We have established the idea that in this letter Paul's theme is the pre-eminence of Christ. He is demonstrating this in order to combat false teachers who are trying to formulate a new gospel or new teachings that somehow minimize the person and work of Jesus on our behalf. For this reason he concentrates on the fact that Jesus is first or pre-eminent in every area of creation and spiritual life.
In our last chapter we began the section that begins in chapter 1:3 and goes until 2:7 where Paul demonstrates Christ's pre-eminence in the area of relationships. For example, in a chain of authority that stretches from God to man, Paul shows that Jesus fulfills every link that permits a relationship between God and man. This chain, he says, begins with Jesus' relationship with God as His divine Son and ends with Jesus' relationship with man as head of the church into which all men are called.
Jesus has the pre-eminent relationship with God and the pre-eminent relationship with man as well as everything in between. In verse 18 of chapter 1, Paul will continue to establish the idea of Jesus' pre-eminence in relationships.
Why Jesus is Pre-Eminent – 1:18-23
In the previous section Paul listed Jesus' credentials as to His position in relationship to everything as seen from God's perspective:
- Image of the invisible God
- Firstborn of all creation
- Power of creation
- Purpose of creation
- Sustainer of creation
- Head of the church
In the next section he explains why He has the right to hold these positions in our eyes, not just in God's eyes:
In the eyes of God, Jesus is God and part of the Godhead; He needs no justification for His position.
Since we are human and cannot see things from God's perspective, God gives us a reason to believe and accept Jesus' pre-eminent position from a human perspective – and in verses 18-23 Paul explains it.
Vs. 18 – He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
Paul gives the final link in Jesus' chain of authority – head of the church. Jesus has the pre-eminent relationship with man because He is head of the church.
Jesus is head of the church because of His resurrection. He is pre-eminent with all of the previous things mentioned because of His resurrection from the dead. His resurrection is the proof they needed to see in order to believe all the things mentioned that they could not see. His resurrection confirmed His pre-eminence in every relationship within time (creation, the church) and within eternity (the new heavens and earth).
Paul repeats with more detail what he has said in a very compact way in verse 18:
Vs. 19-20 – For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
That Jesus was divine, verse 19. The method by which He became head of the church, verse 20:
- Redemption – the Price
- Resurrection – the Proof
- Reconciliation – the Product
Now remember, keep an eye on the false teachers and their doctrines. Paul takes great pains to explain why Jesus is the head of the church and thus why their allegiance should only be to Him. What is left unsaid is how inadequate and unworthy these false teachers are to try and take away Christ's pre-eminent position based on what He has done for it. None of them have died or resurrected from the dead!
Through His death and resurrection Jesus has brought God and man together and has thus closed the full circle of His authority.
Vs. 21-23 – And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
Paul again repeats the same idea (that Jesus brings God and man together by His cross), but adds an important condition for this relationship to continue – faithfulness.
Their former condition – hostile towards God and guilty of evil.
How Jesus accomplished reconciliation and what this reconciliation produces (transformation of sinners into acceptable saints before God).
- Continue in the faith. Continue believing and teaching the doctrine of Jesus and the Apostles. Correct doctrine is important because it preserves our relationship with Christ.
- Continue in the hope. Continue in your assurance, your confidence, your expectation of what the gospel promises (forgiveness, resurrection, eternal life).
This is a warning to them that if they abandon the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, they will eventually lose the blessings that come with these teachings.
This is why we have to be careful about doctrine!
In the last part of verse 23, Paul creates another bridge that will help him segue from talking about the credentials of Christ which permit Him to be the head of the church (death on the cross and resurrection), to Paul's credentials for being a minister or teacher of the gospel and doctrines of Christ. The "bridge" word is minister. He has established why Jesus is pre-eminent, now he will establish why he, Paul, has credibility in preaching Jesus' message as a minister of the gospel to the church.
Why Paul is Credible as a Minister – 1:24-29
The way that these false teachers were operating may not have been limited to tampering with the gospel and the doctrines taught by the Apostles. They may have also tried to discredit Paul as a legitimate Apostle, teacher and minister. Otherwise there would be no reason for Paul to review with them his own personal history of service and suffering on behalf of the church. In doing this he is challenging his readers to compare his ministry (which includes suffering on their behalf) to the ministry of the false teachers (which is devoid of such commitment and sacrifice).
Vs. 24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.
He tells them that whatever trials he endures because of his work for the church (universal) he does it with joy as a minister appointed by God. He brings up the question of his suffering not to complain, but to make a point. The suffering in his life is accepted with joy. And he does suffer because it is his share as a minister to suffer a portion of persecution directed towards Christ.
He is not saying that Jesus did not suffer enough to pay for sins and so Paul now has to make up for some of that suffering. When Jesus said, "It is finished" on the cross, He meant that His sacrifice was complete, the work of redemption accomplished.
However, the evil, the persecution towards Christ will not be over until the end of time and the ones who bear it are those who follow Him (Matthew 5:11-12).
Paul says that as a minister (and especially an Apostle) he has to bear a greater share of this suffering (he was in prison because he was seen as a leader in the church), and he rejoices in this fact.
Vs. 25-27 – Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
So that they will not get the idea that his ministry is "suffering," he clarifies what his ministry is so they will see that the suffering is brought about by his ministry and not the other way around. He is not a monk with self-imposed suffering.
Paul reminds them of his special role among the Apostles as the one who preached the gospel to the Gentiles. This is his ministry. This gospel, this mystery, would have never been known had it not been revealed by God. This revelation would never have come to the Gentiles had God not specifically chosen Paul and sent him to preach to them. This revelation is that God offers eternal life (hope of glory) to all (Jew and gentile) on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.
There is no more information left unrevealed.
Vs. 28-29 – We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
Paul's purpose, in his ministry, is to bring every person to the point of salvation and final reward in Christ. This is what he strives for and he knows that his work and effort are in accord with the power and will of God within him and whatever success he has he attributes to the Lord. Again there is an unspoken challenge to the Colossians to examine the work and motives of the false teachers within their midst.
And so in this section Paul reviews his "qualifications" or "credentials" as a teacher so they can compare these with the ones put forth by the false teachers.
A. He shares the sufferings of Christ. In the same way that Jesus suffered in order to establish the church, Paul suffers because of his ministry on behalf of the church.
B. He is an appointed minister of the church. Paul was chosen by God to carry out the special ministry of preaching to the Gentiles.
C. He ministers God's Word. The Apostle gives to the Gentiles the entire content of the revelation about Jesus Christ that God has provided him with.
The false teachers who do what they do for profit or power, who have appointed themselves to the positions they hold, and who teach things contrary to or in addition to the revelation of Christ, are no match for Paul when he compares his credentials for ministry to theirs.
This ends the section in our outline dealing with the pre-eminence of Christ in relationships. Paul explains that because of Jesus' position in the Godhead, behind creation, and over the church – His is the pre-eminent relationship in every area of existence.
In other words, everything that is, is connected to Him first (God/creation/church). Then he shows that by virtue of his (Paul's) calling and ministry by Christ, he is a pre-eminent teacher of the church (in comparison to the false teachers).
In our next chapter we will go on to the following section where Paul will explain that Jesus' teachings are pre-eminent in doctrine.
Here are some lessons we can draw from this section:
1. The Methods of False Teachers are Always the Same
Time and culture change but false teachers use the same tactics throughout history.
- Displace Jesus as Messiah and Lord.
- Pervert the doctrine.
Add or change the gospel and the teachings of the Apostles (new rules, new revelation). Jude 3 – We have all the revelation we are going to receive.
2. The Gospel Produces Everything God Intends For Us
God wants people to receive Jesus Christ and be saved through Him. Once we are united to Christ through faith (expressed in repentance and baptism), we are eligible for all of the blessings. There are no other conditions, no other mysteries to learn, no other messiahs to come – once we are in a relationship with Christ, we are safe forever. Col. 1:28.
3. Suffering is a Normal Part of Christianity
Whether it is suffering the withdrawals of the flesh when we deny it the sin that it craves, or the persecution by the world of unbelievers because we stand up for what we believe is true and right, or the burden of fatigue and inconvenience we feel as we give up self to serve others.
The closer we are to Christ, the better we follow His example, the deeper our commitment to ministry in the church – the greater our discomfort and suffering in this world will be.
So do not be surprised and do not be discouraged when it happens, do like Paul and James – consider it a joy to suffer some of the same kinds of burdens that Jesus suffered to save your soul – that is when He is closest to you.