One of the local comedians once joked and said Christians are not civilized and they have bad behavior. The reason is they read letters intended for other people. The comedian wondered, if you are not Romans, why are you reading the letter to the Romans? Isn’t that uncivilized bad behavior? Look at our text today… Learn from your letter and from their letter!
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
One of the local comedians once joked and said Christians are not civilized and they have bad behavior. The reason is they read letters intended for other people. The comedian wondered, if you are not Romans, why are you reading the letter to the Romans? Isn’t that uncivilized bad behavior? Our text today responds to that thinking by giving permission to other churches to learn from each other’s letters. Learn from your letter and from their letter!
At the end of his letter to Colossians, Apostle Paul advises them to also share their letter with other churches and that they in turn should read the letters sent to other churches. Sharing was a command. We are many times willing to share jokes and gossip and breaking news, but we hardly share religious things. Paul commands them to share their letter of spiritual guidance. Learn from your letter and from their letter!
Human behavior and experiences are the same. The problem of sin has affected us all the same way. We behave the same way in churches and at home. We are tempted by the same desires. Therefore the spiritual guidance given to one church, would still make sense and apply in any other church. That is why Paul tells Colossians not to be limited to their own letter, but to also share it with others and read that which is intended for others. Learn from your letter and from their letter!
While reading a letter of spiritual guidance intended for another congregation, we should properly interpret it. Interpretation is necessary because certain commands and advice are based on a local prevailing situation. The worship of goddesses Aphrodite in Corinth made women central in pagan worship. Therefore during conversion, in order to rehabilitate them from paganism, women were not permitted to speak in church, see 1 Corinthians 14:34. Ephesian goddess Artemis was worshipped for fertility and women were central in that worship, therefore on conversion and to create the necessary distinction that is good for spiritual growth, women were not allowed to speak and teach in the Ephesian church, see 1 Timothy 2:12. From that specific context, we cant apply that command to all churches who do not have the same problem.
Where the context is different, we learn from the principle behind the command. The principle in the context cited in the above paragraph is that it is necessary to rehabilitate new worshippers and create a distinction between Christianity and non-Christianity. The distinctions help people not to backslide. That principle of distinction is behind the prohibition in churches of Christian Rock music, Christian Reggae music, etc. If we are rehabilitating believers from Rock and Reggae culture, we shouldn’t have the same in the church. That applies to dress too. Dressing that immediately takes the mind to the Red-light districts should not be allowed in Christian worship. That is how we apply principles in situations where context is uniquely local and cannot apply elsewhere.
Medical science was still primitive during Apostle Paul’s time. Some of the substances and concoctions used would not apply today. Yet medical conditions had to be treated. In extreme pain of cancer and other situations today, hospitals would prescribe medications that have elements of cocaine. Cocaine is an addictive hard drug. But in extreme situations, it is given to relieve pain. That does not mean everybody should use cocaine. This is a prescription only. Paul gave Timothy a prescription to use a little alcohol for his stomach problems, 1 Timothy 5:23. This is a prescription for Timothy and not a command to everyone. This was based on the limitations of medical science at that time. From the context, we get the principle that believers should use the best medical facilities and provisions of their time.
Learn from your letter and from their letter! Get direct commands from related situations and get principles from unrelated situations. Learn from the mistakes of others and from your own. Learn from your letter and from their letter!
If you learn from your own mistakes, you grow. If you learn from the mistakes of others you become better. Learn from others who played in school and are now regretting. Learn from those who depended on one income only then lost their jobs. Learn from those who did not save then calamity came. Learn from those who did not prepare for retirement. Learn from those who had false courage and dared their bosses to sack them. Learn from those who took their families for granted. Learn from those who performed well at work at the expense of their families. Learn from those who neglected their health. Learn from those gasping for air in ventilators due to covid19. Learn from those who build their lives on corruption proceeds. Learn from those who couldn’t reconcile. Learn from those who disrespected church leaders. Learn from those who ignored God in their lives. Learn from your letter and from their letter!
Dear God help us to learn from our situation and that of others. Save us from repeating disastrous and fatal mistakes. May we be ever teachable, in Jesus’ name, Amen!