“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” (Colossians 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.