November 27, 2017
Colossians 4:14-15 NRSV
When I was in seminary (and if you are ever looking for the greatest seminary on the planet, please let me know), I served as the grounds keeper for Rose Hill, the residence of the seminary president, who at the time was Maxie Dunnam. He became a mentor to me in those days and remains so to the present. I remember once, in response to the news that one of our students had committed an unspeakable indiscretion, Maxie lamented to me, “Unfortunately, the church is the world.”
I’ve never forgotten it and reflect on it often. On the one hand, the church is the people of God, the saints, or holy ones. At the same time, the church is, as the hymn writer put it, “frail children of dust and feeble as frail.” (O Worship the King, Robert Grant). We are those in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell, and yet we are prone to fill up our cravings with every emptiness under the sun. We are “in Christ,” anchored in Heaven, and “in Colossae,” with roots yet attached in the soil of sin. The church is in the world, and it will only ever all be finally sorted out at the end of all-things-broken and the beginning of all-things-made-new. Our main task is to ask the Lord of the Harvest to sort the mixed bag of our own lives now.
That’s the story of today’s text. On the one hand, Paul salutes Dr. Luke, who would go on to write the Gospel bearing his name and if that weren’t enough, the Acts of the Apostles. On the other hand he lifts up Demas, about whom he will later write to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.” 2 Timothy 4:9-10.
In similar fashion, Paul hails the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, to whom the Apostle John will later personalize this stinging revelation, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16.
It’s conjecture on my part, but I wonder if that’s why Paul gave the hat tip to Nympha. Why would there be another church in Laodicea and this one led by a woman?
Hear John a verse further on them: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” v.17.
It seems Nympha may have played host to a splinter community who could perhaps no longer abide the fruitless charades of “First Church.” This would have likely made Nympha a term of derision among the religious elite. Paul could have scorned this as schismatic or simply said nothing, but he chose instead to establish her for history and eternity as a church planting woman of valor.
The church is the world. It’s a confusing place. The wheat and the tares so often hopelessly intertwined—Demas and Luke; lukewarm Laodiceans and Nympha’s band.
For now we must live in the mess of it all. It’s why we will call domino #4|14, “Our Conundrum.” As someone once said, “The Church is like Noah’s Ark. Had it not been for the floodwaters outside, who could have stood the stench inside!”
We must keep coming back to domino #3|9 and #3|10: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:9-10.
At the end of the day, our most valuable prayer must mirror the one we pray at the beginning of the day, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, who will one day sort the wheat from the tares and establish your Kingdom finally and forever. Grace me to be filled with both compassion and conviction and by your Spirit form them in the shape of courage to stand as your Church in the midst of the world. We pray in Jesus name, amen.
- If Demas is at one end of the discipleship spectrum and Luke at the other (1-10), where do you locate the state of your own discipleship?
- If First Church Laodicea is at one end of the church spectrum and Nympha’s Church at the other (1-10), where do you locate the state of your local church?
- How are you dealing with the frustrating reality that the church is the world?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.