Notes on Colossians 1:13, 14
The apostle’s prayer is followed by a statement about the Gospel’s effect on his readers’ lives.
They have been:
- rescued from the power of darkness and
- transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·
“[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (NRSV)
John Wesley comments:
"Power detains reluctant captives, a kingdom cherishes willing subjects."
In those words, he captures what I believe is the basic contrast contained in this passage: a tyranny vs. a kingdom; Oppression vs. loving service.
Darkness is here personified, and is represented as having εξουσια, power, authority, and sway; all Jews and Gentiles, which had not embraced the Gospel, being under this authority and power. And the apostle intimates here that nothing less than the power of God can redeem [someone] from this darkness, or prince of darkness, who, by means of sin and unbelief, keeps [people] in ignorance, vice, and misery.
Spiritual darkness has power. Spiritual darkness establishes a tyranny over people's lives (τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους). Spiritual darkness oppresses.
I'm reminded of these verses from the letter to the Ephesians:
"You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else." (Ephesians 2:1-3 NRSV)
It is quite natural for us to become enmeshed in our own selfishness and ruled by our own conflicting drives and urges — unless we can find some center outside of ourselves. Only this can provide us a sense of
- what is right and wrong,
- what life is all about,
- how we can fit into a larger plan to improve this world for the benefit of all people.
Do you realize how counter-intuitive all this is in our day? To most people now, it is sin and unbelief which seems to offer freedom. It is unbelief which is called "freethinking." And, all to often, it is the life of faith which seems to people like bondage and oppression.
And, what about that? Isn't it true that people have created oppressive, controlling religious structures in the (misguided) effort to strengthen and extend the faith? Some Christian families can best be described as controlling religious structures. Some churches are controlling, oppressive and cult-like. Some of the leadership of the Christian church is oppressive and controlling.
And, there are people who have fled these religious structures and institutions to find themselves — and to find freedom from oppression. What a sad commentary this is on what the Church of Jesus Christ has become!
The people who are supposed to be offering hope and freedom and grace and respect and life and meaning are the oppressors. All in the effort to preserve and extend the faith.
God help me! I don't want to be an oppressor. I don't want to be the enemy of freedom and respect. I don't want to be the enemy of grace.
Remember when some buses in the UK had the following large ad placed on their side: “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying And Enjoy Your Life.” An atheist group raised money to place those ads.
The assumption here is that belief in God is a source of worry and oppression. And, it seems sad to me that anyone should have experienced it that way. The great themes of the Christian faith are ideas like grace, love, forgiveness, freedom, hope, and peace. Being in the Kingdom of Christ means: Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life!
The Church has handled many things well. But, it has not handled power well. When given power, the Church has too often become oppressive and spiritually corrupt.
And, this shows us how different the ancient social context (in which Paul wrote) was from the social context in which we live today. Then Christianity was a personal choice not supported by the cultural environment of the time. Christians met in homes. In some cases, Christians may have met in secret. Misunderstanding and persecution characterized the earliest stages of the history of the Christian church. People were Christians primarily because they chose to be, not because of their society or their family.
And, the choice meant freedom for them: freedom from sin; freedom from selfishness and self-obsession. It meant having the freedom to serve a God of grace in the midst of a community of grace.
But, it will always be hard to present this message to our generation. It will be hard, in large part, because of what Christians have made of Christianity.
The word "rescued" (ἐρρύσατο) says we are brought out of the dominion of darkness by a power outside of ourselves. We do not rescue ourselves. God rescues us, transferring us into the Kingdom of his beloved son, Jesus Christ. In the realm of God's Kingdom we experience redemption: the forgiveness of sins. The Christian life is an experience of grace from beginning to end.
I found these remarks in the Wesley Study Bible. It appears in a section entitled “Wesleyan Core Term: Conversion” on page 1446:
In Col 1:13-14, God invites and beckons us to receive divine salvation. Moreover, these brief verses provide a basis for our understanding of salvation, holiness, and the process leading to perfection that is accomplished in us through Christ and that moves toward completion through the Holy Spirit. Christ promises a new kingdom over which Christ will reign and in which God's love will flow. Hence, acceptance of God's grace leads to personal salvation from sin and death, here and now, while also anticipating God's loving kingdom in the future.
I'm fine with these remarks as generalizations about Christian conversion.
But, really the imagery here is different: not future realms, but present realms.
The Dominion of Darkness and the Kingdom of Christ are pictured in this passage as competing realms in the here and now. They are non-localized realms. They exist in the midst of the realms and governments humans devise and run. The Dominion of Darkness is entered by default. Living in the realm of Christ is a matter of grace and redemption.
It’s not the Kingdom someday — it is God’s Kingdom now, established by Christ, entered by active faith.
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