Day 2 Colossians 1:2 In Christ, in Colossae
“To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (1:2)
I am reminded of the words of Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel. In the 17th chapter Jesus prayed:
And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father keep them in Thy name, the name which thou has given Me, that they may be one, even as we are…I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world…I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one….I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; and they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.” (John 17:11, 14-15, 20-21, NASB)
Here in this mere introductory verse of this very important epistle, Paul the apostle defines the complex nature of the Christian faith. Those who are Christians are at once in Christ and in Colossae. Now of course, in this case, Colossae is a metaphor for ‘the world’ which we will explore in a minute. (The Greek reads ‘in Christ in Colossae’ even though some translations, like the NIV, obscure this important point of contrast.)
So NT Wright writes:
This encourages us to take ‘in Christ’ in a locative sense, i.e. neither merely as a synonym for Christian nor in a sense of ‘mystical absorption’, but as referring to the Messiah, the anointed King, in whom the true people of God find their identity. Thus to be described as ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Colosse’ is to be located with precision in the purposes of God, as a member both of his true people and of that particular earthly community where one is called to service and witness.” (Tyndale Commentary on Colossians & Philemon—47)
I think the Apostle is referring to something deep; the emphasis is on the location of the new life, not the new life as such. Perhaps he is reflecting on the words of Jesus’ prayer. Whatever the case, we live out this new life in Christ which seems to indicate that we do not live it apart from Christ and that to attempt to is to deny the very life that we have because we are in Him. Here the Apostle is talking about the comprehensive place where the life is lived from. It is a life characterized by his presence. In Him we live and move and have our being. The Christian cannot live or function apart from this ‘in-ness’ and it is maddening futility to attempt to do so. “In Christ” locates grace, peace, salvation and hope. We move forward, each step, in Him and because of Him. But ultimately we do not stray from Him and ultimately return to Him. (‘In Christ’ appears in Colossians: 1:4, 14, 16, 17, 19; 2:3, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15; 3:18, 20; 4:7, 17.)
Perhaps we do not consider the importance of this position often enough. We are a located people and this is especially important when we consider our other position in Colossae. These two positions stand in opposition to one another and yet, as Wright points out, one is the power by which we do ministry in the other. They are in tension with one another because no matter if we live in Columbus or Cancun or Antarctica our allegiance is always to Christ first—maybe I should go so far as to say our allegiance is to Christ only. See, the apostle says we are in Christ first and in Colossae second. I will also note, as this series goes along that the apostle has a plethora of different ways in which he describes this new position we possess. They are contrary to one another and yet we cannot escape this sort of dual identity. We are marked both by our position in Christ and in Colossae.
The pressure of living in Colossae is incredible. Our allegiance is being tested in a 1000 ways a day. How does one manage this pressure? We do so, I believe, by remembering where we are first: in Christ. The struggle to remain in Christ is amplified by all sorts of antagonists and the temptation to find our ourselves at home in Colossae is great. We can grow too comfortable here. We can also grow discouraged by all the trouble we see. We can grow weary from all the burdens we feel compelled to carry around with us each day. So the apostle reminds the Holy and Faithful ones living in Christ in Colossae of what is theirs in God the Father: Grace and Peace.
Peace is a rather strange idea in our war saturated world. Many claim they can provide peace, and many others promise peace for a small fee or compromise. “Peace, peace,” they cry, and our allegiance is expected if we are going to continue in the peace they promise. But how can we be people of peace when we are living in Colossae—the land of war—when so much compromise is undoubtedly expected? It can be terribly discouraging, to be sure. Well, we must recognize that the peace we are searching for comes from God the Father. Those who are in Christ will be people of peace—I don’t think this is something we have to search for or grope for, it is something that is ours by virtue of our being found in Christ.
But there is also the idea of God’s grace. Not only do we live in the peace of God, but we also live in the grace of God. This is so liberating! We are people of Grace. I think this means that we are not only people who are saved by Grace (in Christ) but we are also people who must be conduits of grace by living out that which saves us (in Colossae). Grace is the fountain in the middle of the city—the refreshing spring we hover around and return to on a continual basis. Colossae needs more fountains of grace.
Finally, the apostle says we are to be Holy and Faithful in Christ in Colossae. Like peace, holiness and faithfulness are complex ideas in a world of war. With so much temptation and diversion around us it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the holy and faithful people we are expected to be. Again, however, we must remember: We are in Christ first. This is our first and foremost position and this is no small thing indeed. Everything we are and everything we face is in Christ. So this means Colossae has no grip on us even if its power is seen all around us.
I want to encourage you who are in Colossae who belong to Christ. Colossae is the dominant feature in this world and it can easily crowd in on us, wear us out, drag us down, strangle us, suffocate us. Most are friendly to Colossae and give no consideration to those in Christ. Colossae is our secondary position. Here we are strangers, sojourners, and aliens (see 1 Peter 1). Our true home is found in Christ. And in Christ we find refreshing grace, satisfying peace and these enable us to live the Holy and Faithful lives demanded of those who are in Christ. So I encourage you who are living in a difficult place right now. Remember, Colossae exists and is to be contended with constantly by the Christian. But nothing can disturb your position in Christ–especially Colossae, no matter how often it snaps its jaws, no matter how ugly it becomes.
We belong to Christ first and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ (See Romans 8).
Soli Deo Gloria!
ps-I should have given more time to discussion ‘holiness’ and ‘faithfulness’ in this context as they are important and significant features of the Christian position. I am certain they will be brought up in other contexts in Colossians as we move through the letter.