Updated: Apr 23, 2020
by Gabe Bernal
Read Colossians 1:15-23
Reread it again.
Does anything stick out to you? Any words or phrases?
What about ideas, did a light bulb go off and you are now able to understand a concept you didn't before?
Or did something in the passage just resonate in your heart?
I think more than any other passage in this letter, this one will speak to just about everyone. I'm sure different things to different people, but there might be a reason why this passage speaks to us more than others.
Whether you like poetry or not, there is something about it that expresses the heart in a way that no other method of writing can. Whether it's the likes of Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, poetry is one of the most beautiful expressions of language that taps into human emotion in a significant and meaningful way.
And if you don't like poetry, what about music? Musical lyrics are a type of poetry as well. Everyone has a song they love, a song so profound that it touches a part of their heart than nothing else can.
I bring this up because some scholars think that this passage in Colossians comes from a poem or hymn that was used in the early church. One that described the core of what followers of The Way believed. Some translations even format these verses differently, as if it were a new psalm.
Of course, there is no way to prove one way or the other which is true, but the fact that people have read this feel like what is written express something profound and fundamental.
Before we move on to the rest, let's take a quick look at verse 15-17 to refresh our memory.
We talked about Jesus being the image of the invisible God and how this means that He is not only made in the likeness of God like humans but that Jesus was also the literal manifestation of God on Earth. So if we wanted to know what the Law looked like in practice, if we wanted to know who we are supposed to live, we only need to look at Jesus.
We also talked about the word "firstborn" and how this doesn't mean Jesus was the first creation, nor was first in a line of many. But "firstborn" here means that he has power and authority over what He is firstborn of, in this case, creation.
Then we looked at verse 16 and how Paul affirms two titles Jesus has. First, the "Author of Creation." As for Him all things were created and all things were created through him and for him. Just like when how we would paint a piece of art, that is not only created by us but for our enjoyment as well.
Second, Paul affirms Jesus is the prophesied "Son of Man" as He is over all things on Earth, both visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominion or rulers. Jesus is over all, the "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords."
We need to know these things because Jesus is primary. Not the things of this world, not other people, nothing else. Only Jesus is supreme.
I challenged you to identify the things in your life that may be primary, and I encourage you to keep searching for those things. This is probably a never-ending search because as we age, as we grow, and as we experience new things, new idols grab hold of our heart and try to replace Jesus. That's just the nature of the flesh (not to mention what the Enemy is trying to convince us).
So keep these things in mind as we finish the "Messianic Poem," keep those things in mind as they are essential cornerstones to what we will be looking at in this blog.
Head of the Church (v18)
If you've ever taken any kind of human biology or physiology class, you'll know that in the simplest terms, the body is made to support the brain. All of our organs, all of the cells in our body works to support the brain.
It's weird though, the brain can operate with many parts of the body not working at its top form, or even if it doesn't exist at all. Missing a hand, the brain says that's fine. Missing a lung, the brain will work around it. Liver not working properly, that's okay, the brain only needs a fraction of it to survive.
A bit of a simple example, but the point is without the brain, nothing else will work properly.
In this way, the brain is like Christ. When Paul says Christ is the head of the church, he not only pointing to the importance of the head as the top of the body but also that as the head Christ is the source and what makes everything else work.
The focus needs to be on Christ, not the church. There needs to be a dependent relationship with Christ.
Too many churches fall into the trap of being inward-focused, thinking that if people just come to their gathering or attend their events that is enough. They believe that is making disciples through their attendance. Or maybe they'll focus on the church leaders and how "great" they are. Ministries become about them and how great of a preacher their pastor is, or how caring and welcoming their children's worker is.
This is not to say these things in themselves are bad. Nothing is wrong with having great events for your church and community to be a part of. Nothing is wrong with having a pastor who is a gifted teacher.
The problem is we make those things primary. This pandemic shows us that just attending events can't be the source, because now we aren't meeting. It doesn't matter how great your gathering or spring events are if no one can attend them.
Or what happens to a ministry if it's just about the minister, and they leave. Recent history shows that churches can fall apart when a ministry is about one person and that one person leaves the church.
Praise be to God if you have those things and use them to further the name of Jesus and His Kingdom, but those things are not the source. They aren't the head of the body. They aren't what is primary.
As you think about how you do church, how you make disciples, how can you make Jesus primary in those things?
Maybe more importantly, what are some ways you can be sure not to make something or someone else primary?
If these things we do as a church is not rooted in Christ, they are doomed to fail.
In 19, I want you to notice the word I mentioned briefly in the last blog.
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell"
Charles Spurgeon calls fullness a 'mighty word' as Paul here is reiterating that Jesus is truly God. While there are many other divine manifestations (angels, seraphim, cherubim, etc.), only Jesus is the full manifestation of God.
We need to be reminded of this because we need to make sure we KNOW this. Image of the Invisible, Firstborn, Fullness. Jesus is equal to, not inferior to, God.
We can speculate what the false teachings that the church in Colossae was facing. Through historical research and archaeological study, we can make an educated guess that "Gnostic Christianity" was one of the major sects that separated from Christianity as we know it.
Without going too much into their beliefs (as that would take a very long time), gnostics believed that Jesus was merely a human that attained divinity through "special" spiritual knowledge bestowed to him. Also, contrary to what we've already read in this passage, the gnostics believed that God was hidden and could not be known.
But instead of teaching you all about a now-dead sect of religion, let me point to another more contemporary sect of Christians that we can better relate to.
Back in the time before COVID, in the long-long ago... I remember when I would walk into town seeing several groups around handing out tracks about God. From a non-believer's point of view (or even a very young believer who is still learning), this group's beliefs are the same as evangelicals.
Of course, I'm talking about Jehovah's Witnesses. I used to see them all over town. From Broad Street to Digbeth (and I'm sure further), I would see a group of them around stands with tracts about their beliefs.
And if you read some of their beliefs, it seems sound. But if you remember the three traps we can fall into, I believe Jehovah's Witnesses fall into the third trap which is:
3) we are more likely to draw our own conclusions in what we read instead of learning what the author is trying to teach.
The reason why I say this about them is in their core beliefs of Jesus: they firmly believe that Jesus is not God. They believe that there is no trinity. And they believe that Jesus was a created being.
They claim to believe and teach from the same Bible we do, but due to their own interpretations believe very different things. But when you see the verses they use to back up their interpretations, you begin to see how they have taken those scriptures out of context and use them to say what they want to believe.
But that is not how it works, we can't just look at a single verse and decided what it means only from that verse alone. We need the full context of verses, and we need to use scripture to interpret scripture.
Read John 1:1-4
How do these verses show that fullness of God dwelling in Christ?
Also, read John 8:54-58
How does Jesus speak of himself in this passage?
If the Bible and Jesus Himself speaks in this way, how can we disagree?
Jesus is God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell within each other and together are one. There can't be any other way for this to make sense.
Reconciliation and Victory in the Cross (v20-23)
The finish of the poem sums up why Jesus is supreme. These final four verses show why Christ is the source. These last four verses show us why the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him. Because through Him, all things are reconciled by the blood of the Cross.
In the beginning, all things were created through Christ. And in the end, all things will be reconciled through Christ.
Though as Paul puts it, "we were once alienated" because of Christ and his work on the Cross we are no longer alienated. Sin tries to alienate us, false gospels try to alienate us.
Can you think of times in your life you felt alienated? How did that feel?
Being born into this world, we are born into sin and wickedness. And when we give into these things, we not only become slaves to sin, but we alienate ourselves from God.
But in Christ alone, we receive redemption. Christ offers us an opportunity to break the cycle of sin and alienation and instead, we are "presented holy and blameless!"
What wonderful news!
And Paul reminds the Colossians, just like it should remind us that we should remember the hope of the gospel we have heard. A way that I try and do this (and you are free to use this exercise) is I remember the day of my baptism. The joy, the excitement, the symbolism of putting my old life to death and then coming up a new creation, the hope of a fresh start, and the confirmation of a new identity.
Even though I was young, remembering that day and how much I had been forgiven, I can remain steadfast in the fact that Christ did all the work, that Christ is supreme, that Christ alone is where our hope lies.
And that truth is the same for you.
In what ways can you remind yourself of the gospel?
What are some ways that you can remember to remind yourself of the gospel?
As Paul finishes this passage, we are reminded that all of creation proclaims the same gospel. And even though he boldly proclaimed himself an "apostle" in the beginning of this letter, he ends this passage by reminding his readers he is still just a minister (some translations say servant) of this gospel.
Even though only a few can hold the title of apostle, Paul understands that he is still a servant of God. Like us, he holds no power himself, he is only a messenger of something greater.
Paul proudly proclaiming the gospel in this passage also should remind us that even Christians, good and faithful Christians, need to be reminded the gospel. The gospel is for all people, not just non-believers. Believers need the gospel just as much as non-believers.
And not just to fight false gospels (though it is an excellent weapon for that), but we need to know the gospel for the mere fact that we need the gospel ourselves. As long as we live, we fight a battle against the flesh and against the Enemy, and if we don't always remind ourself that we need the gospel, we will lose.
But when we know the gospel, we know Jesus is on our side. Not only that, we know how this battle ends. With Jesus victorious and sharing His victory with us through eternity.
What was the most encouraging thing you read in this passage?
Once again - If there is anything during your discussion or journaling as you went through those questions that you found encouraging, .. let me know! I'm no expert, and this blog is definitely not exhaustive. I am learning as much as you and would love to hear how God spoke to you through this passage.
- Thank God that he can be known
- Thank Him that in Jesus we can see the fullness of God
- Thank Him for the Cross and the good news of the Gospel