Today's reading covers a couple of Paul's brief "prison letters", which were likely written when he was under house arrest in Rome. I like Colossians, mainly because it is so Christ-focused. Not that Paul is not always Christ-focused in his writings, but he talks here so much about the preeminence of Christ--everything is truly about Him. It was interesting to read Colossians again, because it spoke to so much of what I read about Christ through the gospels this time around. It's all about Him. he is all I need. Regarding Christ, Paul says, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile himself to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
A couple of paragraphs later, Paul continues with, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority...When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. and having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
(I also have to admit that I love those passages at the beginning of Colossians about Christ, because they remind me of the passages about Christ in my favorite book of the Bible, Hebrews. We'll get to it soon enough, and I can hardly wait!)
Anyway, after Paul has established that Christ is supreme and everything is by Him and for Him, and that it is He that triumphed over everything that was opposed to us, he goes on to give some practical advice. He reminds the Colossians that Christ is now to be their life. He warns them of the types of behaviors to stay away from, and then tells them how they should live their lives focused on Christ instead.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry...anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language...do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator...Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful...whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
I have to say that the book of Philemon is a neat little (only one chapter) book, in that it was written to a particular person, rather than to one of the churches. In this letter, Paul gives a fellow Christian, Philemon, instructions on how to treat and accept a slave of his that had run away from him, but in the meantime, he had become a Christian. Paul now sends this slave, Onesimus, back to Philemon and asks Philemon to receive him as a brother.
One other thing I want to point out about Philemon is this: towards the beginning of most of Paul's letters, he writes to the person/church that he is thankful for them and praying for them. This greeting of his worded a little differently in each letter, and it probably varies from one translation to another. They make for neat little verses to rip out of context and place in our own writing, to let someone know we are thinking of them or praying for them.
Since I'm mainly an NIV reader, I have to admit that the way the greeting is worded in the NIV translation of Philemon is the one that I like the best and use most often when ripping one out of context to send to someone that I know. It's my favorite verse to use to let them know that I'm thankful for them and praying for them.
"I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers."--Philemon 4