Paul is writing the Colossians, a new church in Asia Minor, to encourage them in their new faith in Jesus. He writes to assure them that for all their needs, Jesus is enough.
Summary of the Text:
Following his initial doxology (1:3-8), Paul continues to explain what else he has been praying for (1:9). He has specifically been praying that the Colossians would a) know God’s will (1:9) b) walk worthy of the Lord (1:10) c) increase in knowledge of God (1:10) d) be strong enough to be patient and joyful (1:11) and e) be a really thankful people (1:12). This thankfulness is rooted in the fact that they have received the ability to receive the inheritance of saints (1:12), been delivered from the power of darkness (1:13), transferred into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son (1:13), and have been redeemed and forgiven (1:14). At this point, Paul breaks out into high poetry, perhaps quoting a well known hymn about Jesus (or writing one on the spot), acclaiming Him as the image of God, the firstborn, the creator, the sustainer, the fullness of God, and the reconciler of all things (1:15-20). This poem is carefully constructed in basically two stanzas. The first stanza describes the preexistence and preeminence of the Son in all things since the beginning (1:15-17). The second stanza describes the preeminence and power of the Son through the Church since the re-beginning of all things at the resurrection (1:18-20). There are a number of key terms and titles that Paul gives to Jesus, but the adjectives go a long way to making Paul’s point: all things, all things, all things, all fullness, and all things.
The Firstborn & Beginning
The word “firstborn” is a loaded word going deep into Israelite history. Israel was God’s firstborn (Ex. 4:22), and this was not merely a relational fact but rather a statement of purpose for the future. Israel was to become God’s chosen means of communicating and enacting God’s presence and mission in the world. Firstborn sons received a double portion of inheritance from their fathers because they were the beginning of their strength (e.g. Dt. 21:7, Gen. 25). When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He sanctified them to Himself as His firstborn (Ex. 13:1ff), and the Levites became the specific representatives of this holy calling, keeping the tabernacle and receiving the inheritance of tithes and offerings (Num. 3:12-13ff, 8:17-18, 18:21-26). In other words, Israel was given the authority and means by which they were to present and proclaim the truth of God: the words of God and the sacrifices of God. That was their job. It was what they were for. When applied to Jesus, Paul is insisting not only that Jesus represents what Israel was always meant to be, but that He is the original representative of the truth of God, the perfect Icon/Image of the invisible God (1:15). That’s what He’s for. This authority and power to order and rule the world rests not least upon the fact that He made it all (1:16-17). Paul insists that this authority that Jesus has by right, He has begun to establish in fact through His resurrection from the dead (1:18, cf. Heb. 2:8). But given what we have seen, the fact that Jesus is the “firstborn” from the dead indicates that Jesus is the “head” of this new creation, the new beginning. Paul is piling up words and piling up images: Jesus is the head, rosh (in Hebrew), which is related to the word for beginning (resheet), and just to make it clear, the arxe – the beginning, the pinnacle, the source (e.g. Jn. 1:1). Jesus is the New Adam, and we are Adams and Eves in Him. The world (all of existence) that Jesus made and has ruled on behalf of the Father by right, He is in the process of reconciling to the Father through the blood of His cross – proving His power for all to see (1:20). The cross is our Tree of Life, our source of God’s glorious power.
Power to Become Sons
It’s no accident that when John thinks of Jesus and the beginning (Jn. 1:1-3), he immediately thinks of the power to be children of God (Jn. 1:12-13). To be made a son of God, a child of God is to be given not only a status but an authorized mission, a position of authority and power (like Adam and Eve). This is what Paul is telling the Colossians too. They have received a calling to be a new Israel, a new humanity to know and understand the will of God, to walk in good works, “being strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power” (1:11). What is that power? It’s the power of the Creator and Ruler of the universe. That’s our “inheritance of the saints in light” by virtue of having been delivered from darkness into the kingdom of His Son, in whom we have redemption and forgiveness. In other words, our authority and power for obedience rest not on our performance or perfection or natural abilities or interpersonal skills or naturally curly hair. Our authority and power for obedience rest solely in the gospel, the good news that the God who made us and all things has come to reconcile us and all things through the cross of Jesus (1:20).
Jesus is Enough Power
The Colossians were young Christians and no doubt felt inadequate in their understanding, felt powerless in the face of difficult sins, and probably faced familial, social, political persecution and resistance. But Paul prays that they (and we) would know and understand the power of Jesus, the power of His cross, the power of His resurrection which extends to “all things.” In the gospel, there is no “I can’t.” Despite the fact that we are in a cheap cliché minefield, we must not miss real gospel comfort and strength in the truth. This includes the power of contentment and thankfulness in all things (Col. 1:12, Phil. 4:11-13). This includes the power to know and do the will of God, fully pleasing Him (Col. 1:9-11). This includes the power to confess your sins to God and one another, and to be fully reconciled through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:20). If you know Jesus, Jesus is enough. In Him you are not lacking anything. To all who have received Him, He has given the power to be sons of God. Your power is not found in some secret knowledge, some additional rules, some special technique. You can do all things because Jesus rules all things.
And the central thing that must be done in all things is to die: die to self, suffer for others, sacrifice gladly. Love is the sum of the entire law, and love means to lay your life down. But fear and guilt teach us to fear death and so resent the calling to die. But if Jesus rose from the dead to reconcile all things through His blood, Jesus is enough power.
Parish Group Questions
- What is the connection between the “glorious power” of God and our thankfulness (Col. 1:11-12)? Read 2 Cor. 12:10. Why does Paul say that he is particularly strong when he is weak? How would that make Paul thankful?
- What is the significance of the term “firstborn” for Israel (Ex. 4:22, Ex. 13:1ff, Num. 3:12-13, Dt. 21:7)? What does it mean for Paul to apply that to Jesus? How is “firstborn” a vocational term? How are things like inheritance and power related that vocation?
- How is the power and authority of Jesus comforting and inspiring for the mission before us as a church, in our families, or as individuals? Are their specific ways you see Jesus’ power at work in your life? Are there areas that you have given up trying that you need go back to work on?
- One of the hardest places to keep trying is in relationships (parents, children, spouse, siblings, friends). The wounds and patterns can seem to go so deep that healing seems impossible. What does Col. 1:20 mean with regard to the most strained or difficult relationships in your life?