Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11)
Colosse was located in the southwest part of modern Turkey, near Laodicea and Hierapolis and about one hundred miles east of Ephesus. It is possible Paul established the church during his third missionary journey. In the New Testament times, the city of Colosse was a relatively insignificant city with nothing to claim as special to the Roman world. What made Colosse important were the saints and faithful brethren that made up those in Christ in Colosse. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the most Christ-centered epistle of the New Testament. One of the key messages of the letter is how the church of Christ is made up of contrasting people who seem unlikely to unite under one cause.
Paul encourages the saints at Colosse to seek those things above and put on the character of Jesus Christ. The world was filled with sexual immorality, evil desire, covetousness, and the things of the flesh. Saints must hide themselves in Christ to show Christ in their lives. Setting oneself apart from the world means stopping acting like the world. Christians should not be known for wrathful, angry, and crude language. Their behavior rises above the sensual nature of the pagan world. In the church, relationships are bonded together as one that could never be accomplished outside the grace of God. In the body of Christ, all men are one.
It is hard to understand the change in the early church. Paul reminds the saints that in Christ, everyone is the same. When the church assembled in Colosse, Jews and Gentiles would sit next to one another and sing together. That was unheard of in the world. Jews had little dealings with Gentiles, and the Gentiles refused to acknowledge the Jews. In the church of Christ, racial distinctions are removed. This is further clarified by Paul’s reference to those circumcised and uncircumcised. The new man makes no distinction. Racial and social differences are eliminated. All are the same in the body of Christ as the new man of grace loves men for who they are: fellow sinners in need of grace.
Paul mentions the barbarians who were part of the church. A barbarian was someone who spoke a foreign language from the far reaches beyond the Roman empire. There was contempt for the hordes that lived outside the spread of Roman civility. In the church of Christ, no distinction is made. Is it possible Paul refers to something that happened in the church at Colosse, that people from the outskirts of the empire were part of the kingdom? Was it possible to worship with a barbarian? Paul includes the Scythians from the southern steppes of Russia. Could they have been part of the church? Whether they were or not, in the kingdom of God, Jews and Gentiles, barbarians and Scythians, and civilized and uncivilized, could worship together in harmony and truth.
A modern twist to the reference of the Scythians is that in 2022 the region referred to by Paul is highlighted by the conflict between the Russians and the Ukrainians. In other words, it is possible, in the grace of Christ, to have Russians worshiping with Ukrainians under the umbrella of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The power of the gospel can make that change. In the wisdom of men, the only thing that can be found is the spirit of conflict and war with the Russians and Ukrainians. The relationship between the two countries is hatred and death. In the church, united under the blood of Christ and the power of forgiveness, the church in Colosse could see Russian and Ukrainian joining spiritual hands in worship as they sang together, prayed together, remembered the sacrifice of Jesus, and listened to the word of God together. Scythians can go to heaven. That is how much God loves all men. Amazing.