The Church Must Come To Order
The Church Must Come To Order
Paul’s letters in the New Testament are filled with encouragements, thanksgivings, warnings, teachings, corrections, reproofs— and commendations. The Colossian epistle is a case in point. After laying down in chapter one the basic tenets supporting the Christian’s hope, emphasizing the mystery revealed in and through Jesus Christ, Paul asserts the dangers of false doctrines faced by the brethren. Delivering a sharp blow to the Gnostic thinkers of his day, he said “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3). There is simply no other source for true wisdom and knowledge apart from Christ. Colossians were told to beware of those who pretended to be wise through manmade worship and mistreatment of their bodies, things which may have appeared wise and spiritual, yet were of no real value against the flesh (Col. 2:23). Apparently, the Colossians were handling their challenges to true faith and wisdom rather well. Paul commended them for this. In fact, he specifically rejoiced to “see your good order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5).
That word, “order” (“discipline”, NASB) captivates our attention. The Greek term from which it comes into English is used only a few times in the New Testament. Once, it is found concerning Zachariah’s fixed priestly duties (Lk. 1:9). Several times it is used to explain the connection of Christ’s priesthood with that of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10; 7:11). Two other uses are here in the book of Colossians and once in I Corinthians 14:40.
The word has many derivatives but they all have similar meanings. The root meaning of “order” is that of precision of arrangement, marked by discipline somewhat like the military use of “order”. Its verb forms demand attention to what is commanded or ordained (to arrange, to appoint, to ordain, to prescribe, to give order; Thayer). This is exactly Paul’s meaning when he says to the Corinthians, “And the rest I will set in order when I come” (I Cor. 11:34, KJV). Or, “the remaining matters I will arrange when I come” (NASB).
Doubtless, the order Paul heard about in Colossae was very important, especially since he listed it beside their steadfastness in their faith. It should also be important to churches of the Lord today. Paul does not say exactly what the Colossians were orderly about, but the context is broad enough to include the whole of their service to God. For certain, the Colossians (and the Laodiceans, despite their later reputation) were not exhibiting the same disorder and confusion which could be observed at Corinth, for example. The Corinthian church blatantly violated the decorum of decency and order (I Cor. 14:40). Paul did not commend them for this but rather corrected them. Despite their possession of an abundance of miraculous gifts, the church was disorderly in the exercise of those otherwise edifying aids. They used poor judgment and selfishly ate the Lord’s Supper without due consideration of poorer brethren who had nothing to eat, turning the Lord’s Supper into a common meal for those without the wherewithal to provide their own feast. Poorer brethren went hungry, so to speak, as the Lord’s Supper turned into a selfish and carnal display. They lacked order. Significantly, the church was not being edified and visitors were unimpressed by what they saw and heard (14:23). Thankfully, the disorder at Corinth had not yet affected the Colossian church across the Aegean Sea. In striking contrast, they were orderly and steadfast in their faith (Col. 2:5).
We need to study carefully the lessons of I Corinthians 11-14. “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (14:33, NASB). The church must always be a place of order, so that edification and worship can occur.
—Mark W. White