Not One Square Inch: A Study in Colossians

1. Many who have studied Colossians closely have concluded that 1: 15-20 is a hymn of worship used by the early church, cited by Paul as he addresses this church. The paragraph is certainly poetic, with every word and phrase pregnant with meaning. Read the passage aloud, slowly and thoughtfully.

2. The passage begins literally, “he is…” What is the antecedent of this third person, masculine pronoun? What has already been said about him in vv. 12-13?

3. One phrase is repeated in nearly every verse of our passage, and sometimes a synonymous concept appears in these verses as well. What is the phrase? What does that suggest the paragraph is about?

4. The hymn in verses vv. 15-17 and vv. 18-20 seems to contain two stanzas. Give a title to each stanza that reminds you of the focus of each section.

5. Pay close attention to vv. 15-17. What do these verses tell you about Jesus? Pay particularly close attention to “image” and “firstborn” as descriptive titles for Jesus. Does the title “firstborn” suggest that Jesus is the first creature made by God, who then made all other creatures? How is that reading inconsistent with the immediate context of the passage? Then reflect on the use of “firstborn” in Psalm 89:27. Can the psalmist be saying the Davidic king is the first king in the sequence of human kings? If not, how is the Davidic king “first”? And how is Jesus “first” in this sense, according to this passage? What according to this passage is the relationship of “all things” to Jesus?

6. Now look closely at vv. 18-20. What do you learn here about Jesus? About the relationship of Jesus to “all things”? Some have suggested that v. 20 teaches that all people are “doomed to be saved.” Is that the teaching of the verse? Is that view consistent with the immediate context in 1: 21-23 or 2: 13-15? With the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 13 or 25 or John 5? What then does Paul mean by “through him to reconcile all things to himself”? Consider Romans 8: 18-25 for the possible light it might shed on this statement. Consider the following comment on the meaning of this phrase:

The scope of reconciliation involves “all things.” Some interpreters have argued that this thought of universal reconciliation means that Paul expected all creatures, including fallen angels and the unrepentant, to benefit from Christ’s redemption. But Paul was no “universalist.” His meaning must be understood in the light of the immediate context where reconciliation is completed only on condition of steadfast faith in the Lord Christ (1:23). Further, the peace created by the death of Jesus may either be gladly and freely embraced, or it may be imposed by Jesus’ kingly power (2:13-15). By his death all sinful persons and spiritual beings (“whether on heaven or earth”) have been decisively subdued to the will of God and, whether they please or not, must submit to God’s plan. Every knee will bow. For some this act of submission will be willing and joyful worship; for others, coerced and enraged defeat. But Jesus will be vindicated and acknowledged by every creature as Lord. And, therefore, no other mediator or agent of reconciliation need be consulted for us to be fully restored to friendship with the Father.

7. Think about the two sections of the passage together. How are Jesus’ work in creation and his work in reconciliation (or redemption) related to one another? Why is this relationship important to the central thrust of the passage, stated in v. 18, “so that in all things he might have the supremacy"? How do these matters related to the statement of Abraham Kuyper in the title line of this guide? Why is this topic important to the life of a university or college professor?

8. Perhaps the most significant question for university and college faculty that arises from this passage is “How does Jesus relate to knowledge and knowing?” Think about not only knowledge as information, but also as understanding and acquaintance. And consider not only the discovery of knowledge in research and scholarship, but also about the communication of knowledge in teaching and the use of knowledge in service.

Consider the paragraph in Colossians 2: 1-3 in answering this large and important question. What is the significance of the description of Jesus in 2:3, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”?

Reflect on the prayer of Paul in Colossians 1: 9-12. How does it relate Christ and knowledge? How might you use this prayer as a model for praying for yourself, Christian colleagues, for non-Christian colleagues, for students? Is prayer an “epistemic practice” for Paul? Should you begin to think of prayer as a regular practice in your pursuit, understanding, and communication of knowledge?

Conclude your time together by using these passages as models for praise of the Lord Jesus and then as intercessory prayer for each other, your colleagues, and your students.

Image courtesy of Sam Telgen on flickr.


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