In what ways do we
What is Doulos?
The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, and co host Father Timothy Lowe, retired priest and former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute of Jerusalem brings you this episode today of Doulos. Hello, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:31
Hello, Hollie. Here we are in the second week of the new year.
Hollie Benton 0:35
That's right, we are recording this episode in this new year of 2023. New Years of course offers a chance to consider life's priorities and reflect on behavior changes and better habits. Last episode, we reflected on the simple and powerful words of the prayer provided by Jesus in Matthew's Gospel, which sets the Lord's priority when we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." This priority shows up over and over again throughout Scripture, as we'll see even in our study today of a passage from Colossians. If we would only hear its message, submit to its wisdom,and obey not my will, not my kingdom, not my personal goals, not my personal New Year's resolutions, but earnestly pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." It's our only hope for this world where so many kingdoms are at war, from the country as kingdom to competing businesses all the way down to the local level, where we see conflict with our neighbors, within our parishes, and even within our own families. If we could only behave according to what we pray, "Thy will be done," and submit to our neighbor in love, we might just get a glimpse of the Lord's Kingdom. So Father, we'll be looking at a short passage from Colossians today. Help set the context for St. Paul's letter to the Colossians.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 1:58
I want our listeners to understand that any time they're reading the New Testament, they have to put it in the context of the Roman Empire. That is the reality of people's lives. It's this huge expression of power, wealth, dominance. And when you think of the Roman Empire, again, reminding people it started and it stretched north, south, east, west. Just recently, I read an article, you know, headlines capture curiosity about the secret to their buildings. Why do their buildings lasts so long, because they knew something about cement that only today we didn't even know. I just use this as an example. I've walked Roman roads, I've visited ancient Roman cities, from Jordan to Spain to, of course, Rome itself. So that context is important, because that is going to be the reference point in Paul's discussion. And the people he's addressing are Romans, are coming from that context, either as slaves or either citizens, or some other relational capacity with this massive empire that extended through multiple countries, languages, and people. And so that's important to remember, and we'll talk more about that context, because Paul's going to reference it in his letter here to the Colossians.
Hollie Benton 3:17
I find that the Apostle Paul really has a marvelous way of connecting all the dots from the grand vision set by God the Father, His instruction, His kingdom, His will, and what this means for a community, a group of people established by His instruction, and hopefully working together to carry out His will. And then all the way down to the individual responsibility to behave as one redeemed by God, established by God. So I would encourage everyone to read the entire letter of Colossians. It's only four chapters long. Colossians chapter three begins with the grand vision. "If then you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on things that are above not on things that are on earth." And then later, he continues where we begin our reading at verse eight. "But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices, and put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all and in all. Put on then as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved: compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience forebearing one another. And if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called in the one body and be thankful." The Apostle covers a lot of ground in just a few short verses here to set the vision for what is changed, what no longer applies, how we no longer behave, and then what now applies, the new way of being, even our mindset and the categories in the way we interact with others. There cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free. I looked at this word Scythian, and I understand it's the most barbaric and wild of the barbarians related to people of Scythia, which is now modern day Russia, which is poignant, even for today's discussion. To this day, we all look down our noses at people who are different, considered less than, categorized so that we can manage our opinions about such groups of people, the Democrats, the Republicans, the immigrants, the ethnic groups. And even in the church, we categorize the cradle and the converts, which likely doesn't carry the same kind of emotional threat like other categories, but it is divisive, nonetheless. But the Apostle here, says if we have taken off the old and put on the new, and I noticed that it's not old nature and new nature, it's the old and the new. There can no longer be these functional categories of Greek and Jew and others that he mentions. The categories no longer divide, because if the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, we function as one body. So say more about this punch line here in verse 11. Father Tim,
Fr. Timothy Lowe 6:43
We briefly addressed the issue of context, the Roman Empire. And now you see how St. Paul elaborates that into categories: Greek Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, and I'm glad you mentioned Scythian, because that's a punch line that people may not realize. Because, as you say, the wild barbarians, an area that not even Rome has conquered. Okay, so it's outside the Roman Empire. And Paul is already teasing and saying, well, the Gospel has succeeded, where Rome has not succeeded. So that's a nice little jab that Father Tarazi says in his commentary on Colossians, just again, to make a point. Now, within this context, it's not like those of us who grew up in Christian households, right. And I don't care, Protestant, Catholic, whatever. For example, I would say there was never a time where I didn't believe in God, it was just part of my reality, part of the life of the family I was raised in, it was always there. And then you're baptized at some point. Of course, we Orthodox baptize infants and most people therefore cradle as another distinction you made, because again, how we define and divide ourselves, which is all just human, and therefore the flesh and not of the Spirit. But this idea that we really didn't have an old life that we were leaving behind. Okay, but that is not the context here. The context is people had a different life, they had their pantheon of gods or their other cults or their other syncretistic ideas, gnosticism was rampant as well. And then Judaism itself. And in that, all of a sudden, you introduce something that is transcendent, that is new. My point is there was an old life that these people left behind. And Colossians always talks about the old and the new. People read it, it is three pages long, it requires five minutes, I can't believe that we never read something in its entirety, unless it's a novel. And then we binge read or, worse, a series on Netflix or Amazon, where we, you know, we'll take a whole day, especially if you are secluded inside because of weather, and will binge something, that's just part of our lingo now.
Hollie Benton 8:55
Binge the Bible.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 8:58
Three pages, read it so that when we talk here, this chapter starts with your life is hidden with Christ in God. In other words, the life that you understand is connected to this person who is an anti-Caesar, i.e. its counterpart, the negative one. This is how St. Paul is presenting the gospel, and people who have left the power, the security, the slavery, or whatever it is of their former life, and are adhering to something else, something new. And notice that it's not about mental knowledge. And this is a problem for those of us who are trained. You're a seminary grad. I'm a seminary grad, who therefore are trained in mental knowledge and awareness in detail that is really beyond what is functionally necessary for our life and certainly even for our ministries. But that being said, it is not about that and you have constantly said here, it's about the instruction, the Gospels, the teaching, living it, and that's why this section here and all of Colossians is just is a continuation of the Lord's Prayer which you reminded our hearers that we did last week. What does it mean to be a new person? It is solely behavioral. Okay. And that's why he says, "Put aside the old things." And then it goes into the idolatry and the anger and so on and so forth, and put on the new things after the person of Christ. And so my point is that we cannot and will not ever live in abstraction or hypocrisy. And we've talked about human arrogance, hypocrisy, saying something and doing another and therefore, dismantling the very thing that we've been taught or teaching others. So that being said, Hollie, when Christ appears, then we will appear with Him in His glory, see, in his power. And so this idea that in the meantime, we have a business to do, and you've summed it up, and we've summed it again, the will of God, which is primarily taking care of the person in need. We know the teaching of the Good Samaritan, as a teaching parable, the person in need, that's our responsibility, and then the forgiveness. And then this transforming impossible witness. And it just shows you how much we are failing as the church, of we are all one overcoming the natural human divisions. And you pointed them out, I mean, come on, let's cry and weep. Last week was old calendar Christmas, right. So if you are in Bethlehem, you are celebrating Christmas last week, if you are in Russia, you are celebrating Christmas last week. Your brothers and sisters in Ukraine because of the invasion are celebrating not then because they don't want to be identified with that because it's all become politicized. The crying part comes when you see how the church is participating in the divisions, instead of being the icon and the witness to the transformation that it is Christ who is the Lord. And therefore it is He who unites us, and not just our ticky tacky little personal interests or identities. Okay, Greek, non Greek, Gentile, Jew, Christian, Muslim, cradle born, not cradle born. I'm Ukrainian. I'm Russian. I'm Antiochian. I'm Greek. OCA. All that is silliness. But the truth is, that means that we haven't been transformed. We have not been transformed. It is still a bit of a joke. The joke is that that's the witness we give. That's the witness we give. Which means that Christ functionally is therefore not the Lord and the master. And therefore, when He appears, it's not going to be unto salvation and glory and participation in his life. It will be to judgment, to judgment. The church, and interesting that Paul is addressing these issues now, first century, infancy of Christianity. And if it's a problem then, add on hundreds and hundreds of years of division and natural selection and parsing out and competition. As you know, I've lived in Jerusalem many years. And so I've been to Bethlehem on Christmas. They do a midnight liturgy, actually, I've had my kids resting in the cave of the Nativity, because it's too cold and we didn't live close by and we didn't have enough money. This is a long time ago. And so they're there in the Nativity cavern itself, huddled while the nuns are chanting Psalms. But the idea is this transformation to the Lordship of Christ. And it is only manifested when he rules in our behavior, and we acknowledge that. But that means putting off the old and putting on the new. Paul repeats himself in these three pages of his epistle. He talks about putting off the old man, sometimes in English it's translated nature, which is nonsense, you put off the old man that is with the flesh born of the seed of Adam, and put on that which is born of the seed of the Spirit. Now baptism, of course, is the beginning of that. Honestly, sometimes I could easily just say infant baptism really is just questionable for this alone, because you leave your old life consciously, and you move to a new life and you commit. You give up the lordship of Caesar, or your Caesar of your generation, which would be our government, or our military power of whichever country we're living in. And you replace it with the Lordship of Christ. And then you wait in hope, listening, doing what he just beautifully said here, what you just read about the love of the neighbor, and the miracle of unity. So we can acknowledge our dirty laundry because it's there, everybody sees it, that we are not a unified church. There is nothing unified. We are broken down into individualistic pieces and territorial rights. In Bethlehem there are two churches, mainly, Justinian's Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and then of course, The Holy Sepulchre, that by design have to be shared with all the other groups. They have legal rights. You go to the Holy Sepulchre, the main part of it belongs to the Greeks. The other main part on the other side belongs to Roman Catholics. Then behind the eticule, the tomb, you have the Copts, then off to the other side, you have the Armenians, then another back corner you have the Syrians. My point is, is that they have to share this piece of sacred property. And often they get in fights, because they're trying to maintain their rights. It's a history of competition. It's a history of negotiating with the previous landlords, mainly the Turks. I'm just saying all this detail just to make our point of the tragedy. And that here in the first century, Paul is addressing this. The tragedy of separating along just our natural human lines. And the miracle, it says, the miracle of the resurrection, but it's a miracle that is hidden and will only appear at the end of time when Christ comes in glory. And then things will be manifested, and everybody will be put in their rightful place, according to what they have done. So this is our business, we talked about it, loving the neighbor and forgiving, and again, the Lord's Prayer again, and again, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony, forbearing one another, forgive because the Lord has forgiven you. He has set the example for us. The example of course is His commandments, His teaching, His life. But it's his death. It's his death, the cross. So choose your lords. That's what Paul is saying, you either get the Crucified One who is your Lord, to whom then you submit, you bow your knee, and therefore His teaching. You do what he says, or it's the latest version of the Roman emperor to whom you submit, and you do his bidding. The difference is, he will force you to do his bidding. And here you have the option. And therefore, you must say, "Amen, not my will, but Thy will be done." And so Christians say this prayer, understand the divisions, understand where we fail miserably, understand what we truly must be doing, and then do it. What else is there to say, we're repeating ourselves, but Paul repeats himself, he writes three pages and trust me, he says the same thing at least three times.
Hollie Benton 17:22
Right, as a Doulos in the Lord's household, we have only to do His will and it's our only hope, isn't it?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:28
It is. With joy. With gratitude. You know, we're in the second week, right, we've already forgotten our New Year's resolutions or as I wanted to tease people, our repentances, right. That is way in the rearview mirror. We've gone on with our lives. Back to work. Kids are back in school, the hubbub of life and so on. No, no, no. We do it in repentance, not mine, Thy will be done, every day, so we can function in unity.
Hollie Benton 17:54
Amen. Thank you, Father.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai