Paul’s Christ Hymn (Colossians 1:9-23)

Have you ever read a good piece of poetry before?

Even for all its technicalities across its various forms, there’s probably a poem or 2 you can think of that really stirred you. It could be how the author phrased this 1 part on love, how they compared the beauty of nature, or how they described the work of Christ.

Although I don’t read poetry often, here’s a section from John Donne (Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness) that I absolutely love

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ’s cross, and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.

We may not think that Paul wrote poetry in the New Testament, but in a sense he did. On several occasions, Paul would transition in his letters to Christological hymns. While these hymns are relatively simple and don’t follow many of the rules and structures we have in place today, they describe the deep mysteries of Christ in a wonderful way.

And that’s where we find ourselves in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In this post, we will plum the depths of Paul’s Christology as we unpack his hymn together.

Here’s our passage for today. It’s a little lengthy, but it’s so rich:

And because of this we—from the day we heard—did not cease praying and petitioning on your behalf, so that you all might be filled with the knowledge of his will with all wisdom and spiritual insight, so that you might walk worthily before the Lord and fully please him, in every work bearing good fruit, and growing in the knowledge of God, in all strength being strengthened according to his glory’s might for all endurance and patience. With joy we thank the Father who qualified you for the holy inheritance’s share in the light, who rescued us from the darkness’ domain and transferred us into his beloved Son’s kingdom, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the invisible God’s image,
all creation’s firstborn,
because in him all things on heaven and earth were created,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones, dominion, rulers, or powers,
all things were created through and for him.

He was before all things and all things hold together in him,
and he is the head of the body—of the church—who was in the beginning,
the firstborn for the dead,
so that he might become in everything first,
because the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him.

Through him he reconciled all things for him,
making peace through his cross’ blood,
whether the things on the earth or the things in heaven.

And you were formerly alienated and enemies by disposition in wicked works. But now he reconciled in his flesh’s body through death to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before God, if indeed you remain in faith— established, steadfast, and not shifting from the gospel’s hope which you heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven which I, Paul, became a servant.

Colossians 1:9-23, my translation

Connection

In case it wasn’t already clear from our last post, Paul grounds the reason for his thanksgiving in their faith and love. As they live in a city mixed with religions, the way they live their life shines a light in their city and shows the citizens of Colossae who their God is.

In this passage, Paul gives the reasons why he continually prays for them: that they might know the will of God so they can walk worthily before him and please him.

There are 3 main outcomes to knowing the will of God and living rightly before him.

  1. Their work will bear fruit and grow. This is a direct connection back to Genesis 1 when God commanded Adam and Eve to work the garden so that it would bear fruit and grow. This command is not abdicated for Christians today, although the application of it may look different. Essentially, as Christians work for Christ, they are sowing and reaping fruit. Although we may not always see the benefit now, we will 1 day.
  2. Working will require patience and endurance. Since Christians will not see their fruit immediately—maybe not even in this life—they will need to remain steadfast. This means not giving up on the work they’ve already done and continuing to work when they don’t see the reward of their past labor.
  3. Even though they may not see the fruit of their labor in this life, the fruit is growing and they will see their labor when God redeems all things fully.

Father & Son

After Paul grounds his thanksgiving, he begins to transition into his Christological hymn. There is a lot here, so I’ll try to unpack it in a succinct way.

God Transferred Us into His Kingdom

The work of God results in his transition to his hymn.

God transferred us between kingdoms. There are 2 kingdoms on this earth right now:

  1. the kingdom of God
  2. the kingdom of Satan.

A war rages between these 2 kingdoms. However, because of the work of Christ, a deathly blow was dealt to the kingdom of Satan. As a result, his kingdom is being destroyed brick by brick. As his kingdom is being destroyed, God is moving his people—who believe in the person and work of his Son—into his kingdom. God’s people enjoy the forgiveness of sins in this transfer.

Jesus is the Image of God

The imago Dei—the image of God—can be a difficult concept to understand because of all the complexities and nuances involved (I’ll attempt to unpack this concept in a later post). Being made in the image of God simply means that we reflect God in who we are. What we believe and do manifests this reflection.

Jesus certainly understood who God was because God is his Father. We also see in his life that his words and actions reflected the character of God. More so, Jesus is the image of God because he is God. When the disciples looked at him, they saw God.

Jesus Existed Before All Creation

Additionally, as John confesses in his Gospel, Jesus is eternal because he existed before creation happened (John 1:3). As a result, he is creation’s “firstborn.” This is not in the sense that he was born in the physical sense or created by God—he is eternally existing and has no beginning and no end. Firstborn could entail 1 of 2 senses:

  1. Time: He existed before all things, thus is the firstborn temporally.
  2. Authority: Because he is God, he has a higher rank than all of creation.[1]

Either way, we know that Jesus existed before all things and because he is God, he is the standard we should strive to reflect in our own image bearing.

God Created All Things through Him

When we read Genesis 1, we tend to focus on God the Father creating all things, with the Spirit present. We don’t read anything in Genesis 1 about Jesus. And yet, this is the second person in the New Testament to affirm that he created all things (compare to John 1).

Since Jesus eternally existed, even before Creation, we can deduce that he was involved in creating all things with God the Father even though he isn’t explicitly mentioned. Christianity has confirmed this historically because “these 3 are 1 God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” (WSC 6) So if the Father creates, the Son and Spirit create also. This is not to meant to erase their distinctiveness entirely, but we do notice considerable unity and overlap between them.

Jesus Holds Together Everything

Since Jesus existed before everything and God created all things through him, Jesus holds everything together. This further supports his eternality and lordship over all things. If there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist, everything would fall apart and we would not be here today. However, because Jesus is Lord of all and God made all things through him, Jesus holds everything together.

Jesus is the Head of the Body, the Church

Due to Christ’s preeminence over all things, he is the leader of God’s people. This verse gets at the heart of what Paul is communicating: Christ is preeminent. Jesus surpasses all of creation and stands king over it all.

Paul describes this concept through his metaphor of the body. Everything in the body is important, even all of your toes (trust me, I know after breaking a middle toe)! However, our head is 1 of the most important parts of our body. We see, smell, hear, eat, and think all in this area.

Paul, by describing the church as the body and Christ as the head, is saying that the church is important, but don’t forget who is the most important.

Jesus Reconciled Us

Finally, 1 of the greatest acts Jesus did was reconciling people to God.

When we dwelled in Satan’s kingdom, we were aliens to God and only did wickedness. The only way God could transfer us into his kingdom is through the work of his Son—Jesus not only upholds creation, he also redeems it. Instead of being aliens, we are now citizens of God’s kingdom and perform good works.

This is only possible if we continue in the faith. Paul is getting at the topic of perseverance. During the Reformation, the Reformers recovered the concept of Perseverance of the Saints that the Roman Catholic Church lost. Essentially, if you are a Christian, although you may have times of strong and weak belief, Christ preserves your salvation. He can preserve your salvation because he holds all things together because he created all things and redeemed all things.

Living as Exiles

As I mentioned when we started this series, a religious group was leading the Colossae church into error. However, Paul’s answer was not anthropological—man focused. Instead, it was Christological—Christ focused. In essence, Paul wasn’t saying “Do better!” but was pointing his fellow brothers and sisters to Christ.

This world can be confusing. Pandemics, racism, court rulings, abuse, you name it. However, as exiles, we aren’t called to do better out of our own power to change everything. We are called to rely on God and reflect him in what we do in our cities and let him redeem all things.

As we confront injustice, we need to recognize that as Jesus reflects God, we need to reflect God. That means we strive for a consistent and higher standard of justice.

As we preach the gospel, we need to recognize that its not our message we preach, but the message of how God is transferring his people to a new kingdom.

May we, a scattered people, reflect Jesus in all things to a world that desperately needs him.


Further Resources

  • Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus—As Paul focused on who Christ is in this passage, I want to recommend a resource that helps you to know Christ better. I read this book in my undergraduate (and am using it for a class I’m assisting in). It’s challenging, but walks through major topics in Jesus studies as it works through all 4 gospels, developing a coherent and clear picture of who are Lord is.

Endnotes

[1] New English Translation Bible Footnote.

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