August 28 – Colossians 1:15-23

Main focus: Jesus, both in his person and in work, is worthy of our devotion.

When it comes to understanding who Jesus is and what he has accomplished, this text right here is one of the pinnacles. In our discussion we’ll talk about what it says, how it stirs up our hearts, and how it drives us to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

When we only read verses 15-23 it might seem like Paul has suddenly burst into song, but if you read the few verses beforehand you can see how Paul began winding up. After praying that the gospel would bear fruit in the lives of the Colossian believers (v.9-12) he started talking about what God has done through Jesus to redeem us from our sins (v.13-15). Paul’s praise for the preeminence of Jesus is born out of his reflection on the salvation Jesus has accomplished, which he’ll return to at the end of his poem (v.20) and in the section immediately after (v.21-23). 

Take your time reading through verses 15-20—there are some seriously meaty theological statements in there. Here’s an overview: in verse 15 we find out Jesus is the fulfillment of the image that God gave to Adam and, as the Second Adam, will do all that the First Adam failed to do (Rom 5:12-17; 1 Cor 15:26, 45-49). In verse 16 we find out all things were created through Jesus and for him, meaning he participated in creation with the Father and the Spirit and all things find their direction, purpose, and coherence only by terminating upon Jesus. And in verse 17 we discover that the whole universe is actively being held together by him (thanks Jesus!). 

Verse 18 connects all this to his work in and through the church, with him leading the way for the future, resurrected people as the first resurrected human (“firstborn from the dead”). Verse 19 reaffirms the deity of Jesus, and then verse 20 masterfully connects back to the beginning of the poem with creation to show how, through his death, Jesus is reconciling all of creation to himself. These five verses are like a whole little systematic theology course on Jesus, his deity, his role in creation, his work through redemption, and his supremacy.

Now, real quick, we should talk about a phrase in verse 15, “the firstborn of all creation,” (some translations read “over all”). Over time, plenty of people have read that verse and concluded that Jesus was a created being. Early heresies like Arianism, Apollinarianism, and Nestorianism used this as a proof text for their belief that Jesus wasn’t truly God in the same way that the Father is God. However, one primary problem with taking this verse to mean something that drastic is the use of the word “firstborn.” We use that today to indicate birth order, but in Paul’s context the term can also mean “preeminent.” This is like in verse 17, when Paul says Jesus is “before all things.” Again, this isn’t a statement about sequential order, as if Jesus was created before everything else, but a statement of standing, as in Jesus is preeminent over all things. This, taken with the context of verses 15 and 19 which equate Jesus with God, dispels any doubt to the contrary.

After Paul’s poem about Jesus’ preeminence he includes a brief overview of how Jesus’ work of cosmic redemption has taken root in the lives of the Colossians, reconciling them personally to himself (v.21-23). We’ll use this as a launching point for three things in our discussion: how Jesus’ preeminence shows him to be worthy of my worship and your worship, how a passage like this can stir our affections for our savior, and how these stirred affections propel us to tell others about Jesus. When we read, “the gospel has been proclaimed,” in verse 23 we should connect that to the overflow of worship in the preceding verses; as we revel in the majesty of Jesus and his goodness towards us, we see that his work of reconciling us sends us out to proclaim his work of reconciliation throughout the rest of creation.

Questions for Discussion

Could someone read Colossians 1:15-23 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

What does it tell us about what Jesus has accomplished?

How does all of this make Jesus worthy of our worship?

When you read this passage, what does it help you feel about Jesus?

How does it challenge the way you typically think or feel about Jesus?

How does this passage stir up your heart to tell others about Jesus?