Marching Orders

Written on: April 12, 2020

Article by: Tim Johnson

Colossians 2:4–7

Nobody is happy when a thriving town is bypassed by a new highway. Such was the fate of the once-important community of Colossae. When the major road went through on its way to the Euphrates River to the east, commerce flourished, and military people often marched through. Great Persian kings and generals such as Cyrus and Xerxes used Colossae as a staging post on their way to battles elsewhere. By Paul’s day the city was smaller, but still important. Much of its commerce had moved to Laodicea; John also mentions that rich city in Revelation 3. Colossae’s brush with military importance was still remembered.

With troublesome philosophers and persuasive false teachers on site in Asia Minor, Paul, a thousand miles away in Rome, was concerned about them. But he had heard, perhaps from Epaphras or Onesimus, that the congregation had resistant strength. The apostle felt he was with them in spirit, “rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (2:5). His statement bristles with military imagery.

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Good discipline comes from a Greek word that means rank, as in an army. The congregation as a whole was ready to obey the Lord in whatever direction the Word of God pointed, or to handle opportunities, projects and issues according to the principles and commands He had given them. Stability of faith comes from bulwark in Greek, suggesting the phalanx formation that soldiers would use to cut through opposing lines and withstand the shocks of enemy action. The church should have a stability and steadiness that is not unlike disciplined soldiers, able to deal with the attacks and deceptions that often try to break through and cause harm. What follows in our text is a group of directions that are much like marching orders.

Walk in Him

Paul called them to set Jesus front-and-centre as the one we serve in life. All new Christians desire to do this, but life has a way of beating us up and discouraging us. We become a little jaded in our outlook. We have to get our eyes off our own failures and the messy things that people sometimes do and concentrate on our Lord, where the real strength exists. It’s good to read about Him a little every day and let Him move you into greater things. It’s important, over time, to try to become deeper as a Christian, not shallower or weaker. The one who leads us has “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). The Colossian church needed to concentrate on that, not on those who would mislead them.

Firmly Rooted in Him

A large tree planted in good soil can withstand just about any storm. Deep roots anchor these behemoths of nature and draw up nourishment from the soil. Instead of buying into the traditions and empty deceptions of men, the Colossians were to become rooted down deep into the depths of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to base our lives on many inferior things that won’t stand the storms of life. A friend of mine spent just about everything he had on a big home with fine features that he built himself. Years later his marriage tragically dissolved, and one night his precious house burned down. He was heard to say, “I put my whole life into that house!” That’s not good enough. Put your roots deep into Jesus Christ and you’ll have some depth and security in a troubling world.

Built Up in Him

Great buildings dotted the ancient cities of the first century. Rome, where Paul sat, boasted large palaces of the Caesars. Athens built the Parthenon about 480 years before the apostle saw it in Acts 17. Great engineering went into these structures and their foundations still stand today. We, too, are to build strength and security in our lives by being built up in Him. The Colossians were to construct their lives carefully with Jesus as their model and goal. They were to seek His wisdom and strength with all the things they attended to in life. Paul speaks of “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” We’re to try to develop good relationships with our brothers & sisters in Christ and be “knit together in love.” That takes work and determination, but it’s one way to be built up in Him. This results in people being established in their faith. It’s a phrase that indicates a settled, time-tested stability.

Overflowing with Gratitude

I suppose some ancient soldiers hated the directions they were given by their superiors. Maybe they grumbled about conditions, lousy pay, their long marches. But they were looked after by the state, provided with clothing and weapons, fed every day, and treated as heroes if they succeeded in battle. Thankfulness is an attitude that comes from knowing what you have and who has given it to you. Some people always compare themselves to others, think they never have enough, or don’t have the best. But when you consider the good things you DO have it brings a better view. You have a Lord who has given you salvation and a hope for the future. He died to provide it. You have fellow Christians who try to care about you and pray for you. You have a promise from God to never let you starve or lack the basics. Even Paul, in prison, was grateful for what he had. He encouraged the Colossians to do the same.

These marching orders would keep the Colossian church healthy and going the right way. Consider them carefully. In what direction are you going?

Barrie, Ontario