This text begins a series of four readings from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. For that reason, perhaps a bit of history is in order. Colossae was one of three cities forming a triangle along a significant commercial route passing through the Phrygian Mountains in Asia Minor, connecting Ephesus to Iconium and Tarsus. The other two cities were Laodicea and Hierapolis, and all three were known for trading in textiles. The least important of the three was Colossae. In fact, Colossae would have been the least significant city to which Paul addressed any of his letters, an awareness which probably would not have been lost on Paul, especially since he never actually visited the church in Colossae, relying on the testimony of his “fellow servant” Epaphras (verses 7-8).
This last detail bears some homiletical freight. Paul is writing his letter to any church that feels least important in any community that feels least important among its peers. Paul’s vision of Christ, “the firstborn of all creation” (1:15), and of His body the Church, and of the mystery of God hidden for ages but now revealed—especially among the least of these—is a message for you. This awareness lends emphasis to verse 6: “Just as [the gospel] is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it...” Paul is giving thanks for the reality that the gospel grows just as much in the little places as it does in the centers of power. In fact, this is part of the mystery of God’s power made known in Christ, the paradox of how the least become great. It is for this reason “we have not ceased praying for you” (verse 9). The bulk of this reading is the substance of Paul’s prayer for the people of Colossae, a prayer which becomes, in itself, a word of gospel encouragement for all who would read it out loud anywhere on earth.
In that light, as I looked at a few introductions to Colossians, I ran across this sentence, perhaps hyperbolic, but nonetheless definitive: “There is no stronger affirmation of the lordship of Christ in the New Testament.”
In fact, this is part of the mystery of God’s power made known in Christ, the paradox of how the least become great.
We see this affirmation right away in the first chapter. Unfortunately, it is the very section that is left out in in the Lutheran Service Book version of the three-year lectionary, the Christ hymn in 1:15-20. For those keeping score at home, Colossians 1:15-20 does surface in Year C in Proper 29, but it does not come up until the end of November. Also, for those who use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the Christ hymn is included in next week’s reading.
All that said, this is an opportune time for the Church to focus on the lordship of Christ, of what it has meant for Christians to confess, from its earliest history to today: “Jesus is Lord.” The four chapters of Colossians spell out the implications of His lordship, centered in its most famous hymn. Notice here how it is further focused in Paul’s prayer that our “knowledge of God’s will” continues to grow and blossom (verse 9). This is not head-knowledge; mere propositional information makes it too small of a thing. This is a full-bodied, lived “wisdom and understanding” which “bear[s] fruit in every good work” so we may “be made strong with all the strength that comes from His glorious power” (verses 9-11). This is the kind of knowledge which is mutually shared as sisters and brothers in Christ grow in “Him [who] holds all things together... For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:17, 19).
Thus, a sermon on this text could follow a simple pattern. First, to acknowledge and celebrate the ways the preacher can see how Paul’s prayer has been fulfilled in this congregation, especially as God has accomplished it through His rescuing power (verses 13-14; here is where a Law/Gospel dynamic could be utilized). Then, to spell out how all of these things are made possible only because of the lordship of Christ. This proclamation could draw from the omitted Christ hymn, but nothing gives us a more vivid image of how Christ’s lordship is at work in the world than the parable of the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel reading.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Colossians 1:1-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Colossians 1:1-14.