We are currently working through the book of Colossians – last week we looked at an introduction – what Colosse was like, who the believers were, Paul who wrote the letter, and why all this is – and then we looked briefly at the first 14 verses, which were encouragement and prayers of thankfulness.
We also looked at one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter – it was to establish the supremacy of Christ over and against all strange philosophies.
Today we will look at a remarkable way the great Paul does this – in prose form, almost a poem or hymn, he, line upon line, demolishes every argument and philosophy of Rome, stands it on its head, and leaves his audience breathless.
Read Col. 1:15-23
This poem would be considered one of high treason in an Empire that has sought to establish ‘Caesar as the image of god’. Discuss this thought.
These verses in this poem are regarded as some of the most important Christological passages in the NT – Paul is wanting his audience to stop and think about this as it is being read. He is confronting His audience with WHO JESUS IS.
Why is our view of Jesus important? A distorted Christ means a distorted worldview and a distorted life.
An exegesis – discuss the poem verse by verse:
Vs 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Imperial images dominated the public and private space in the Roman Empire. Images of Caesar were found in the market, the city square, the public baths, theatre, gymnasium and temples. They were on furnishings and objects of private use impacting the imagination of a community.
In the face of this imagery Paul proclaims Jesus as the true image of God and calls the Colossian Christians to have the image of Jesus in shaping an alternative to the empire.
There is a concern that the image of the culture has hypnotised, kidnapped or bound the minds of the people. The wealth and glory of Rome, the image of Caesar as god and saviour created an idea, even a philosophy of being, that bordered the thoughts of those living in the empire.
Discussion 1: Are we in similar danger today?
Vs 15 the firstborn over all creation.
It is important that the relationship between Jesus as first-born of Mary (Matt 1:25; Luke 2:7) and as the first-born of all creation (Col 1:15) be understood correctly. The incarnate Christ is still truly God, while as "first-born" Jesus exercises complete pre-eminence over all created things.
Vs 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
With this one verse Paul shows that Christ was involved in every aspect of Creation – he is over creation – he is supreme.
He is saying to the believers that despite all the self-deification, self-promotion and self-preservation of the brutal empire that they live in, they ultimately do not answer to it – they answer and bow to a supreme ruler who holds all in his hand.
Discussion 2: How does this verse bring liberty to those in oppression?
Vs 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Paul will often draw on the culture’s poets or religious thoughts (like when he was speaking in Athens and quoted lines from their poets). In this line he is making a parallel to the culture’s philosophy and religion.
Many Greco-Roman philosophers said that all things were held together by Zeus or by the Logos, divine reason; by this they meant to emphasize the unity of the cosmos. So Paul draws all this thinking together and shows that it is Jesus (who is logos, fire and wisdom) that holds all things together.
Paul is an astute student of culture – in fact he understands it so well that he has learnt to share the Gospel through their lenses.
Discussion 3: Think about Paul’s cultural genius – what can we learn from that today?
Vs 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.
Christ, not mankind, is the authority of the church. But we have to ask what is the church?
- “Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to church, let’s be the Church” – Bridget Willard
- “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became a Man for no other purpose.” – C. S. Lewis
Discussion 4: Discuss these quotes
Jesus Christ is the head of the church – Jesus in His very mission came to ‘seek and save the lost’ (we are to do the same), and commanded Peter to feed his sheep and lambs (and we are to do the same).
Vs 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
Vs 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.
Vs 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.
Vs 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 —
Paul had already called Jesus Christ "His [God's] dear Son" (Col 1:13). Those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph 1:6). For this reason, God can call us His beloved (Col 3:12).
Then Paul took a giant step forward in his argument, for he declared that "all fullness" dwelt in Jesus Christ! The word translated "fullness" is the Greek word ‘pleroma’. It was a technical term in the vocabulary of the gnostic false teachers. It meant "the sum total of all the divine power and attributes." (in it Paul masterfully attacks both Gnosticism and Emperor worship). The Father would not permanently give His ‘pleroma’ to some created being. The fact that it "pleased the Father" to have His fullness in Christ is proof that Jesus Christ is God. "And of His [Christ's] fullness have all received" (John 1:16). "For in Him [Jesus Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2:9).
Because Jesus Christ is God, He is able to do what no mere man could ever do: reconcile lost sinners to a holy God.
Vs 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved 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.Paul, in every way, challenges the Colossian believers to be released from the empire that had captured their imagination and heart, and to set it again on the gospel of Christ. Immanuel – he has come. He is in all, through all – He is the Lord of All.
Reflections on “continuing in faith, established, firm and not moved”:
1. Repent – Acknowledge the many ways we both misrepresent and misunderstand Christ.
2. Return – We need to return to our first love, to the foundations, to the beginning, to Christ.
3. Re-imagine – What does it mean to have a supreme Lord? What does it mean for us to be made in His image? What does it look like when people start truly reflecting this Christ? Just like the Colossian believers we stand in danger of something else capturing our imagination – we need to spend time reflecting/meditating/praying of what it means to allow our minds to be captured by the good news of Jesus Christ. Living an active faith!
Discussion Questions are within the notes