He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
Why would Paul put a poem into a letter of instruction? He is actually following a fairly common approach to teaching that is used throughout the Bible. The matter is simple: While poetry is harder to grasp it is easier to remember. In a culture where people didn’t have easy access to the written word, Biblical authors would frequently put a key idea in poetic form so that people would remember it. Then, large parts of the rest of the letter or book would develop more fully what the poetic section was teaching. You can see an OT example of this in Jonah 2:2-9. Wright explains why this particular passage is so central to the message of Colossians:
What they need to know above all, if they are to grow as Christians, increasing in wisdom, power, patience and thanksgiving, is the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ. The more they get to know, and know about Jesus Christ, the more they will understand who the true God is and what he’s done; who they are as a result; and what it means to live in and for him. Much of the rest of the letter, in fact, is an exploration of the meaning of the poem. Look on to 2.3, for instance, where Paul declares that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ himself.
It’s worth, then, going quite slowly through the poem and pondering the depths of meaning that are to be found in it. Christianity isn’t simply about a particular way of being religious. It isn’t about a particular system for how to be saved here or hereafter. It isn’t simply a different way of holiness. Christianity is about Jesus Christ; and this poem, one of the very earliest Christian poems ever written, is as good a place to start exploring it as any. This is what the Colossians needed to know, and we today need to rediscover.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 58
Q. 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.