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Isaiah English

Dr. Jeffrey Dryden

BIB 378

21 April 2011

Practical Implications of Christ’s Preeminence

For Paul theology is never without practical implications. When he presents a

theology of Christ it works itself out in everyday sorts of ways. In Colossians this theology

comes from what might called the theme of Colossians, the “Christ Hymn,” which is found in

verses 15 through 20 of the first chapter. In these verses Paul breaks into an almost poetic

kind of doxology which is themed around the preeminence of Christ in creation and

redemption. Many have suggested that this is not something Paul came up with himself, but,

much like the “creed” Paul quotes in Second Timothy (2:11-13), is instead a hymn or poem

that was known in the broader Christian community. Even if this is the case, this suggestion

in no way undermines it’s truth or authority, instead it establishes it as already a part of the

Christian tradition. Paul merely solidifies it by including it in this letter.

As this letter is examined as a whole it is obvious that the themes present in the

“Christ Hymn” are woven throughout the fabric of the book in various ways. Walter Wilson in

his book The Hope of Glory makes the observation that,

The function of God as a character in Colossians, in a manner consistent with biblical

tradition, is expressed metaphorically by means of personal roles that demonstrate

what God is and does. The most prominent of these are God as creator, monarch,

judge, and parent, roles which overlap to a considerable extent (142).


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Here, Wilson is speaking about God, but the way Paul uses the “Christ Hymn” I think we find

this being said of, or perhaps given to, Christ. Paul says in verse sixteen “For by [Christ] all

things were created,” this clearly puts Christ at the status of creator. Paul goes on in the same

verse to list the various things that Christ has created and among them are thrones, dominions,

rulers, and authorities. This clearly puts Christ in God’s place as monarch as well. Paul’s ideas

of Christ as judge and parent are less obvious in this passage, but are at least hinted at. Christ

is spoken of in verse twenty as the one who reconciles all things and makes peace. The

language here follows the imagery present in Paul’s other writings of a courtroom and judge.

Christ is not explicitly named as judge, but implication strongly suggests that because Christ

has been placed in a position of power to decide right and wrong, he is the creator and

monarch of all.

The final image of parent is really not present at all in verses fifteen to twenty, the

only hint would be that Christ is made the first-born, which implies that he is a son of

someone. However, if we think about the implications of the idea of first-born to a first-

century-mind, things become more clear. In the ancient world they did not have the same

ideas of dividing things evenly that we might have today, instead the inheritance was divided

nearly in half between the first-born and the rest of the sons. The first-born got a substantially

larger portion of his father’s inheritance because he was to take up his father’s responsibilities

and place in society. So in this sense Christ is the future father of Christians because he has

inherited the largest portion of God’s power and position. With that said it becomes clear that
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in verses fifteen through twenty of the first chapter Christ embodies all four of those functions

that God exercises in the rest of the book of Colossians.

There are several passages that go into more detail and flesh these ideas out more.

However, the second half of chapter three contains two passages that bring this doctrine to

bear in everyday life. In chapter three verse twelve Paul lays out a passage which gives broad

instructions to all Christians such as forgiving each other and bearing with one another in

love. He begins this exhortation by reminding his hearers who they are, “chosen of God, holy

and beloved,” and after exhorting them to do all these things he reminds them of the example

of the Lord who forgave them. This of course reminds us of how Christ is praised in the

“Christ hymn” for reconciling all things to himself. Paul connects the reconciling power of

Christ’s atoning work which is referenced in the “Christ hymn” to the daily lives of his

hearers.

However, the next two verses, fourteen and fifteen, make this connection even

stronger. Paul mentions putting on love which is the perfect bond of unity, reminding us of

Christ who “holds all things together.” He follows that up with an exhortation to let peace

rule in their hearts because they are one body. This brings to mind two things, the language of

the “Christ hymn” that calls Christ the head of the body, the Church, and the language which

speaks of Christ making peace through the blood of his cross. Paul is telling us that this peace

that Christ brought through the blood of his cross is to be in us. Because Christ is the head of

our body the peace that he has purchased by his cross is to be that which dwells within us.

In verse sixteen Paul speaks of ensuring that the Word of Christ dwells in them richly

and tells his readers the primary means of getting that to happen. It is by singing “psalms,
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hymns, and spiritual songs,” like the “Christ hymn” in chapter one. The “Christ hymn” is

more than just the doctrine that it teaches, it is actually a tool itself for imparting the truths of

the gospel in our lives. By singing songs like the “Christ hymn” we ensure that Christ’s word

will richly dwell in us and we can more easily remember the implications that Paul fleshes out

for us in the latter half of chapter three.

Paul concludes this passage by telling the Colossians, “Whatever you do in word or

deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

We’ve already heard in the “Christ hymn” that “all things were created through him and and

for him…so that he himself will come to have the first place in everything.” Here we see Paul

referencing the preeminence of Christ and using that as a motivator for the more specific

actions he is about to call his readers to do. For Paul, Christ’s preeminence is not an abstract

principle that’s cool to think about, it has everyday sorts of implications like a call for

compassion, patience, love, and forgiveness, and even specific implications for your particular

station in life whether you are a parent, child, slave, or master.

In this next passage Paul gives a series of practical implications that are based in the

preeminence and authority of Christ, who is the Lord. In verse eighteen of chapter three Paul

exhorts wives to submit to their husbands, “as it is fitting in the Lord.” We see here Paul

making an argument based upon Christ’s place as creator. Christ created man and woman a

certain way and so Paul bases the “fittingness” of this relationship upon the way Christ

created them. It might be a stretch to base the idea that Paul is actually grounding this

exhortation in creation, if it weren’t for that fact that he does in fact make that very argument

in other letters (1 Timothy for instance when he goes into more detailed instructions for
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women). Based upon the knowledge of Paul’s other letters it is no great stretch to interpret

Paul’s use of the word “fitting” to be a reference to the created order. When Paul gives an

exhortation to husbands in the next verse he sees no need to repeat the justification for the

exhortation; he simply tells them to love their wives. Paul sees a connection between Christ as

creator and the way men and women are to relate to each other. A wife is to be subject to, or

respect, her husband and a husband is to love his wife, not only is it the right thing to do

morally, but it also is fitting on the basis of creation. Christ being creator means that wives

must be subject to their husbands and husbands must love their wives.

Paul then moves on to give an exhortation to children. Instead of basing this one in

creation, which would be very logical for him to do, he bases this one in their parental

relationship to Christ. When Paul does this he moves from exhorting based merely on the

created order, to exhorting based upon a relationship. He speaks to children and tells them to

obey based upon the fact that it will please Christ. This implies a kind of parental relationship

between Christ and these covenant children. Paul tells children to obey their parent on the

basis that it is pleasing to the Lord. Here also the explicit mention of parent is absent from the

text, however, the idea is still present. Paul uses the word “pleasing” and this a word that is

used as a leverage in a relationship. Children ideally obey their parents, not out of a sense of

duty, but out of a desire to please them. Good parents seek to motivate their children by

telling them how pleased they are with this obedience. They know that if they have a good

relationship with their children this will be sufficient motivation for them. Immediately

following his command to children Paul addresses fathers reminding them not to exasperate
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their children. Although no reason is specified it can be inferred that a primary reason behind

this exhortation is the example of their father in Christ. Not only the Father of Christ, who is

also their Father, but also the example of Christ himself. In using a relationship as leverage

for obedience Paul draws upon the most powerful argument in Scripture.

Immediately following his exhortation to fathers, Paul addresses slaves and uses the

leverage of Christ as a judge to motivate them to obey their masters, from the heart. Instead

of telling the slaves to try to gain their freedom, he tells them to obey their current masters as

though they are Christ himself. Although Paul does not use the word “judge” here, he clearly

has that kind of role in mind because he uses the language of fear and reward. He tells slaves

to do more than just please men, but to serve with a sincere heart that fears the Lord. Scripture

uses the language of fearing in relation to God particularly, as a kind of holy reverence, but it

is also true that the language fear in relation to duty is the language of judge and law. Jesus

spoke of fearing the one who could destroy both body and soul, as opposed to man who could

only harm the body. Paul also adds the idea of being rewarded by the Lord and this also

implies the role of judge. A judge is one who hands out rewards as well as punishments. In

Romans Paul speaks of the civil magistrate as one who rewards the good and punishes the

evil. So it is not much of a stretch to suggest Paul would have been thinking of Christ as a

judge here. In fact, Paul ends this passage saying, “For he who does wrong will receive the

consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.” This is courtroom,

judicial language clearly demonstrating that Jesus has been placed in God’s role as judge.
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In the final passage Paul makes is clear that because Jesus also takes God’s place as

monarch this has implications for how masters should treat their slaves. Paul tells masters to

be fair and treat their slaves with justice because they have a Master in heaven. Here, it is not

explicit that the Master in heaven referred to is Jesus, or the Lord. However, Paul has

referenced “the Lord” explicitly several times in the previous verses so it is not hard to

conclude that Paul is thinking of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Once again the actual word monarch

is not used, but, as in the other instances, the idea is still there. A monarch is ruler of the

people, but more practically a monarch is a ruler who rules rulers. Practically monarchs can’t

really manage all their people and so they appoint rulers who report back to them. It makes

perfect sense for those in authority over others to be exhorted to treat those under them fairly

because of the master who rules them. Christ is the monarch or master who rules from

heaven. In his role as monarch he ensures that masters treat their slaves fairly.

The “Christ hymn” that Paul writes out in chapter one becomes a theme for this letter

to the Church in Colossae and as seen in chapter three it has very practical implications for

daily life. We have been given peace with God, and so are to have it with others; we have

been united into one body, and so must love each other and forgive as we have been forgiven.

Christ has been given God’s place as creator, parent, judge, and monarch and this has

implications for everyday interactions between husbands and wives, parents and children, and

slaves and masters. So, as Paul says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of

the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” We are to do all we do, even

giving thanks, in the name of this one whom God has made to be the firstborn of all creation.