A long time ago, I heard a Bible study teacher put forth this general principle: “Whenever Paul uses the word ‘therefore,’ you should ask: What is the therefore there for?” More often than not, Paul drops the oun like he is dropping the mic. What follows is usually a definitive, pithy statement. “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (verse 6). End stop.

And Paul could stop there, but he never does. The rest of this passage (whether you stop at verse 15 or verse 19) unpacks and spells out what exactly it means to walk in the one Lord we have received. To have received Christ happens by faith, and to walk in Him means we are “rooted and built up” in the promise faith receives, so much so we cannot help but be “abounding in thanksgiving” (verse 7).

The warnings which follow with their list of “human traditions” (verse 8) presents a word of caution to us as preachers. We do not face the same threats the Colossians faced. In addition to the “elemental spirits of the world” (whatever that might mean), the Colossians seem to have encountered the Judaizers who dogged much of Paul’s Gentile mission (verse 16-19). The well-intended temptation would be to try and allegorize these threats for a twenty-first century audience. But I fear this move often ends up in abstract generalities that do not really gain traction in our hearers’ daily lives (if the word “secularism” appears in your manuscript, that is a clue the abstraction has already happened). Better to simply ask: What pressures or dangers are these particular people, in this particular place, facing right now which keep them from being “rooted and built up” in Christ? What is keeping them from “abounding in thanksgiving”?

It is as if Paul’s whole letter is funneling to the fact that, “When you were buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

For Paul, these pressures, as much for us as for the Colossians, are drawn with a centripetal force into the power of verses 11-14. It is one of Paul’s great baptismal statements (echoing Romans 6:4-5 and Ephesians 2:4-6) and it occurs in almost exactly the center of the letter. It is as if Paul’s whole letter is funneling to the fact that, “When you were buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead” (verse 12). It then spirals out from that reality into all it now means for how we might live as those who have been resurrected by God in Christ. Notice how Paul puts this act of baptismal regeneration in profound economic terms: “By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (verse 14). Living as we are in an age of credit and debt (mortgage, car, credit cards, medical bills, student loans, et al) which puts immense pressure on any of us, there is much worth unpacking in this conceptual metaphor.

Then we get to verse 16, which gives us another “therefore” to wonder what it is there for. The good news of this passage lies in how Paul articulates the liberating power of our ever-new baptismal life. “Let no one pass judgment on you” (verse 16). “Let no one disqualify you” (verse 18). Remember the Colossians were likely the least cosmopolitan Christians Paul wrote to, and they could have easily felt an inferiority complex compared to the other places they would have known Paul had actually visited (he never made it to Colossae). These words would have been received with a sense of encouragement and empowerment which must have been palpable. And Paul gives us a rhetorical refrain: “Let no one...” We might find this useful in our own palpable preaching of this text.

Interesting too how this text is paired with Jesus’ own parabolic wisdom on the liberating power of prayer in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 11:1-13): “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (11:9). The temptation here, of course, is to see our praying only individualistically, as simply an ATM machine with unlimited funds. But the overflowing life we find in the daily dying and rising with Christ is a life “nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments” as the whole Body of Christ. We find it as we live and pray with each other and for each other. And this is how we grow, “With a growth that is from God” (verse 19).

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 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).