Colossians 1 – Jesus Christ at Large

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Today’s PassageColossians 1

Today on All the Paul, having finished one Paul, we move on to a different Paul. This Paul is his letter to the Colossians.

By this time, you can probably guess how Paul kicks off this Paul. As Pauls go, it’s fairly boilerplate: a salutation wishing the recipients grace and peace from God, an expression of gratitude to God for his specific work in the church and prayers for their well-being, and an exhortation to continue growing as a church in knowledge and fruitfulness. But then we hit verse thirteen, and where in other letters we might venture into an account of Paul’s recent missionary activities or the beginnings of some, ahem, aggressively compassionate constructive criticism…well, with the Colossians, Paul takes his letter in a different direction entirely.

The latter half of this chapter is pure Christology, and one of the most elevated characterizations of Jesus Christ in all of scripture. Paul states: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (15); the term firstborn here denotes Christ’s position as heir, first to experience resurrection, and does not compromise his eternality. In fact, Paul declares: “For by Him all things were created…all things have been created through Him and for Him” (16), and “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (17). Jesus Christ, an ostensibly ordinary human being, is God’s agent of creation, preceding the universe, and our world of space and time coheres and persists precisely because of him. Moreover, it’s for him!

The verses I’ve cited are just a sampling of Paul’s exaltation of Jesus Christ. And this picture–eternal creator, who upholds order within the universe and for whom everything exists to give him glory–is typically a picture of God the Father. In fact, Paul is calling Jesus Christ a perfect representation of God, and he adds: “[I]t was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (19). Everything that makes God God is present in Jesus Christ. This identification of Jesus Christ with deity opens up a whole Trinitarian can of worms, but Paul doesn’t get into entangling them here, so neither will I. The Trinity is a subject for another post. Suffice it to say that Jesus Christ looms large in Paul’s theology, occupying essentially the same space as God.

But if I stopped here, I’d be missing Paul’s point. For him, perhaps the most important thing that Jesus Christ does is to give himself in order to save and perfect sinful humanity. The reason why Christ died on the cross is “in order to present you before [God] holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (22). Christ died and rose again with the purpose of forming a body of believers, sending out Paul and others with the good news of salvation from sin “that we may present every man complete in Christ” (28). If Jesus is big in Paul’s writing here, he is at his biggest as he perfects his church, one person at a time, drawing human beings together to present flawlessly before God.

This is some good Paul. I like this Paul.

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