Colossians for Women: Staying Focused on Jesus
I think it’s fair to say that sometimes we women can lose our way in relation to who we are. For some it may be just a little detour, off the main route, while others may, at times, go in the completely wrong direction. We may struggle with the ideal standards of motherhood we feel we need to meet. We may not understand the role of Christ in either our married or single state. Perhaps we fail to understand what it means to be forgiven in Christ. Others struggle with figuring out God’s will for their lives, or what submission in marriage really looks like, or why they can’t stop feeling guilty about everything.
So what do we do about this? Some of us pick up the phone and call our sister/mother/friend. Another might cruise the blogosphere, or may check out the church library to find yet another book on being a good wife (or mother). Others just struggle on, trying their best to do better.
I would like to suggest that there is a simple yet rich answer in the Bible. Recently, the Ladies’ Bible Study group I’m part of studied Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and it struck me again as to how rich, wise, and comforting the Bible is. As God’s Word, it is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), and speaks to us in all situations, reminding us that, ultimately, our identity is in Christ, and that, as we “live in him” (Colossians. 2:6), in the “fullness (given) in Christ” (2:10),1 in His Word (and through His Holy Spirit) he has given us every resource we need to face all of life’s challenges.
Colossians reminds us that we are daughters of King Jesus. Indeed, a key issue for the Colossian Christians and also for us today is the danger of losing the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus, thinking that we need something different, or more than just this gospel. It is so easy to get distracted – to be over (or under) zealous, or restless, or unalert – for our focus to no longer be on him. Paul’s clear message is to set our minds solely on Christ.
These are powerful words, but how does being focused on Christ help? Because I have found this message refreshing, encouraging, and challenging, I intend to write a short series of articles which reflect on and highlight various themes in this letter that teach us to move forward in our Lord Jesus, to, as Paul writes, “be mature and fully assured” (4:12).
The remarkable victory that we have as God’s people, who have “died with Christ” (2:20) and “been raised with (him)” (3:1), is played out already in this letter’s origins and context. It was written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome, and delivered to Colossae, a small town in Asia Minor not far from Ephesus, by Tychicus and Onésimus (4:7-9), and most likely read in the home of Philemon. From Paul’s letter to Philemon (delivered in the same mail bag), we learn that Onésimus was Philemon’s runaway slave, who had been converted to the gospel (perhaps by Paul in Rome), and sent by Paul back to his master. Onésimus is a real-life example of someone who was “alienated from God ... but now reconciled ... by Christ” (1:21-2). He had been “dead in sin” but is now “alive with Christ” (2:13). We also see in this how the gospel radically alters relationships – in an amazing turn of events, Onésimus returns voluntarily to his master and, we assume, Philemon accepts his slave as a “brother in the Lord” (Philemon 16).
Paul has never met this young church personally (2:1); it had come to know the Lord Jesus through Epaphras (1:7), who had heard about him from Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). Epaphras is, however, no longer in Colossae, but is with Paul in Rome (4:12-13).
Paul’s aim in writing to the Colossian congregation is to “present everyone perfect in Christ” (1:28). It seems that there is a heresy trickling in the background, although its precise details are not given. Especially in chapter 2, the Colossian Christians are warned not to be led astray, but, instead, are to remember (and live by the fact) that they have “fullness in Christ” (2:10). Maturity is thus to live out of this fullness, and to be alert to various dangers that will take their attention off Jesus.
The Challenge in Colossians
The centrality of Jesus as Saviour and Lord is thus a key theme in Colossians. Moreover, this letter recognises a common temptation in the lives of believers to remove Jesus (and the gospel of grace) from the centre, to instead replace him with something (or someone) else. In this context, a possible topic sentence in this letter could easily be 2:6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” In 1:28 Paul states that he wants to “present everyone perfect in Christ” and therefore the Colossian Christians (and we) are to remember the teaching received about Jesus. That is, that he is the anointed one (the Christ), sent by the Father, to “(rescue) us from the dominion of darkness and (bring) us into (his) kingdom” (1:13). Indeed, as Paul teaches in 1:15 20, Jesus is supreme. To give some examples: everything is created “by him and for him” (1:16), “in him all things hold together” (1:17), he is the “head of the body, the church” (1:18), “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things” (1:19-20). In other words, Jesus is our saviour and king; he is ruler of the universe and of our lives.
So then, says Paul, just as you learned these incredible things about Jesus, go on accepting him. Grow deep roots. Be established, firm, built up. That is, don’t move away, or even sideways, from the gospel of Jesus, but dig deeper into it, becoming mature in your faith. Indeed, as you grow in your relationship with Jesus, overflow with thankfulness. Knowing him results in thankfulness that cannot be contained, but spills over into every aspect of our lives.
An important question for every Christian, then, is this: is Jesus Lord of my life? Or am I tempted to cut him out of certain areas? It’s easy to sing “Jesus is Lord” but to live out this confession when the rubber hits the road can be difficult. If Jesus is our Lord, we obey him, and allow what he values to shape us and our lives. It means, for example, that I have an attitude of respect for my husband (3:18 and Ephesians 5:33), show compassion and kindness to the lonely neighbour who knocks on the door at an inconvenient time (3:12), and work diligently not for my own career advancement but for the Lord (3:23).
If Jesus is Lord of my life, I don’t add ‘little’ things to my life, or to the lives of others, in order to (in my own imagination at least) get a little closer to God. In the spirit of Colossians 2, I don’t raise my children to think that all good Christians never play computer games on a Sunday, or that Christianity is largely about doing the right thing. Instead, we model for our children and have them focus squarely on a person (Jesus), on the gospel of grace where everything revolves around what he has done – and is doing – in his redemptive plan for us.
Meeting the Challenge
How do we, however, get past the distractions, so that Jesus is truly Lord of our lives? Do we just try a little harder? Or think of someone admirable and simply choose to follow her example? Do we find inspiration in a particular author (or blog), only to find that she always seems to do a much better job than we do?
Answering these questions is the focus on my next article, but for now, it is enough to observe Paul’s focus on prayer, which he (and Epaphras) model. Paul writes: “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9), and that Epaphras’ fervent prayer is that the Colossian Christians “would stand firm” (4:12). Paul also instructs the Colossians to pray, being watchful and thankful (4:1), and also asks them to pray for him (4:3-4).
Implicit in these prayers is the belief (and trust) that only God can provide the help we need so that we are not distracted from our focus on Jesus, but, instead have our “hearts (set solely) on things above” (3:1). Indeed, that our hope for this life and the life that is to come is centred on the person of our Lord Jesus. It’s all about him, and in him we have everything we need to serve him. Paul thus writes that he labours with “all his (Jesus’) energy” (1:29), and that we “have been given fullness in Christ” (2:10).
So, do we try a little harder? Find a human solution? That should not be our primary response to life’s challenges. Instead, we rest in Jesus. We remember that we are His daughters, and pray, with Paul, that we be “strengthened with all power according to (the Lord’s) glorious might so that (we) may have great endurance and patience” (1:11). It is only when our focus is completely on Jesus that answers to and strength for the complexities of living our (imperfect and frequently difficult) lives start to fall into place.