It is fulfilled in preaching, teaching, and admonishing people about Christ , It includes prayer and suffering on behalf of the church vv. It entails warning God's people against error , 8 and challenging the claims of those who oppose the Gospel vv. With this letter, as with Romans, Paul is writing to a congregation he has not met Nevertheless, he is with them in spirit and continually ministers on their behalf in prayer vv.
The report he has received about them occasions thanksgiving and concern vv. The introduction follows the epistolary formula used in all of the Pauline letters. First the writer is identified v. The title apostle, to which Paul lays claim, has about it a ring of authority. Elsewhere in this letter he describes himself as a servant , 25 and fellow servant v. He invokes his apostolic authority only at the outset of the letter, to establish his right to challenge the false teachings at Colosse.
Paul's apostolic authority is derived from his appointment by God. Because it is by the will of God , the identification of himself as an apostle is no idle claim. Paul addresses the congregation at Colosse as a divinely commissioned leader of the church. He is Christ's apostle, in accord with God's will. He is an emissary under orders. He speaks, not on his own authority, but as a divine messenger like the prophets of old.
The readers are addressed as Christian believers. At the beginning of the letter proper, Paul describes his ministry of prayer on behalf of the church at Colosse. The description naturally divides into two paragraphs. In the first , Paul tells his readers that he thanks God for the evidences of spiritual vitality at Colosse. In the second vv. The first paragraph identifies the evidences of Christian experience in its initial stages; the second lists the attributes of Christian maturity. According to Paul, thanksgiving is one of the hallmarks of Christian experience see ; ; , It is one of the attributes that the apostle exemplified personally.
In all of his letters to the churches except Galatians, where special circumstances prevailed , Paul began with expressions of thanksgiving. In the case of the Colossians, there is good cause for thanksgiving. Paul is grateful because of the evidences that 1 God's Spirit is at work in their hearts and that 2 God's Word is at work in their fellowship. The familiar triad of faith, hope, and love emerges in this prayer of thanksgiving.
Faith in Christ Jesus is fundamental to all of Christian experience. Elsewhere Paul clearly articulates what faith is. Faith consists of putting our trust in the person of Jesus Christ, and receiving the saving benefits of his death for our sins. But, as James says , faith without works is futile and vain. Genuine faith expresses itself in love. So the love [they] have for all the saints is another significant evidence of the Colossians' saving relationship with Christ.
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This love God pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us Ro At this point the apostle theologizes while praying. Faith and love are inspired by the hope set before us—and all of these are evidences of initial Christian experience. But they are subjective evidences that must be anchored in the word of truth, the gospel So, in the course of his prayer of thanksgiving, the apostle acknowledges the working of God's Word among believers. He describes that Word as bearing fruit and working to produce growth, not only at Colosse, but all over the world It is the working of God's Word in the midst of believers that produces real growth in the church.
The Gospel provides the objective basis for our subjective experience in Christ. This portrayal of Christian experience is reflected in the traditional Wesleyan understanding. The new birth is grounded in God's Word. A transforming experience, it expresses itself in tangible evidences of spiritual growth. The next prayer paragraph touches on things central to Christian growth: 1 knowing and doing God's will, 2 cultivating the attributes of Christian maturity, and 3 responding gratefully to God's gracious work in our lives.
The attributes of faith, love, and hope constitute only the foundation stones of Christian living. The apostle then highlights four attributes of such a life: 1 fruitbearing, 2 growth, 3 empowerment, and 4 gratitude. This is how Paul characterizes a Christian life that is perfect and fulfilled, made complete in the will of God.
The goal is to live a life worthy of the Lord, to please him in every way. The attainment of this goal requires not only spiritual enlightenment but also spiritual enduement. Here Paul portrays the life of Christian perfection as dynamic and characterized by continuing growth. Christians need to be reminded that joyfully giving thanks is an attribute worthy of the Lord and is pleasing to him. We have much for which to be grateful, as Paul suggests in these verses.
The focal point of our thanksgiving is the salvation that God has wrought on our behalf. He has adopted, rescued, and redeemed us from our fallenness. He has forgiven our sins and made us his own. The final verses of this passage lead into a hymn of praise to Christ. The movement in Paul's prayer is exemplary: Beginning with thanksgiving, he proceeds to intercession, then follows with joyful praise. This is a positive model of prayer. We should further note that Paul is not praying for himself so much as he is praying for others. He expresses appreciation for what God is doing in the lives of the Colossians.
He intercedes for them, asking that they might achieve full maturity in their Christian experience. His thanksgiving to the Father and praise to the Son follow naturally. This is the kind of praying that modern Christians should emulate and practice. The following passage is hymnic in structure and seems to preserve a primitive Christian hymn of praise to Christ. Paul appears to quote the hymn verbatim; his application of it follows in The hymn consists of two stanzas and b separated by a refrain vv. The two stanzas reflect a similar structure, as do the two lines of the refrain.
This is more evident in the Greek text than in English translation see chart below. The theme of the hymn is the sovereignty of Christ. The first stanza expounds his sovereignty over the natural order of creation, as the Creator of the world. The second stanza extols him as the Savior of the world and the Head of the church. But his theology led him to a life of sacrifice and service. So, as we look into the heart of Paul's theology, we must not settle for a set of ideas or beliefs divorced from practical living. We must be looking for something radical and life-transforming.
When we properly understand Paul's theology, it will inspire and guide us, as it guided him, into lives of radical service to Christ, the church, and the world. We are now in a position to turn to a third aspect of his ministry: his apostolic writings, or New Testament epistles. Because Paul lived in the trenches of constant practical ministry, he was familiar with the particular issues that troubled the churches he visited.
Now you can imagine that the problems in Galatia were different from the issues in Ephesus. And the problems in Ephesus were different from the challenges in Corinth. Every place he went was different. As a result, when Paul wrote his epistles he was concerned to address the specific needs of those situations.
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In the New Testament we have thirteen letters which Paul wrote at different times in his ministry. Now because Paul's letters were so occasional, that is, written to address specific problems, none of his letters lays out his whole theology in an orderly or systematic way. Instead, his epistles contain pastoral applications of his theology. It's evident in most cases that Paul wrote his letters to address specific issues in the church, and we will explore this reality in detail in future lessons.
But to illustrate how much this is true, let's think for a moment about the book of Romans. Many Christians have mistakenly treated the book of Romans as a systematic, abstract outline of Paul's theology. And so they have concluded that the themes on the surface of the book form the heart of Paul's theological system. But a closer examination of Romans reveals that Paul wrote even this book to address particular problems. One of the main reasons Paul wrote to them was to stabilize relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. An overview of the structure of Romans makes this pastoral focus very plain.
In the first three chapters, Paul focused on proving that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners, and that neither has a right to claim superiority over the other. In chapters 4—8 he stressed how God has provided the same way of salvation both for Jews and Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing before God.
In chapters 9—11 Paul focused on the complementary roles of Jews and Gentiles in God's plan for human history. Then, after stressing these doctrinal themes, in chapters 12—16 he tackled several issues of practical Christian living that were closely related to conflicts between Jews and Gentiles.
For example, in chapter 12 he insisted that despite their diversity, Christians should function as a unified body. In chapter 13 he promoted stability by urging Christians to submit even to Gentile civil governments. And in chapters 14—16, before closing this epistle, Paul focused on the need for mutual understanding between Jews and Gentiles with respect to Jewish and Gentile customs. This brief sketch of Paul's letter to Rome shows that Paul did not intend Romans to be an abstract statement of his beliefs. Instead, this book primarily answered the pastoral issue of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Christian church.
Romans was an application of Paul's theology to some very specific needs. We are right to believe that Paul had a well-formed, logical set of theological beliefs, or what we might call a systematic theology. But Paul's system of theology remained unwritten, even though it undergirded his epistles. As far as we know, Paul's system of theology never reached a fully written form.
Nevertheless, we can reconstruct it to a great extent, based on the letters he did write. To reconstruct Paul's theological system, we should not look primarily at the topics he mentioned the most. This is because he spent most of his time writing about matters that were of particular interest to the church in his day.
Instead, we have to ask: What principles supported the specific things Paul wrote? What coherent patterns of belief best explain his specific teachings? What doctrines connect the various things he wrote to different churches? By answering questions like these, we will be able to reconstruct Paul's theology.
And we will understand more clearly how Paul's letters were intended to guide the first century church and how they should guide us today. Now that we have some basic perspectives on Paul's background and ministry, we're ready to look directly at Paul's theological outlooks. At this point we need to ask some critical questions: What was the structure of Paul's theology? What kinds of beliefs undergirded what he taught in his epistles? The answers to these questions are essential to a proper understanding of Paul. Now, Paul has been influential in so many Christian traditions that it is impossible even to mention every way his theology has been understood.
We'll limit ourselves to two basic directions interpreters have gone: the Reformation perspective on Paul's theology, and what we will call the eschatological perspective, which has become influential in recent decades. Let's look first at the Reformation outlook on Paul. How did the Protestant Reformers understand the structure of Paul's theology? In the centuries prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church taught that salvation required both God's grace and human merit. According to this teaching, justification is a long process by which God infuses grace into the believer, and this grace allows the believer to become more righteous by doing good works.
People are fully justified and saved when they have done enough good works to be counted truly righteous by the standard of God's law. They followed the teaching of Augustine that justification is imputed all at once, and entirely apart from human works, not infused over a long period of time and mixed with human effort.
Sanctification, the long process of the Christian life, follows justification and continues for the entire life of believers. But justification is God's once-for-all-time legal declaration that a believer has been acquitted of the guilt of sin, and credited with the righteousness of Christ. This belief came to be known as sola fide — by faith alone — because it understood us to be justified solely by means of faith in Christ, and not by means of faith plus our good works. Without a doubt, the Reformers were right to find this doctrine in Paul's writings. In the early church, some parties of Jewish believers, known as Judaizers, argued that salvation results from a mixing of divine grace and human works.
But Paul opposed this legalism in the early church, and insisted that justification was a unique event that occurred apart from works of the law. The parallels between the controversies of the Reformation and the controversies Paul faced are plain enough. The legalism of the Roman Catholic Church roughly corresponded to the legalism of the Judaizers. And sola fide of the Reformation paralleled the teaching of Paul.
As a result, by and large Protestants have held that Paul developed his theology primarily around the theme of how salvation is applied to individual believers. In traditional theological terms, Paul's theology was thought to be structured around the ordo salutis , or the order of salvation, which is the process by which salvation in Christ is applied to you and me.
In the tradition of the Reformation, most Protestants believe that the ordo salutis , and especially justification by faith alone, is the most central concept in Paul's theology. They believe it's the heart of his theology. Of course, throughout the centuries Protestants have realized that Paul believed many things other than justification by faith alone.
He was very concerned with the long history of God's redemption that climaxed in the death and resurrection of Christ. In theological terms, we call this aspect of his teaching historia salutis , or the history of salvation. But for the most part, until recent years the traditional understanding of Paul's theology was that the history of salvation was less important than the order of salvation. Even now, most Protestants don't see the history of salvation as the center of Paul's theology. As dominant as the early Protestant view has been in the interpretation of Paul, it has not gone unchallenged.
Another complementary point of view has come to the foreground in recent decades, which we will call the eschatological perspective on Paul's theology. This perspective has reassessed the idea that the order of salvation was more central to Paul's theology than the history of salvation. Now it's true that many other outlooks on Paul's theology have also been suggested in recent decades. Some prominent theologians have argued that Paul's theology focused primarily on merging his Jewish background with Greek philosophies.
Others have seen Paul as primarily endorsing rational ethical living over the passions of the flesh. Still others have argued that Paul's theology was deeply influenced by Hellenistic mystery religions or Jewish apocalypticism.
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Some of these viewpoints offer some insights into Paul's theology, but none of them has proven to be as helpful as the eschatological outlook on his theology. To examine the eschatological outlook on Paul's theology we will focus on three subjects: first, the terminology of eschatology; second, the structure of Paul's eschatology; and third, the implications of Paul's eschatology. Let's look first at the term "eschatology. The term "eschatology" comes from the Greek word eschatos , which means "last" or "end. The Old Testament frequently uses terms like "last days" or "end times" to refer to the great climax of the history of salvation that was to take place when Messiah finally came to earth.
And on a number of occasions, the New Testament points to the fulfillment of these Old Testament "last days" or "end times" in Jesus the Messiah. It is from this use of the Greek word eschatos that we derive our theological term "eschatology," the doctrine of the "last days" or "end times.
Now in traditional systematic theology, the term "eschatology" has primarily referred to the Bible's teaching about the second coming of Christ. But when we talk about the "eschatological" approach of Paul, we must expand the term to refer to much more than the second coming of Christ.
As we will see, Paul understood everything about Christ, from his first to his second coming in terms of eschatology, or the end times. To see how we are expanding the term "eschatology" to include more than the second coming of Christ, we have to turn our attention to the structure of Paul's eschatology. How did Paul conceive of the last days or the end of time? Our exploration of this topic will divide into three parts: the origins, the development, and themes of Paul's eschatology. Let's look first at the origins of Paul's eschatology.
In Paul's day, Jewish theologians commonly thought that the Old Testament divided world history into two great ages. The first of these was the present age of sin and trouble, which they termed "this age," or in Hebrew, olam hazeh. Not surprisingly, Jewish theologians spoke of "this age" in very negative terms. But the rabbis also believed that there would be a future age of blessing to follow this age of trouble. They called this future age "the age to come," or in Hebrew, olam haba. In the age to come, God would finally fulfill all his promises of blessings to Israel.
Most Jewish groups in Paul's time believed that the appearance of the Messiah would stand as the crucial turning point between these ages. When the Messiah came, he was to bring the day of the Lord, the day when God would ultimately bless his people and destroy his enemies. This was the day that would usher in the age to come. When we read Paul's epistles, it becomes apparent that he also held this same basic two-age view of history. In fact, he directly referred to the age in which he lived as "this age" on at least twelve occasions. For example, Paul referred to Satan as "the god of this age" in 2 Corinthians And he spoke of the pagan philosopher as "the philosopher of this age" in 1 Corinthians Similarly, Paul used the expression "the age to come" to refer to the future age when final judgments and blessings will come to the human race.
For instance, in 1 Timothy Paul encouraged believers to be faithful in order to lay for themselves "a firm foundation for the coming age. Perhaps the best example of Paul's two-age thinking appears in Ephesians There he referred explicitly to both ages when he wrote that Christ was seated,. With this basic two-age pattern in mind, we should now turn to the way Paul developed a distinctively Christian eschatology. You'll recall that in traditional Jewish eschatology the turning point between this age and the age to come was the appearance of the Messiah.
For centuries the Jews had believed that when the Messiah came God's people would immediately receive his full blessings, while his enemies would meet immediate destruction. As a follower of Jesus, however, Paul faced a serious challenge to this longstanding belief. He knew that Jesus was Israel's Messiah — but he also knew that Jesus had not brought the world to a climactic end as Israel had expected. Like Jesus himself, and like the rest of the New Testament, Paul answered this problem by modifying traditional Jewish eschatology.
As Paul explained it, the transition from this age to the age to come was not a simple shift from one age to the next. Instead, it involved a period of overlap when both ages occurred simultaneously. From his point of view, the age to come had been inaugurated through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Paul was also confident that when Christ returned in glory, this evil age would end and the age to come would arrive in all its fullness, with ultimate blessings for God's people and final judgment for his enemies.
In the meantime, however, both ages, this age and the age to come, exist alongside each other. With the origins and development of the structure of Paul's eschatology in mind, it will be helpful to describe some themes in Paul's letters that must be understood in terms of the overlapping ages of history. It has become common to describe Paul's view of eschatology as "already and not yet" because Paul believed that some aspects of the end times or last days had already become reality in Christ, while other aspects had not yet been realized.
Let's unpack what this description means. On the one hand, according to Paul, the age to come is already here in a number of different ways. We will mention three ways this theme appears in Paul's writings. In the first place, Paul taught that the final stage of the kingdom of God began when Jesus ascended to his heavenly throne. For example, Paul wrote in Ephesians that when the Father raised Christ from the dead, he,.
Although at the present time Christ's reign is realized primarily in the heavenly realms rather than on earth, it is still true that Christ already reigns above all rule and authority. In this sense, the reign of God in the age to come is a present reality.
A second aspect of the age to come which is already present with us is the foretaste of our eternal inheritance in the Holy Spirit. Paul taught that when Christ ascended to his throne on high, he poured out the Holy Spirit on the church as a foretaste of the full inheritance we will receive when Christ returns. In Romans , Paul explained this by saying that believers are those "who have the firstfruits of the Spirit.
The firstfruits indicated that a greater harvest was coming in the future. So for Paul, the gift of the Holy Spirit in every believer's life is a foretaste of the great blessings of the age to come. The Greek term translated "deposit" is arrabon. This terminology points to the Holy Spirit as God's down payment or deposit to us, guaranteeing that we will receive much more from God in the future. Once again, the Holy Spirit is a blessing of the age to come which God has already given to us. Finally, Paul also pointed to the fact that Christ had inaugurated the new creation associated with the age to come.
Because of what Christ has done, believers now enjoy, in part, the re-creation of the world. In the Old Testament, God had promised his people that in the last days he would completely re-create the world, making it as perfect as it was before man's sin in the Garden of Eden. Listen to how the Lord described the coming age to Isaiah in Isaiah In Paul's mind, the fact that Christ was already saving people proved that the re-creation of the world had begun.
Even though Paul taught that many aspects of the age to come had already been inaugurated when Christ first came, Paul also believed that the blessings of the last days had not yet come in their fullness. So, he looked forward to Christ's return as the time when Christ would fulfill the final judgments and blessings. Once again, we will mention three ways in which Paul's perspective comes into view.
In the first place, as we've seen, Paul taught that Christ the King is now reigning from his throne in heaven. But Paul also believed that when Christ returns he will bring in the fullness of God's kingdom. Listen to the way he put it in 1 Corinthians This passage makes it plain that Paul looked beyond the present reign of Christ to the future destruction of all dominion, authority and power that stands against the purposes of God.
Christ will remain on his heavenly throne until every enemy is destroyed, including death itself. So in one sense, Paul believed that Christ's kingdom was already here, but in another sense he believed that it was not yet here.
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In the second place, as we've seen, Paul believed that the Holy Spirit is the firstfruits of the harvest of salvation, and the down payment of our inheritance. But the terms "firstfruits" and "down payment" indicate that the full reception of our inheritance is in the future. Listen to the way Paul put it in Romans Here Paul directly related the present reality of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the future.
Because the age to come is already here, we already have the Spirit. But we still groan inwardly because we have not received the redemption of our bodies. The Spirit is a wondrous foretaste, but only a foretaste, of a greater redemption: our full inheritance. Finally, although the new creation has become a spiritual reality in the lives of believers, we also await the complete renewal of creation and our eternal reign over the new earth.
As Paul wrote in Romans , at the same time that we receive our new bodies,. Paul looked forward to the return of Christ as the time when the new creation would come in all its fullness.
We have touched on only a few of the ways Paul handled important themes in terms of this age and the age to come. But we have sketched the basic pattern that underlies all of his outlooks. The age to come is a present reality with many blessings for believers. But this age will not end completely, and the age to come will not reach its fullness, until Christ returns in glory. In the meantime, the troubles of this age and the wonders of the next age exist side by side.
Having seen the structure of Paul's eschatology, we should turn to some important implications of his views. As we've seen, Paul expressed his theology largely in the context of pastoral ministry. He didn't focus on abstract theology, but on concrete human experience. Even his eschatology wasn't an abstraction. Rather, Paul believed that many difficulties facing the church resulted from the tension of living during the overlap of this age and the age to come.
So in his writings, Paul explained what God had done for believers in the first coming, and taught Christians how to live their lives as they waited for Christ's return. To unpack this practical focus of Paul's eschatology, we'll look at three topics: first, union with Christ; second, divine purpose; and third, Christian hope. Let's look first at Paul's teaching about union with Christ.
In Romans , Paul indicated that our union with Christ actually moves us from this age to the next age. Writing of union with Christ again in terms of baptism, Paul asked:. Simply put, the shift from this age to the age to come took place objectively in the death and resurrection of Christ. But every time men and women come to Christ in saving faith, they are joined to his resurrection. As a result, we no longer live under slavery to sin and God's judgment against it.
We are given new lives, resurrected lives, so that we may live in the freedom of service to Christ. As Paul continued to explain in Romans Paul's teaching about our union with Christ applied eschatology to the practical lives of all believers. Just as Jesus left this age and its judgment behind, we also have been delivered from sin and judgment.
And just as Jesus now lives in the power of the age to come, we now live in that power too. Once we have grasped how our union with Christ by faith has given us new life, we face a difficult question: Why has God designed a period of overlap between this age and the age to come? What is God's purpose? Paul's own missionary work among the Gentiles testifies to his belief that God's plan for the overlap of the ages included uniting believing Jews and Gentiles into one people of God.
Paul also believed that God had designed the overlap between this age and the age to come so that the church might reach a measure of spiritual maturity. At times he portrayed this idea in terms of building the temple of God, as in Ephesians At other times, he spoke of it in terms of a maturing human body, as in Ephesians Paul understood that the spiritual maturing of the church was one of God's central purposes for the overlap between this age and the age to come. Paul realized that this outlook on history was unusual. It hadn't been revealed in the past.
That's why he spoke of it as a mystery which God had revealed to him and which he had to explain to others. In Romans , Paul wrote these words:. In this passage Paul indicated that God was using this present time when many Jews have been hardened to the gospel to save the "full number" or "fullness" of the Gentiles.
As he indicated in Ephesians Paul's outlook on God's purposes provided an orientation for all believers living during the overlap of this age and the age to come. Both on corporate and individual levels, Christians should not look at this period as a time for quietly waiting for the fullness of the age to come. On the contrary, God has designed this period for great activity.
This is a time for rescuing many from every nation on earth, and for bringing the church to spiritual maturity. For this reason, Paul devoted his own life to spreading the gospel and building up the church, and he called others to join him in that work.
Paul's teaching about our union with Christ during the overlap of this age and the age to come also provides an essential source of hope for individual Christians as they struggle with the challenges of life. Paul knew much suffering in his own ministry as an apostle, and he knew that all Christians suffer in one way or another. But Paul's eschatology offered hope to Christians in at least two ways. On the one hand, Paul's eschatology gives us hope for the future by pointing out that we have already begun to enjoy many benefits of the age to come.
When we look at our lives and see those blessings of the age to come that we already possess, it gives us hope that we will possess even greater and fuller blessings in the future. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians On the other hand, the blessings that still lie ahead of us are so astounding that they utterly overshadow any trials we experience in this life. It was this belief that led Paul to write in Romans that.
Our present distresses are only temporary. Jesus will eventually end this present evil age and re-create the world as a glorious gift for his children. Paul admitted that we are outwardly wasting away because of the troubles of this life, but he also declared that we are being inwardly renewed day by day because of the blessings of the age to come that are already ours. Freedom from sin and the power of the Spirit enable us to delight in this daily inward renewal so that we fix our eyes on our eternal hope in Christ.
Our foretastes of the age to come help us look forward to the full banquet that awaits us at Christ's return. In this lesson we have taken a brief look into Paul and his theology. We've seen how Paul's background deeply informed his theology, and how his apostolic ministry related to his Christian beliefs.
We've also gained some important insights into the central focus of Paul's theology by exploring his eschatology. With these perspectives in mind, we will be better equipped to look deeper into Paul's life and epistles in future lessons. Not only will we have a better grasp of what Paul taught the early church in his day, but we will be able to see more clearly what his teachings mean for us today.
Our Story Resources Connect. Jewish Culture If we underestimate the influence Paul's Jewish heritage had on him, we're very likely to miss the heart of his theology. For example, in Philippians , Paul claimed to have been, circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee Philippians Listen to how he described himself in Galatians I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers Galatians To those under the law I became like one under the law 1 Corinthians