Colossians 1:9–23comment (0)
February 2, 2012
By Joseph F. Scrivner
Related Scripture: Colossians 1:9–23
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
CENTER OF EVERYTHING
Paul’s Epistle to the church in Colossae is unlike most of his others letters since he did not establish this church. It is most similar to Ephesians in that respect. Yet a lack of personal contact with the church does not diminish Paul’s concern for it. He begins his letter by expressing his affection and thanking God for the believers’ faith, growth and love in the Spirit (1:3–8). Paul has heard these things from Epaphras, who first preached the gospel there and thus started the church (1:7; 4:12).
Why Beliefs Matter (9–12)
Paul refers to the importance of “knowledge” throughout Colossians (1:9–10; 2:2–3; 3:10). He also warns the believers later in the letter about “philosophy and empty deceit” (2:8), as well as legalistic ascetic practices. Instead they should focus on Jesus Christ as the full expression of God and the sufficient source of God’s blessings (2:9–10, 19–23). These later warnings help readers appreciate Paul’s focus in the opening prayer.
He prays for the believers’ wisdom and understanding. These characteristics enable them to lead worthy lives, pleasing God and bearing fruit in good works. Wisdom and understanding also empower them with endurance and gratefulness. Paul’s prayer points to the connection between belief and behavior. An appreciation of one’s place in Christ should naturally lead to proper practice.
Who Christ Is (15–20)
Since readers can move from verse 14 to verse 21 coherently, verses 15–20 appear to be an earlier hymn incorporated here to accentuate Christ’s supremacy. Indeed He is God’s image, creation’s firstborn, creation’s means, creation’s goal and creation’s sustainer (15–17). Yet Christ’s pre-eminence extends beyond creation. He is also the Church’s head and has inaugurated a new order as the firstborn of the resurrection (18). God has reconciled the entire cosmos to Himself through Christ’s cross (19–20). Christ’s centrality has implications for the definition of God’s character and the terms of access to God.
First, since Christ is the expression of God’s image, believers should define God by the person of Christ. God has revealed Himself completely through Christ. In the next chapter, Paul said, “The entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily” in Christ (2:9). Similarly Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Hebrews also says that Christ is the “exact expression” of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). One theologian put it so: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus, only the one God who became incarnate in Him.”
Second, because God has redeemed all creation in Christ, believers should not seek other beliefs or practices to supplement salvation or enhance access to God. Likewise they should not be led astray by anyone presenting an alleged addition to Christ’s work. Thus believers should not be condemned on things such as food, drink or observance of certain days. These things were necessary shadows for a time, but the substance is in Christ (2:16–17). These things are actually ineffective in combating self-indulgence (2:20–23). Christ’s redemption provides full access to God’s power for holy living. Believers can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb. 4:16).
What Christ Has Done (13–14, 21–23)
Christ is the center of everything because God has created and reconciled all things through Him. Reconciliation is necessary because humanity rebelled against God. This rebellion has left humanity in darkness without God. Yet God has taken the initiative and rescued humanity. He has transferred believers from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of light. This is their holy inheritance (12–14).
Paul identifies the believers in Colossae as those who were once “alienated and hostile.” Their lives were marked by evil deeds (21). Now they have been reconciled through Christ’s body and God will present them as “holy, faultless and blameless” (22). Yet these believers must make sure that they are not misled by any teaching that diminishes the person and work of Christ. Indeed they must “remain grounded and steadfast” in the gospel of Christ (23).