4 Reasons to Preach through Colossians
“The struggle is real.” You may have heard that phrase. It’s used to convey the difficulty of an unseen burden. It’s also used ironically at times to highlight “first-world problems.”
When it comes to our job as preachers the struggle is real. We say with Paul, “I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you” (2:1). Like Paul, we’re weighed down by burdens: false teachers with their plausible-sounding arguments, ongoing problems like sexual immorality and slander, neighbors in need of the gospel.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians is realistic about this “toil” (1:29), yet optimistic about the truth of the gospel: “Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing” (1:5–6). Our churches are proof that God’s gospel saves. Our struggles are proof that it’s not done increasing.
Paul’s gospel-centered optimism is one reason why I chose to preach Colossians in my first year as a preaching pastor. Why should you preach the book of Colossians? Let’s let the book answer that question. Here are four reasons to preach Colossians, each derived from the structure of the book.
1. Colossians fills us with Christ for a fruitful life.
No doubt you’re familiar with the high Christology of Colossians 1. Jesus, the “firstborn of all creation,” preeminent over all things seen and unseen, is also the “firstborn from the dead” (1:15, 20). He is preeminent over his new creation dawning in the church, a people reconciled to himself “by the blood of his cross” (1:20).
What might not be so obvious is how this poetic proclamation of Christ functions in the first chapter of Paul’s letter. Paul is filling his readers up with Christ. That’s how he prayed only verses prior: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Why? So they might “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (1:9–10). Where do we find this? We find it in “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2–3).
Once you see this theme of fullness, you can’t unsee it. Indeed, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him (2:9, 10). Having found this treasure, we ever grow in the “full assurance” and “understanding” of all that we have in Christ (2:2). And as we grow then in fullness, so we grow in fruitfulness.
Fullness is the utter preoccupation of Paul in this letter. It also reveals Paul’s pastoral concern for the church, made explicit in the second chapter.
2. Colossians arms us against self-appointed spiritual umpires.
Why the repeated theme of fullness? “I say these things,” Paul writes, “in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (2:4). Some were arguing that Christ is good but not enough.
Depending on your context, one or a few of these delusions will sound eerily familiar. The first demands adherence to Old Testament days and food laws, but in getting the Old Testament wrong it makes Christ’s coming irrelevant (2:16–17). The second emphasizes angelic revelations and elevated heavenly worship. In the process it denies the body’s true source of vitality and maturity (2:18–19). The third holds out an extra-pure religion, with regulations like, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (2:21). But that’s a worldly and merely human way of dealing with the problem (2:8, 22). It also doesn’t work (2:23).
These teachings, as you may well know, breed judgmentalism and pronouncements of spiritual disqualification. This atmosphere occupies the church with the approval and pleasure of mere men. Such a peer-pressurized environment is toxic. The church at Colossae was threatened with worldliness in the guise of ultra-biblical, super-spiritual, extra-pure religion.
But what could we be possibly missing if we have Christ? Surely nothing! That is Paul’s argument as he addresses these delusions. Christ is for us the full presence of God (2:9–10), our full new life (2:11–12), the full removal of our sins (2:13–14), and our full triumph over Satan (2:15). Christ is nothing if he is not enough. Colossians 2 arms your people against self-appointed spiritual umpires.
One might then ask: doesn’t arguing that Christ is all we need lead to a moral free-for-all? Certainly not, and Paul shows us how Christ transforms us in chapter 3.
3. Colossians shows how union with Christ shapes all of life.
In Colossians 1, Paul writes, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). If chapter 2 proclaims Christ by “warning,” then chapter 3 proclaims Christ by “teaching” (1:28).
If rules and regulations don’t work for a vital Christian life, then what does? The rule and reign of Jesus does, which has sway over those united to him. He is the firstborn from the dead, and we have been raised with him (3:1). Even now we are hidden with him, and when he comes we will gloriously appear with him (3:3, 4). Where is the power to deal with our anger, grow in our compassion, put off sexual immorality, love our wives, and parent our children without provoking them? It’s right here: united to Jesus, we can put away what is earthly because we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (3:1).
Through “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” we teach one another of Christ and Christ’s word dwells within us. Which means one crucial way we grow in the “full assurance” of Christ is to go to church. Don’t just read your Bible. Listen to your brothers and sisters sing and speak the Bible to you.
Preach Colossians 3 and you’ll get the privilege to preach all that.
A final reason to preach the book of Colossians emerges from a theme that undergirds the whole book, stretching from the first verses to the last chapter.
4. Colossians fills us with thanksgiving and prayer.
A church filled with self-appointed spiritual umpires will struggle with thankfulness. She will be too occupied with the opinions of man to enjoy God.
Paul’s strategy for stirring thankfulness is so wise. He models thankful prayer when he opens, “We always thank God … when we pray for you” (1:3). He prays that they would “[give] thanks to the Father who has qualified you” for salvation (1:12). He defines Christian maturity as a life “abounding in thanksgiving” (2:6–7). Only then does he offer the command: “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2). Indeed, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:16–17). Thankfulness is the overflow of fullness in Christ. When we preach Colossians, Paul’s strategy for stirring this church to thankfulness becomes ours.
Thankfulness sounds easy. But we know this is the real struggle of ministry. Thankfully, prison chains and pesky legalists only have so much power. And, thankfully, as we struggle, we do so “with all his energy that he powerfully works” within us (1:29). That reminder is yet another reason to preach this letter.