While Paul the Apostle was in a Roman prison somewhere between 61-63 AD, he wrote several epistles. One of these was an epistle (letter) to the church at Colossae. This was a congregation located about 100 miles west of Ephesus and originally established by Epaphroditus and Timothy. There were certain teachers there who were teaching, what they insisted was a more "enlightened" form of Christianity and were disturbing this congregation with their heretical ideas. In reality theirs was a mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish legalism that threatened to rob the church of its freedom and salvation in Christ. In response to these teachers Paul reiterates the all-sufficiency of Christ in every area of life whether it be personal relationships, doctrine or ethical conduct.
In our last chapter we studied the first 12 verses of chapter one. In this section Paul:
- Establishes his authority and the position of Jesus Christ as Lord.
- Offers a prayer in which he reviews their history as a church. This has been a faithful group, a loving church.
- He encourages them to remain this way and look to the future with hope.
- He then reminds them of the hope or reward that awaits them if they remain faithful.
- He finishes his prayer with an appeal to God to give them knowledge of His will, ability to please Him, increased power to attain patience and steadfastness; and the ability to remain joyful through it all.
In this chapter we are going to pick up the last phrase in verse 12 where Paul is building a bridge to his next thought.
Christ Pre-Eminent in Personal Relationships – Continued
After finishing his prayer Paul will move into his first main thought about Christ and that is that Jesus is pre-eminent in personal relationships. Paul demonstrates that only Jesus has a relationship with God; only through Him can we have a relationship with God; and only through Him can we be united in a meaningful spiritual and eternal way.
Now to get to this thought from his prayer, Paul finishes the prayer by giving thanks to God the Father for giving the Colossians the opportunity to go to heaven. This blessing he calls an "inheritance of the saints of light."
From this idea and key word "light" he will build a bridge to the idea that Jesus is the king of the kingdom of light – as opposed to the kingdom of darkness that infers a condition of lostness, ignorance, etc.
Vs. 12-14 – giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
There are several important concepts included in these verses:
A. RESCUE – Implies that they were helpless to save themselves (delivered).
B. DOMAIN – Another word for power/authority. They were kept there purposefully, by a power greater than themselves.
C. TRANSFER – God Himself does the work of saving us and unites us to His Son… He chooses the Son and only the Son is to do this work.
D. KINGDOM – This word denotes royal power, sovereignty, the apex of power and rule.
In essence God, by His own will and choice, transferred us from one who was stronger than we were, to One who was stronger than the one who kept us prisoner. To clarify our position and as a reminder to the Colossians, Paul also mentions the original gift that began the life that he prayed about in the beginning of the letter.
E. FORGIVENESS / REDEMPTION – They are forgiven by virtue of the fact that Jesus died to redeem their sins (He pays the moral debt). This is the power that kept them in the dark, they were sinners, helpless to stop sinning, unable to atone for the sins they did. They were subject to Satan's temptations and cursed by the Law to be condemned and punished.
Jesus lived a perfect life resisting every attack by Satan and offered His perfect life on the cross to satisfy the demands for restitution made by the Law. With Satan defeated and the Law satisfied, sinners were released into the custody of Christ, this custody, this group is the kingdom/church.
Of course, the emphasis here is that Jesus is the one who sacrificed to make this happen and so He is central to salvation to begin with.
Now keep in mind that this letter is written to counter the false teachers among the Colossians. They thought that things other than Christ's sacrifice were needed to achieve or maintain salvation. Paul responds by putting Christ and His sacrifice as the only thing that produces salvation. Redemption and forgiveness and nothing more or less. In verses 15-17 Paul will address another of their teachings that concerned the worship of angels. He responds to this by describing Christ's true position in the scheme of creation and the Godhead – a chain of command where Christ is every single link.
Vs. 15 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
This verse explains two key phrases.
1. Image of the invisible God
Jesus is not a reflection of God but of the same divine essence. God is not seen by the human eye, but Jesus is seen and He is the visible image of the invisible God, not just His body but His words, life, etc.
2. Firstborn of all creation
This doesn't mean He was the first thing created or somehow emerged at the beginning of creation. Firstborn refers to His rank or position in comparison to all of creation including mankind.
- Mankind was created, not born.
- The universe was created, not born.
Jesus is first in rank and position in both of His natures:
- He is divine, the very image and essence of God.
- He is human, the very essence of perfection without sin or blemish, born of a virgin.
3. Power of creation
Vs. 16a – For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities
Paul goes on to explain that in addition to His divine essence and rank, Jesus is the power behind creation itself.
- This includes the visible universe.
- This includes the world of spirits which we do not see but exists nevertheless.
- This certainty includes angels who were being promoted as objects of worship by the false teache rs. The inference is that we don't need to worship angels – Christ is over them too!
4. Purpose of creation
Vs. 16b – all things have been created through Him and for Him.
Paul adds the point that not only were all things created through the power of Christ, they were also created for His purpose. In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul explains that from the beginning of time God's purpose was to bless those "in Christ/in the church" with all the blessings of heaven.
Forgiveness, resurrection, glorification, exaltation to the right hand of God. This is what he refers to in Colossians when He says, …"for Him." Everything in creation, everything in history, in one way or another, works in Christ's ultimate plan to bless the church with these spiritual gifts.
5. Before creation
Vs. 17a – He is before all things,
Paul expands Christ's role by declaring that Christ is before all things, denoting His divinity (only God is before creation).
6. Sustains creation
Vs. 17b – and in Him all things hold together.
He also says that in Him all things hold together. In other words, He not only is the agent through whom all things were created, it is because of Him that all things continue to exist. He creates all things and in the end when He returns, all things will cease to exist.
7. Head of the church
Vs. 18a – He is also head of the body, the church;
In this passage Paul gives not only the last link in Christ's chain of sovereignty but introduces a new idea to bridge to the next section about the church, and especially the church at Colossae. He gives the church another name here, using the term "body" so as to fit the imagery of Christ as the "head."
Paul will go on to explain why Christ is the head of the church and the significance of this for every member.
In the end, the basic argument or false idea being put forth was that in some way Christ was not enough to secure or maintain one's salvation with God. There needed to be ceremony; there needed to be secret worship of angels; there needed to be law-keeping of some kind; there needed to be these "new" teachers.
Paul's response is to show that Christ's chain of authority went from start to finish – from God, to the creation, to the church, to the end of time and end of God's purpose. The only thing that mattered was Christ Himself because:
- He is divine in nature.
- He is first in rank
- He is before all things.
- He created all things.
- He sustains all things.
- He uses all things for His purpose.
- He is head of the body, the church.
In the next section Paul will show how the church plays a central part in Christ's purpose and what that ultimate purpose is.
Even though Paul was indirectly responding to false teachers of the 1stcentury, there are many lessons we can draw from this passage for our lives today.
1. We Must Have a Relationship With Christ
I said that this section 1:3-2:7 was about the pre-eminence of Christ in relationships. When we see that everything is plugged into Christ in one way or another, we realize that if we don't have a relationship with Him, we…
- Don't have a relationship with God either, He is the Son of God.
- Are ignoring the person who is first in rank in everything.
- Are ignorant and neglectful of praising the right person for everything in creation.
- Are not part of His body and His ultimate plan for mankind (to bless with gifts).
To reject Christ is to fail in all of these other areas as well.
2. When We Have Christ, We Have Everything
Paul does us a great favor here by exposing the vastness of Christ's authority and power. Christianity is not a "western" religion, or a modern religion, or one of the great religions of history. Christianity is at the heart of God's plan for every soul ever born regardless of place, time or position.
There is no other plan, no other savior, no other Lord than Jesus Christ who is over time, creation, heaven, life, sin, death, the church and eternity… there is nothing left to be Lord over! This is why the confession, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God" is the greatest, deepest, most insightful, life changing declaration anyone can make.
3. When We Pray, We Pray in Jesus' Name
When Jesus told His disciples to ask or pray in His name (John 14:14) He said this not to give us a habit (e.g. every prayer must end in "Jesus' name" or it is no good). He gave this to remind us that everything we prayed about was His concern because it was all within His authority!
Life, death, food, weather, power, spiritual strength – whatever…
He is sovereign over everything in existence and He uses everything in existence for His purpose. Therefore our prayers, in His name, go to the only being who really understands and who really can answer them.
This should not only encourage us to direct our prayers towards Him, but also give us confidence that our prayers are never in vain when they are in His name, and should help us understand why we use this term in our prayers.
- What statements does Paul make that express the pre-eminence of Christ?
- What are the concepts contained in Colossians 1:12-14 and what do they mean in context of the pre-eminence of Christ?
- Moses and Joshua play a pre-eminent role in the freedom and hope of the Hebrew nation. What was their specific role and how does that relate to the ultimate pre-eminence of Jesus?
- How does Paul portray Jesus in Colossians 1:15-18a?
- Why do we feel we have to have more than God's grace given through Jesus to qualify for salvation and what is the reality of God's granting of grace?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?