Today: [Colossians 1:] The Supremacy of Christ: Do you have a little dashboard Jesus? Or perhaps just a quaint figurine in a ceramic manger? In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he finds this congregation with notions about Jesus that fell far short of who He actually is as Lord of the Universe. In correcting their thinking, Paul gives us one of the most striking and elevated declarations of the supremacy of Christ to be found in any literary expression in or out of the bible.
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[Col 1:1-14 KJV] 1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus [our] brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love [which ye have] to all the saints, 5 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; 6 Which is come unto you, as [it is] in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as [it doth] also in you, since the day ye heard [of it], and knew the grace of God in truth: 7 As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; 8 Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. 9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard [it], do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; 12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated [us] into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, [even] the forgiveness of sins:
Paul wrote the book of Colossians to the church in Colossae, a small city near Laodicea about 100 miles from Ephesus in Asia Minor. It represents another of Paul’s prison epistles being written from Rome during his first incarceration there. The purpose of the letter is to correct the church there regarding certain pagan practices that had crept into their worship and to assert beyond any ambiguity the absolute supremacy of Christ as undisputed Lord, Creator, and God over all creation. While this congregation did have some problems regarding its Christology (or doctrine concerning Christ), nonetheless, its loving and benevolent reputation was known to Paul and provoked the urgency of his writing to them. Unlike the churches at Philippi, Galatia or Corinth this church was not strife-filled or rife with sexual misconduct.
As was his custom in other epistles Paul mentions the name of the person who reported to him concerning the state of the church there, in this case, a person by the name of Epaphras who was particularly impressed (and communicated thus to Paul) with the warm and caring nature of the people. This was cause (v. 9) for Paul to pray without ceasing for them to add to their benevolent character a knowledge of the will of God and spiritual understanding that they might walk worthy of the Lord, being fruitful not only in benevolent care of the needy but in knowledge, patience, and long-suffering with joyfulness. What does this tell us?
It is often remarked that regardless of what may be lacking in an individual’s Christian walk or in a congregation or group – if they have love that it is enough. It is essential and quite refreshing to encounter a congregation under Paul’s care that is walking in a remarkable level of love and caring for one another but make no mistake – for Paul to have love without fundamental doctrine is an urgent problem. He hears of their altruism and caring, and that is commendable but because of other issues, specifically, their doctrine and beliefs about Jesus – Paul immediately begins a prolonged and focused season of prayer because he sees them as being in deep jeopardy (their loving character notwithstanding). What this tells us is that being loving, accepting and kind-hearted does not give you a pass where other essential aspects of Christian faith are concerned. Many wrap themselves up in altruistic and kind behavior and character as though that leaves them exempt from being assailed in any measure regarding other deficits in their Christian walk. Paul is grateful yes that they are loving, but that isn’t enough. They are precariously glib about their understanding of Christ, and in this letter, he intends to correct this, a message that he only writes after a long, long season of prayer.
In v. 15 Paul gives thanks to God that as believers we are rendered eligible to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints – in light, implying that part of being made a partaker and partaking of what God has for us requires LIGHT or understanding of some things that Paul intends to teach them. He goes on in v. 13 saying that we have been delivered by the work of Christ on the cross from the power (domain) of darkness and been translated into the kingdom of God’s dear son. That word translated is interesting meaning to be removed by another from one place to another. Whether we feel like that change has taken place or not, Paul is asserting that in coming to Christ we have had a change of address spiritually speaking with profound implications for our lives.
This inheritance and transformation Paul speaks of is brought about (v. 14) not by our striving or any conduct or beliefs originating in us – but rather what we understand to be the New Birth is affected or brought about for us by the redemptive nature activated in our behalf by the shedding of the blood of Christ. In this sense, Paul begins to lift the Colossian’s idea of Christ as being more than a spotless lamb in mere human form but being something much, much more. Scholars tell us that the early Christians for many decades were not completely clear on the matters Paul is addressing. Many believed that Jesus was the Messiah and Savior to be sure but did not see him to be the divine Son, God in the flesh, the Preincarnate Word come to earth as John chapter 1 declares. They saw him instead to be a rare and indeed miraculously wrought human being albeit virgin born (although not all believed this) who in his sinlessness wrought our salvation but was merely human nonetheless and in their flawed thinking separate from God and not one with him as part of the Godhead. This Paul seeks to correct.
[Col 1:15-29 KJV]
15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased [the Father] that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven. 21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and [be] not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, [and] which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 [Even] the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
We have redemption in Christ (v. 14) even the forgiveness of sins because Jesus in his humanity is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature. Isn’t all this presumptive truth in our day? When polls are taken even among professing Christians you will find many who only think of Jesus as a good man who lived once, was crucified for our sins but they become fuzzy in their thinking about whether or not he is “very God” or even that he actually resurrected from the dead to sit at the right hand of the Father.
In v. 15 Paul declares Jesus to be so much more than a prophet or a good man – he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature by whom (v. 16) all things were created in heaven or on the earth. This was news to the Colossians because they were somewhat syncretic of their worship of Christ, seeing him as an enhanced addition to their already pagan beliefs, thinking of Jesus as just another revealed deity in a belief system with many gods, demigods and half-gods that they had worshiped and had been part of their culture for many years. Paul corrects this (v. 16) stating that Jesus was not just a power among powers, but the originating creator of all things visible or invisible including thrones, dominions, principalities or authorities – all things are created by him and for him. In v. 17 he goes on to make an explicit emphasis in stating that Christ is before all things and by him, all things consist.
Verse 17 has implications for us even today in modern science. Quantum theorists and physicists cannot do more than speculate as to what holds creation together. They understand that there are four great energies or powers in the universe, but as to why protons and subatomic particles don’t just fly off into dissolved nothingness at any given moment they cannot say. They understand that creation exists in a state of flux blinking in and out of existence from a measurable particle to a wave probability and back again, but they don’t know where these particles that make up creation go when they blink out of existence, and they don’t know why they take their original position and shape when they come back – every time. The Bible tells them (and us) why – it is because (v. 17) by HIM all things consist and have their coherent ongoing continuity as material objects conclusive of everything that is was or ever will be.
Jesus as the overarching authority and originator of creation is also (v. 18) they head of the body which is the church. This is where science, philosophy, and men of faith depart from one another. Philosophy believes more or less in God as a disembodied primordial energy not invested with any particular sentience or self-awareness and in their view not in any way aware of humanity or the affairs of men. Paul states precisely the opposite – acknowledging the existence of God yes, but not only his existence but the fact that he has walked among us and by the spirit lives in each one of us who have confessed him as Lord and savior and come into a living, vital connection with him on an ongoing basis. Paul is stating (v. 20) that the god of the philosophers and the creative force that science identifies in the universe is in fact possessed of a personality with a concerted focus upon mankind by reason of which he inserted himself in the human timeline as a human himself that he might suffer and die in order to restore humanity back into a relationship with Himself and restore us to His Edenic purpose as being one with Him, indwelled by Him and co-participating with Him in His plan for all the ages world without end.
Paul is asserting (v. 21) to the Colossians that what Jesus has done for them (more than just a loving, benevolent figure they can set as a social example) but that Jesus ameliorated and mitigated in us an inherently broken condition that all men are born into by nature because of the transgression of Adam in our primordial past, handed down through the generations to us manifesting as congenital and hereditary sin that constitutes every man coming into the world as separated and alienated from God. This separation (v. 22) was addressed by reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Jesus for the purpose of restoring us to our innate right to stand in relationship to God – by the efficacy of the blood of Christ and be thus rendered unblameable and unreproveable in His sight not merely as servants but as sons of God, brothers of Christ and co-regents with Him over all the universe.
How do we take advantage of and walk in this revelation? In verse 23 Paul says only by continuing in the faith, grounded and settled and not moved away from the gospel by the deceits of men or the impediment of the influence of unbelieving society round about us. Faith then is something we must continue in and be soaked in and exposed to on a continuing basis to keep the contaminating elements and influences of the world around us from robbing us from the enjoyments of our status in God by virtue of the shed blood of Christ.
For Paul, this is more than just a set of beliefs in previous provisions. What Christ has done and what He has affected for us brings about not a looking back in veneration to a past work He accomplished for us but instead we are born into a living and vibrant relationship to Him by the dynamic that Paul terms in v. 27 as Christ IN us the hope of Glory – which is the very heart and thrust of all that Paul teaches and believes. What does this mean? This means that just as God inhabited that human frame that was conceived in Mary’s womb and walked in that body and living in that body and delivered that body upon the Cross for you and me, even so that same Christ – the ETERNAL SEED of the sentient eternal God of the universe, the original source by which all things have their ongoing continuance, lives INSIDE OF US offering Himself up for us as His habitation and offering us up (with our cooperation) as ambassadors of this mighty potentate of the universe to a sin-darkened and ignorant world.
This (v. 28) is the Jesus that Paul preaches to every man and warns every man lest we fall into the error of relating to Jesus as a generally anemic benevolent example or past historical figure. He is living and vibrant and alive on the inside of us as His habitation from whence exalted in our lives He rules over all the earth and creation. These pronunciations were calculated to, and no doubt did take the breath away from Paul’s readers and rip away any false or quaint notions they had about baby Jesus or some human savior. They have now been schooled in a moment of divine revealed teaching just who it is living on the inside of them and by extension within you and I as well.
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