Friday, 19 September 2014
From the Study “Colossians”: Grace Be With You All
Paul’s final word to the Colossian church is “Grace be with you all.“
Is that just a stock phrase, pulled out of a handbook for polite letter writing? You know, you’re finishing an email to someone you don’t know very well and you write “love,” out of habit. Oops. Inappropriate. “Warmly”? Too folksy. “Regards”? Too formal. “Sincerely”? Too blah. “Cheerfully?” Forget it.
You sign your name with no closing phrase.
But Paul doesn’t do that. Instead he uses a benediction that sums up what he’s been saying all along.
Where we’ve been
In the previous section Colossians 3:15-4:1, Paul talked about how to live out our faith at home, in the daily demands of work and family. This is where we spend the bulk of our time and energy. Does Paul give us a Christian rulebook for every situation? No, he encourages them to let Christ rule our hearts, 3:15, 16, and let his name govern our words and actions.
Then he sets up an authority structure so that we’re not always arguing about who’s in charge. Yet even these roles aren’t just rules, they are a chance to live out both the voluntary submission and loving leadership of Jesus.
You might say that these are “grace rules” because they become a doorway to experiencing his presence and receiving his help.
Where Paul takes us
Then Paul turns to the world of outsiders, 4:2-6. He wants us to walk in Christ not just in our private worlds, but outside, where people don’t yet know him. We have a gospel obligation to them. Sure, we say, but how in the world am I supposed to find time for that? How can I bring Christ to them when I’m all used up?!
Paul’s answer is so gracious. So reasonable. He weaves what we already do with what we’re being asked to do:
- Start with prayer. Pray about everything, not just domestic details, but gospel advance. Prayer is the first and best way to participate in the world outside your life. Prayer is alertness. In prayer we become alert to God, alert to others, alert to opportunities.
- Recognize the difference between Paul’s call and mine. Paul was called by God to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ publicly, to speak clearly as he “ought to speak.” We’re called to live out the gospel so that people can’t help but ask questions. Then we’re to speak as we “ought to answer.” Our words are by necessity briefer, conversational. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t full of grace, and salty enough to be interesting.
- Think opportunity, not one more thing to do. If we have to make it happen, it probably won’t. But God wants us to seek him and then seize the opportunities he sends. He weaves evangelism into our day as we walk wisely and speak graciously.
Who we’re traveling with
Paul ends with greetings to and from 10 different people. Not only is it fascinating to learn their back story, it also shows us something about Paul. He’s not a lone ranger Christian. He knows people. He works with people. He entrusts ministry to people. He commends people. He loves people. He receives comfort from people. What a wonderful encouragement for us to do the same.
But that’s not all. For Paul’s heart toward each of these is a shadow of Christ’s heart toward you and me. Paul called Tychicus “beloved brother, faithful minister, fellow servant.” (4:7). That’s what Jesus says to each of us.
“But,” you protest, “I’m not faithful. I’m unlovely. I don’t always like being a servant.” Of course not. But that’s where grace comes in. His grace is a one way conduit of love. He loves you. His grace has forgiven your unfaithfulness and is transforming you into a faithful one. His grace calls you to serve, not alone, but right next to him.
Hear the voice of Jesus in every greeting that Paul gives. It is a voice of grace.
No wonder Paul closes with “Grace be with you all.”