Remember my chains. This exhortation made by Paul in the closing of his letter in Colossians has been resounding in my mind since last Sunday. It has simple syntax. It seems pretty self-explanatory—remember that he himself, Paul, is in chains for the gospel he is preaching—remember that it is worth it. Remember that he is partnering with the church to which he is writing. Now, I am certainly no theological scholar. In fact, most of the time, I think I read scripture in a much simpler way than I ought. I think though, perhaps, that as long as God is revealing through my reading—this isn’t always necessarily such a bad thing.
Sometimes I think Paul’s tone can be misinterpreted. Someone I know recently noted that there is a camp of followers who dislike Paul because of his straightforward, rather harsh message. This struck me; I had never thought of his letters in this way. In fact, I think that what I like most about the New Testament is that it lays it out for us. It’s straightforward. In a lot of ways, it allows a very limited amount of wiggle room for how we are called to live as Christians. Feed the poor. Take care of the widows. Set aside your old ways and live as I have lived. I am paraphrasing here, but you get the point.
Looking closely though, I’m able to recognize how this train of thought—the one that considers Paul to be too “preachy” might form. He admonishes us to live lives worthy of the gospel. He commands us to rid ourselves of things that our flesh desires to keep. “Now you must rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (3:8). I sat there, in the park last Sunday, reading each chapter over and over. Aloud. Silently. Pondering. It was sunny that day, and the sky looked as if someone had pulled apart their mother’s nail-polishing cotton balls and scattered them carelessly across the sky. A father flew a kite with his son—a big, blue and red one that reminded me of a dragon when it flew higher and higher. As I read, what struck me the most was not his admonishing or his commands to be clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience (3:12). What struck me was a new insight into the tone of his voice.
Tone is important for a writer. If the voice of the writer is not captivating—if it does not create some sort of emotion in the reader—then a problem occurs: the reader doesn’t care. I’ve laid down so many books simply because by chapter 5, I was bored of the author’s voice. I didn’t care about what he or she had to say. I myself am always concerned as to whether or not my voice is coming across as it should.
I thought about who Paul once was. I thought about how he himself had once been chained by anger, rage, malice, and slander. I thought about how he had once been the exact description of what he is preaching against. I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of empathy—that he, Paul, is not solely preaching these words because they are God’s truth. They are, of course, but he is also cautioning, warning, begging, and admonishing other followers to not be these things because he himself knows the internal turmoil that comes from the fruit of these attributes. When Paul writes, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” all I could picture was a man who had once been broken and held together by the one who truly is before all things. I am moved at the thought. Why have I never seen it this way before? I listen to grandparents and parents instruct us to not make the same mistakes they did. I listen to mentors give me advice. Why have I never seen Paul’s letters as more than just commands? Instructions? How incredible is it that I am sitting here reading a letter from a man who once killed Christians? A man who was once angry and hateful and despised? A man changed by the message of Christ.
Remember my chains. Physically. Chained to the gospel. And that I am in these chains because I myself was once chained by my sin and depravity.
What a powerful message of redemption and humanity.