MATURING IN THE FAITH, Part 5

The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15—29

The latter portion of Colossians 1 presents the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These verses form the foundation of Paul’s contention with the Gnostic element at Colosse. These false teachers claimed to have superior, secret, and mysterious knowledge of God and of spiritual things, but according to Paul, everything that can be known about God is revealed in Jesus Christ, therefore no secret or mystical knowledge is needed.

1. Our image of God, 1:15—18

Part of becoming a mature Christian is having a Biblical Christology. In other words, mature believers think correctly about Jesus Christ. There is a lot wrong information floating around about Jesus and what He did, both in Paul’s day and ours. To help the Colossians think correctly about Jesus, Paul makes three very profound statements concerning Christ.

A. In relation to His deity, verse 15

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There are two thoughts here. First, Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” How do you take a picture of something that cannot be seen? What does the invisible man look like? Nobody knows because he’s invisible! So what does Paul mean by that statement? In interpreting that statement, we must understand that Paul is not teaching that Christ is the image of God in the material or physical sense. Paul is also not teaching that Christ’s image of God is limited to His pre-incarnate state nor is it limited Christ’s glorified state after His Incarnation. Christ never became the image of God, He always has been the image of God.

The word for “image” is the Greek word eikon, which expresses two main ideas. One is “likeness.” So Christ is the exact likeness of God, like an image in a mirror is an exact likeness of the one looking into it. The other idea behind eikon is that of manifestation. That is, Christ is the image of God in the sense that the nature, character, and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. This thought is expressed in John 1:18—

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is a very deep concept, but it formed an integral part of Paul’s thinking about Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The second thought concerning Christ’s deity is that He is “the firstborn over all creation.” “Firstborn” is not the best way to translate prototokos because Paul is certainly not teaching that Christ was born or that He became. The main idea behind prototokos is “only begotten” and should be understood the way the Jewish mind understood it. Prototokos really means “uncreated.” He is out in front of all creation or we might say He is beyond all creation. Christ, in other words, does not belong to creation, but to eternity. This concept is seen in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1—3)

B. In relation to all creation, verses 16, 17

Paul goes on to establish the ground for Christ’s dominion over all things. Christ is the Source, the Agent, the End, and the Sustainer of all creation. Three prepositional phases are given to explain Christ the Creator: All things came to be—

→ in (or by) Him, verse 16a (creation occurred within the sphere of His person)
→ through (or by) Him, verse 16b (He was the force behind what was created)
→ for Him, verse 16c (all things exist for His good pleasure)

Furthermore, Christ “is before all things”, not “was before all things.” He is “before” in position, power, and time. Because He is the Creator, not part of creation, He holds it all together and all things exist because of His will.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

The scope of these verses is staggering. If nothing exists apart from the will of Christ, then all things, even evil powers, continue to persist only because He allows them to until the day comes when He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father:

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

C. In relation to the Church, verse 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.

Paul’s final affirmation concerning Christ’s supremacy relates to the Church. Christ, by right of His position in creation, has control and authority over the new creation, the body of Christ. To be “the head” of the Church is to be its Sovereign; its Leader and its Chief. It is HE who governs and guides it. In the Greek, “he” is emphatic, meaning that Christ alone, Christ and not other, is the head of the Church.

“Church,” ekklesia, means “assembly” or “congregation” and has in mind all redeemed people of God. Lost in Paul’s Christology is the use the “body” metaphor, which suggests three things:

→ the Church is a living organism, not an organization, composed of members joined vitally to one another;
→ the Church is the means by which Christ carries out His purposes and performs His work on earth;
→ the union that exists between Christ and His people is intimate and real. Redeemed saints in union with Christ and each other constitute a single living unit, incomplete without the other.

So, a mature Christian thinks rightly about Jesus Christ.

2. Our reconciliation, 1:20—23

Our maturity is also indicated by our understanding of precisely what Christ did for us. In Jesus Christ, Deity is pleased to dwell. In addition, God has made peace with all created things through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is God’s grand plan of salvation in two verses.

→ It is God who saves, verse 19
→ He saves creation through Jesus Christ, verse 20
→ He saves creation through the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, verse 20
→ God did this because it pleased Him, verse 19

To be “reconciled to God” means to be “at peace with God.” Somehow, through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, peace was and is made between God and human beings. But the power of Christ’s blood is not limited to the salvation of all who call upon Him to be saved, the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood extends to all He created!

…whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (verse 20)

Since the sin of the first Adam effectively destroyed the perfection of Christ’s creation, only an act of the Second Adam could undo what happened. In relation to human beings, there is no “universal salvation.” As great as the work of Christ was, it is of no effect on a human being until he accepts it by faith.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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 (verses 21, 22)

Prior to confessing Christ as Savior, the Colossians and all sinners had been “alienated from God” and His enemies. The word “alienated” (apellotriomenous) means “transferred to another owner”—in other words, an unregenerate sinner is estranged from God and hostile toward Him. Only by sacrificing His physical body could Christ end the estrangement and hostility between man and God. Paul stressed Christ’s “physical body” probably in defiance of the warped Gnostic teaching about how evil the body was. The value of Christ’s body is evidenced by what its sacrifice gained: the salvation of humanity!

The result of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of the Colossians (and all believers) to God, absolutely holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Is all of this in the future tense? Or is some of Christ’s reconciling work realized in the present? Scholars are divided, but F.F. Bruce presents a balanced view of verse 22:

The sentence of justification passed upon the believer here and now anticipates the pronouncement of the judgment day; the holiness which is progressively wrought in his life by the Spirit of God here and now is to issue in perfection of glory on the day of Christ’s [Second Coming].

3. Our hope of glory, 1:24—29

No believer can be considered mature if they have a wrong view of their sufferings. Paul, for his part, demonstrated his maturity by rejoicing, not because of the suffering he had endured, but IN the suffering because of the good that was being produced on account of it. One time, not so long ago, Paul, then known as Saul, had inflicted horrible suffering on others, but now he welcomes it in order to win the lost to Christ. What a remarkable change!

A. Understanding suffering, verse 24

Verse 24 is admittedly controversial.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The first part of that verse we have already explained. What does Paul mean by the second part? In Scripture, there are two types of suffering: ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering—what He endured in the flesh in order to secure our salvation—was mediatorial suffering; that is, He suffered in our place. He was punished for our sins. No human being can do that for another; only Christ could have suffered on our behalf. Christ also experienced ministerial suffering. For example, He was mocked and ridiculed for His teachings. He told His followers that they would experience the same kind of suffering He did; they would suffer on account of Him. This is what Paul had in his mind as he wrote to the Colossians from prison. In fact, Paul had been given a special promise of suffering:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul’s suffering could in no way result in anybody’s salvation, but his suffering was part of his ministry to the lost and to the Body of Christ. Paul identified himself with Christ so much so that he viewed his sufferings as part of His service to Christ. That is a mature view of suffering.

B. Understanding the mystery, verses 25—27

Paul had been called and charged with a mission to perform. He was made a minister of the Gospel (verse 23) and that ministry to the Church involved a revelation of a mystery.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (verses 25, 26)

Paul was the Church’s servant and his job was to preach the Word to the believers. That Word, Paul says, was a “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.” A lot of people stop reading there and wrongfully conclude the Word of God is a mystery—that it hides secrets and mysterious codes. However, reading on, we discover that for the Lord’s people there is NO mystery surrounding the Word of God! All has been revealed to the Christian.

There is no question about it; a mature believer has an understanding of God’s Word. This, of course, does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they, at the same time, become a Bible scholar! Christians are obligated to study the Scriptures and be faithful in listening good Bible teaching.  But at the same time, we understand this:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13a)

The Spirit of truth has come! He resides in all believers, therefore all believers may be guided into a understanding of the the truth. Mature believer come to depend on the Holy Spirit leading them into an appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even more than that, the Holy Spirit can give you a greater desire for the truth of God’s Word.

C. Growing God’s purposes, verses 28, 29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

God wants us to be complete in Him, and He has given the Church the Holy Spirit and preachers, like Paul, to make that happen. This reminds us of what Paul taught the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13)

So then, believers grow into maturity through the ministry of the Word of God to them. This involves preaching and teaching, but also “admonishing.” Sometimes believers need to be corrected in their ideas. Paul was so convinced of the importance of his ministry in this regard, that he “strenuously contended” to perform it. He “agonized” and “fought” for the souls of those in his charge. But he did so, not in his own power, but the power of Christ in Him.

The mature believer, then, is one who has a correct understanding of the Person and work of Christ, an understanding of suffering and a desire to know and understand the Word of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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