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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Colossians 3:10-17: Spirituality in Action (part 2)

B. Put on the New. 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. 12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

-This whole image of putting on and off garments is an illusion to baptism, because there was a removal of clothes and then a putting on of a new baptismal garment. This signified what was taking internally in the baptismal candidate. They were being united with Christ in His death and resurrection.

-“renewed”: This is a continuation of the baptismal mystery, and should be ongoing.

-“knowledge”: The Christian is renewed through the knowledge of God. Once again this knowledge is experiential knowledge or communion. As we commune and unite ourselves with God we are transformed into the image and likeness of God. This is theosis. Becoming like God. This is what we were created for and was short-circuited at the fall.

-vs. 11 is a parenthetical side bar. He mentions the Scythians because they were seen as the worst of the barbarians. All who are united with Christ will be transformed, from the “best” of humanity to the “worst”. Unfortunately we all have our categories.

-Christ is all: He is our true and only reality.

-Christ is in all: All those in the Church are in Christ and each should be treated as such.

-vs. 12. Here is what your baptismal garment looks like. Here is what life inside the Church should look like.

-vs. 14. Love is the bond of perfection (1 Cor. 13). There is nothing radical in this statement, because it is repeated throughout the Gospels and epistles as the mark of true Christianity. However, this simple mark can easily be forgotten.

-Vs. 15 “peace and thanksgiving” So what we do on Sunday should spill into our everyday lives. Literally “let the peace of God be umpire in your hearts.”

-vs. 16 This reinforces the necessity of the liturgy. It is from our experience of God together in worship that all these good things flow. If the essence of the Christian life is living and participating in the life and presence of God, then there is nowhere the presence of God is more concentrated then at the celebration of the Divine Mysteries. It is from that experience that we understand and become aware of God’s presence and are able to live in it throughout our lives. In many ways our life in Christ is a constant preparation of our hearts for the grace of the Mysteries and then protecting the Grace that God has given us.

-vs. 17 Our communal act of thanksgiving should transform every aspect of life to be an act of worship and thanksgiving.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Colossians 3:5-9: True Spirituality in Action (part 1)

II. True Spirituality in Action.

A. Put off the old. 5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filyour language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,

-Paul removes spirituality from the theoretical and demonstrates here what setting “your mind on things above” looks like.

-“put to death”: This is a moment that we choose to make a clean break with sin. Paul uses this term in Romans 8, but in that case the word is to slay or execute. In this passage the word to put to death has the sense of killing by wearing out. It is used to describe Abraham’s old worn out body before God miraculously blessed this “dead” man with a son. This phrase has the idea of dying by neglect. We stop giving energy to sin and withers and dies.

-Asceticism is this process of dying. Jesus’ death and resurrection did not provide escape from death, but it transformed death into being life-giving. We practice asceticism so that there may be fruit in our lives. Just as an athlete trains to compete, so do we train to run the race! True Spirituality or asceticism is cutting off earthly things not embracing them.

-The idea of dying with Christ is important. There is a monastic story of a young monk struggling with pride who goes to his spiritual father. The elder monk sends the young man to the graveyard and asks him to praise the dead for a certain period of time. After he finishes, the young monk is to return and report what happens. He does so, and returns to the elder and says that nothing happened. The elder acts astonished and commands the young monk to go again but this time to curse the dead. The monk returns and reports again that nothing happened. The elder then replies that he is to imitate the dead, whether he experiences praise or cursing he is to act as one already dead. [I don’t remember where I heard/read this, so if any readers remember the source please let me know].

- St. John of Climacos suggests: "Think of your lying in bed as an image of the lying in your grave; then you will not sleep so much. When you eat at table, remember the food of worms; then you will not live so highly. When you drink water, remember the thirst of the flames; then you will certainly do violence to your nature...Let the thought of eternal fire lie down with you in the evening and get up with you in the morning. Then indolence will never overwhelm you when it is time to sing the psalms."

-the list: Paul singles out the sins that were most common among the pagans in this part of the world, and they are mostly sexual in nature: fornication and uncleanness.

-passion: any consuming compulsion not necessarily sexual.

-evil desire: craving for evil things

-covetousness (which is idolatry): making an idol of something that we desire. To be greedy or covetous is give our hearts over to something other than God.

-anger (habitual anger)

-wrath (outbursts)

-malice: remembrance of wrongs

-blasphemy: not necessarily of God, but of others; cutting verbal abuse that cuts others

-filthy language: obscenity

All these things close our hearts to the presence of God. And if the goal of the Christian journey is the experience of the life of God, then these things must be removed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Colossians 3:1-4: True Spirituality

I. True Spirituality: 1-4 IF then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

-This passage is really a continuation of 2:20ff. Paul talked about dying in Christ, which is always related to the baptismal experience when the Christian is united with Christ in Baptism. In being united with Christ, the Christian is placed into the very life of Christ. And just as he participated in the death of Christ, he also participates in Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and sitting at the right of the Father. The Christian should live in the fullness of this experience, keeping one’s mind vigilant and attentive to the presence of God.

-Paul is making a contrast with legalistic spirituality of the Gnostics (see 2:20ff) and the true spirituality of the Christian. The Christian spiritual practice is based on immersing oneself in the life of God. Being aware of God’s presence and avoiding what disturbs this ability to keep one’s mind on things above. Paul is repudiating the practices that have no power to combat the indulgence of the flesh.

-Our transformation takes place as we participate in the life of Christ. When we are removed from the life of God, we must struggle to get ourselves back into His presence. The Gnostics were creating self-imposed discipline that only lead to pride and delusion rather than humility before the face of God.

- St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.”

-St Gregory of Nyssa “If reason assumes sway over our emotions, each of them is transformed to virtue: for anger becomes courage; terror caution; fear obedience; hatred becomes aversion from vice; the power of love because the desire for what is truly beautiful; high spirit in our character raises our thoughts above the passions, and keeps it from bondage to what is base. The apostle Paul praises such a form of mental elevation when he bids us constantly to mind the things above.”

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Colossians 2:17-23: Marks of False Religion

2. Religion of Pride 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not* seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

“let no one cheat you “ To embrace this Gnostic faith was to forsake what Christ had done for the Church.

-”worship of angels” The Gnostics of Colossae had incorporated the Jewish belief in angels as part of the emanations that would bring them back to God. This is unnecessary because Christ is the fullness and angels are merely His ministers. Angels no doubt assist in our salvation, in that they protect us and pray for us, but they are not the mediator between God and man.

- Pride - Within this heresy and all heresies and corruptions of the truth there is an element of pride. There is a sense that man can peer into the mind of God, grasp God’s mysteries and save oneself. Rather than boldly accepting the faith which had been delivered to them by Paul and his missionaries, they felt it necessary to construct their own faith from their “fleshy mind”. It is an act of humility to submit to the confines of the faith once delivered to the saints. The Fathers of the church not only held to the faith delivered out of humility but in order to protect the way of salvation.

3. Rejection of Christ 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

- In holding onto their own understanding, the heretics reject Christ. They are saying that Christ is not the fullness of God and not all in all. To cut yourself off from the fullness of Christ is to remove yourself from the source of life. We are the branches and He is the vine (John 15).

D. Truth to Embrace 20 Therefore,* if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

- “therefore if you have died” This is baptismal imagery which explores the content of the mystery. The Christian is buried in baptism and is united with the death of Christ through this Holy mystery. As a result of this union with Christ in death, man has a different relationship with the world. Man’s relationship with God is now through faith and not legalism. The Christian life is based on being transformed by dwelling in the presence of God. It is the experience of the life of God that transforms man and not upholding of vain legal requirements.

These legal regulations have “an appearance of wisdom”, but the danger of pride is present because they are self-imposed and do not flow organically from the presence of God or the life of the Church. However, because these false actions are religious in appearance they create a false humility in the participant, but sadly there is no value “against the indulgence of the flesh”.

“The indulgence of the flesh” This is one of the great struggles of the Christian life spoken of in Scripture. Only those actions that keep one in the presence and life of the Holy Trinity will give victory over these indulgences. The ironic fact for the Gnostics is that their strictness gives the appearance of triumph, but because it “self-imposed” and based on the “doctrines of men” it pulls one away from God rather toward Him.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Colossians 2:11-17: Paul's Review of the Faith

B. Review of the Faith you were taught. 11In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made wiyout hands, by putting off the body of the sins* of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

11-13: Paul in this passage reviews the faith that had been given to them. He forms it in such a way as to combat the strain of Gnsoticism that was subverting the purity of the Gospel. This form of Gnosticism had been combined with the necessity of Jewish ritual. It was like the Judaizers of Galatians had met with the Gnostics of Asia Minor and syncretism occurred.

The act of circumcision, like all the OT ritual, was a foreshadow of the Incarnation. Christ would remove from us the “ the body of the flesh” or the old way of life. Circumcision was the act that entered the OT Jew into the covenant relationship with God. It is clear from this passage that circumcision was replaced by baptism. The major difference between this OT act and the NT fulfillment is that Baptism was not just an outward sign of God’s covenant but an inward transformation. This is true for all OT practices fulfilled in Christ, the sacrificial system was a shadow of what would become a reality in Christ.

The words for buried-with-Him and raised-with-Him are one word in Greek. It could be translated awkwardly as ”co-buried” and “co-raised” and “co-alive”. The idea of communion is essential here. God is not merely declaring something legally true. There is an ontological reality at work in which we are made one with Christ.

”forgiven” - Christ did not just remove something outwardly but actually removed our sins from us. Once again this is not a mere legal declaration of not guilty but and true ontological change whereby we are released from sin’s power.

vs. 14 ”wiped out the handwriting of requirements” Paul is using the image of an IOU. Circumcision was in effect a signed agreement to keep the law and to default would put us in debt; as a result the law became “contrary” to us or adverse to us. Christ took the certificate and nailed it to the cross.

-vs.15 “disarmed principalities...” The Cross which looked like a defeat was actually a victory in which Christ vanquished the Enemy and stripped him of armor and weapons. Thus we sing on the Elevation of the Cross, it is a “a weapon of peace; a trophy invincible (Konatkion of the Feast)”.


C. Falsehood to Avoid.
1. OT regulations. 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

-”let no one judge you” The Gnostics were condemning the believers for not keeping the Judaic Law. This passage is not intended to be used as an excuse for liberty, whereby we yell at the world, “I will do as please, don’t judge me.” Paul is merely stressing that these Christians should not feel condemnation for not keeping the Mosaic regulations. His next statement gives the reason for this. He calls the OT rules “a shadow” meaning that these things were there to point to Christ, and have now been fulfilled in Him. This not only places the Law in its proper context but embraces the Christian hermeneutic for the OT. The OT is now read in the light of Christ, and much that was not understood fully is now revealed because the image that cast the shadow is here.

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