Small Group Resource
Week 1 (Colossians 1:1-23)
Getting the Big Picture
Following a greeting and thanksgiving
(1:1-8) and opening prayer (1:9-14), this
first section of Colossians includes Paul’s
famous ‘Christ hymn’ (1:15-20) as well as a
short paragraph on the way in which God’s
reconciling work invites believers to stand
‘steadfast in the faith’ (1:21-23).
The second verse of the hymn moves on
to Christ’s present role. He is ‘head of
the body, the church’ – here again the
language moves well beyond the usual
thought of the individual assembly as ‘the
church in Y’. He is the beginning of a new
reality, the ‘firstborn from the dead’ – his
resurrection assuring all believers that they
belong to the same family (Col. 1:18).
And then the astonishing assertion: that
‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased
to dwell’ (1:19). This goes beyond the lan-
guage used of Wisdom and Word. It asserts
that the completeness of God’s self-revela-
tion was focused in Christ, that the whole-
ness of God’s interaction with the universe
is summed up in Christ. And the goal was
not assertion of omnipotence, but reconcil-
iation, to make peace with a rebellious and
fallen creation through the sacrifice of the
same Christ on the cross (1:20).
Does the hymn in praise of Christ tell
us something about Christ which we
don’t usually make much of, or is it
‘over the top’?
Reconciliation and Response
The recipients of the letter knew well what
the hymn celebrated, for they had been
alienated from God, hostile in attitude and
acting in wicked ways, the latter presum-
ably to be understood as the result of the
former (1:21). ‘But now’ – the redemptive
‘but’ – ‘reconciled’ – such a wonderful
term. Never to be forgotten is that the
reconciliation came about through Christ’s
death, a death which wonderfully wiped
the slate clean, so that they might be
presented to God.
The imagery is drawn from Israel’s sacri-
ficial cult: ‘holy’, that is, set apart to God;
‘blameless’, a word regularly used of the
physical perfection required of the sacri-
ficial animal; ‘irreproachable’, a term less
common in Jewish tradition, but denoting
one who is free of accusation or charge
(1:22). Implicit is the theology of sacrifice:
that the sin of the blameworthy person is
exchanged for the sinlessness of the sacri-
ficial victim, here, of course, Christ.
The confidence in the effectiveness of
God’s provision is qualified by a matching
emphasis on human responsibility. Final
acceptance is dependent on remaining
‘steadfast in the faith’. Complete salvation
is dependent not only on an initial commit-
ment, but on remaining ‘steadfast’ and not
drifting away before the gospel hope has
been fully realized (1:23). This is the gospel
to which Paul was committed.
The first session would be an ideal oppor-
tunity to explore together the ‘big picture’
of the letter of Colossians. This will involve
scanning through the letter as a whole,
or dividing up into smaller groups to scan
different sections of the letter. As members
of the group read through the letter, en-
courage them to look out for key features,
including information about Paul and the
readers, key themes, and key sections. You
can then explore how the major sections of
the letter link to Colossians 1:1-23.
For this study, it would be helpful to use
Bibles without section headings, or you
could also provide a print out of Colossians
by copying it and pasting it into a Word
Document. Online Bible resources (such
as www.biblegateway.com) provide easy
access to a range of translations.
Approaching the text
Invite members of the group to read silently through Colossians.
Alternatively, divide the group into four sub-groups, and ask each
group to read through a different section (1:1-23; 1:24 – 2:15; 2:16
– 3:17; 3:18 – 4:18).
Ask members of the group to jot down their thoughts on the follow-
ing features of Colossians, or one of its sections: What do we find
out about Paul? What do we find out about the intended readers
of the letter? What are the major divisions within the letter or the
section? What are the key themes?
Draw together the observations from members of the group. You
could do this by using flip-chart paper, using one sheet for each of
the major areas of discussion: Paul, Readers, Divisions, Themes. Go
through each of the sections of the chapter, and ask individuals or
the groups to call out what they’ve noticed.
Discuss the opening section of the letter (1:1-23). How do the
themes that Paul mentions relate to the book as a whole?
Should we make more of the ‘provided
that’ in 1:23?
For a helpful discussion of the context of the letter and the details to look for, see
Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 4th ed.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), pp. 74 – 92.