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Colossians 1:1-14

My dear preaching colleague,

If you’re preaching from Colossians 1, that means you’re either (1) starting a new sermon series in Colossians or (2) realizing with exhaustion that the Gospel text from the lectionary has you preaching the Good Samaritan story, and you simply can’t bring yourself to do it again.

Either way, you’re going to want to give your people some context. For the average congregant, the introductions to the Pauline letters can seem to bleed into one and sound the same: Paul sends greetings, Paul is thankful, Paul sends grace and peace, etc, etc. They know nothing of genre, form, and structure, historical context, ancient rhetoric—none of it. It will be up to you to determine how much they need to understand in order to grasp the basic premise of this passage. (Unless your congregation is very unusual, I don’t recommend addressing authorship in the preaching moment. Accepting Paul and Timothy as co-authors of this letter isn’t likely to affect interpretation at this level, and it might even give you an opportunity to discuss the benefits of partnered leadership in the church!)

Still, there are several “technical” details that can yield some really helpful interpretive paths.

  1. Paul addresses his letter differently than he usually does. Rather than containing an address “to the church or churches,” Colossians is addressed to “the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae” (CEB). This is especially interesting in that the authors imply that they have never met the believers at this church (v. 4). Why would this letter contain such an endearing form of address? Perhaps the answer lies in the intent of the letter. The authors of this letter are seeking nothing less than the fruitfulness of the church. They want to see the church live into their identity as “holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” Perhaps, pastor, this is an opportunity to speak to your congregation proleptically (look it up: it’s a great literary word for preachers!): you can provisionally address your congregants in terms of what they may not yet quite be—holy and faithful brothers and sisters. For whatever reason, they came to church on the Sunday you preach this message. Perhaps, whether they know it or not, the Spirit is gathering them in anticipation of their faithfulness and fruitfulness.

  2. Verses 3-8 and 9-17 are noted for being massively long, grammatically exhausting run-on sentences. They occur in the form not of prayer—but of the <