men and women receive Christ Jesus as a living reality, as the experience of a Person and not as an accepted series of doctrinal statements.
And, in that case, everything is tied up with encountering the Person of Jesus Christ - that’s why reception of the message is not cerebral consent but an experience of revelation that comes through the direct impartation of the Holy Spirit of God.
We should also look at the occurrences of the word translated ‘tradition’ in the NT (Strongs Greek number 3862) for it’s the substance of what’s received. As we would expect, it’s thirteen uses are tied up heavily with the idea of the Jews’ ‘oral law’ occurring eight times in the Gospels (Mtw 15:2,3,6, Mark 7:3,5,8,9,13) and contrasted with the obeying of God through the commandments where the choice is between one or the other (Mark 7:8,13).
Reference to the oral law is also the subject in another NT passage where the word occurs (Gal 1:14) and in one place where a compound’s used (I Peter 1:18 - Strongs Greek number 3970). In the only other place where the word’s used negatively (Col 2:8), it’s not certain that reference is being made to the Jewish oral law and it’s best to take it as a comment on all forms of observances and commandments that come from the invention of man. We need say no more than this at the present time for we’ll deal with the verse on the next web page.
The idea of ‘tradition’ always being negative, however, is not correct. Of the three remaining places where the apostle employs the Greek word, it can be shown to be a label which he’s putting on the declaration of the Gospel just the once and yet, even here, it may not be strictly correct that we take it as referring to this.
In I Cor 11:2, the traditions being mentioned immediately precedes the teaching about head coverings and, if the type of commandment here is meant to convey what the ‘tradition’ is, it’s hardly foundational - that is, a man doesn’t receive the doctrine of when to wear a hat and thereby becomes born again.
Neither can II Thess 3:6 be used as a reference to the Gospel for it’s here paralleled with the earmarking of those brothers who are living in idleness in their midst and the believer’s avoidance of such people. This may also be the content of the word as it’s used a few verses prior in II Thess 2:15 where it stands alone with no substance for the ‘tradition’ to be understood. The proclamation of the Gospel, though, occurs in the verse which immediately precedes it and Paul may be meaning his readers to understand the message as the new tradition.
As we know from the record of Paul’s first visit to the area (Acts 17:1-9), there were a handful of Jews who gave themselves over to the message along with a great many Greeks and Paul’s deliberate use of the idea of a tradition may have been more to undermine the opposition that the church was experiencing than to insist that there were commandments that were to be handed down from one generation to another as occurred in Judaism.
It should also be noted carefully that II Thess 2:15 makes no mention of OT Scripture as being authoritative and it ties down authority with that which the apostolic band has both taught them by word of mouth and by letter. That the early Church believed the Jewish Scriptures to be authoritative is not being disputed or questioned, of course, but, if ‘tradition’ here means the message of the Gospel, it’s authority can only derive from the person who brings it - that is, the person who’s been sent with the commission to fulfil their stewardship - and authority comes about not from a recognised body of literature but from men and women who have authority resting upon them by a direct work of God.
So, then, the idea of the Divine source of the message isn’t going to be far away from the apostle’s use of the word. Even though there’s not a single passage that speaks of the tradition coming from God Himself, the parallel word which speaks of that which is ‘received’ should be understood to convey a correct colouring of the positive aspects of the ‘traditions’ which Paul urged upon his readers.
Before groups claim ‘Divine authority’ for their own ‘denominational traditions’, we need to note that it must be shown not only that the original ‘tradition’ came from God Himself but that each subsequent generation have received it directly from God as well - otherwise it becomes something which only has delegated authority and, therefore, will pull against the moving of God in present day society. But Colbrien surely encapsulates the truth succinctly when he states that
‘The Colossians have received Christ Himself as their tradition’
Finally, I mention in passing only the declaration of Paul that the Colossians had received Christ Jesus ‘as Lord’ which is often understood in the context of the present day meaning of the word.
In the first century, Jews substituted the divine name - YHWH - by either the Aramaic ‘Adonai’ or Greek ‘Kurios’ so as to make sure that the name was never once taken upon their lips ‘in vain’.
What Paul is actually writing here, then, is not that Jesus was received by the Colossian believers as ‘the master’ but as YHWH Himself (notice though that the verse actually runs that they’ve received Jesus the Lord and not Jesus as Lord - most commentators follow a similar misinterpretation of the phrase rather than to take the text more literally, but the implication is that they’d received none other than the one they’d recognised to be the fullness of all that God is) and, in light of Paul’s previous exposition of His role in both the first and second Creations, his conclusion is one of logical necessity.
The ‘tradition’ that’s been ‘received’ is a Person, it’s true - but also the One who ranks far above all because He’s the One who’s before all things and through whom all things exist (Col 1:17)
Live as you were taught
I’ve made a conscious decision to take the phrase ‘as you were taught’ which occurs midway through Col 2:7 and affix it to Paul’s command here to live in Christ. The reason for this is that the details of Col 2:7 seem to be specific outworkings of the apostle’s general statement in 2:6 and, although the phrase rightly belongs to being established in the faith, it must also apply to the complete picture of what it means to live for Jesus Christ.
Epaphras, then, hasn’t been solely concerned with conversion (Col 1:7) as a more literal interpretation of the opening verses of the letter would have caused us to believe. Rather, having brought men and women to Jesus Christ (‘received’), he’s also been laying down a foundation for their continued faithfulness and development.
Therefore Paul’s exhortation isn’t for them to learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ or to pay attention to the intricacies of service to God and how it should be outworked in their own lives but, rather, to continue as they are or, better, to continue as they first did when they came to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and their God.
Just as the Greek word from which the RSV got ‘received’ has a striking Jewish background, so, too, does the word rendered here as ‘live’ (Strongs Greek number 4043). It literally means ‘to walk around’ and is employed with this meaning on numerous occasions and, according to Colwright
‘...in Jewish thought was and is the standard term for ethical conduct’
So, in the LXX, the translators used the word in II Kings 20:3 (my italics) where king Hezekiah prays
‘Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Thy sight...’
It’s also employed in a negative way of the life that’s being lived in opposition to the will of God in Is 59:9 (my italics) where, after a fairly lengthy statement concerning the sins of the nation (Is 59:1-8), the prophet concludes
‘Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we look for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom’
It’s this idea of lifestyle that can be present in the use of the word when the context so dictates and, therefore, the RSV’s ‘live’ is a perfectly reasonable and explanatory translation. It just seems a little strange to me, however, that they should render the word as ‘walk’ in Gal 5:16 when the phrase ‘live by the Spirit’ seems a whole lot more unambiguous.
Notice in Col 1:6 that it’s the believer’s experience of Christ and not their obedience to a legal code which comes either from God or from man that’s what is to affect their way of living in the world. Paul encourages the Colossian believers to reflect their experience of Jesus Christ in their conduct just as they’d allowed Him to do so when they’d first come to ‘receive’ Him.
The explanation of how this is done is outlined in the following verses which we’ll move on to in a moment but, once again, the reader should note that there’s no reference to the authority of a legal code or to a body of literature that’s deemed as the
‘authoritative rule of faith and conduct’*
but, rather, to an experience of Christ who’s sufficient to provide for every need that a believer requires to live an acceptable life before God the Father. There’s a place for authoritative writings and a place of supreme importance for the body of literature that we call ‘the Bible’ - but lifestyle is dictated by a relationship with God and not by the legal observance of rules, regulations or commandments that would serve only to produce a legalistic religion and not a liberated follower.
Concluding, if christianity were simply a religion that had been founded upon legal observance or some other moral code, Col 2:6 (see also Gal 3:10ff) would have read something like
‘As therefore you received the teachings of Christ, so live by them’
but, instead, it places the importance on God’s Messiah and not God’s commandments, recording Paul’s words as
‘As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him’
Christianity, then, is a way of living based upon a relationship with a Person, Jesus Christ, and it’s out of that relationship that both doctrine and theology will flow, perfectly in harmony with the Person who’s known and perfectly in keeping with how Jesus was known to men and women who went before and who recorded their experience within the pages of both Old and New Testaments.
I’ve quoted from the US Pentecostal Statement of Fundamental Beliefs above that I found on line while putting these notes together - I would have cited the UK statement but I couldn’t easily find it but I guess that they won’t be too far different.
It depends entirely what the authors who penned the phrases mean as to whether the reader could possibly accept the statements there put down for men and women to read - and, in essence, this becomes the problem with all credal formulae for they’re only the words of man trying to put into some coherent form the minimum requirements of what it means to belong to their own particular denomination (though, having been a part of the UK Assemblies of God, I can vouch for the fact that the ‘minimum requirements’ weren’t often believed in the form they were then in by many of the pastors of the churches I frequented!). The entire sentence of my quote runs
‘The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct’
They cite three Scriptures in support of their statement which we’ll look at in a moment (just to see how confused their own understanding of the Scriptures has become) but, first, let’s agree with what we can and sound a note of caution on those items which are either difficult to understand or incorrect without further explanation.
Their equation that the Scriptures are the Old and New Testaments is quite obviously fine (though some would argue for a different Canon - but I have no problem with their statement). The phrase ‘verbally inspired’, however, means nothing to me and I wonder if they mean that God somehow spoke all the Scriptures into existence in much the same way as He spoke the Universe into existence? I don’t know, I must confess.
Their next statement that they’re the revelation of God to man is again difficult to understand because of the word I’ve italicised. Are they saying that there’s no more revelation possible than what’s already in the Bible or that it’s a revelation of God to man and that a man can still receive revelation directly from God?
As the reader will, no doubt, have come to realise as they’ve been reading my teaching notes, christianity is necessarily a relationship with God based upon revelation - the early Church experiencing His guiding hand and His voice to cause them to live correctly for Him. If revelation has now ended, the basis of a relationship with God can only be by recourse to a legalistic response to Law - that is, to the Bible - devoid of any movement of the Holy Spirit.
They mention, also, ‘infallibility’ which has to be inevitably accepted - after all, if one part of the Canon of Scripture went unaccepted, what right would we have to accept any other? But a denial of the literal Creation account in Genesis chapter 1 is as much a denial of infallibility as is the undermining of the resurrection and I used to know pastors and of pastors within the movement who undermined Biblical authority by their reinterpretation of Creation in the light of modern day science. As I showed when we discussed Col 1:15-20, it’s impossible to deny a literal Creation and yet still to maintain a literal new creation because the two are inseparably linked.
Finally comes their statement that the Scriptures are the
‘...authoritative rule of faith and conduct’
Do they mean that by reference to them a man or woman can determine whether their lifestyle is obedient to God where the Scriptures become something akin to a plumb line? Or do they mean - as their words seem to imply - that the Scriptures are a ‘rule’ that’s to be observed? If the latter, then christianity has become legalistic and the statement denies the relationship with God that Jesus Christ came to give. A man is not saved to observe regulations but is saved to know God - Jesus’ main battles on earth were with the legalistic sections of the people of God of his own day who wouldn’t accept that His new way of bringing men and women into a relationship with God through forgiveness and mercy was the will of God.
As we’ve seen in the previous section, too, the Colossian believers had received Christ and, here, are being urged to continue to live in Him - they’re not told to obey any rules or regulations but to follow the One who died to save them and, consequently, obedience to Him will order their own lives to be pleasing to God in all things.
In the introductory blurb to their Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, the Assemblies of God note that the creed is only meant as a basis of fellowship and that
‘The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice’
where the use of that last word clearly indicates that their word ‘rule’ must mean ‘rule book’ in the main body of their creed. Even though one might take it another way if it had stood alone, the idea of ‘practising’ the Bible clearly means that it’s envisaged as being something that’s to be obeyed rather than Jesus Christ.
The most frightening thing about the creed, though, is in the three Scriptures which they cite to support their own statement. We can dismiss two of them fairly quickly for they have nothing whatever to say about Scripture and why they would ever have been used in support of the statement, I can’t imagine.
The first, I Thess 2:13, reads
‘And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers’
where the formulators of their creed have somehow managed the equation
Word of God = Scripture
even though the context of the verse clearly shows that it’s the preaching of the Gospel that’s meant. If you don’t believe me, read through the verse again and, instead of reading ‘word of God’, read ‘Scripture’ - it has the writers saying that the Thessalonians received Scripture from them as it was spoken and that it was this that saved them. And then that it was only Scripture that’s at work in their own lives at the present time.
If this was really believed, surely the pastors would have stopped preaching and only read out Scriptures from the pulpit?
The second is II Peter 1:21 (I’ve quoted from 1:20 to give the verse context) which runs
‘First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’
Again, the context isn’t about Scripture but about it’s interpretation and the apostle is being careful to note that prophetic insight of what a writing means can only come directly from the Spirit of God. This verse, then, actually undermines the credal statement in its entirety for the Assemblies of God speak of the Scriptures as being
‘the revelation of God to man’
which, when II Peter 1:1 is applied, is seen to be needed to be added to for it’s only the Spirit of God which can give the correct interpretation of a matter to men and women - the Scripture needs the Spirit’s revelation for it to be correctly understood.
Finally, in support of their creed, they cite II Tim 3:15-17 (I’ve quoted from 3:14 in order not to break the sentence) which reads
‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from Whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’
Quite clearly, in these verses we have a good definition of the purpose of Scripture (though, I suggest, not the only one). But the passage doesn’t say that the ‘sacred writings’ are all that’s needed for ‘faith and conduct’ - they do say, however, that they’re able to
‘...instruct you for salvation...’
and can be used
‘...for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...’
That is, they’re not a rule book but a standard by which the believer can see whether what they’re experiencing is either true or erroneous. Clearly, Scripture is authoritative and is meant to be so for the believer isn’t left only to the acceptance of whatever experience he encounters but can understand it by dwelling upon those things which were experienced in times past.
In the NT, then, the truth of salvation is that it’s the reception of a Person and the message about that Person, Jesus Christ. It’s not about being obedient to a written code - whether Scripture or man-made rules and regulations - and to insist upon such only pushes the believer into a type of religion which the Pharisees and scribes espoused and which Jesus vehemently opposed.
Rooted, built up, established, abounding
From the mention of the need for the Colossian believers to live in Jesus Christ as a consequence or outworking of their reception of Him, Paul goes on to use four statements in this one verse which define the type of living (where ‘live in Him’ as we saw above has to do with the type conduct that the believer displays through himself) that he’s thinking of.
These four words employed here - although colourful and bearing in themselves certain applications to secular associations - may not necessarily have conjured up in Paul’s mind the ideas which we would normally associate with them.
We should pay attention to our own language for a realisation that metaphorical usage, once coined, soon becomes the normal and expected statement in a situation which fails to stimulate the mind to think of a more literal application. For example, we might speak of someone as being ‘off the rails’ but do we really have the picture in our minds when we use it of a locomotive jumping the tracks and careering about dangerously away from its expected course? Or if we say that we’re at the ‘end of our tether/rope’ do we then picture an animal in a field straining at the limits of their freedom?
We use many such metaphors in modern day English that should alert us to the fact that they don’t necessarily retain their more literal meaning which had caused them to be originally used. So Colwright speculates correctly
‘How many of these metaphors were still “live” for Paul is hard to say. Even he must have had difficulty imagining christians ‘walking’ in Christ by being well-rooted like a tree, solidly built like a house, confirmed and settled like a legal document and overflowing like a jug full of wine’
Although there are good reasons for looking at the deeper meaning of such words and why they might be employed over and above others, it’s not inevitable that the user meant the reader to get the deeper meaning which he may well not even have conceived of himself.
But Scripture lends itself to meditation in ways that ordinary everyday language doesn’t and, so long as the commentator or reader keeps to the straightforward interpretation as the simplest and most obvious meaning and only allows a more literal colouring of the phrase to come in to deepen the intent rather than to change the meaning, what’s understood from the passage should be fairly sound.
So, we’ll stop for a few moments and consider these four metaphorical statements which define how the believer is to continue to ‘live in Christ Jesus’ (Col 1:6).
The first word ‘rooted’ (Strongs Greek number 4492) is particularly interesting because of the tense in which it’s used. Colcar notes that it
‘...suggests the thought of something which took place in the past but whose effects persist in the present’
and is therefore the first cause of their relationship with Jesus Christ (the ‘received’ of the previous verse) which is the place from which their experience springs. The metaphorical picture is of a plant which is being sustained by its continual integration into the soil so that whatever growth comes about does so through the nourishment which is being supplied.
The second word ‘built up’ (Strongs Greek number 2026) continues with the possible imagery of the plant (though it’s better seen as a metaphor for a building as below) and speaks, as Colcar notes
‘...of the steady growth of the structure’
and further comments that the preposition used (the ‘in’ of the following ‘in Him’) is not that which would cause the reader to look back towards the founding of the structure but to Jesus Christ as being the substance in whom the life is being held together. There’s a good parallel here with Col 1:17 where Paul and Timothy have already announced Jesus to be
‘...before all things, and in Him all things hold together’
That is, everything springs from Him as the source of all things but that they only maintain their existence by His continual work of holding together and sustaining. In these two words, then, Jesus is being announced as the source in which everything is established and fed (and that this was an event which occurred in the past which has effects in the present) and the cement which binds the building together into a stable structure.
Colbrien sounds a note of caution at this point, though, and observes that ancient literature uses both metaphors of being rooted and built up of buildings. It’s not that the plant analogy isn’t relevant but that, if it had been used on its own, one would have taken it to mean this with no further questions being asked but, when used as a doublet, it’s more likely to carry with it the idea only of that which is built with hands.
Having said this, the meaning isn’t changed too dramatically but it’s the stability of the building which would come to the fore more than the sustaining power of the soil for the benefit of the plant.
The third metaphor, ‘established’ (Strongs Greek number 950), is indicative as Colcar comments
‘...of the continuous strengthening...which follows from this Christ-centred living’
There’s a defining phrase here which follows its use which can be variously interpreted. The idea that the Colossians should be strengthened ‘in the faith’ is possibly a reference to the sum total of the ‘Way’ in much the same way as the early Church also talked about followers being in ‘the Way’.
Acts 6:7 (see also Acts 13:8, 14:22, 16:5, Gal 1:23, Phil 1:25, Col 1:23, I Tim 1:2, 3:9 and other very numerous places) uses the phrase in this manner where it’s recorded that
‘...a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith’
The defining words ‘just as you were taught’ seems to demand such an interpretation, too, making ‘the faith’ a label for the sum total of what had already been brought to them by Epaphras and others (Col 1:7-8) and exhorting the believers to be more established in what they’d already received.
The legal imagery of being ‘legally guaranteed’ (as Kittels) doesn’t appear to be possible of application here, however, and the more regular ‘established’ is to be preferred.
Finally, they’re encouraged to abound or overflow (Strongs Greek number 4052) in thanksgiving where the final two words of the verse must be used to define what it is that Paul means. Colcar seems to ignore them, however, and insists that the Colossians
‘...are to increase in their knowledge of [the faith] and in their experience of its power in their lives’
but the idea of thanksgiving is integral to the believer’s life and is one of those aspects that Paul and Timothy pray to the Father for the Colossians to experience (Col 1:12) and which Paul will again turn his attention to later in the letter on four separate occasions (Col 3:15,16,17, 4:2).
Paul will go on later in the letter to speak specifically concerning those things which should be outworked in their lives and encourage them to forsake anything which is opposed to Jesus Christ - for adherence, on the other hand, to that which is empowered by God the Father through His Spirit.
But, for now, this short list gives a good summary and exhortation to the believers as the apostle turns his attention to an extensive warning against false teachings which would undermine what they’ve already received and which would divert them from a pure and sincere service of Jesus Christ.
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