Colossians 1:15 – 2:5

Jimmy JoColossians, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Read the passage here.

Last week we began a brief series on the epistle to the Colossians. We do this as we consider the passing of one year and the dawning of a new one in which we, like most people, give consideration to what it means to “progress” in Christ.  What does it mean to have a successful year (a somewhat but not entirely arbitrary measurement)?  How are we looking towards scripture, that is the voice of God, to inform our understanding; what are the contrary voices that we need to watch out for, and redeem through scripture?

What we are looking at is what does it mean to, in the words of Paul, “…live a life worthy of the Lord…” (1:10).

As we talked about last week, the reason this letter seems to have been written to the Colossians is some sort of false teaching being spread in the community. This false teaching is, it seems, leading the community away from the Christ-life, trying to live life by things that have little or nothing to do with the gospel, to a life that is not-life.  Our desire is to not be led astray by the variety of voices around us, not to chase the values of the world, but that, again quoting last week’s passage from Colossians, “God … [would] fill [us] with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that [we] may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…” (Col 1:9,10).

Primarily, I want to focus on the first part of our passage today: 15-23.  Without getting into detail, these verses stand out in the letter.  Verses 15-20 are typically considered a hymn to or about Christ that Paul has either borrowed or composed.  Paul has similar passages in his other letters (Rom. 1:1-4; Gal. 1:3-5;  1 Cor. 1:23-24) but none are quite as comprehensive or effusive as this passage.

Perhaps the reason why Paul is so emphatic about this, the uniqueness, the awesomeness, and the sufficiency of Christ is precisely because of the false teaching going on in the church.

So let’s take a closer look at this passage. We can break this up into three sections.

Verses 15-17:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This is a statement on the divinity of Jesus, his supremacy, his exaltedness.  Note the statements on Jesus’ role in creation (of all things). Note also the son’s authority and primacy in the sustaining of all things.  By this statement, Paul equates Jesus (The Son) with God. The Son, therefore, is above all things.

Verses 18-20:

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Paul then narrows the focus of Christ’s authority, His lordship. Specifically, Jesus is the head of the church.  When he says that “[Christ] is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead”, he’s noting Christ’s authority over a new creation.  With Jesus’ resurrection, he announces an eschatological resurrection and reconciliation.

Now I want to pause here – and in fact, this would be the natural end of Paul’s series of thought (i.e. 15-20 are a unity).  Let’s take a moment to reflect on the notion that Christ is the head, we the church are the body. And inasmuch as Christ inaugurates the new creation, the beginning of the eschaton, the reconciliation between God and creation (specifically humankind), doesn’t it follow that the church, led by Jesus, does the same thing?

I’m not suggesting that the Church, Christians, are responsible for it, that we somehow accomplish it. What I’m saying is that whether we call it our calling, our mission, our goal, or our role, this eschatological reality is where we should be living.

Verses 21-23:

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Again, scholars generally agree that these verses are not part of vv. 15-20 which are considered a unity. Nevertheless, we include it in our consideration because it represents, at least, a wrapping-up of the “hymn” and/or a transition to the rest of letter.   In these verses, Paul reminds us, by means of contrast of the eschatological reality in which we now [should] live. Before this reality, made possible by Christ, we were dead in our sins.  Once we were dead, now we are alive.   But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13).  “This is the gospel that you have heard,” says Paul.

Now let’s carry on with the rest of our passage today. I include these verses here because it’s important for our understanding of the purpose of Paul’s letter, what it is he’s trying to communicate.

24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

2 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

We won’t spend as much time on this part as we did on the first, but the basic flow of these verses might be plotted as such:

  • Paul’s role is to proclaim this message.
  • Christ is the message
  • Paul’s goal is to remind the church (Colossae and Laodicea) of Christ, to remain in Christ, and not to be led astray.

At the center of this passage is Christ.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

NT Scholar Douglas J. Moo says:

Any teaching that questions the sufficiency of Christ—not only for “initial” salvation but also for spiritual growth and ultimate salvation from judgment—falls under the massive christological critique of Colossians.

 

Moo seems to be saying here, and elsewhere, that this Christological question, the sufficiency and completeness of Jesus’ work, is the main issue that Paul is dealing with.  Moreover, he is saying that whenever Christ is not the center and the all of our salvation, we are at risk of, at the least impiety, and possibly even heresy.

The center of Paul’s exhortation, and the center of the letter, the center of the gospel and the center of our hope is Christ.  There is no replacing Christ in salvation and there is no going beyond Christ, as if Jesus just did enough to get us started but it’s up to us to make sure we use all of our human wisdom, ingenuity, will-power, and strength to rescue the kingdom of God from failure.

This may sound obvious, but do we actually live like this? Is this, Christ and Christ alone, the ground of our faith?  Or is it in fact, “Christ + something else”?  Is it possibly, “if something else, then Christ”?  Do we, as Moo suggests, question the sufficiency of Christ, looking to other or additional things for our salvation?  Do we look to other things to make sense of our lives in Christ?

So What Now…?

Over the next few weeks, as we continue in our study of Colossians, we’ll try to understand what this may look like in our world. But I’d like to give a couple of thoughts that we might think about.

As Christians, are we living our lives in Christ, out of Christ, and seeking to be as Christ in this world? Or are we living according to what others tell us a Christian is supposed to be?  What we are supposed to do, what we are supposed to not do?  Are we trying to look like what we think a Christian is supposed to look like (whatever that means), or are we trying to look like Jesus?  To show Jesus through our living?

As a church, are we trying to live out the kingdom of God in this in-between time? That Christ has come, has died and rose again to bring us into the new life, the eschatological life?  Or are we trying to live up to some worldy, culturally-informed understanding of “success”?  Are we trying to be the biggest, the most exciting, the most unique?  Is our concern about pointing people to Jesus?  Or are we trying to get people to look at us?

Now these aren’t the only questions. And they aren’t even the best questions.  And I hope it’s obvious that, for most of us – individuals and churches – it’s neither one nor the other.  I think that, 100% of the time, it’s some of both.

Therefore, note that I’m not saying we shouldn’t do things, whatever the ‘things’ are that we think constitute the Christian life. I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t keep doing the things that we’re already doing.  But part of what I’m saying is that we should really consider, really understand, why we do the things we do.  Why we think that some things are so important – so definitive for the Christian life.  Because the fact of the matter, in my opinion, is that our values – as Christians – are often informed by things that are simply not in Christ or of Christ.

And shouldn’t that be our goal? To be in Christ and of Christ, and Christ alone.  Shouldn’t that be our measure of success?  And shouldn’t that be our resolution each and every day?  That in us and through us, Christ would be all.

In closing, just a quick note about how we do that.  Firstly, as we’ve said before, we need to pay attention. Pay attention to what’s going on in and around us.  Pay attention to the sinfulness of our own hearts.  We need to pay attention to the Holy Spirit as He continues to work in us, revealing His desire and plan for us.

Secondly, we need to look to Jesus. Jesus Christ needs to be our center and our focus.  Practically, I think what this means for us is that we need to be immersed in Scripture.  We need to let the word of God be the voice that leads us and shapes us.  And so, we need to be committed to understand, as best we can in our broken-ness, what that word would say.

We will never do all of this perfectly. On this side of eternity, we will never reach the goal.  But that’s okay.  Because through the grace of God, the goal is reached for us – we simply keep going until Jesus, the victor, brings us completely into His victory.  Therefore, we say with Paul:

My goal is that they (Christians and the churches and us) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

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