I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I discussed the letter’s salutation which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting as well as Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians (see Part 1 and Part 2). At the end of the prayer, the authors transition into a description of Jesus Christ’s preeminence. I’ve already discussed the passage about Jesus’ preeminence over creation, and this post is about Jesus’ preeminence over the church.
Here is the second part of the passage in which the authors describe Jesus’ preeminence:
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:18-23 ESV)
There are two parts to this section. The first part (Colossians 1:18-20) describes Jesus’ preeminence over the church in general. In the second part (Colossians 1:21-23), the authors make it personal by referring directly to the Colossians.
Jesus’ preeminence over the church is described as the relationship between the head and the body. This is a common metaphor in Paul’s writings. While earlier Jesus was described as the firstborn of creation, here he is described as the firstborn from among those who have died. This is a reference to the resurrection. The authors remind their readers that the fullness of God dwelled approvingly (pleasingly?). This is a step beyond the previous statement that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15)
Because of Jesus’ headship and because the fullness of God dwelled in him, he was able to reconcile all things to God. He accomplished this through his death. Again, the authors use all encompassing language to describe what was reconciled by the death of Jesus Christ.
Next, the authors turn directly to the Colossians. While everything previously applied to the Colossians (and everything in this section applies to all believers), by using second person pronouns (you), the authors remind their readers that this applies to them. Again, the authors use the language of reconciliation to describe what Jesus accomplished for the Colossians through his death. Their previous state is described as alienated, hostile, and full of evil deeds, while their new state as set apart (holy), blameless, and above reproach. The change in states in reminiscent of this previous statement from the prayer: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13 ESV)
Interestingly, Paul continues his description by saying that reconciliation is for those who “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.” (Colossians 1:23 ESV) Again, we see the emphasis on continuing to live by trusting Jesus. Previously, the authors called this faithfulness (Colossians 1:2) and endurance (Colossians 1:11).
Paul (specifically) ends this section of the letter by referring to his own service on behalf of Jesus Christ. In view of Jesus’ preeminence over creation and headship over the church, Paul exhorts his readers to remain faithful (trusting in Jesus Christ) to the gospel. This the gospel that Paul proclaims as part of his service to God.
Again, we see that Paul’s (and Timothy’s) discussion of the preeminence and headship of Christ are not for the purpose of extending information only. Instead, he expects that proper understanding of Jesus’ relationship to creation and to the church will cause the believers in Colossae to respond in a certain way. Here, he expects them to continue trusting Jesus without wavering from the gospel in spite of what may be happening around them. (Previously, he called it “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord” in Colossians 1:10, and later, he will call it “walking in Jesus Christ” in Colossians 2:6.)
What would you add to my study so far?