Alan Knox


Alan Knox

Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

Do Elders Manage or Care for the Church?

When Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, he either left a letter with him or sent a letter to him in order to help his young apostolic coworker (1 Timothy). In part of that letter, Paul wrote to help his friend understand who should be recognized (or appointed) as elders among the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

In this section, Paul describes what kind of person should be an elder. There are many different descriptions within this short passage. But, for this post, I want to focus on one sentence (in two verses):

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5 ESV)

This passage is often presented as an indication that elders are “managers” over the church. However, the verbs used indicate something different.

To begin with, there are two important verbs used in this passage: “manage” (in vs. 4 & 5) and “care for” (in vs. 5).

First, the verb translated “manage” comes from the Greek verb προΐστημι (prohistemi). This verb has a wide range of meanings, including “be over,” “superintend,” and “managed” and also “aid,” “care for,” and “give attention to.” So, as the ESV translates it above, this verb can definitely mean “manage.”

In the passage above, the verb προΐστημι (prohistemi – “manage”) demonstrates the relationship between the elders and their families, especially their children. Again, in that context, “manage” would work.

Next, the verb translated “care for” comes from the Greek verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai). Unlike the verb above, this verb has a much more narrow range of meaning: “to take care of a person or thing.” This verb cannot mean “manage.”

The verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai – “take care of”) is only used in one other passage in the New Testament – in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan:

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:34-35 ESV)

It’s clear from the context above what “take care of” means. It means “to render aid” or “offer support”… it does not mean “manage.”

Now, remember, Paul is making a comparison. He’s comparing a person’s relationship to their family and suggesting that the familiar relationship will be an indication of their relationship with the church. Paul describes the familial relationship with a verb that could mean either “manage” or “care for.” But, he describes the church relationship with a verb that could only mean “care for.”

Regardless of what Paul is saying about the elders’ relationship with their family, he is definitely not saying that the elders are to “manage” the church. Instead, he is saying that elders are to “care for” the church, much like the “good samaritan” took care of the wounded traveler.

By the way, there is another Greek verb that falls within the same semantic domain (meaning) as the verb “care for” (ἐπιμελέομαιepimeleomai). Which verb is that? The verb that is usually translated “shepherd,” which is also often used to describe elders.

[I wrote a similar post about 3 1/2 years ago called "Manage his own household?" However, the Greek fonts became corrupted during a database upgrade, so I decided to rewrite the post here.]


Who Chose Bishops/Elders/Pastors in the Early Church?

Before you jump on me for my title, I’m using the traditional nomenclature. I’d prefer to simply use the term elders, which is the normal term in Scripture. However, for many among the church today, “elders” are different than “bishops,” and both of those are different than “pastors.” So, if you feel they are different, then you can assume that I’m talking about all three in this post.

In Scripture, there are only two passages related to “choosing/appointing” bishops/elders/pastors:

When they [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23 ESV)

This is why I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you… (Titus 1:5 ESV)

On the surface, it looks like Paul and Barnabas personally chose “elders” among the churches of Galatia (in Acts 14:23) and that Paul instructed Titus to personally choose “elders” among the churches (in each town) in Crete. And, that would definitely be a valid interpretation.

When we turn to later Christian writings, the interpretations become muddled:

Therefore, choose for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord… (Didache 15:1)

Those [elders] therefore who were appointed by them [apostles], or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole church… (1 Clement 44:3)

In the Didache, the author(s) definitely expected the church to choose “bishops” for themselves. There is no mention of bishops, elders, or deacons being appointed by others for the church.

Clement, meanwhile, seems to say that apostles and then later others appointed “elders.” However, he adds that little phrase “with the consent of the whole church,” which again muddles the answer. Was this just the apostles who chose “elders”? Was it later just “other men of repute” who chose elders? What does it mean that the whole church consented?

(Interestingly, while Ignatius has a lot to say about “the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons,” he does not mention who appointed or chose them. Likewise, Polycarp mentions “elders,” but he does not say who chose them.)

Of the four texts above (Acts, Titus, Didache, and 1 Clement) written by four different authors, is there any way that all four authors related the same way of choosing “bishops” and “elders” (or “pastors” if you prefer, although that term wasn’t used until much later).

If Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 indicate that ONLY Paul and Barnabas and ONLY Titus picked people to be “elders,” then we have to conclude that the Didache strays from that position.

Is it possible, though, that Luke did not intend to indicate that ONLY Paul and Barnabas were involved in appointing elders for the churches of Galatia? Is it possible that Paul did not intend to indicate that ONLY Titus was to appoint elders for the churches of Crete?

(By the way, within about 100 years of the texts listed here, the standard practice was for ONLY bishops to appoint bishops and elders, a practice which became known as successionism. But, as you can see, it was not that clear in the earliest Christian texts.)


Colossians – Updating the Outline

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life
Exhortations about family relationships
Exhortations about prayer and outsiders
Travel plans, greetings, and final exhortations
General observations

When I started this study, and after reading though the Book of Colossians several times, I presented the following as a preliminary outline:

  1. Salutation
    1. Sender (Colossians 1:1)
    2. Recipients (Colossians 1:2a)
    3. Greeting (Colossians 1:2b)
    4. Prayer/Thanksgiving/Blessing (Colossians 1:3-14)
  2. Body (Colossians 1:15-4:5)
    1. The Preeminence of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-1:23)
      1. The Preeminence of Jesus over Creation (Colossians 1:15-17)
      2. The Preeminence of Jesus over the Church (Colossians 1:18-1:23)
    2. The Example of Paul’s Service (Colossians 1:24-2:5)
    3. Practical Exhortations to the Colossians (Colossians 2:6-4:5)
      1. Negative Exhortations against trusting human wisdom (Colossians 2:6-3:4)
      2. Positive Exhortations toward living for Christ (Colossians 3:5-4:5)
  3. Travel Plans, Final Greetings, and Closing (Colossians 4:6-4:18)

During my detailed studies, going through the book verse by verse, I continually compared what I was finding with my outline. Now, I need to consider making any necessary changes to the outline, because the outline will help me decide how to teach Colossians.

One of the biggest decisions that I have to make is the relationship of the passage about the preeminence of Jesus (Colossians 1:15-1:23) to the second part of the prayer (Colossians 1:9-14). Verse 15 begins with a relative pronoun, which connects it back to verse 13-14:

… (13) who has delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred [us] into the kingdom of the son of his love, (14) in whom we have redemption which is the forgiveness of sin, (15) who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… (Colossians 1:13-15 – author’s translation)

But, it is also clear that verse 15 begins a long passage that is specifically about “the son of his love” – a passage that doesn’t end until verse 23. Similarly, it seems that this passage (Colossians 1:15-23) plays an important role in the remainder of Paul’s letter. This passage describes the authority and domain of Jesus Christ, the son of God, whom Paul serves (Colossians 1:24-2:5), in whom the Colossians should walk (Colossians 2:6-4:5), who is better than human wisdom (Colossians 2:6-3:4), who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), whose peace and message indwell the Colossians (Colossians 3:15-16), and on and on and on.

So, while verse 15 may be grammatically connected to verse 14, it seems that the passage itself rhetorically stands on its on as the beginning and foundation of the body of the letter. So, I’m going to separate Colossians 1:15-23 from the prayer in the final outline, as I did in the preliminary outline.

There are other decisions that I had to make, but I’m not going to step through the whole process here. Instead, this is my final outline:

  1. Salutation
    1. Sender (Colossians 1:1)
    2. Recipients (Colossians 1:2a)
    3. Greeting (Colossians 1:2b)
    4. Prayer/Thanksgiving/Blessing (Colossians 1:3-14)
      1. Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the Colossians (Colossians 1:3-8)
      2. Paul’s prayer for the maturity of the Colossians (Colossians 1:9-14)
  2. Body (Colossians 1:15-4:5)
    1. The Preeminence of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-1:23)
      1. The Preeminence of Jesus over Creation (Colossians 1:15-17)
      2. The Preeminence of Jesus over the Church (Colossians 1:18-1:23)
    2. Paul’s Service in response to Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:24-2:5)
    3. Exhortations for the Colossians to live for Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:6-4:5)
      1. Exhortations to trust Christ instead of human wisdom (Colossians 2:6-3:4)
      2. Exhortations to live the new life in Christ (Colossians 3:5-4:5)
        1. Exhortations to put to death the old life without Christ (Colossians 3:5-11)
        2. Exhortations to put on the personal and corporate life of Christ (Colossians 3:12-4:6)
  3. Travel Plans, Final Greetings, and Closing (Colossians 4:7-4:18)
    1. Travel plans of Paul’s co-workers (Colossians 4:7-9)
    2. Various Greetings (Colossians 4:10-17)
    3. Paul’s personal closing (Colossians 4:18)

Notice that even though it is at the lowest level of the outline, II.C.2.B (“Exhortations to put on the personal and corporate life of Christ (Colossians 3:12-4:6)”) is actually the longest section of the outline.

What would you add to my study of Colossians so far?


Colossians – General Observations

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life
Exhortations about family relationships
Exhortations about prayer and outsiders
Travel plans, greetings, and final exhortations

After reading through the letter of Colossians as a whole and studying verse by verse in detail, I want to offer a few observations concerning Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae.

As with all his letters to churches, Paul addressed this letter to the entire church – all the believers who live in Colossae. (Note: Even the letter to Philippians which includes overseers and deacons in the address was addressed to the entire church in Philippi.) (Second Note: Even the letter to Philemon was addressed to a group of believers.) This letter was probably written 5-10 years after Paul had been in Ephesus, which is when the gospel was probably spread to Colossae. In that time, it is likely that there were leaders in the church in Colossae. But Paul did not address his letter to them. Nor did Paul give specific instructions for them. While leaders are mentioned in a few letters, Paul always addresses his concerns and instructions to the entire church.

Paul presents the person and preeminence of Christ (Colossians 1:15-23) as the basis of his own thanksgiving and hope for the Colossians, the foundation of his teachings and exhortations in the letter, and as the reason and power for his ministry (service). While Paul emphasizes the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he also emphasizes the continued presence and indwelling of Christ for the Colossians. For Paul, Jesus Christ was not simply a historical figure; he was present.

Paul did not consider it boastful or arrogant to present himself and his service as an example to the Colossians. (Note: Paul does this in many, if not all, of his letters.) This personal example is especially interesting in Colossians, because the believers in Colossae had never met Paul. This tells us alot about 1) Paul’s reputation among the church at that time, and 2) the communication and interaction between the churches in various churches.

Throughout this letter, we see that Paul understands spiritual growth (maturity) and “producing fruit” as the normal outcome of the gospel. Those who are in Christ (and who therefore have Christ in them) naturally (or supernaturally) grow in Christ and with one another. Similarly, they naturally reflect Christ to others in their words and actions such that the gospel continues to the spread. This “work” is a combination of the toil and struggle of the disciples and the power, ability, and energy provided by God. (See Colossians 1:29 for a good example of this.)

Paul knew that human wisdom, traditions, philosophies, and rules and regulations would sound very appealing – whether these came from the world’s religions or simply from “secular” sources. During times of struggle and persecution (especially) the Colossians would be likely to turn back to the more palpable and comfortable ways of their old life. Instead of providing more rules and regulations (even Christian rules and regulations), Paul continually pointed them to Jesus Christ.

All of the exhortations (in the long teaching section) are provided as examples of living in Christ – not as a means of living in Christ. From the beginning of the letter, Paul expressed confidence that the Colossians were already “in Christ” (brothers and sisters, holy, faithful, etc.). (Note: This is even more clear in a letter like 1 Corinthians where the recipients were NOT demonstrating Christ even though Paul continually proclaimed that they were in Christ.)

The Colossians were responsible for themselves, their own actions, and their own attitudes, and they were also responsible for one another. The new life in Christ is demonstrated both internally (sexual immorality, impurity, lusts, anger…) as with as corporately (forgiving one another, kindness, peace…). Someone not demonstrating these kinds of characteristics are also demonstrating that they are not walking in Christ (living in Christ, putting on Christ). As Christ indwells the Colossians, they can’t help but impact one another’s life.

There are many other observations that could be made about Colossians. What would like to add?


Colossians – Travel Plans, Greetings, and Final Exhortations

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life
Exhortations about family relationships
Exhortations about prayer and outsiders

The final section of Colossians (Colossians 4:7-18) can be divided into three parts: 1) Travel plans – or introduction (Colossians 4:7-9), 2) greetings (Colossians 4:10-17), and 3) final exhortations/closing (Colossians 4:18).

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions- if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:7-18)

Instead of relaying his own travel plans (which he does in many letters), Paul instead introduces those who are bringing his letter to the Colossians: Tychicus and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9). Paul expected Tychicus to deliver the letter and to tell the Colossians about Paul’s work. He describes Tychicus as a beloved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave (co-slave). Furthermore, Paul expects that Tychicus will be an encouragement to the Colossians, and, when he returns, he will be able to tell Paul how things are going with the believers in Colossae.

Furthermore, Paul sends along Onesimus. He says that Onesimus is a faithful and beloved brother. The phrase “one of you” indicates that Onesimus resided in the Colossae. We learn more about Onesimus’ background – and the main reason that Paul sent him to Colossae – in Paul’s letter to Philemon.

In the next section, Paul sends greetings from several of the believers who were traveling with him (Colossians 4:10-14). There are a few Jewish Christians still with him (Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus/Justus) and a few Gentiles (Epaphras, Luke, and Demas). There may be others. Perhaps these are some of the people who traveled to Colossae to proclaim the good news while Paul was in Ephesus. While we don’t personally know these individuals, we can learn alot about how these believers interacted with and related to one another by looking at Paul’s descriptions of his fellow servants.

Paul then asks the Colossians to send along his greetings to the believers who are in Laodicea, and specifically to Nympha and the church that meets in her house (Colossians 4:15). Paul expected there to be interaction and close relations between the believers in these neighboring cities. Furthermore, Paul had sent a letter to Laodicea, and he expected these two groups of believers to read each other’s letters (Colossians 4:16). (It is interesting that Paul expected the Colossians and Laodiceans to give the same attention to the letter he sent to believers sent to another city, even though 1) it was specifically sent to another group of believers, and 2) we do not currently have the letter to the Laodiceans.)

Paul sends specific greetings (and exhortations) to Archippus: “See to the service which you received in the Lord, in order that you fulfill it (the service)” (Colossians 4:17). (Paul also addresses the letter “to Philemon” to Archippus along with a few other people and the church that meets in Archippus’ house.) Paul doesn’t specify whether he is encouraging Archippus in a certain type of service, or a certain way of serving, or even a certain opportunity to serve. But, we can assume that Archippus understood (and the Colossians probably understood as well), and that we can use this as an example of encouraging others in service.

Finally, Paul closes the letter by writing a greeting himself, indicating that most of the letter was written by someone else – probably a secretary known as an amanuensis (Colossians 4:18). He asks them to remember (probably in prayer) that he is in prison, and he prays for God’s grace to be with them. While it is a common greeting and closing in Paul’s letter, a prayer for grace is especially fitting for this letter to the Colossians.

These final lines from Paul again show a care and concern for the Colossians, even though Paul had never met them. Among many other things, we can learn from Paul concern – a concern that led him to even write a letter, which was a long and expensive proposition at that time. Plus, he sent the letter along with two of his trusted co-servants. He would certainly miss them while they were gone. Paul obviously loved the Colossians very much.

What would you like to add this this study of Colossians 4:7-18?


Colossians – Exhortations about Prayer and Outsiders

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life
Exhortations about family relationships

In this post, I’m going to look at the last part of the long teaching / paraenesis section that runs from Colossians 2:6-23. The passage I’m examining this time is Colossians 4:2-6:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:2-6)

This passage can be divided into two parts: 1) exhortations concerning prayer and 2) exhortations concerning outsiders. Remember with that these instructions, Paul continues to describe what it means to walk in Christ (or to live in him).

In the first part, Paul begins his exhortations concerning prayer by instructing the Colossians to be steadfast (persist in or be busily engaged in) (Colossians 4:2). His encouragements to “be watchful” is reminiscent of Jesus’ teachings concerning the destruction of the temple. But Paul adds that the Colossians should be thankful while they are alert in prayer. He also asks that the Colossians include himself and his team while they are praying (Colossians 4:3). Specifically, Paul wants them to pray that God would give them opportunities to present Christ clearly (Colossians 4:4). (As an aside, it is always comforting to me when I see Paul asking for prayer for opportunities or boldness to present Christ, and that he would do so clearly. Paul was more human than we often make him out to be.)

Next, Paul tells the Colossians to “walk in wisdom” (live wisely) among those who are “outside” (Colossians 4:5). “Outsiders” certainly refers to those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. The Colossians are to make the most of the time that they have when with nonbelievers. Paul tells them that when they are speaking with “outsiders,” the Colossians should always speak with grace and, and their words should be “seasoned with salt.” While most scholars would probably disagree with me, I think “seasoned with salt” is a reference back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13).

The reason for the grace and “salt” is so that they will be able to answer each person. The assumption is the when the Colossians “walk with Christ,” the “outsiders” will notice and will ask about it.

While we read Paul instructions and exhortations for the Colossians (beginning in Colossians 2:6), we should never forget that Paul begins by reminding them they have already received Christ; they are holy. Now, he tells them what it should look like when they actually live in the new life they have in Christ. These instructions are not to teach them how to become holy or how to receive Christ or how to be a Christian. Instead, the instructions are to help them compare their own lives with what a new life in Christ would look like.

Furthermore, all of these exhortations are given as commands. Just as Paul recognized that he had to work hard in his service of the gospel, the Colossians also must work hard in living in their new life in Christ. But, also, just as Paul recognized that his service was only possible by the the power that God supplied, he wanted the Colossians to understand that God would provide the power they needed to live in Christ. (See Colossians 1:29.)

What would you add to this study of Colossians 4:2-6?


Colossians – Exhortations about Family Relationships

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life

This next passage continues from – and is part of – Paul’s previous exhortations to “put on” Christ as a new way of life. Furthermore, this is all part of a teaching / paraenesis passage in Colossians 2:6-23. Here is the passage for this post:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18-25)

In this passage, Paul deals specifically with familial relationships (physical family) among those who are believers. Just as the person’s personal characteristics and relationships among the body of Christ will change, their relationships with their spouses, children, parents, masters, and/or slaves will also change when they “put on” Christ.

These three relationship pairs (husband/wife, parent/children, master/slave) are common delineations of family relationships in the ancient world. In fact, one ancient philosopher once argued that these people/relationships make up the family, but that the family did not include property and possessions (which tells us something about what the ancient world thought of slaves).

Paul begins by saying that wives should submit themselves to their husbands in whatever way that is proper in the Lord (Colossians 3:18). Similarly, and perhaps more strongly, husbands are commanded to love their wives and to not make them bitter or angry (Colossians 3:19). Interestingly, both commands call for actions from one part to the other (i.e., wives to husbands, or husbands to wives); however, only the husbands are called to be responsible for provoking the actions and attitudes of the others (wives).

Unlike wives to husbands, children are told to obey everything that their parents tell them. Paul says that this kind of obedience by children pleases the Lord (Colossians 3:20). Paul exhorts fathers (or perhaps parents) not to irritate or provoke their children so that they are not discouraged (Colossians 3:21). In context, he probably means discouraged against the Lord.

Paul covers the master/slave relationships in more detail. Perhaps, in the new life in Christ, this relationship requires the most care (i.e., is the most different from societal norms). As with children, he tells slaves to obey earthly masters in everything (Colossians 3:22). The slaves are not to obey simply to attract attention to themselves or even to please other people (masters), but they are to obey out of the sincerity of their heart because of their fear of God. Paul emphasizes this point by instructing slaves to work hard for their earthly masters as if they were working for God (because they are!), knowing that God himself would reward them for their hard work (Colossians 3:23-24).

The final statement to slaves is probably meant as a warning to both slaves and masters, and connects the two instructions together (Colossians 3:25). Paul says that whoever does wrong will be punished (presumably by God), and God punishes without partiality (i.e., slaves and masters).

Finally, Paul directly addresses earthly masters (slave owners) and tells them treat their slaves with justice and fairness (equality) (Colossians 4:1). He says that the masters are to remember that they are also slaves and that they serve a heavenly master. This could be a warning (like Colossians 3:25), or it could be an exhortation to be the kind of master that God is.

What would you like to add to my discussion of Colossians 3:18-25?


Colossians – Exhortation to Put on Christ as a New Way of Life

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life

In the previous passage, Paul exhorted the Colossians to put off their old way of life (Colossians 3:5-11). (Remember, that passage and the following are part of a longer teaching / paraenesis section in Colossians 2:6-23.) However, it is not enough to simply stop doing the things of the earth. Instead, Paul says the Colossians should now live in a completely new and different way – in the way of Christ.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

Paul reminds them that they are God’s chosen people, they are holy (separate), and they are loved. Because of this, he says that should “put on” certain characteristics (using the metaphor of getting dressed – in fact, it could even be translated “Clothe yourselves with...” [Colossians 3:12]) Again, we should not take these characteristics (“compassion, kindness, humility…”) as exhaustive. Instead, they are representative of the kind of life that a person lives in Christ. Paul pauses momentarily on the importance of forgiveness and patience when dealing with one another (Colossians 3:13). Of course, the impetus for forgiving one another is the fact that they have all been forgiven in Christ (Colossians 3:14).

But, as much emphasis as Paul puts on forgiveness, he emphasizes love even more (Colossians 3:15). He says that above everything else, they should be clothed in love. Love, Paul says, binds everything together in perfect unity. Without love, the other characteristics fall apart. This is similar to what he tells the Corinthians about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13).

But living this new way of life – living life in Christ – does not just affect personal characteristics. A person’s relationships with others is also changed. The first exhortation appears to be personal also: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” (Colossians 3:15). But, Paul says they were called into “one body” for this very peace. So, the peace of Christ affects them individually, but it also affects them as a community, and leads to thankfulness.

Similarly, Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell (live) among your richly (abundantly)” (Colossians 3:16). Previously, I noted that Paul says the “word” is Christ himself. So, this may better be translated as “Let the word – which is Christ…” or “Let the message about Christ….” What happens when Christ (or the gospel) lives among them? They teach and admonish one another, and they sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in their hearts to the Lord (Jesus). Remember that “teaching and admonishing” was part of Paul’s on ministry of the gospel on behalf of the church (Colossians 1:28). So, Paul is saying that when Christ dwells among the Colossians, they will teach and admonish one another, just as Paul teaches and admonishes others.

Paul wraps up this section with a general exhortation (Colossians 3:17): Speak every word and do every deed in the name (authority and character and presence) of Jesus Christ. And in everything, be thankful to God. Of course, this command covers both putting to death the things of the earth and the worldly lifestyle as well as dressing in the things of Christ.

What would you add to my study of this passage in Colossians?


Colossians – Exhortation to Put off an Earthly Way of Life

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4

As I am studying through Colossians, I am in the middle of a long teaching (paraenesis) in Colossians 2:6-23.

In this next section, Paul builds on his previous exhortations. Remember that he has been encouraging his readers to trust Christ alone so that they are not deceived into following human wisdom, philosophies, traditions, rationalizations, rules and regulations, etc. (Colossians 2:6-23). In this passage, Paul begins some general exhortations about what is means to walk (live) in a manner that is worthy of Christ and the gospel:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:5-11)

At first glance, this passage seems to contradict an earlier statement where Paul said that rules and regulations (“Do not handle; do not taste; do not touch”) are of no value to the one who is in Christ (Colossians 2:20-23). The difference, however, is in the purpose and motivations. In the previous passage, Paul said that these rules and regulations are of no benefit toward making someone holy (in Christ) or in helping someone deny the flesh (avoid temptations). In this passage, Paul starts with the fact that the person is already in Christ, and is answering the question, “So how do we live now that we are in Christ?”

Paul had written previously that the Colossians had died to their old way of life, and here he continues that theme by saying that should then put to death the things that were part of their old life (Colossians 3:5). While Paul lists a few things that belong to the old way of life, the list should not be taken as exhaustive. Instead, these are examples of “earthly” living and follows from “earthly” thinking.

Paul reminds them of two things related to these “old” ways of living: 1) these are the things that deserve and that provoke the wrath of God, and 2) they have already participated in these things in the past (Colossians 3:6-7). These reminders should lead toward praise and thanksgiving, and away from pride.

Paul again lists a few “vices” of the old life and focuses on lying as an example (Colossians 3:8-9). For the person who has laid aside (or “put to death”) the old way of living and has been raised with Christ into a new life and new way of living; lying to brothers and sisters should be a completely foreign concept. Instead, the new way of living flows from “the new” (the new self, the new life) which is constantly being renewed by Jesus Christ, the one who created the new life in the first place (Colossians 3:10).

To whom is this new life available (and who should be able to put away the old way of life)? Any who are in Christ. This applies to all nationalities, genders, ethnicities, social statuses, etc. (Colossians 3:11). Why? Because in Christ, all are now new people. They are not defined in the way the world defines them (based on nationality, gender, ethnicity, social status, etc.), but they are not identified with and defined by Christ. He is all, and he is in all.

This new way of life – the manner of living in Christ – is not dependent upon culture. Regardless of what society or culture deems acceptable or good, the one who is in Christ lives as Christ would, not as culture dictates.

What would you add to my study of this passage in Colossians?


Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 4

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3

I’ve been studying through the section of Colossians in which Paul exhorts his readers to trust Christ and not human wisdom, philosophy, traditions, etc (Colossians 2:6-23). This is the last part of this section. (As a reminder, this section is part of a larger exhortation/paraenesis (teaching) section that runs from Colossians 2:6 through Colossians 4:6.)

Here is the final passage in this section:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Once again, Paul returns to the baptism imagery (which points to the actual death and resurrection of Christ) to remind his readers of their position in Christ. He expects that a reminder of their relationship to God through Christ will help them stay away from human wisdom, philosophy, traditions, rules and regulations, etc.

Paul begins by reminding them that they were raised when Christ was raised (resurrected) (“Therefore, since you were raised together with Christ…”) (Colossians 3:1). While the English translation “if” above suggests that “raised together” may not have happened, a better translation of “since” puts Paul’s later exhortation in the proper perspective. Paul has already recognized their relationship with God through Christ, so he is not calling that into question now. Instead, he is using that relationship (which does exist) to punctuate and highlight what follows.

Since the Colossians were raised together with Christ, Paul exhorts them to both seek and to think about “the things that are above.” He explains that “the things that are above” are the things of Christ who is presently positioned at “the right hand of God,” which is a indication of power and authority, not necessarily of location (since Paul has already stated that Christ is present with the Colossians).

“The things that are above” – that is, the things related to Christ – are contrasted to “the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2). In this section, it seems that Paul specifically has in mind the philosophies, traditions, logic, and rationalization (way of thinking) related to the world and its systems and rulers. Using “the mind of Christ” (as Paul would say to other readers) could appear contradictory and irrational and even unwise when viewed from a human perspective. But, Paul says, the Colossians are not supposed to view things from a human perspective, but from Christ’s perspective.

Paul again reminds the Colossians that they died together with Christ and are raised to new life – a new life that is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). (Even if there was some question as to whether Colossians 3:1should be translated, “If you were raised,” or “Since you were raised,” this sentence makes it clear that Paul believes the Colossians both died with Christ and now live in him.) But to whom or to what have the lives of the Colossians been hidden? Obviously, their lives have not been hidden from Christ or from God, since they are hidden with Christ in God. In context, their life (or perhaps “way of life”) has been hidden from those who continue to use human wisdom and who attempt to “capture” them using human philosophies, logic, traditions, rules and regulations, etc.

This will certainly lead to conflict with the Colossians who walk with Christ and others who walk in human wisdom. This conflict may also lead to pain and suffering on the part of the Colossian believers. What is the solution? When Christ is finally revealed as Lord, the Colossian Christians will also be revealed in his glory (Colossians 3:4). At the time, the truth will be obvious: Christ was life (and way of life) for the Colossians.

In this last statement, Paul goes beyond the baptism imagery that we’ve seen previously. Before, Paul pointed back to their baptism as a reminder of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, in this last sentence, he includes the Colossians in the second coming of Christ. When Christ is revealed (appears), they will also be revealed (appear) together with him.

As a reminder, in this section of Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23) Paul has alternated between exhorting the Colossians to trust only Christ and warning them against being tricked into living according to human wisdom and traditions. He began with a reminder that they received Christ and must therefore live as Christ would live, being completely dependent on him (Colossians 2:6). He also ends by reminding the Colossians that they died with Christ and now live in Christ, and that they should continue in the way of Christ until both Jesus and they are revealed in truth and glory.

What would you add to my study of this section of Colossians?


Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 3

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2

As I continue studying through this section of Colossians, in this post I will focus on this passage:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” ( referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:16-23)

In this passage, Paul again warns the Colossians against trusting human traditions, even those that appear to promote some type of wisdom. In our terms, this human wisdom and philosophy would seem to be rational and logical and even religious. However, Paul says to stay away from these things and only trust Christ.

Paul begins by warning that some would attempt to “pass judgment” on the Colossians based upon whether or not they kept certain rules and regulations related to food, drink, or special days (Colossians 2:16). He immediately jumps to the problem with these kinds of rules and regulations. While they may have had a good purpose in the past, they were only a shadow of the reality that the Colossians now have in Christ himself (Colossians 2:17).

While the previous warnings may have been against practices related to Judaism, the next warnings are broader, and perhaps dip into some pagan practices. Paul says that some will judge the Colossians based on their views of asceticism, the worship of angels, or following dreams and visions (Colossians 2:18). Again, the problem with these practices is that growth does not come from them. Instead, Paul says, growth comes only by holding fast to the head (previously identified as Jesus Christ – Colossians 1:18) and being joined together in community with one another (Colossians 2:19). This is the growth that comes from God.

Paul exhorts his readers based on their new life in Christ. He reminds them that together with Christ they have died to their old life (“Since you died with Christ…”), so they should no longer follow the basic principles that guide this world (Colossians 2:20). Paul says that the world’s wisdom teaches, “Do not handle; do not taste; do not touch” (and other such prohibitions), but that these kinds of rules and regulations have no power to break the tempations that lead to sin (Colossians 2:21-23). To the world (and obviously to many Christians today), prohibitions such as these are the basis of following God. But, for the one who is in Christ, they have no value against temptation and sin.

Now, one question we must consider is this: Were the Colossians currently falling for these kinds of human rules and regulations, thinking that they were living godly lives by obeying them? It’s possible. However, it is also possible that Paul was teaching in general. Usually, when Paul is dealing with current problems among the believers of a city, he would say something like, “It has been reported to me…” (1 Corinthians 1:11), or “I am astonished that you…” (Galatians 1:6), and then he would identify the particular problem that exists.

Next, there is a clear warning here for modern churches. Many seem to define themselves based on what they are against or what they do not allow “their members” to do. Paul would teaching against this, saying their is no value for growth in this kind of teaching. Instead, he would exhort them to trust Christ alone, not those rules and regulations of human invention (even those that seem to produce godliness).

What would add to my discussion of this passage?


Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 2

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1

In my previous post, I began the section of Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23) while Paul alternates between exhortations to trust Christ (alone) and warnings against following human wisdom. This section is introduced in Colossians 2:6-10.

In the next few posts, I am going to continue studying this section verse by verse. However, it is helpful to notice that Paul jumps back and forth between these two contrasts. The whole section should be studied and understood together.

I will begin by looking at the first exhortations to trust only Christ, since this is where Paul begins:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

Paul begins by using circumcision as a metaphor. (Colossians 2:11) The metaphor demonstrates the “putting off” of the “body of flesh.” (Later we see that Paul says the “uncircumcision of the flesh” is related to being “dead in trespasses.” It is clear that Paul has a metaphorical circumcision in view because he specifically says it is a “circumcision made without hands” and a “circumcision of Christ.”

The circumcision metaphor is intertwined with another metaphor: baptism. Immersion into water in baptism (No, I don’t want to start a theological debate here, but “baptism” means “immersion” and the imagery uses that meaning.) represents being buried with Christ. And being raised back out of the water in baptism represents being resurrected with Christ (Colossians 2:12).

Continuing with the interwoven metaphors of circumcision and baptism, Paul wants his readers to see that their sins have been “cut off” (much like in circumcision) and that they are now alive in Christ (much like they were raised out of the water in baptism) (Colossians 2:13). While he uses metaphors to get his point across, to Paul the forgiveness of sin and the new life in Christ is very real. In fact, he says that our sin debt has been paid in full (“nailed to the cross”) by the death of Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:14)

But Christ’s death did more than cancel all records of our sins. Paul also says that, through his death, Christ removed all rights that others might have on the children of God (Colossians 2:15). He “disarmed” them, stripping off all power that they may have had to control those who are now risen with him.

This last point becomes very important as Paul continues his argument. These rulers and authorities (whether earthly or heavenly) might make claims on or offer philosophical arguments against God’s children. These claims and arguments might sound good, and even be rational and believable. But Paul says those rulers and authorities have been stripped of all power of those who are in Christ.

In this passage, it is clear that the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is extremely important for Paul and his readers. While he uses metaphorical language of circumcision and baptism, the metaphors point to the reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In that event, God canceled the sin debt for all those who are in Christ and removed them from power and authority of earthly or spiritual rulers.

What would you add to my study of this section of Colossians?