I have a confession to make. I hesitate to even admit this simply because of the fear of judgment you will inevitably cast down upon me once you hear the news. So here it goes, I like birds. My wife and I are Birders. Now, before you call me a weirdo let me make it clear that I am only practicing what Christ commanded us to do in Matt 6:26 were he says, “Look at the birds.” So perhaps based upon this my wife and I might be a bit more spiritual than you think.
Seriously though, we make it a regular habit whether hiking, camping, or simply on a walk to look and try to identify the birds around us. This takes lots of practice, and there are actually field guides. There are many factors that can quickly narrow down the possibilities such as flight pattern, habitat, size, and behavior. Then there are further defining features that once you get a clear look at it, begin to get you closer to making a definitive call on what it is, such as color…but not only the color of the bird itself but different parts of the bird—its crown, beak, head, throat, legs, and so on. It is in these defining features that really identify what bird you are looking at. With just a small dash of yellow on a bird’s head screams that it is something different than what you originally thought.
Identification is a hard endeavor, but it is that one very distinguishable trait, characteristic, or feature that keeps you on track. Perhaps that is why I like birding so much because it is not too different than theology. Theology is nothing more than identifying the truths of God that keep us on track. Looking for those very distinguishable traits, characteristics, or features from scripture that drive our worship and lives. So when there is a deviation, it is evident.
This is where we meet the church of Colossae—engaged in a deviation from the truth, namely Christ. The occasion of this great letter, as we will see in the upcoming weeks, is to establish Christ as our great authority and as the one through whom salvation is accomplished. The great Calvin said about the book of Colossians, “The Epistle…to express it in one word, distinguishes the true Christ from the fictitious one.”
The town of Colossae was situated in a lush valley in modern day Turkey and experienced some popularity and prosperity in the 5th century BC. This dwindled over many years, and the area was prone to earthquakes. A dramatic earthquake hit the region in 60-61 AD and Colossae did not recover like the other cities in the area. So by the time, Paul writes to them many believe that Colossae was the least important church to which any letter of Paul was written. But yet Paul writes to them! And not only write but pens one of the greatest articulations of Christ within the NT. A gathered group of believers was there, nonetheless, and Paul writes to them and does not withhold time and effort because they were a city on the wane. He cared deeply for them even though he had not met them (2:1).
Though this is their situation, it seems that the church was thriving at some level, let's look at 1:3-14. The gospel had taken root in their lives, and Paul rejoices at their faith in Christ and love for the saints. He also prays for them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, which is fully pleasing to God and Paul desires for them to bear much fruit. He also asks that God grant them the power to continue in obedience. What a thorough and thoughtful prayer the apostle has for a group of people he had never meet! If you struggle with what to pray for others might I suggest this as a wonderful guide!!
But, I want us to pay special attention to verses 12-14. This perhaps could be a summary—or thesis statement if you will—of the entire book. In a mere few sentences, Paul tells the church exactly what God the Father has done for them. He has qualified them and transferred them from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of his Son. He, God the Father, has done a work through Christ that has qualified them and given them a new kingdom. The most shocking thing is that this has been accomplished through the forgiveness of sins. God the Father through God the son qualifies them, not—as we will see next week—a host of other activities, traditions or philosophy. He, God, has qualified them. How does this Son, Christ, accomplish this great feat…well, we now arrive at the great high note of the entire book. Lets READ 1:15-20
The Hymn (1:15-20)
This is certainly the high note of the entire book and a section that has guided the church in its understanding of Christ for centuries. With the above verses, Paul seamlessly moves into a barrage of dense statements about Christ and expands the summary of 12-14 in order to correct bad theology that leads to bad practice. His first move to correct them is to lay Christ again as their foundation. Scholars are divided on actually where these verses originated. The main question is, “Are they original to Paul or is he reciting a known hymn?” But I think there is evidence within the letter to help us best understand this section and its use…
…3:16 gives us a helpful insight. It instructs the church to continue to sing hymns to one another as a way to let the words of Christ dwell within them, to teach them and admonish them. What a healthy practice with massive results. So here in 1:15-20 we have an ancient Hymn sung by the church. Paul uses its familiarity and rich theological content to right the ship of wrong thinking. Paul with his letters often develops an argument by what was agreeable, and the purpose of hymns throughout Scripture was to present key summaries of doctrine. So, Paul uses a hymn to present key doctrines as a way of reminder. They had perhaps sung this to one another many many times and when Paul hits the first note, maybe their ears tuned in to listen. This is a gentle and nice way to confront heretical tendencies. The church had lost its distinguishing characteristic—Jesus himself!
So what are the truths…
Well, if there was a core proposition, big idea, the main thing, number 1 point: It is this, Christ is fully God and therefore has authority over creation and redemption. That is the forest but let's take in the trees for a minute…the first and most obvious observation is the word “all.” Notice how Christ sufficiently and rightly permeates ALL of life. He is all, and his work affects all things!!! He, Christ, in a comprehensive way is relevant to ALL of life.
Christ authority over creation (1:15-17)
15…Christ is Truly God because he is the Image of the invisible God. This idea of "image" is a bit striking considering there is quite the prohibition of image-making throughout all of scripture. Mankind has and does have a tendency to worship created things. The plight of most OT believers was to make images and worship them rather than God. Here this text is saying we have the greatest image and there is no need to add or detract from what God has already given us in Christ. "Image" is such a fitting word and contrast man’s tendency of creating an unnecessary object or adopting man-made philosophies that steal away affection that is rightfully reserved for Christ alone. Christ is fully God he is truly God in the flesh. I mean, how does something reflect something that is invisible if the thing that is invisible does not become visible. God can only reflect God. Since Christ is also over creation, this is what is meant by firstborn of all creation, it indicates that he has to be God because that authority is only given to God. Jesus is not “like” God, He is God. Christ is truly God, and any deviation from that truth sounds the alarm. This is the bedrock for the Church. This is so foundational so to lose it we lose the whole house. We have nothing to stand on for assurance of salvation. Our salvation is not possible if Christ is not God.
16…For by him all things were created—Creator—once again that ability—to create—was only reserved for God himself and therefore gives Christ the right to be over creation; namely over you and I. A natural conclusion in this verse is ALL that he has created is FOR him. Jesus reigns supremely over all earthly and supernatural powers now and forever more. Who has rights to you? Who has authority? Who is it that tells us about right worship and practice? Who is it that sets the course for theology? Who is it that we must listen to? Well, brothers and sisters, it is Christ!!!
17…Preexistent and Sustains all things—christ has existed for all time. There was never a time He was not. He has always been and will always be!!! So much so that if he ceased to exist all would cease to exist for he holds ALL things together continually.
Christ’s authority over redemption (1:18-20)
18…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. The Resurrection of Christ declares that sin has been dealt with and propels him into preeminence, he is above all things and stands alone in his resurrection.
19…Truly God, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell!!! There is no ambiguity in this statement. Christ is fully God.
20…Atonement—Our great God crucified!!! How can this be? The divine nature of Christ, his God-ness so beautifully established just verses before and here his blood was shed!!! Jesus, the God-man, on the cross made a substitutionary atonement for our sin, satisfying the wrath of God and justice of God. He reconciled us, “he exchanged hostility for a friendly relationship.” So comprehensive is the work of God through Christ it affects all things and all relationships—which we will see very clearly in the upcoming weeks and must see now!!! Christ, the God-man’s, shed blood upon the cross makes peace!!!
Brothers and sisters our greatest defense against racism, misuse of power, hatred, retaliation, bigotry, senseless killings, and the lack of concern for those things is God the Son’s shed blood!!! Why do I say that, well…The only other place where Paul uses this particular word for reconciliation found here in Colossians 1:20-22 is Ephesians in a section that he is talking about unity between Jews and Gentiles and guess what—he gives Jesus as the answer.
Here is what it says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Colossians 3:11 Paul’s instructs the Church based upon all we have said today with these words, “Here there is not Greek, and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
The Conclusion (1:21-23)
And you…extremely personal, the finger gets pointed out toward the church reminding them they once were estranged, alienated, and hostile towards God. The God-man, Christ just described in that most beautiful hymn applies to them and has already altered their life. He has comprehensively dealt with their sin and reconciled them and rescued them in order to have a people that know and love him. To have a people that so comprehensively live out lives of holiness; lives increasingly more in love with him and less in love with sin. People who take God’s moral law as their rule and God’s incarnate Son as their guide—which is exactly what we will see over the next three weeks.
Perhaps this a good time to look at you and say these same words…and you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.if indeed you continue in the faith…how difficult these words might sound, but one can easily see what Paul is getting at here. He is saying if this God-man has sufficiently dealt with sin and presented us as holy—set apart, no longer slaves to sin—then longevity will saw a heart set on Him by not shifting from the gospel. The church was shifting, and Paul is calling them back. Those who know the gospel will come back, those who don't will reject Paul’s statement as unnecessary.
Oh, don't reject but rather hear his call and heed his warning and let Christ be your firm foundation on which you stand!!!
Since Christ is fully God, He, therefore, becomes our foundation
Applications | Christ is fully God
He is the foundation of our theology, we must have a Christocentric theology, thoughts about God are thoughts about Christ, never separate the two. Let me put forth a challenge…Memorize 1:15-20 as a way to keep truths about Christ in the forefront of our minds. Each week we will read it before each message.
Christ is foundational to our Faithful obedience, the text says he saved us to present a people holy and blameless
Christ is foundational to our Worship… "for in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Christ is foundational for our salvation. Christ is sovereign over all things namely our salvation. What do I mean by that? Well, he has the right to act providentially, so in his sovereign wisdom he came, took on flesh, and died in our place to make peace by his shed blood. Forgiveness is in Christ alone, who is worthy and a sufficient sacrifice for your sins because he is God. There are no other means by which you can right your wrongs. This Christ who is fully God shed his blood for you! If you have been working as to gain acceptance well, you are not sovereign over your salvation. If you have good theology and a head full of knowledge well, you are not sovereign over your salvation. Before Paul can go any further in dealing with the Church at Colossae, he dismantles with a high view of Christ bad thinking. In turn, freeing them and us to worship him alone as our savior. Glad submission is the Christian’s greatest strength. Glad submission is the rebel’s greatest freedom. You, we must submit to Christ and in turn experience strength and freedom.
Christ is the foundation of our proclamation…The gospel is the hope of the world and church, we have that gospel might we proclaim it in love. The most compassionate thing we can do is highly exalt this Christ, the God-man declared in Colossians!!