This week I hosted my local ministerium’s monthly meeting at Faith Church. Throughout the year, we take turns, meeting at one another’s churches, and it was my turn. So I set up small round tables in our fellowship hall, spreading them out six feet apart, placing one chair per table, trying to make sure there was social distancing in line with CDC guidelines for the Covid pandemic. The host pastor also leads a brief devotional, and I wondered what I should talk about. What should I say to a group of pastors and church leaders?
Maybe Paul’s letter to the Colossians can help me. As we conclude this five-part blog series through Colossians 1:1-8, notice what Paul talks about in verse 6: the message that came to the Colossian Christians is spreading all over the world.
He uses a natural metaphor: it is bearing fruit, he says, growing. I have mentioned before the bamboo in my family’s back yard. I have a love/hate relationship with our bamboo. I love, for example, what happens when it burns. Each of those chambers in a stalk of bamboo is airtight, so when it gets hot enough, it explodes like a gun shot. Bamboo is also a very effective natural fence row. It is super strong and you can use it for posts, such as in a garden. But my love for bamboo stops there. If for any reason you ever want some, please let me know. You can have it. Because it grows so incredibly fast, above ground, underground, in all directions. It will grow right up through the middle of a pile of stacked firewood.
The Kingdom of God is like that. Paul says to the Colossians that message of good news in Jesus has been growing among them since the day they heard it, since the day they understood God’s grace in all its truth.
What he is referring to is the person who started the church in Colosse. It wasn’t Paul, remember. In verse 7, he reminds them that it was a guy named Epaphras, who Paul describes as his “dear fellow servant” and “faithful minister of Christ.” So Epaphras was another traveling missionary like Paul and Timothy. Epaphras, Paul says in verse 8, told Paul and Timothy about the “love in the Spirit” that the Christians in Colosse had for one another.
Now has returned to the concept of love again. Earlier in the passage, Paul described it as love for all the saints. Now he writes that the Colossian Christians’ love is “in the Spirit.” With that mention of the Spirit, Paul has, in these 8 verses, talked about all three members of the Trinity. He has previously mentioned God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and now God the Spirit. This is one of many passages Christians use to promote a Trinitarian understanding of God. The Trinity is called “The Three in One,” three equal co-existent persons of the Godhead. Theologians far smarter than me have, through the ages, tried to explain it. I’m not going to try today, because Paul doesn’t try to explain it. Instead Paul mentions all three, showing that all three persons of the Trinity are vital, active and involved. We pray to God the Father, we serve Christ, and are in Christ, and it is the Spirit who is in us.
Paul’s introduction in his letter is such an encouragement to the Christians in Colosse. As I mentioned in a previous post, Paul starts with encouragement for a reason. He has not only heard good things about them, but also some very disconcerting things. We’re not at the bad news part of the letter yet, so I will leave the bad news for another day, when Paul gets to it. For now, he has focused on good news. Very good news. Good news in Jesus, and the good news of the faith the love that has flowed from the Christians in Colosse.
Let us be a good news people. That doesn’t mean we ignore bad news. Not at all. We face the bad news, we admit it, and we talk about it, but in a faith-filled, hope in heaven, love in the Spirit kind of way.
Back to my ministerium meeting, as I wrestled with what to talk about, Paul’s example was helpful to me. I thought I would talk about how many pastoral families struggled during 2020, and continue to do so. That struggle was my reality, and maybe some others were feeling the way too. Like Paul, I wanted to face the difficulty, and I wanted to bring good news and hope and love in the Spirit to that. I also wanted a Trinitarian focus, and I could think of no better passage than Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-20. I read the prayer and commented briefly about the amazing closeness that each member of our Trinitarian God wants to have with us.
One pastor wrote me back saying: “I really appreciated your acknowledgment that some of us may be struggling. At various times during the pandemic I have some of my lowest, most discouraging and overwhelming experiences in pastoral ministry. In the midst of the polarization of Covid, even among us as pastors, it hasn’t always felt like we’re allowed to acknowledge that. Thanks for opening the door for that today by naming that reality.”
How you can you be like the Colossians, bringing your hope in heaven as good news to those struggling around you? We can tend to lean one way or another on this. On the one hand, we can over-emphasize bad news and forget to talk about life in a hope-filled, perspective that Jesus brings to our circumstances. On the other hand we can focus on joy and good news and not be honest about the struggles.
Let’s remember the grace and peace we have available to us in Christ, let’s remember to be in prayer and for each other, and let’s remember that in the midst of struggles and hardships we have Good News. We are IN Christ and he is IN us.