By Collin Ross
I had a roommate in college who made the most impressive sandwiches. While I settled for simple meat and cheese, there wasn’t much in the fridge that he left behind. I’m convinced that Paul would’ve liked my roommate. When he writes this hymn to Christ from today’s reading, there are few accolades left on the shelf after his repository of praise. Paul uses language from a wide variety of biblical themes to communicate the preeminence of Jesus, making it nearly impossible to walk away with the inclination that Jesus is due a mere hour of praise each week in a church service. No, He is worth the full weight of our lives and our unshifting attention.
The church in Colossae was experiencing pressure to compromise in their faith. In his letter to them, Paul begins with an emphatic statement of the importance and centrality of Christ in everything. The hymn can be broken down into two stanzas: the first, proclaiming Christ’s kingship over all creation (Colossians 1:15–17), and the second, over all of new creation (vv.18–20).
While we are made in the image of God in order that we might reflect His glory on earth, Jesus is the true image of God (Colossians 1:15). In Him, the character and purposes of God are not merely reflected, but embodied in full. It’s the difference between marveling at a picture of the Grand Canyon and standing awestruck on the edge of the real thing. “He is the firstborn over all creation,” which was created by Him, through Him, and for Him; He is both the author and king of our world (vv.15–16; 1Corinthians 8:6).
But Paul is quick to point out that Christ is also Lord of a new creation that He himself is bringing into existence. He is the head of a new body, a new community that gathers around and identifies with His way of life. His resurrection life is the precursor to theirs, for “he is the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). The same fullness of God’s glory that once filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) is also found in Christ. Where once it was in the temple that God’s people found reconciliation, today it is found in Jesus, who has brought us peace with God “through [His] blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20). We also have “the knowledge of [Christ’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, “so that [we] may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work” (vv.9–10).
What a rich hymn! So why does Paul open the firehose of descriptors for Jesus at the onset of this letter to the Colossians? To encourage them not to turn away from their Creator, King, and Redeemer. Like many of us, these first-century believers were facing immense pressure to turn their backs on Jesus and compromise in their convictions. But as we remind ourselves of the true and glorious nature of our Lord, revealed through His loving sacrifice for us, our inclination to turn away fades and our love for Christ grows brighter.