Colossians 1:15-29: Theology and Practice
July 2, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Some people find the word “theology” to indicate something that should only be done by the professionals, the clerics, the experts, or the academics. But rightly understood, theology is something that all Christians need – and are to become biblically grounded experts in. We want to know God and to follow Christ, and to do both these things, we need to know who God is and what Christ wants from us. So we must read the Bible, understand it, grow in the grasp of what it teaches – or in other words, become “theologians” (in a non-technical sense of that word).
The passage we are looking at today shows us this in spades. Paul launches some of the most profound theology regarding Christ ever written. And yet, his purpose in doing so, and the end result of that theology, is a lifestyle of great, practical, and real sacrifice for the cause of Christ. It has been well-said that he who is the greatest enemy of Christian thinking is the greatest enemy of Christian practice. Or to put it another way, if we wish to become people who are able to live radically for Christ in this world for his glory, then we need to build into our lives a greater grasp of biblical and therefore theological insight into who Christ is. In this passage, we have first some theology, then some practice.
The theology is astonishingly profound. It runs from verses 15 to 23. Time and space do not allow in this devotional format a full word-by-word analysis of these verses. In summary, Paul is elevating the eternal God-ness of Jesus, and therefore the infinite power of the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is not just someone who “became God”; he is the firstborn of all creation, and through him all things are made. He is the ruler, that is, the God of all. But not only that, he is the head of the church. All the fullness of God dwells in him. And it is through him, by faith, that all things can be reconciled to God, by Jesus’ blood, his death on the cross.
With this theological vision in mind, Paul reminds them that it is this gospel that has saved them, if they continue in their faith – for it is faith that is the channel through which this saving gospel is received. Take a moment today to remind yourself of the sheer majesty of Christ — and the astonishing power of his gospel. Take out of your mind a picture of Jesus as small and petty and Western – a temporary figure, who albeit amazing, is simply a good teacher. And replace that picture with this theological picture here of Jesus: God of all, the fullness of God, who through his blood on the cross made a way for you to be reconciled to God.
Now with that theology in mind, Paul presents his own life as a model of sacrificial, practical Christian living as a result of this gospel. This is from verses 24 to 28. When he talks about filling up in his flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, he is talking about missionary sufferings (not atoning sufferings). Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient. When he died, he said, “It is finished.” But now, we who follow Christ are called to take the gospel to our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. To do so will cost. It will require sacrifice. There are these “missionary sufferings” that were especially given to Paul and the apostles, that are given to our pastors and missionaries, but are also incumbent on us all as we serve Christ sacrificially too, in order that the gospel might make progress in our day.
This is all for the “mystery” of the gospel – the “mystery” being a technical word for that which was hidden, but is now revealed. Namely, that the Gentiles (that is all nations, and not just the Jewish nation), are now through faith in Christ the recipients of salvation, the hope of glory. All this is what drives Paul: he struggles with all Christ’s energy that so powerfully works in him. That vision of who Christ is that he presented now is pressed into this statement about Christ’s energy being at work in him, and the strenuous effort that Paul is putting in with that energy at work in him. It calls us too to live for Christ in Christ’s power and with all the energy that Christ supplies.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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