15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 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, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. i
Picture a bookstore in Colossae. Let’s call it the “Full Life Bookstore.” The front window is full of copies of the new best-selling book, The Daniel Diet: 30 Days to Spiritual Nourishment. As you work your way through the bookstore you see what looks like a wooden Stairmaster with a sign above it reading, “The Firm Believer: Shaping an Obedient Body.”ii Next to the machine is a display shelf of CrossFit sandals in varying sizes. Next to it is a display with the new book: The Sampson CrossFit Program: Get Spiritually Ripped.
On one wall, there is a refrigerated display full of Ezekiel 19 bread cooked over real Babylonian cow dung. There are refrigerated jars with the label “Balm of Gilead” and bottles of “Rose of Sharon Cleansing Tea.” There are small vials of essential oils of frankincense and myrrh with promised mystical healing properties – because it’s in the Bible so it must be a hidden code to wellness.
As you move through the inevitable trinkets section, you see quite of few pictures of angels – some portrayed as mighty and powerful, others as chubby little child-like things with harps and halos. There are charm bracelets and necklaces with cherub and seraph charms. iii There are angel candles. There are bumper stickers: “My co-pilot is an angel.” There are stacks of mommy, daddy, and baby angel stickers to glue on the back of your white 15-passenger chariot-van. There are AD 61 angel calendars and angel daily devotionals like the best-selling “The Angel-Driven Life.”
Now imagine that Epaphras the church planter enters the Full Life Bookstore. He searches for a sales person and says, “I’m looking for a book entitled The Everythingness of Jesus. And the salesperson points to a bin in the back corner. “If we still have any books about Jesus,” she says, “they’ll be back there in the 75%-off discontinued item section. People aren’t buying the Jesus stuff anymore.” iv
Gaining in knowledge and wisdom of Christ through the ordinary means of grace (Word and Sacrament, prayer, private devotion, and fellowship) was not as appealing as the extraordinary, feelings-based, me-centered experiences and self-improvement promised by the mystical gurus selling their “fullness now” products. Who wants the ordinary and long-term when the “right here, right now” seems to be so much more radical and energizing?
Far from promoting some dull, deadpan, frozen-chosen kind of Christian experience, Paul recites a rapturous and transcendently-beautiful poem on the everythingness of the Lord Jesus Christ as the eternal Creator and Redeemer, the source of all true fullness. He summarizes the goal in verse 18: that in everything he (Jesus) might be preeminent.v Jesus must be everything to believers – in our family, in our work, in our fellowship, in our health and our sickness, our happiness and sorrow. He alone is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end (22:13). The believer’s life is to be all about HIS GLORY.
CREATOR OF EVERYTHING (1:15-17)
Whenever a minister of the gospel preaches, he does so with the knowledge that the message he brings can radically transform people’s lives for all eternity. That is certainly true of the powerful message of this passage. It teaches us what it means for Christ to be preeminent. It has a poetic, parallel structure that has led many scholars to conclude this passage is a quotation of a very early hymn or widely-known piece of liturgy pre-dating Paul’s letter by 20 or 30 years.
But it’s just as likely for Paul, a brilliant OT Scholar familiar with the parallelisms and crisscross structure (chiasms) of Hebrew prophetic poetry, to have written this section himself as he dictated. Regardless of its origin, it is very artfully and intricately composed hymn.
Christ’s Relationship to the Father (15)
First, Paul draws our attention to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. He writes that Jesus “15 …is the image of the invisible God….”vi It reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 4:4-6:
…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.vii
Then he speaks about his own conversion:
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.viii
In Colossians, Paul speaks of Jesus as God the Visible. Jesus is the only means for mankind to fully see God. John opened his gospel account with the same Christology Paul expresses to the Colossians:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ix
St. Author of Hebrews wrote of the Lord Jesus:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.x
This praise in 1:15 is a picture of the glorious eternal fellowship the Son and the Father have always possessed. As such, it is a picture of the glorious intimate fellowship you possess with Father, Son, and Spirit when you are trusting into Christ. It’s one of your benefits of union with Christ. If you are known by Christ, you are in Christ and in the Father; so, the Son can say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
One of the great mistakes of the Christian life is to live with a hidden fear of the Father’s disapproval of us, as if the Son must force our Heavenly Father to love us. But Paul is writing that it’s because of the FATHER’S love that he sent out his unique Son to live the perfect life we can never live and die the death that Adam earned for all his human children. The guarantee of the Father’s ceaselessly-eternal love is the Son’s victorious death and resurrection.xi
Christ’s Relationship to the Universe (15-17)
In vs. 15-17, Paul writes about the eternal Christ’s relationship to the universe. By Jesus, “…. all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible….”xii Note the crisscross structure (chiasm): (a) heaven … invisible; (b) earth …visible.
He tells us that Jesus is the Lord of all creation; he created all things because he is the firstborn of all creation.xiii The way Paul writes, it’s plain that the Lord Jesus is NOT a creature, but the eternal Son. All things were created by and through and for him. Literally, the text reads “the firstborn of every creature,” meaning that Jesus is due all the rights of the firstborn Son, including the right to inherit everything from his Father.
It’s a reference to Ps. 89:27, a Messianic Psalm: “I will also make him my firstborn, /The highest of the kings of the earth.” (cf. Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9). The same thought is expressed in Heb. 1:1, 2, “God … has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also made the worlds.”xiv Paul is already setting up the conclusion: don’t focus your gaze on ANYTHING less than Jesus. Don’t look to angels or demons as mediators; don’t look to gurus as mediators; don’t look to special diets, or fitness programs, or emotional experiences as mediators between you and God the Father because all other things are mere creatures subject to Christ’s sovereign will.
In v. 17, Paul says that not only is Christ the preeminent creator of all things; not only were ALL things created for HIS glory; but “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”xv If the Lord Jesus were to remove his sustaining hand from creation, all things would unravel into to darkness, void, and formlessness of which Moses wrote in Genesis 1.
Some of us are engaged in intellectual occupations where you research and explore things. Paul writes to academics that everything he or she explores is part of a universe that is upheld by our loving Savior. As some of us work with our hands and make things, every material and medium are created by and sustained by our Lord Jesus Christ.
“It is the Son of God’s love who holds in his almighty hands the reins of the universe and never even for one moment lets them slip out of his grasp (cf. Rev. 4 and 5). Though the man of flesh regards this as so much pious twaddle, the man of faith proclaims with the inspired author of the Hebrews, ‘Now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold … Jesus … crowned with glory and honor’” (2:9).xvi
As we go about our daily vocations, using this world, the humblest and most simple Christians know something about everything; although we never know everything about anything. What we know is that everything is created by, upheld by, and exists for the sole glory of your Lord Jesus Christ. The one whom you came to trust to be your savior for the forgiveness of sins turns out to be the powerful creator of the universe. And if he is powerful enough to hold all things seen and unseen together by the word of his power, then he will hold onto you for eternity.xvii
Do you see what that means? When someone you love turns on you and tosses you aside like a wet tissue you think to yourself, “I have to keep it all together.” When your job is on the line and you might lose it any day you say, “I have to keep it all together.” When parental pressures are weighing you down to the point you feel like bursting you say, “I have to keep it all together.” When you feel overwhelmed by duties inside or outside the church and the time pressure is grueling you say, “I have to keep it all together.”
The Lord Jesus has a word for you this morning: YOU don’t have to keep it all together. You CAN’T keep it all together. You DON’T NEED to keep it all together. JESUS KEEPS IT ALL TOGETHER FOR YOU! Flee to Him. Trust his word to you. Find your endurance and patience in your union with his endurance and patience. It’s one of the benefits of your union with Christ.
In verses 15-17, Paul said the Lord Jesus is the Creator of everything, in eternal relationship with both God the Father and to the entire universe. In verses 18-23, Paul says Jesus is the Redeemer of everything in his relationship to the whole church and in his relationship to the little congregation of Colossae.
REDEEMER OF EVERYTHING (1:18-23)
Christ’s Relationship to the Church (18-20)
Paul writes in v. 18, “18 And he is the head of the body, the church.”xviii In previous letters, Paul has written of the church as the “body of Christ” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12–31, especially verse 27). But this is the first time he has specifically stated Jesus is the ruler of the whole Church. This was what the Colossians needed to hear because of the gurus’ mystical emphasis on angels and intermediate spirits who needed to be appeased to get “fullness” from God. Christ is in no way dependent upon any creature to accomplish his will – not humans and not angels.
How do we have that assurance that he is truly the head of the entire Church? Paul writes, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”xix Just as the Lord Jesus was the firstborn of all creation (15b), he is the firstborn from the dead who effects the resurrection from the dead. Just as the entire creation fell into chaos and disintegration when Adam sinned so that the entire creation groans under the futility of its decay, the whole of creation finds its reconciliation and certain hope in Christ’s substitutionary death and glorious resurrection.
Christ laid the foundation for the sanctified life, that hope and assurance in which his people rejoice.xx Paul writes in 3:1-4,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. xxi
Angels, diets, spiritual improvement schemes, daily affirmations and chants, Ezekiel bread, essential oils, fasts, or feasts confer no power and no fullness that Christ the Last Adam has not already given to his people as benefits of our union with him. Because “19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….” Our fullness comes from only from Christ’s power displayed in his resurrection and ascension. You don’t chip in your 50% of the bill for justification OR sanctification. Jesus paid it all. He earned it all. He alone gives it ALL so that anyone in Christ is a new creation already (2 Cor. 5:17). The old has died and the new has come!
And, in v. 20 Paul says, “…20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. xxii That doesn’t mean that Christ saves the entirety of humanity. Some of us need to reconcile our bank statements at the end of the month to make what’s been deposited and what’s been spent reflect the reality of what you have left. That’s what Paul means here. Jesus will bring all things under his Lordship – both those dead in sin to eternal punishment and those alive in Christ to eternity in His presence in a new heaven and a new earth. There will be one Lord, one God, one Ruler over all things to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10,11).
In relationship to God, Jesus is the image of the invisible Father. In relationship to the universe, he is the creator and sustainer. In relationship to the whole church, he is its Lord and benefactor who provides all things we need.
Christ’s Relationship to the Colossians (21-23)
In relationship to the Colossians, Jesus has become their savior. “21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 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….”xxiii
That is how the Colossians, or you and I, enter the reality of Christ Jesus. It’s not by simply recognizing he is the creator and sustainer of everything. We enter into Christ by coming to him as our own personal savior from hostility to God and from God. Jesus becomes our rescuer from pleasure in evil to which we were enslaved. Ultimately, we must become friends, children of God through trust into Christ’s perfectly-lived, law-keeping life, his sacrificial death for Adam’s sin and ours, and his glorious resurrection and ascension.
It’s easy for our Old Adam to be drawn away by gurus who want to preach about ME and how I can be an even better, happier, healthier, fuller ME. Then my life begins to look very much like the Full Life Bookstore in beautiful downtown Colossae – “spiritual,” but devoid of anything about Jesus.
The Old Adam doesn’t need to get better; the Old Adam needs to die, die, die! My best life, my fuller life can only be found by trusting more and more into Christ and all the benefits he has already given to me that will cause me to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel (1:23).xxiv
Like Paul, I am a minister of THAT gospel. Like Paul, I long for all of us to hear it and trust it.
i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:15–23.
ii Sinclair Ferguson, “The Incomparable Christ.” Accessed 10//24/16 at: http://mp3.sa-media.com/filearea/fpc-081306am/fpc-081306am.mp3
v The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:18. Emphasis added.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:15.
vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 4:4.
viii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 4:6.
ix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 1:1–5.
x The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 1:1–4.
xi Ferguson, op. cit.
xii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:16.
xiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:15.
xiv William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 72.
xv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:17.
xvi William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 76.
xvii Ferguson, op. cit.
xviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:18.
xix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:18.
xx William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 78.
xxi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:1–4.
xxii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:19–20.
xxiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:21–22.
xxiv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:23.