6 7 Small Group Resource Week 1 (Colossians 1:1-23) Getting the Big Picture Following a greeting and thanksgiving (1:1-8) and opening prayer (1:9-14), this first section of Colossians includes Paul’s famous ‘Christ hymn’ (1:15-20) as well as a short paragraph on the way in which God’s reconciling work invites believers to stand ‘steadfast in the faith’ (1:21-23). The second verse of the hymn moves on to Christ’s present role. He is ‘head of the body, the church’ – here again the language moves well beyond the usual thought of the individual assembly as ‘the church in Y’. He is the beginning of a new reality, the ‘firstborn from the dead’ – his resurrection assuring all believers that they belong to the same family (Col. 1:18). And then the astonishing assertion: that ‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (1:19). This goes beyond the lan- guage used of Wisdom and Word. It asserts that the completeness of God’s self-revela- tion was focused in Christ, that the whole- ness of God’s interaction with the universe is summed up in Christ. And the goal was not assertion of omnipotence, but reconcil- iation, to make peace with a rebellious and fallen creation through the sacrifice of the same Christ on the cross (1:20). PREACHING POINTS Does the hymn in praise of Christ tell us something about Christ which we don’t usually make much of, or is it ‘over the top’? Reconciliation and Response (1:21-23) The recipients of the letter knew well what the hymn celebrated, for they had been alienated from God, hostile in attitude and acting in wicked ways, the latter presum- ably to be understood as the result of the former (1:21). ‘But now’ – the redemptive ‘but’ – ‘reconciled’ – such a wonderful term. Never to be forgotten is that the reconciliation came about through Christ’s death, a death which wonderfully wiped the slate clean, so that they might be presented to God. The imagery is drawn from Israel’s sacri- ficial cult: ‘holy’, that is, set apart to God; ‘blameless’, a word regularly used of the physical perfection required of the sacri- ficial animal; ‘irreproachable’, a term less common in Jewish tradition, but denoting one who is free of accusation or charge (1:22). Implicit is the theology of sacrifice: that the sin of the blameworthy person is exchanged for the sinlessness of the sacri- ficial victim, here, of course, Christ. The confidence in the effectiveness of God’s provision is qualified by a matching emphasis on human responsibility. Final acceptance is dependent on remaining ‘steadfast in the faith’. Complete salvation is dependent not only on an initial commit- ment, but on remaining ‘steadfast’ and not drifting away before the gospel hope has been fully realized (1:23). This is the gospel to which Paul was committed. The first session would be an ideal oppor- tunity to explore together the ‘big picture’ of the letter of Colossians. This will involve scanning through the letter as a whole, or dividing up into smaller groups to scan different sections of the letter. As members of the group read through the letter, en- courage them to look out for key features, including information about Paul and the readers, key themes, and key sections. You can then explore how the major sections of the letter link to Colossians 1:1-23. For this study, it would be helpful to use Bibles without section headings, or you could also provide a print out of Colossians by copying it and pasting it into a Word Document. Online Bible resources (such as www.biblegateway.com) provide easy access to a range of translations. Approaching the text Invite members of the group to read silently through Colossians. Alternatively, divide the group into four sub-groups, and ask each group to read through a different section (1:1-23; 1:24 – 2:15; 2:16 – 3:17; 3:18 – 4:18). Ask members of the group to jot down their thoughts on the follow- ing features of Colossians, or one of its sections: What do we find out about Paul? What do we find out about the intended readers of the letter? What are the major divisions within the letter or the section? What are the key themes? Draw together the observations from members of the group. You could do this by using flip-chart paper, using one sheet for each of the major areas of discussion: Paul, Readers, Divisions, Themes. Go through each of the sections of the chapter, and ask individuals or the groups to call out what they’ve noticed. Discuss the opening section of the letter (1:1-23). How do the themes that Paul mentions relate to the book as a whole? PREACHING POINTS Should we make more of the ‘provided that’ in 1:23? Further Reading For a helpful discussion of the context of the letter and the details to look for, see Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), pp. 74 – 92.