Sometimes it is good to know the “big picture” in order to more deeply appreciate the details. Let me suggest that the “big picture” of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is his hopes and prayers for a maturing faith community founded on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul sets the tone in the opening chapter of the letter where the message is: this is how I am thanking God for you (1:3–8), this is how I am praying for you (1:9–23) and this is what I am doing for you (1:24–2:5). All of these things Paul is doing and continues to do so that the believers in Colossae will continue to mature in their Christian faith. We see that clearly expressed in today’s first reading where two verses neatly sum up the message of the entire letter: “So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Col 2:6-7)
What does Paul mean by the expression receiving Christ? It certainly includes the popular evangelical moment of the new believer’s acceptance to let Jesus enter into their heart and life. But Paul also includes the celebration of Baptism (explicit in v.12) along with their proclamation of Jesus as Lord, their confession of faith, and their status as members of Christ’s body (cf. v.19). In this passage, the verb ‘receive’ (paralambanō) is likely used in a technical sense, taken over from Judaism, referring to the transmission of teaching from one person or generation to another. This understanding is further emphasized one verse later with the ‘as you were taught.’
But receiving Christ is only the start. Once you have “received Christ Jesus the Lord” now you must continue to live in him: walk in him. The word ‘walk’ in Jewish thought is the standard term for ethical conduct. Here the emphasis is on the sort of conduct appropriate for one who claims Jesus as Lord. This, the ultimate goal of Paul’s argument, will be expanded upon in Colossian 3.
Paul nicely mixes metaphors: walking while being well rooted like a tree, solidly built like a house, established and settled like a legal document and overflowing like a vat of wine. Even with the mix the tense of the verb “rooted” is a once-for-all planting where the tense for “built up” indicates a present and continuing development. The expression “established in the faith as you were taught” is Paul encouraging them to become stronger in their grasp of the faith.
How will they have an indication they are doing these things? Thankfulness, filling the church so that it constantly spills over, the central characteristic of Christian living. The church that learns to worship God is a church growing to full maturity.
Paul lays out a roadmap for communities and individuals: embrace the relationship with Jesus Christ, receive the teaching of the faith handed on through the ages, live the faith in all parts of your life, pause and see if you are growing as a Christian, and above all be thankful – because all of it, without exception, is gift.
Image credit: St Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael, The Royal Collection of the United Kingdom, Public Domain
Theme credit: N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 12 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986)