I've often wondered what the Apostle Paul would write if he could write a letter to western Christians in the 21st century.
Look at the pattern of so many of Paul's letters. He starts out introducing himself, thanking God for certain things and affirming the church he's writing to. Then he often delves into some pretty heavy theology that is appropriate to the context. Hard on the heels of this theological content he does some practical application about habits and behaviors for individuals and the church as a whole, including specific advice to problems or errors in the churches. Finally he concludes with a bunch of personal information, wanting to greet individuals or groups with whom he has a personal connection.
So I wonder. What theology would Paul want us to consider? What would he affirm? What practical advice would he give? What issues would he take on and what would he ignore? What errors would he expose and what corrections would he offer?
On Sunday morning I reread the book of Colossians in the New Testament. Paul wrote this letter to connect with Christians he'd never met personally, but who had been converted by people who had been nurtured under Paul's teaching. These Christians lived in an area filled with a variety of pagan, Roman, and Jewish influences that threatened to pull these baby Christians into all kinds of errors. Pressure came from outside and inside the church to buy into legalism, to participate in paganism, and to deny the basics of Christianity.
Paul's response? Almost the entire book of Colossians is one long focus on Jesus Christ. From the opening verses that describe Jesus as the "firstborn of all creation" to the admonition near the end to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" Paul calls the Colossian Christians back again and again to focus on Jesus. Jesus, properly understood and worshipped, is the antidote to legalism, paganism, and all sorts of errors.
I kind of think what Paul might write to us today would be very similar to the book of Colossians.
So here's my encouragement this week: Read the book of Colossians a few times. You can get through it in a half hour or so. Try reading it first with those first century Christians at Colossae in mind. Try to hear and understand their situation as Paul addresses it. Then read it again, trying to imagine Paul writing to us today. Finally, read it yet again and try to hear what the Spirit of Jesus might speak to you personally out of this letter.
Yes, you're reading someone else's mail. But as you read through Colossians, I think you'll find that it's easy to forget the letter isn't written to you.