“Oh DebbieLynne, no!” you’re saying. “Paul’s opening verses in Colossians don’t really talk about discernment. Can’t you just skip them?”
To be truthful, sisters, I seriously considered skipping these introductory remarks Paul made. Like you, I’m eager to get into the meat of the epistle! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even these verses possess nuggets of doctrine that can help us discern sound teaching. Remember — true discernment comes through right doctrine.
So let’s look at Paul’s salutation to the church at Colossae and see if we can notice anything that could sharpen our discernment.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. ~~Colossians 1:1-2 (ESV)
Again, you argue that this passage is a fairly standard Pauline greeting. And you’re absolutely correct! Clearly, I don’t need to take you through all the other epistles to demonstrate that he usually begins his letters with words to this effect.
However, Paul always took great care in choosing his words, which makes me think that we should probably think a little about his purposes in writing his salutations the way he does. If he’s being deliberate in what he writes, maybe we should pay attention and determine whether or not we can learn anything from these seemingly inconsequential remarks.
Verse 1, for example, testifies that Paul is an apostle by the will of God. He makes similar assertions in Romans 1:1 and 1 Corinthians 1:1, leading 21st Century readers to dismiss this self-identification as mere convention. Ladies, don’t be too hasty in making that assumption when you’re dealing with the apostle Paul. As I said a moment ago, he was a man who chose his words deliberately. Therefore, we should read them in the context of this epistle.
As the letter progresses, Paul will correct the false teachings that threatened the Colossian church. Because of these corrections, he needs to establish his authority. He had never personally visited Colossae (as we’ll see in later portions of this epistle), so he must ensure that this church will listen to him. But could there be something more?
Later in Chapter 1, he will make a case for God’s supremacy over all creation. Could he be hinting at that supremacy now? I believe it’s possible. Certainly he wants the Colossians to know that he didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Gee, I think I’ll be an apostle!” He wants them to be assured that God Himself ordained for him to have that authority. He wants to introduce God’s sovereignty.
Moving on to verse 2, we see that Paul refers to the faithful brothers in Colossae as saints. Far from the Roman Catholic misunderstanding of saints as having canonical recognition, saints are actually all truly converted Christians. But truly converted Christians are, in fact, set apart from other people for the Lord’s purposes.
In Chapter 3, we will see the theological implications of our position as saints, followed by practical instruction on how to live in ways that demonstrate our separation from the world. Thus, Paul uses his salutation to introduce the concept of separation.
Separation from worldly philosophies and self-righteous religious practices requires discernment. Paul sets the stage for developing this discernment as he uses his salutation to suggest the doctrines of the Lord’s supremacy and our separation from the world. Praise God for leading Paul to prepare us for the meat of the epistle even in his first few sentences!