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God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 15 - Colossians; Philemon: Religious Rules Distract from Oneness with God

Today’s Reading: Colossians; Philemon

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul warns the Colossian Christians not to be led by people who make things off-limits.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Colossians

Paul and Timothy to the Christians in Colosse:
We thank God for your steadfast faith. The Message never weakens or changes! We pray you won't, either.
We see in Jesus God setting everyone's relationship right. Be confident in Christ. Stay away from human traditions and spiritual superstitions. Baptism is ritual enough. If you are serious about Christ's Resurrected Life, live it! Focusing on labels misses Christ.
Set things right. Help each other live the Resurrected Life—wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters alike.
Pray. Help outsiders set things right.
Many with me send greetings. Echo our greetings to Laodicea.

Philemon

Paul and Timothy to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the church in your house:
I pray your faith continues.
I have a favor to ask. I realize I have God's Authority to command you to do it, but I prefer to ask. Onesimus is no longer the runaway slave you once had. I have sent him to you at a great pain to my work because it is right. Please accept him as our brother. I will pay for any damages he caused—but remember the debt you owe me!
I hope to see you again.
People with me greet you.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Our work is directly tied to God's Work.

In Colossians, Paul wants to make sure they realize that their focus should be on God's Work, not on religion. As they focus more and more on God's Work they will be closer and closer to God's Life. As they set things right as God sets things right they will be set free from darkness and death and live a rich life with God. Until we recognize and join God's Work, we will never have a truly righteous life. The great thing about God's Work is that the entire world fits His Way. We can understand the world by understanding God.

We preach Christ, not religion.

It is Jesus that set all things right through His Death. Humans are incapable of setting things right because we are easily distracted by physical things—either for selfish reasons or for "pious" reasons. We focus on doing or not doing things instead of God's Work. When we focus on what we should or should not do or touch or when we focus on spirits, angels, and horoscopes we add to the message we send. The Message is simple—all things are set right though Jesus!
Reading from The Message helped me realize that Paul is not mentioning some unnamed group of Gnostics who are troubling these Christians. He is talking about the Jews who are trying to get the Gentile Christians to go along with the Law of Moses. Growing up, I never put the two together. Now I realize the things I was taught were important—baptism, no musical instruments in worship, no alcohol, etc.—were simply distractions from the Message of Jesus. They are not helpful in growing intimacy with God and Christ. They are, as Paul put it, "pretentious and infantile religion" (2:20). They may sound impressive but in the end only make ourselves look important. Baptism is tolerated because it helps tie us to God. It is a ritual which is not magical, but is important because it gives us a physical tie to God—similar to circumcision for Jews.

Our old life is dead and our new Life focuses on setting things right.

As mentioned earlier, the freedom we receive in Christ is not meant to be a blank check to do whatever we wish. Paul wants God's Chosen People to remember that we have a new Life, one that does not sin. We have a life shaped by God, not by physical urges. Some may consider these comments distractions based on the previous point, but in reality our old life takes us away from God and our new Life brings us closer to Him. The exact way I pray/sing/take communion does not necessarily bring me closer or farther from God. If I lie to my brothers I am going away from God. That is why God wants to make sure we do not lie. We want God's Clothing. To do that we must take off our old, dirty clothes and put on His new, holy Clothes. We sing to help push each other to clothe ourselves in Christ.

The story of Onesimus is the story of his relationship with God being set right.

Onesimus ran away from Philemon, most likely with stolen money or property. Yet he has changed to the point that Paul does not want to send him back. Onesimus is too valuable to Paul to allow him to leave. But Paul must do what is right. What a grand transformation—from fugitive slave to essential worker for God. When God sets our relationship right, we can overcome any problem we had.

Paul tells Philemon to no longer see Onesimus as a physical being anymore but as a spiritual brother.

Paul's letter to Philemon is very interesting. In it he does not advocate for the abolition of slavery but instead Paul advocates for the abolition of seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ as physical beings. Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his spiritual life to Paul and should take that into consideration before punishing Onesimus. Onesimus deserves justice. He should receive mercy because everyone deserves justice but God gives us mercy.

Do you distract others by teaching them religion instead of how to set things right?


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