“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:26-27.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Especially one that has been kept hidden for ages and generations and now is finally being disclosed? This word picture from Paul is Indiana Jones-like imagery. Something wonderful and powerful has been hidden away for a long, long time and is now finally unleashed. By the end of this remarkable introduction to his Colossians letter, Paul has us all leaning in, desperate to know what it is.
Imago Dei – Created in God’s Image
I believe when God created man (and woman) in His own image, this mystery was more apparent to the angels looking on than to the created man. Being created in God’s image, whatever else that means, surely includes being created with the capacity to be indwelled by God’s own Spirit. Man was created with a void in the shape of God’s spirit; a void that would not be filled on a large scale until a day we know as Pentecost.
Everything changed at Pentecost. The answer to the mystery of what that void was all about was then revealed. For the first time, the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. While we see appearances of His Spirit earlier in His story, temporarily filling individuals for limited purposes. But Pentecost was different. It was a permanent filling of every believer. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:15-20
I had a conversation with a friend today about the place (or not) for marketing principles in the church. Not gonna get into all the various pros and cons in that discussion here. However, I do think there is (at least) one interesting dilemma any marketing professional might face in trying to help a given church with a marketing plan. I am not convinced all of us as church leaders even agree on what, exactly, our product is. That is a sad problem. But it is not a new problem. Paul addressed it in his writing. More than once.
The Colossian Paradox
After a (frankly) gushing introduction in his letter praising the little church at Colossae for its impressive faith and reliance on Jesus, Paul does something interesting: he reminds them of how important Jesus is. It almost feels out of place. He heaps the praises on them. You are faithful! You are on the right track! Being gospel-centered, you are getting it right and we have heard all about your impressive faith in Jesus! And then he launches into …
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Colossians 1:3-5
Why Authenticity Matters
There is a lot of talk these days about authenticity. According to most “experts”, authenticity is among the very highest values in our culture’s two youngest adult generations. That reality has brought authenticity to center stage in most churches’ efforts to more effectively reach those two generations. All of us, after all, are deeply troubled by the mass exodus by our adult children’s generation from the church. But, while everyone seems to understand how important authenticity is (especially for the church), I wonder how much consensus there is among church leaders about what authenticity even looks like in the church corporately? When it comes to being authentic (as a church), what does the “win” look like? More specifically, are there metrics? Are there particular, measurable characteristics or attitudes in a church that translate into actual authenticity? I believe there are. And, while there are probably many places we could find such descriptions in scripture, the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians is particularly compelling.
Why the Letter to the Colossians is Helpful
Paul wrote his letter to the church in Colossae having never met them. He did not start this particular community of believers and, to our knowledge, did not know them as of the writing of his letter. So, his introductory remarks wherein he found them to be particularly authentically Christ-centered, were grounded strictly on characteristics that were observable and measurable by others. In other words, he was not biased by any personal relationships within that church. For …
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27
Of all the miracles referenced in the Bible, the Pentecost miracle in Acts 2 may be at the top of my list of moments I would love to have seen. The tongues of fire ushering down God’s Spirit to indwell God’s people…wow!
In terms of their impact on this world and the ushering in of a completely new chapter in God’s story, I tend to think of the crucifixion, the resurrection and Pentecost as three aspects of a single, “this changes everything” moment in history. All are significant in themselves, but all are necessary to bring about the age of the church. It is a little like a three-legged stool in that regard. Take any one of the legs away and you have an entirely different situation.
These three events (which all happened within just a few weeks of each other), taken together, changed forever the way God would relate to his creation…AND the way we, His children, would relate to each other.
Follow the history with me through the Bible…
In the garden, God related to Adam and Eve through an interpersonal relationship (yes, I am quite the literalist in my interpretation of scripture). …
As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east,the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple. Ezekiel 43:4-5
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12
Do you know what it feels like to temporarily lose access to God? Are you familiar with the loss of not being able to find God today in the exact same place you found Him yesterday? Then you know something of the pain of the exiles to whom Ezekiel spoke.
I cannot even imagine a world where “the glory of the Lord” is geographical, i.e., in a particular place, such that it leaves that place and then returns to that place. To those of us living in the age of the church, that concept is rather foreign, because, for us, the Spirit of God quite literally resides in every believer. But we trust God’s Word to nonetheless have a word for us through this very vivid imagery of Ezekiel’s prophecy. What, then, is our contemporary take-away from Ezekiel’s visions about being “in” and “out” of the presence of the Lord? Surely, these visions speak about truths on multiple levels…one for the exiles in Babylon, one for us today, and yet another for those in the end times (to name a few).
For us today, if it is true that the Spirit of God resides in every believer (Col. 1:27; John 15:5; 1 John 4:12), then the easiest way to be “cut off” from God is to be “cut off” from the brother in whom He resides. Broken relationships, you see, are a contemporary version of living outside …
…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:26-27
…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13
We have lots of “critters” come through our backyard. Over the last 20 years or so, we’ve had raccoons, possums, coral snakes, skunks, and birds galore. We even had a Road Runner hatched under our deck once (different story…maybe a future post). In her younger days, Lacee (our Cocker Spaniel…no longer with us) would sometimes bring us “trophies” which she had caught. And her favorite was always possums.
The thing about possums is that, when your dog brings you one and it looks lifeless enough, you can’t be too quick to judge. There is a reason they call it “playing possum”. You have to poke it a few times to see if it’s really dead. Sometimes even that doesn’t work. Then you have to leave it alone out on the patio for a few minutes and wait and see if it gets up and scurries off. But if it’s still there the next morning, you can go ahead and dispose of it. It’s dead. Score one for Lacee.
In my church’s youth gatherings on Wednesday nights, they have been watching an Andy Stanley video series on what it means to be “fishers of men”. At that same time, I’ve been spending time in one of my favorite passages: Colossians 1. I have written about it in previous posts (e.g., here). This is Paul’s very cool statement about “the great mystery …