4 5 Overview Week 1 Week One Colossians 1:1-23 1:1-8: Greeting and Thanksgiving 1:9-13: Opening Prayer 1:15-20: The Christ Hymn 1:21-23: Reconciliation and Response Week Two 1:24-25: A Personal Statement 1:24-29: Paul and the Gospel 2:1-5: Paul and the Colossians 2:6-4:6: The Letter Theme 2:6-7: Thematic Statement 2:8-23: The Cross and Human Tradition 2:8-15: The Power of the Cross Week Three 2:16-19: Free from Condemnation 2:20-23: Free in Christ 3:1-4.6: A New Pattern Of Life 3:1-4: Life with Christ 3:5-17: Living the New Life Week Four 3:18-4:1: Household Rules 4:2-6: Concluding Exhortations 4:7-18: Conclusion 4:7-9: Maintaining Communication 4:10-17: Greetings 4:18: A Personal Greeting Professor James D. G. Dunn Greeting and Thanksgiving (1:1-8) The letter begins in accordance with the conventions of the time to indicate the author(s) of the letter – Paul, as usual strongly affirming his apostleship, and his ‘brother’ or colleague, Timothy (1:1). Likewise with the indication of to whom the letter is addressed in Colossae, warmly greeted as ‘saints’ and ‘faithful brothers in Christ’ – ‘in Christ’ being one of Paul’s distinguishing phrases (1:2). Characteristi- cally too, Paul replaces the normal greeting, chairein (‘hail’), with the more distinctive Christian charis (‘grace’), to which he adds the usual Jewish greeting, shalom, ‘peace’. Typically the opening words are followed by an expression of thanksgiving and prayer, both elaborated (1:3-11; cf. e.g. Phil. 1:3-11; Phm. 4-6). The warmth of the relationship is striking, especially so if Paul had himself never visited Colossae – Paul, always praying for them, thrilled by what he had heard of their faith in Christ and their love ‘for all the saints’, and by the hope they all shared (1:3-5a). PREACHING POINTS Have we lost something important in the often very casual greetings in the letters we send to family or friends? Paul recalls how the gospel came to them, using the vigorous imagery of a plant bearing fruit among them – they being the fruit of the gospel, as elsewhere, indeed, ‘in all the world’, a remarkable expression of confidence in a very young movement (1:5b-6). ‘Gospel’ was almost always used in the plural (‘good tidings’), particularly in what we might justly call propaganda on behalf of Caesar. So in effect, Paul and the first Christians baptized the word into Christian vocabulary, and in the singular – the good news is of Jesus. Opening Prayer (1:9-14) The prayer focuses in very Jewish terms on ‘knowledge of God’s will’, with all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (1:9). Again the imagery used is very Jewish, the conduct of ‘walking’ (halak, from the Jewish technical term halakhah, denoting every day interpretation of the law). The test of this conduct will be what it produces. ‘Good works’ are no substitute for faith, but they should be the product of faith (1:10). Such fruitful living is wholly dependent on divine enabling, a strength which comes from God’s ‘glorious might’. Which does not mean that believers will escape suffer- ing, but it does mean that they will be able to ‘endure everything with patience’, and even with joy (1:11). The sentence con- tinues without a break: such joy, even in suffering, will express itself in thanks to the Father, thanks at the amazing fact that God has ‘qualified’ them to share in the inher- itance which had previously been thought to be exclusively Israel’s, often described as ‘children of the light’ (1:12). PREACHING POINTS How important is it that we should pray for one another? The prayer continues with a strong note of what is sometimes described as ‘realized eschatology’, that is the thought that what had hitherto been understood as the hope reserved for the end of history is now al- ready a reality. The Colossian believers had already been rescued from powers which had previously controlled them – that could include negative desires and selfish habits – and could be counted already as members of God’s kingdom, here unusually referred to as ‘the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (1:13). A final clause reminds readers that they enjoy the blessing of redemption and forgiveness ‘in him’ (1:14). The Christ Hymn (1:15-20) Whether this powerful poetic description of Christ should be regarded as a hymn is open to question. But the assertions it makes of Christ go well beyond typical de- scriptions of and assertions about Jesus. It is amazing to realize that Jesus was already being spoken about in these ways within the first Christian generation. Think about it! The unknown/invisible God had made Godself known through creation. ‘Made in the image of God’ was a familiar Jewish thought for humankind generally. But the hymn applies the thought specifi- cally to Christ, hailing him as ‘the firstborn of all creation’ (1:15). All things, without ex- ception, were created ‘in him’, ‘through him’ and ‘for him’ (1:16). He pre-exists all things and it is through him that the universe holds together (1:17). How to explain such language? The key is to recognize that the hymn uses imagery which in Jewish thought related to (divine) Wisdom and Word. These were ways in which Jewish thought could speak about divine activity without speaking of God as such. Good examples are Proverbs 8 and Ecclesiasticus 24. God’s activity in the world could be described without speaking in too human terms of God. The language of the hymn anticipates the great theolog- ical breakthrough in the prologue to John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18).