I had a discussion with my pastor and a mutual friend today about Colossians 1:15-20 the other day. The ESV translates it like this:
Colossians 1:15-20 ESV He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (16) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (18) 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. (19) For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, (20) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
There is a lot to say about this passage. Scholarly debates multiply like loaves, though they may not be as filling. Indeed, of the writing of books about Paul’s theology there is no end and reading them all is a great weariness, especially in comparison to reading the works of the interesting, infuriating, and often opaque apostle. But what came up was this question, “If this is true, so what?”
Paul answers this very question in the letter. He does it in steps:
- Paul notes that in Christ, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid (2:3). This is a huge claim, but it is meant to help the Colossians see that theoretical disputes and philosophical rhetoric has a definite terminus: Jesus. Why is this so? Because of what 1:15-20 say and more succinctly, what 2:9 says, “For in him, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…” In some way, then, to be connected to Christ through the gospel, is to be directly connected to ultimate reality or God.
- Because of this, Jesus is superior to philosophical reasoning as well as to divinely inspired regulations of which Christ is the form which gave a shadow to the regulations (2:11-23).
- But, since Christ is seated at the right hand of God, Christians are to focus on the things above (Colossians 3:1-4). These things above are not, as is commonly supposed, heaven instead of earth, but rather the truths of the gospel about Jesus: self-denial, God’s love, compassion, and so-on instead of destructive and evil habits like greed and wrath.
- Then, before Paul gives advice to people in different social spheres, he ends his general instructions with this:
“Col 3:16-17 (ESV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (17) And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The command in bold has two possible meanings, “let the message about Christ…” or “let the teachings of Christ.” In my mind, it is both because “the word of Christ” to the New Testament authors seems to be what ended up in the four gospels.
While Paul certainly says more in his letter to the Colossian Christians than, “Here is how you connect with ultimate reality,” he definitely does not say less. If we are to apply Colossians 1:15-20 to our lives, then the way Paul says make the most sense. We keep our minds focused on the facts of the case concerning Jesus and the things he taught and then put them into practice in our churches.