CHRIST SUPREME Colossians 1
“He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy” (Col. 1:18).Without Christ, Christianity is nothing.
The Colossian heresy.
Features of the heresy that was corrupting the church at Colosse have been deduced from Paul’s letter, and seem to match a movement later known as Gnosticism. The Gnostics held a strict dualism: all matter was evil. Thus God, who is good, could never have really become a man. This directly challenged Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, and relegated Jesus Christ to a minor role in salvation history. To replace faith as a way of salvation the Gnostics offered a hidden knowledge (gnosis). To replace the living of a holy life in this world, the Gnostics might either try to subdue their fleshly body by asceticism, or they might live profligate lives, arguing that the “evil” body was simply following its nature, while the inner “I” was unaffected. While the Gnostic movement dissolved long ago, Colossians remains a vital book for Christians who want to let Christ rule supreme, and to know true spirituality.
Paul reported two prayers he offered for the Colossians (1:3–14), and immediately made a profound affirmation of Christ’s supremacy (vv. 15–23) and His living presence in the believer (vv. 24–29).
Understanding the Text
“To the holy and faithful brothers” Col. 1:1–3. Paul’s greeting shows characteristic gentleness. He did not attack them, even though many had apparently been sucked into a heretical group that neither lived a holy life nor was faithful to the doctrine of Christ. Paul was convinced that the truth he presented would correct their misunderstandings and rescue them. Doctrinal dispute can become so vitriolic that those in error are driven from the truth by those who know it. If you know others who are currently trapped in misunderstanding, don’t attack them. Trust them to respond to truth when it is clearly and gently presented. “When we pray for you” Col. 1:3–8. Paul continued his loving approach by telling how he thanked God each time he prayed for them. Pray for an “opponent” and thank God for him or her, and it will change your attitude for the better! “All over the world this Gospel is producing fruit” Col. 1:6. This is a gentle reminder. The Gospel the Colossians originally heard was the one that was being preached so effectively all over the world. The Gnostics were like the mother who saw her son marching with the high school band and said, “Look, they’re all out of step except my Bernie!” When everyone else is out of step, it’s time to reexamine your position! “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God” Col. 1:9–11. This prayer for the Colossians is one of the most significant in the New Testament, for it depicts the process of spiritual growth. Simply, the prayer describes a growth cycle, one which spirals ever upward to maturity. If you want to grow spiritually, let this prayer of Paul’s be your constant guide. You begin with “the knowledge of [God’s] will” (v. 9a). This is the kind of information about Himself and His will that God has revealed in Scripture. But you hold this knowledge in “all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9b). Both “spiritual wisdom” and “insight” describe seeing implications: seeing how to respond in every life situation by applying your knowledge of God. You then respond according to God’s Word, “that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him” (v. 10a). And, in the process of living out God’s known will, you bear “fruit in every good work” (v. 10b) and you also come to know God Himself better (v. 10b). In this whole process you are “being strengthened with all power” by God Himself, and so share in all that you have inherited through your relationship with Jesus. What is exciting about this to me is that it clearly defines our part in the spiritual life, and God’s part. You and I must (1) seek to know God’s revealed will and (2) seek to apply it in daily life. As we do, God supernaturally (1) strengthens us with His power, (2) produces fruit in and through us, and (3) makes Himself ever more real to us. There’s no great mystery about living the Christian life. And no overwhelming difficulties. We need simply to study and apply God’s Word as best we can—and trust God to do the rest! “The image of the invisible God” Col. 1:15–19. In its essence idolatry is putting anything less than God in God’s place. The Gnostics did this by honoring imagined ranks of angels, each a little less material and more spirit, standing between the universe and God. And they placed Jesus below these angels, very distant from God! One of the magazines I take and enjoy very much is the Catholic Digest. It is a warm and often enriching magazine. But every now and then I’m troubled by references to Mary that make her, in effect, the focus of a Christian’s prayers and faith. “Ask Mary, and she’ll get her Son to do it for you,” is an all too frequent theme. To the extent that Mary is given Christ’s role, the respect rightly won by the young Jewish woman so long ago is transformed into idolatry too. Paul wants us to put nothing in place of Christ. He is supreme. He is all. In Christ the invisible is revealed. Christ has the “firstborn’s” right to inherit all things. His claim is doubly established, for “by Him all things were created.” Visible and invisible—including the ranks of angels that the Gnostics superstitiously honored (v. 16b)—were created by Christ. And the resurrected Jesus, as Head of His body the church, is to be supreme in our lives. God in all His fullness, all that God is, exists and finds its expression in Jesus Christ (v. 20). It is this Jesus, the exalted God, who bled and died for us, who now represents us before the throne of grace. How foolish, when He who is God Himself is on our side, to put anyone or anything in Jesus’ rightful place. “To reconcile to Himself all things” Col. 1:20. The Gnostics proposed a great gap between earth and heaven. Paul rejected the notion. Christ proves that God can and does act in the material universe. In becoming man and dying, Christ made peace. He is the bridge, not just over troubled waters, but between heaven and earth. “Enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” Col. 1:21. The Gnostics had the peculiar idea that the mind, as man’s immaterial part, could be in tune with God no matter what the body, the material and thus “evil” element of a person, might do. The idea hasn’t died out yet. Folks still go to church and assume they can think good thoughts on Sunday, and live like the devil during the week. Research has shown that many a wife beater spends a pious Sunday in church, or even serves as a church officer! To be really in tune with God, all that we are must be in harmony with Him. A “faith” that is not expressed in a godly life is not “faith” at all, and the mind of such a person remains hostile to the God revealed in Jesus. “Not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel” Col. 1:21–23. The warning is directed to the Colossian church, not to individuals. The church must never exchange the hope held out in the Gospel for the false hope offered by mere human philosophies. And, again, Jesus Christ as God in the flesh is the focus of our hope! Because He died for us we stand before God holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” Col. 1:24–29. J.B. Phillips translates this phrase, “Christ in you, the hope of all the glorious things to come.” Because Jesus is in His body now on earth, you and I as part of that body have hope for the future. Not just the hope of resurrection glory, but hope for glorious things now! The living presence of Christ in us, of God still present in the world of here and now, opens up our future to glorious possibilities. We are not yet all we could be. But because Christ is in us, we are becoming. As we go on in full commitment to Christ, we will become “perfect [mature] in Christ.”
Christ in You(Col. 1:15–28)
The French have a phrase, Le Bon Dieu. It means “the good God,” and is used almost with fond contempt. It suggests a grandfatherly figure in his dotage, vaguely but fondly nodding when visited briefly by one of his many offspring. Le Bon Dieu may not be pleased at everything one does, but if he should notice, he’s much too mild to take any action. A person can feel comfortable with Le Bon Dieu—and safely ignore him. What a different image of the invisible God from that portrayed in Christ! Here in Colossians we meet a dominant God, Master of Creation, who boldly stepped into the physical universe. He took on a body to deal with those sins that seem trivial to those who worship Le Bon Dieu. He endured the cross with fierce dedication. He triumphed in a resurrection that lifted Him above power. Looking at Christ we find no Le Bon Dieu who is dead, but the all-powerful Ruler of heaven and of earth. For the patrons of Le Bon Dieu, the real Christ is a disquieting figure. For the Christian, however, Christ preeminent, Christ incarnate, is recognized with a surge of hope and excitement. For Paul tells us that this Christ who brought God to earth is “in you”! The Incarnation meant that God expressed His supreme power in this world of space and time in the person of Jesus. “Christ in you” means that God still expresses His supreme power in this world—through us! Because this Christ is in us, we do have hope for glorious things ahead. We will triumph today, and tomorrow will join Christ in glory!
Don’t give up. Christ in you cannot fail.
“Jesus is not to us as Christmas is to the world, here today and gone tomorrow.”—Rick Mylander