Colossians 1-4, Philemon 1

Just found this out in my study today…. within 10 years of the time that Paul wrote these letters (possibly less than 5 years)  there was a huge earthquake in Turkey that wiped out Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis (another nearby town).   It’s very likely that Philemon died in this tragedy, along with other Christians.  The towns were never rebuilt.
Read Colossians and Philemon here
Paul wrote Colossians around 50 A.D, and some say that he wrote about 60 A.D.   The earthquake happened either in 61 or 62.   It is entirely possible that it was less than 5 years between Paul’s writing to the church and their demise.    It happened 2000 years ago, and still somehow I am sad.   That seems odd.
From the way Paul is writing we conclude that he was concerned with the potential spread of Gnosticism to the church.  (2:4, 2:8) Gnosticism (briefly) is the belief that God grants some people special wisdom and “secret” insights that allow them to connect with Him.   Therefore, only those who have the “special knowledge” are truly saved.  These folks would embrace the parts of the Bible that they had, but would insist that something “more” was needed to be part of God’s heavenly kingdom.     From what Paul writes, it would seem that they were telling the church that they had a special revelation from God that told them to abstain from a variety of things (2:16).
As I read the list of things that Paul warned against, I find that a few of them have crept back into our theology today.  I don’ think that we “worship” these things in the same way that the Colossians were, but isn’t it interesting that they keep resurfacing?
For instance, the worship of angels.   I don’t see us worshipping angels, but we seem to have an obsession with them.  I seem to remember the Bible saying that we shouldn’t make any images of “things in heaven”…..that would include angels, right?   And yet you will find them as trinkets and collectables in almost every home.   There are several TV shows that are based on angels, and many movies have an angel theme as well.    As you might have guessed, everything we imagine about angels is just that…imagination.   Angels don’t get their wings when a bell rings, we’ve never been told of a female angel in scripture, and the Bible never says anything about people becoming angels.    We made all of that up.    I wonder if God is upset with our angel fascination.   I’m not sure about that.
Here’s a real tantalizing thought from Colossians 2:18,21 and 23.    Paul is saying that denying yourself certain things is of no spiritual value.   Since we know that Paul practiced self denial, and the Bible speaks often of denying self….he must mean something that isn’t explained very well.   I suggest that Paul is arguing against self denial as a means to “earn” God’s favor or His blessing.    God cannot be manipulated or bought.   We cannot purchase or earn our salvation, it is a free gift from God Himself to each of us, if we choose to accept it.      I think Paul would agree that self denial is a good thing when we are using it simply as an expression of love for God.    Therefore, I abstain from alcohol.   Not to earn my salvation, but to demonstrate in some practical way my love for Jesus.      And, as verse 23 points out, there isn’t a guarantee that my abstinence will stop evil thoughts.    Ancient monks believed that if they lived apart from society, and didn’t associate with women, that they would not be as tempted.   However, that did not prove to be true.   Our thoughts condemn us even when our actions are held in check.     As we all know, you can be guilty of murder even if you only dream about it.
It’s becoming later in the day, and I keep trying to finish my thoughts (without much luck) so I think I am just going to call it “good enough” for today.
A few things that I want to remember:
1:15-22 is a great passage.    I should try to memorize it sometime.
Chapter 3 does a great job of summing up how we should live as Christians
I didn’t know that Mark and Barnabus were related.   (4:10) Maybe that’s why Barnabus wanted him to come, and why Paul and Barnabus separated over it later.