Colossians 3:11 – “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is call, and in all.”
On top of slowly going through books of the Bible verse-by-verse, I’ve been trying to take the time to read entire books and letters in one sitting.
With Paul, I have found it especially helpful to take in an entire letter at once. Reading one of Paul’s pastoral letters in full helps me to see more of the bigger picture and to better understand his overall argument to the churches to which he wrote.
It’s good to remember that Paul was not only the greatest theologian who ever lived (besides Christ), but his argumentative writing skills were unparalleled as well.
Paul was trained to argue and reason his beliefs. He was well-respected and esteemed under the Jewish Law, having been trained under one of the preeminent Jewish teachers of the day, Gamaliel. As a Christian, he wrote most of the New Testament, his letters forming and shaping most of our doctrine and ecclesiology.
Reading one of Paul’s letters is witnessing a master class in logical argumentation. We know all Scripture is, literally speaking, God-breathed. But that does not remove the individuality of the various writers who were imbued and inspired by the Holy Spirit, who carried them along (2 Peter 1:20).
We read one such instance of Paul’s theological and argumentative skills in the third and fourth chapters of Colossians.
Paul lays out who we are in Christ, namely, that our status, race, or heritage is secondary to who we are in Christ (Col. 3:11). The full force of that argument can’t be felt unless we begin to understand who these barbarians, Scythians, and slaves were.
They were seen by civilized societies as lesser humans, humans who could be bought and sold, beaten and whipped, discarded and forgotten.
Here, Paul tells the Colossian Church that those distinctions, including those of the “lesser” humans, no longer define who they are in Christ. The barbarian, Scythian, slave, and Greek, are just as much a forgiven, adopted child of God as the most devout Jew.
Then, he moves to argue that we should, as fellow Christians, put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, before moving on to how slaves should serve their masters and masters should treat their slaves.
With all that in mind, note the second of the two persons Paul entrusted this letter with. Onesimus. Who is Onesimus, this “faithful and beloved brother,” but the very slave who ran away from his master Philemon, who was also a member of the Colossian Church! Who, we will also note, received his own letter from Paul telling him in no uncertain terms to release him from slavery.
Paul not only calls Onesimus – a former slave, owned by another member of the church – a faithful and beloved brother, he also writes that he is “one of you.”
This slave, this person who was seen as a secondary human being in this society, is “one of you,” a fellow Christian, purchased and redeemed by the same Christ who died to save them and inaugurated the church in His blood.
Onesimus left a slave; he returned free and equal, and not only that, entrusted by the great Apostle with carrying the letter to the Colossian Church.
In a matter of a few hundred words, Paul subtly and deftly dismantled racism, as well as the entire ancient system of slavery by stressing our common unity as Christians in union with Christ and one another.
How beautiful the Gospel of Christ is!