We are now into the heart and center of Colossians.
There are two high points in this pericope, and they come front-loaded one after the other in verses 2:8-10 and 2:11-13; first Christology, then soteriology. Simply put, the spectacle of the incarnation, then the marvel of salvation. The latter verses, stretching from 2:16-23, set forth Paul’s instructions regarding Christian freedom for those now within Christ’s Kingdom and in whom Christ’s spirit dwells. Luther would simply refer to this as the life of the Christian, a life of prayerful action, tying in nicely with the Gospel lesson for this Sunday on the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-13), as well as Luther’s treatise On Christian Freedom.
Here the preacher has everything set in order by the Apostle: preach the good news that God’s King has arrived, what He has done for you, and then the implications for the way you now engage, interpret and understand reality as sons of God. The personal point of contact, Paul goes on to say, is holy baptism.
It should be remembered, while there may possibly have been unbelievers who ventured into (what was then, clandestine) Christian worship when Paul wrote this epistle, these were decidedly not seeker-sensitive services poised to woo outsiders. Christians gathered to hear from their King, be in His presence, and receive His gifts. It was Christian worship. It was the gathering of the baptized. Paul writes to the Christians at Colossae and his letter would have been read in the assembly of those believers united in Christ and to one another through baptism. It was for their edification, their encouragement, their strengthening of faith, their hope and joy and comfort. Therefore, Christian pastor, bring the Lord’s royal message—arranged and preserved in this pericope of Holy Scripture—to your Christian auditors as your primary task and fail not to ground their identity in baptism; the monergistic work of the Lord, where He speaks and where we passively receive His saving Word and action. The Lord wants to say this to His kingdom people, namely Colossians 2:6-15, how He has saved them in Christ. So, remember who and what you are—the baptized—and walk in the faith gifted to you therein.
Preachers, those committed to your under-shepherding care need the strength of the Gospel (which saved them) for their sanctification and “the hope of glory” (1:27). God’s Word and action in baptism is Gospel, for it is not about what we say or do that makes baptism what it is, but rather the Word of God. The evangelistic dimension of your sermon will be the unbeliever hearing what God has done for His people, what He does for His people, and what He will do for His people. Administering the Rite of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism makes this proclamation all the more dramatic and tactile.
God’s Word and action in baptism is Gospel, for it is not about what we say or do that makes baptism what it is, but rather the Word of God.
Paul sets forth the truth, beginning in verse 8, in response to falsehood. His response is two-pronged. He tells about Christ at the center of 2:8-15 and critiques the practices of the false teachers in 2:16-23. In other words, he declares orthodoxy (right doctrine) and establishes consequent orthopraxy (right practice). Baptism is the hinge on which his response swings. In Colossians 2, baptism is not something to be glossed over. Instead, it is utterly essential to this text and, indeed, the entire epistle.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish Paul’s polemical description of the false teaching and the actual content of it. Scholarly consensus remains uncertain about the identity of the false teachers and by extension the shape of their incorrect instructions. So, the preacher would do well to not get caught in the weeds here. Instead, follow Saint Paul’s lead: He unfolds the identity of Christ and the point of contact with each believer—baptism—as his central response to those unidentifiable opponents. Significantly, his focus on the identity and accomplishments of Christ and the identity-making action of baptism form his principal strategy to prevent deviant practices by reminding the Colossian Christians of what is central in their lives.
On account of Christ, baptized believers have put off their bodies of flesh (2:11). They have triumphed with Christ over all the cosmic forces, rulers and powers (2:12-15). The true focus of the believer’ aspirations is the heavenly realm (Colossians 3:1-14). But that heavenly realm overlaps and interacts with our earthly realm precisely at the point where the Church is made manifest. Namely, in the pure preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to the Gospel (Augsburg Confession VII:1). There is an intersection between Heaven and Earth, and it takes the form of Word and Sacrament. True believers aspire for where God is present. Therefore, true believers desire the Kingdom of God, which is the Church, and so are grounded in their baptism, love the Word, and show devotion to Holy Communion.
Being heavenly-minded is about owning one’s identity as the baptized. This sort of focus sets the stage for verses 16-19 as the Gospel manifests itself in and through the believer, in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells.
The stakes are high. Paul is posing an allegiance proposition which appeals to baptism in 2:11-13. Baptism, for Paul, instills a sense of finality and completion among its recipients. Orthodoxy in belief and orthodox in practice reinforces this because heavenly mindedness brings them back to the Word and the Sacraments of the sacred community each step of the way. Baptism does this graphically and dramatically as a re-enactment of death and rebirth attained through Christ’s body; the place where the fulness of the deity has come to dwell. Believers are reminded—and the preacher is to remind them—baptism marks the forgiveness of sins, the end of legal demands, justification and regeneration, and the ultimate triumph over rulers and powers (2:13-15). In short, the importance of baptism for life in Christ is stated in Colossians in the strongest possible terms: baptism is necessary to salvation. Baptism becomes, as it were, shorthand for everything Christ is and has accomplished for our redemption and re-creation (cf. 1 Romans 6:3-6 and Peter 3:19-22). So much so, that Paul counters the problem of false teaching at Colossae with a Christ-and-baptism response to set the people right in terms of their identity, the assurance of their salvation and the life that follows. Baptism into Christ and Christ in baptism, this is the answer.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19).