Having introduced himself, Paul next greets the Colossians as a holy and faithful congregation. Christians are not holy by their own efforts to please God; they are transformed into a holy people for a holy God by the Lord's gracious initiative. The added phrase in Christ deepens the significance of this core conviction (cf. Phil 1:1) in that it expresses Paul's "participatory" Christology: God's grace positions the holy and faithful community in Christ to participate in the glorious results of his messianic work. The readers of this letter are not outsiders who are unable to understand Paul or unable to act upon his advice. They are insiders whose proximity to God's transforming grace promises new life for those who obey the apostle's admonitions. They should read the letter accordingly.
Paul's glad greeting of his readers as those who possess the prospect of being transformed in Christ also intends to draw them together into a community for Christian witness. Wright stresses the importance of the parallelism between in Christ and "in Colosse" (unfortunately obscured in the NIV translation, at Colosse): those who are faithful believers in Christ are also responsible citizens in Colosse, and the two worlds must never be separated. Their public witness to Christ in the town of Colosse must always reflect their participation with him in the power of God's salvation (1986:47). In drawing this parallelism, Paul has the Colossian conflict in mind, for this congregation of saints is struggling to connect their life in Christ with their life in Colosse. In fact, their religious observance tends toward moral asceticism and spiritual mysticism, which actually disconnect them from the world around them. Added to these tendencies, their interest in philosophical speculation has given rise to a variety of Christian devotion that is much too private and esoteric, and largely irrelevant to unbelievers in Colosse.
Because Paul is writing to a congregation that specializes in theological abstraction, his advice often takes on a similar cast. Colossians is difficult to preach and teach because it is the ideas of faith that are at stake, not the actions of faith. Yet we will find that Paul always holds the two together. All that he writes envisages the parallelism "in Christ" and "in Colosse," which is the focal point of Christian life: those in Christ who are made holy and faithful by divine grace must live "in Colosse" as public agents of divine grace.
In stressing faithful brothers, Paul may very well have the audience's religious confusion in mind. In fact, Houlden suggests that Paul differentiates those who resist false teaching (the faithful brothers) from those who are susceptible to it (1970:148). Paul uses "faithful" three other times in Colossians (1:7; 4:7, 9) to characterize the work of trusted colleagues whose ministry of evangelism is exemplary. In every sphere of public life, whether at home or at work, whether in the marketplace or in the town square, believers embody the grace by which God in Christ has saved them from the terrible consequences of sin.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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