Paul here is concerned about the witness of the Colossian Christians to non-Christians, whom he describes as outsiders. The word ‘outsiders’ does not sound friendly, but Paul does not suggest that Christians should be unfriendly. Instead it is a word that highlights where life is. First, it is a word that reminds us that most people do not belong to the visible church, that is, the organised church in a community. Second, the word reminds us that most people are outside the family of God.
When we think of the outsiders themselves, obviously there would be different kinds and they can be viewed from a range of perspectives. In Paul’s own day, he could divide them into two racial groups, Jews and Gentiles. Yet within these groups, they could be divided into hostile, indifferent, curious and interested, with individuals moving from one sub-group to another. We can easily similar groups and sub-groups within our own society. Our basic attitude towards outsiders is that we must want them to become insiders.
How did Jesus react to outsiders, to those who were outside the family of God? We have an example of his general attitude when he wept over the city of Jerusalem, which showed that he had a strong emotional concern for their destiny. On another occasion, before he performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000, he was filled with compassion for the multitude because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. A third example is the prayer he made on the cross for the soldiers who were executing him. The obvious feature is that Jesus cared about outsiders, and his concern was not adversely affected by their mistreatment of him.
It is obvious that Paul also had a concern for outsiders. With regard to his race, the Jews, Paul was willing to be lost in order for them to be converted: ‘I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:1-3).
He also regarded himself as a debtor to the Gentiles: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome’ (Rom. 1:13-15).