Summary: Colossians 1:3-14
I pulled into a gas station a couple weeks ago and saw something new at the pump. If I wanted, I could push a button to mix a chemical with the gas that would improve my gas mileage. The advertisement explained that the additive would clean the engine valves and boost performance. Is this just “hype”? I thought. I didn’t have time to Google it, and it only cost an extra five dollars. So I gave it a try. Sure enough. On the very same trip under the very same conditions I got about 3 mpg better performance.
I think I will use some kind of additive again periodically. But here’s what I want you to keep in mind. The additive did not boost performance because it supplied my car with some extra special fuel. It simply cleaned out the junk building up around the valves, so the engine could do better what it was already doing.
Think of Paul’s letter to the Colossians as that kind of an additive. He’s not supplying something they didn’t already have, but cleaning their mental and spiritual valves so they could function better.
We all need that kind of help from time to time, don’t we. And not just about spiritual things. Over time married couples, for example, can accumulate various sorts of contaminants: unkind words, disappointments, broken promises, selfish habits build up. Gradually the marriage is not running as smoothly as it once did. But add a marriage counseling the mix. You won’t get any secret, but perhaps some help to get back in touch with what you’ve already had.
As I read through Paul’s letter to the Colossians I saw him doing exactly that: So let’s take a look.
Colossians and Syncretism
Colossae was one of several cities in Asia Minor located in the Lycus River valley. It was on a main cross country trade route, so it was subject to many cultural and religious influences. This was a time in world history, not unlike ours, when exposure to multi-culturalism makes people wonder whether there might be something they’re missing, some truths, some experiences, some beliefs, some life skills that could be added to or could replace what they already believed or practiced that would make their life better.
So it was common for people to incorporate a mixture of ideas, beliefs and practices into their life. Additives. This is called syncretism. But unfortunately these additives, for Christians, would actually be contaminants: beliefs and practices that would gum up the works. That was Paul’s concern.
Scholars are not in agreement about the exact nature of the influences that threatened the church in Colossae, nor how contaminated they already were. But it was enough of a problem to prompt Paul to write this letter in which he was essentially saying to them, “You don’t need anything more…”
This comes through what I want to teach you this morning having to do with grammar and Paul’s use of the present perfect tense verbs. I don’t expect you to be a grammar scholar so a little review is in order.
A Little Grammar Lesson
In the English language we have verb tenses that tell us when an action takes place. For example, tell me when the action takes place according to each of these verbs:
• I walked to the store. (Past)
• I am walking to the store. (Present)
• I will walk to the store. (Future)
Simple? In fact, those are examples of what’s actually called simple past, present and future tense verbs. Let’s go just a little deeper though. For example, what if I say:
• I have walked to the store.
This is known as the present perfect tense. In grammar, for an action to be called “perfect” means it is a completed act. “I walked to the store” is a perfected act—over and done with. But by adding the auxiliary verb “have” tells you that the act is complete but the condition extends into the present. Because when you say, “I have something” it means it is in your possession now.
When you say, “I had something” it means it is no longer in your possession now. When you say, “I will have something” is means it will be in your possession in the future, but it is not yours right now.
Simply put, a present perfect verb—using the auxiliary verb “have”—means this act is complete but pertains to the present.
So when a person pushes his chair back at Thanksgiving, rubs his stomach and says, “I have eaten all I can eat,” he is referring to a completed act (“I’m through”) creating a current condition.
What if I say, “I had eaten all I could eat…” That’s past perfect. It’s a completed act that occurred in the past, but doesn’t necessarily refer to your current condition.