Following his standard practice, Paul addresses this letter to “the saints” in Christ at Colossae. As you know, “saints” is a precious word that has been sorely perverted. For many people it conjures up images of a painfully thin, sad-faced monastic sort of soul who looks like he’s been sucking on a lemon.
Most of you are aware, I hope, that the word translated “saints” was used primarily to describe people set apart or separated unto God, consecrated by his grace to be a unique and treasured possession. The OT background for this terminology is found in Exod. 19:6. The focus is more on separation than sanctity (although the former should always lead to the latter). It has in view more one’s position than purity.
It is important to know that the word "saint" (as with the word "priest") is always found in the plural in the NT, with but once exception (Ph. 4:21; but even there, Paul refers to "every" saint!). This does not bode well for the “solitary saint,” the “Lone-Ranger Christian” so often seen in our highly individualized western way of looking at the faith. Perhaps I’ll address this at more length in another lesson.
But what most intrigues me about Paul’s description of these believers is that they are both “in Christ” and “at Colossae.” They are simultaneously citizens of two kingdoms. They live at one and the same time “in Christ” and “in the world of this ancient Roman city.”
Note well the emphasis on both earthly and spiritual geography: they live in both Colossae and Christ! Klyne Snodgrass comments on this phenomenon in his commentary on Ephesians. I have taken the liberty of substituting “Colossae” for “Ephesus”:
“To speak of Paul’s sense of ‘geography’ is an attempt to describe the ‘place’ where he thought Christians live. In Paul’s mind, just as these Christians live literally in the region near Colossae, they also live in Christ. The terrain, climate, values, and history in which people grow up and live helps to define who they are. As really as this region near Colossae defines who they are, Christ defines who believers really are. He is the ‘sphere of influence’ or ‘power field’ in which they live and from which they benefit and are transformed. That is, his Spirit, values, character, history, and purposes shape their lives. People can live in other spheres (cf. 2:1-3), but Christians live in Christ. Jesus Christ must never be depersonalized by such language, but we will not understand Paul unless we learn to think of life as lived in Christ” (40).
Thus there are two levels of experience for the believer, two kingdoms of which he/she is a citizen, two perspectives from which we may view life. For me today, I am in/at Kansas City. In a real sense, that is where I am. But it cannot and must not ever exhaust what I am. We are more than citizens of an earthly city or state or country. Bishop Handley Moule put it this way:
“They moved about Colossae ‘in Christ.’ They worked, served, kept the house, followed the business, met the neighbors, entered into their sorrows and joys, . . . suffered their abuse and insults when such things came – all ‘in Christ.’ They carried about with them a private atmosphere, which was not of Asia but of heaven. To them Christ was the inner home, the dear invisible but real resting place. . . . And what a rich gain for poor Colossae, that they, being in Him, were in it” (28).
No matter where you are geographically and physically, what you are spiritually will never change. You may be at work, at play, overseas, under the weather, out of money, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ!
You may be down in the dumps, over the hill, or beside yourself, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! You may be at paradise or in prison, at the movies or in Chicago, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! Your geographical, earthly, physical location has no effect on your spiritual identity.
But the reverse is different. It is precisely because you are in Christ that wherever you live and work and play, you make an impact, you carry an influence, you make a difference. Your spiritual identity as one in Christ must control and characterize how you live, wherever you live.
And remember: it is in Kansas City or Chicago or Dallas or whatever geographical location you call home that you are in Christ. They are true simultaneously. You do not live in Christ only while you are at church, on your knees, or in a home group, then to return to being simply in your city when you leave that more “holy” atmosphere. Your “in-Christness” is not simply a heavenly reality that obtains only somewhere up there. You are “in Christ” even when you are “in sin”, although the reality of the former ought to progressively diminish ones experience of the latter!
What an indescribable privilege and joy: to be a saint,in Christ, in Kansas City!
Both here and in Him,