by Rev. Ian Arnold
Thinking about it, none of us should be surprised that in the towns and cities where the apostle Paul evangelised most if not all were melting pots of ideas, philosophies, heresies, mythologies, superstitions and attempts of all sorts to make sense of life, of the ways to betterment, of the role of God (more, then, of gods) and of such things as to how to manage people’s relationship with Him (with them). It took a brave man – which Paul was – to challenge those ideas and ways of thinking. We know that he, sometimes along with his companions, risked his life, was run out of town, vilified, beaten and imprisoned. Called by God, as he unwaveringly believed himself to be, he was undaunted. In the end he was martyred under the Roman emperor Nero.
Nothing exists now of what was then the city of Colossae. Once important and prosperous, it had thrived from being strategically located at the intersection of key trade routes. It was in fact already in decline in Paul’s day. As with some of his other epistles which bear the names of cities of that time, Paul never visited Colossae though a number of prominent Christian converts came from there including Epaphras. It was through Epaphras, so it is thought, that Christianity was introduced to Colossae sometime in the late A.D 40’s or 50’s.
Visiting Paul, by then under house arrest in Rome, A.D 61 or thereabouts, Epaphras reported to him strange teaching, heresies and practices creeping into the Church at Colossae. Paul’s response to what was reported to him is, essentially, what this epistle is about.
Whilst details are lacking the epistle itself pinpoints where things, in Colossae, were going astray. We know, for instance, that there had begun to develop an unhealthy focus on outward observances such as feasts, fasts and circumcision. (See Chapter 2: verses 16 and following). As well, local leaders of the church there were boasting a higher knowledge (echoes of Gnosticism). (See Chapter 2: verses 6 to 8). And the activity of the spirit world, specifically of power – and worship – mistakenly attributed to angels, was being called on as imperative to human ascent from the bondage of earth life. (See Chapter 2: verse 18)
Taken together these heresies led to Paul emphatically responding, that Christians need none of these things since Christ is our All in All. “Beware”, he wrote, “lest anyone should cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Chapter 2: verse 18)
That’s a statement which is a stand out for readers of Swedenborg and followers of the teachings in his (Swedenborg’s) writings. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Or, as in the KJV, “….in bodily form”.) It says it all. Not three separate persons in the Godhead, just one. God in all His fullness dwells in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the risen Lord Jesus Christ, God made visible to us. Jesus was, and continues to gloriously be, God in human form.
History, they say, has a way of repeating itself! The first Colossian Christians held to falsities and heresies that muddied the waters and obscured the uncomplicated ness of true Christianity. And those early Colossian Christians showed themselves reluctant to relinquish what had a fair amount of their proprium (ego) attached to it. They needed to let go. And often enough there are those times when we need to relinquish what is of our proprium – ideas, thoughts, beliefs, heresies and thinking based on appearances, all usually favouring self and which, when forsaken, enable our eyes to be opened to the wonder of a more real connection with the Lord as to Who He is, how He operates and the ways He works with us to lift us onto the path which leads to heavenly life.