The Global Message of Colossians
The utter supremacy of Christ: this is the message of Colossians for the global church. Above all human wisdom and tradition, Christ stands forth as preeminent over all and sufficient for all. In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Colossians and Redemptive History
Like Philippians, Colossians has no explicit quotations of the Old Testament to tie this letter to the sweep of God’s redemptive program down through history. Yet there is much in Colossians that enables believers around the world to see how this letter connects the dots between their own lives, what Christ has done, and human history.
What Colossians mainly contributes is a clear and magnificent vision of who Christ is. At the beginning of time God created mankind in God’s own image, yet sin scarred this image. Christ, too, the divine Son, “is the image of the invisible God,” but he is unscarred (Col. 1:15). At the high point of all history Jesus Christ came to reconcile mankind back to God by going to a cross (1:20; 2:14). As sinners united to Christ by faith, Christians are likewise being restored into the image of God that was tragically marred at the fall in Eden (3:10).
When Christ came, in other words, it was the beginning of the global restoration of all things (1:20). Adam and Eve were called to be fruitful and to spread the knowledge of God all across the globe (Gen. 1:28). When they rebelled, this mission faltered. Christ, however, has done what Adam should have done, and by his obedience, even to death, has become the Savior of sinners who have faith in him (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45). And the mantle of what Adam was called to do has now fallen on believers. Paul uses the very language of Genesis 1 when he exhorts the Colossians to live “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
Universal Themes in Colossians
The supremacy and cosmic triumph of Christ. In Colossians 1:15–20 Paul soars in a majestic proclamation of Christ’s supremacy over creation in general (1:15–17) and the church in particular (1:18–20). Yet Christ is not only high and exalted; he also endured extreme suffering as he won a cosmic triumph over all the hostile forces arrayed against God. Christ canceled the record of sins that stood against his people by going to the cross. Paul not only describes the effect of the cross for believers but also its effect on the forces of hell: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (2:15). In this way Christ “has delivered us from the domain of darkness”—the domain of the forces of hell—“and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (1:13).
The emptiness of human ways of thinking. Throughout Colossians Paul shows himself eager to shield his readers from falling into worldly patterns of thinking and living. He wants no one to “delude” the Colossians “with plausible arguments” (Col. 2:4). He speaks of the “empty deceit” of “human tradition” (2:8). Especially toward the end of chapter 2, Paul seems to refer to false teachers who are tempting the Colossians to be distracted from Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency (2:16–23). There is always the temptation to supplement allegiance to Christ with lesser allegiances. But Jesus Christ himself embodies “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3).
The new life in Christ. The letter to the Colossians tells us not only of Christ but also of what it means for believers to live in Christ. The Christian life is one of resilient gospel-centrality. Believers bear fruit through the gospel (Col. 1:6), never move on from the hope of the gospel (1:23), and grow in maturity in the same way that they received the gospel (2:6–7). At the same time, while never moving past the gospel of grace, believers are fundamentally new people and are therefore able to grow. We have been buried with Christ (2:12), resurrected with Christ (2:13; 3:1), and given a whole new self (3:10). We have been remade. As Christians around the world today seek to walk with Christ, we do so ever mindful of his forgiving grace which pardons as well as his restoring grace which empowers.
The Global Message of Colossians for Today
The world today is brimming with enticing distractions that tempt us to neglect Christ’s utter sufficiency to save, change, and satisfy us.
Where resources are plentiful, we are easily distracted by loving the possessions we have. Where resources are lacking, we are easily distracted by longing for the possessions others have. Education and social prestige can distract us from Christ. The media constantly barrages us with the message that only the rich or famous or healthy or attractive can be truly happy. Christians in various parts of the world today understandably desire greater political stability or social freedom, yet such goals cannot ultimately add to all that is ours already through our inheritance in Christ (Col. 1:12; 3:24).
Perhaps more distracting than any of these things is the temptation to add to Christ’s work through our own work. Fallen people know that they come short of God’s standard, and this knowledge produces a multitude of personal and relational dysfunctions. We are all naturally inclined to build our identities on how we perform in various ways, not only morally but also through our jobs, reputation, family, or ethnicity.
Yet Christ is enough. In him we are forgiven (Col. 1:13–14, 22; 2:13–14). In him we now live (3:1–4, 9–10). Above all that beckons to us and tempts us to shift our focus from the fully sufficient Christ, Colossians invites believers worldwide to funnel all their desires and affections onto him. All that is worth having is found in Christ.