The Supreme Question of Life

Colossians 1:15-23

October 21, 2001 | Brian Bill

In Thursday’s Washington Post, an article appeared about a new church in the state of Maryland.  I won’t reveal the name of the denomination that is behind this endeavor because I don’t want to publicly criticize it from the pulpit.  

Using market research and focus groups, this denomination has designed weekly services that deliberately de-emphasize Jesus Christ.  One of the founders of the church has said, “The sad fact is the name of Jesus Christ has become for many people exclusionary.”  Using Hindu and Zen, intermingled with a few verses from the Bible and recorded music by Willie Nelson, the leader of this group is quoted as saying, “We’re enabling people to discover God themselves, maybe through Jesus, maybe through Buddha, maybe through any number of ways.”

Most of us are appalled by this defamation of Christianity, and we should be.  But before we come down too hard on them, I want to address a very dangerous and deadly disease running rampant in the evangelical church today.  At first glance it seems pretty harmless but its spores can infect an entire community.  No, I’m not talking about anthrax.  I call this malady the virus of practicality and I’ve been guilty of spreading it.  Here’s how it works.  

Instead of calling people to faith, repentance and submission to the supremacy of Christ, many of us tell people that Jesus wants to give them a happy marriage or a stress-free life.  While Jesus will certainly change our lives, our marriages, and our stress levels when we bow before His preeminence, we must move away from “What Jesus can do for me” to “Am I living in light of His lordship?”  We don’t simply “add” Jesus to our lives; we adore Him with our lives through our obedience.

That brings us to our text today in the Book of Colossians.  Much of the false teaching taking place in Colosse had to do with the minimizing of Jesus.  Many people thought He was important but not essential.  They had given Him a place in their lives, without recognizing that He demands first place.  Jesus was prominent to them, but certainly not preeminent.  

Paul refutes at least three misconceptions in Colossians 1:

  • The false teachers taught that God did not create the world because in their view matter was evil and God cannot create evil.
  • Believing that matter was evil, they argued that God would not have come to earth as a human in bodily form.
  • They did not believe that Christ was the unique Son of God but rather one of many intermediaries between God and people.

As we study Colossians 1:15-23 this morning, we come to the pinnacle of Christianity.  In Jesus, God’s complete and perfect revelation is fully revealed.  Our passage breaks into two natural sections with the last part of verse 18 providing the overriding theme: “…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

  • The Supremacy of Jesus Over Creation (verses 15-17)
  • The Supremacy of Jesus Over His New Creation (verses 18-23)

Jesus is paramount over everything that He has created in verses 15-17 and He’s preeminent over all that He has redeemed in verses 18-23.  Another way to say it is that He has first place over both the cosmos and the church.  He is Lord of everything He has made and He is Lord over everyone He has saved.

The Supremacy of Jesus Over Creation

This passage is one of the strongest in Scripture as it relates to the superiority of our Savior.  Follow along as I read verses 15-17: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  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.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  We see 4 truths about Jesus in these verses:

1. He is God (15a). 

Paul doesn’t mince any words here.  Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.”  Images convey meaning way beyond what words can describe.  My wedding band represents the fact that Beth finally said, “yes” to me!  When we see the Statue of Liberty, something unexplainable takes place deep inside, doesn’t it? And today, perhaps more than ever, the image of the American Flag flying over Ground Zero ignites feelings of patriotism, sadness, and maybe even anger in our heart.   

As powerful as these symbols are, they are simply representations of far deeper realities.  My ring doesn’t make me married.  Rather, it’s a symbol that I am married.  The Statue of Liberty doesn’t in and of itself do anything.  It stands for a nation that honors freedom.  The American flag is a powerful national symbol but it only represents what our country is all about.  

He both represents and manifests God to the world

Listen carefully.  Jesus is not just a symbol of God; He is God Himself.  The word “image” in Greek is “eikon” and refers to “likeness, manifestation, or replica.”  In that culture the “image” was a die or stamp that was able to make exact reproductions.  Passports in Paul’s day had a section called “eikon,” or “distinguishing marks,” which described something about the person that set him apart from everyone else.  Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.  He is the precise copy because He is God Himself.  He both represents and manifests God to the world.  

John 1:18 says that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.”  That phrase “made him known,” means that Jesus declares, or literally “exegetes,” to the world what God the Father is really like.  In John 14:9, Jesus revealed this about Himself: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”  In a parallel passage, Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…”  2 Corinthians 4:4 also refers to Christ as the “image of God.”  Someone has said that Jesus is God with skin on.  That’s a pretty good word picture.

2. He is the unique Son of God (15b). 

Jesus is not only God; He is the “firstborn over all creation.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that this verse teaches that Jesus was a created being and therefore not God.  Actually, the phrase “firstborn” is most frequently translated as “heir or owner.”  In ancient time it meant the “ranking one, or supreme one.” Jacob was not born first but he was the heir.  This is strongly supported in Psalm 89:27 where we read that God appointed King David as his “firstborn,” even though he was the youngest of eight brothers.  This verse concludes by saying that David will be the “most exalted of the kings of the earth.”  “Firstborn” therefore is a title of honor or position, not chronological order.  

3. He is the creator of all things (16). 

Jesus is the image of God and the exalted one over all creation because He is the Creator.  Lest anyone misunderstand what “firstborn” means, in verse 16 Paul explains that all things were created in, through, and for Christ: “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.”  Jesus is not a mere man.  He is the creator of all things, those things we can see and those things we cannot see.  The context of Colossians 1 declares that Jesus is the Sovereign creator, not one who was himself created.

Because the false teachers taught that the physical world was evil, they thought that God Himself could not have created it.  They reasoned that if Christ were God, He would be in charge of only the spiritual world.  But Paul explained that all the thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers on heaven and earth, of both the visible and invisible world, are under the authority of Christ because He created them.

These four classifications are used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the world of both holy and evil spirit beings.  Since the Colossians gave undue prominence to angels, Paul here quickly puts everything under the rule of Christ.  Jesus has no rival.  This verse also refutes the false teaching that Christ was one of many intermediaries and that angels were to be worshipped.  The highest angelic princes are subject to Jesus Christ, whether they be seraphim or cherubim or whether they be demons or Satan himself.  Jesus is Lord of all.

Jesus is not only the creator, He provides the purpose for His creation: “all things were created by Him and for Him.”  The goal of all creation is to glorify Christ.  Revelation 4:11, in the New Living Translation, puts it this way: “…For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.”

4. He Holds All Things Together (17). 

As our country continues to be under attack, it’s important to keep in mind that Jesus holds everything together.  Look at verse 17: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  Jesus existed before everything else as He declared in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was born, I am.”  

To “hold together” means to prevent something from falling into complete chaos. Christ is before all things, both in time and rank.  He is not only the Creator of the world; He is the cohesion that keeps it all together.  By Him everything came to be, and by Him everything continues to be.  Hebrews 1:3 reminds us that He holds everything together by His powerful word.  If He were to remove His sustaining power, everything would dissolve into disorder.

It was interesting this week to watch two of the network news anchors handle the anthrax story when it hit close to home on their own staff.  Tom Brokaw, at the conclusion of the NBC Nightly News on Monday night, signed off by saying, “In Cipro we trust.”  On Thursday, looking disheveled and scared; Dan Rather said that we can’t let this make us afraid.  Friends, we don’t have to wig out or become unglued because Jesus is keeping everything from falling apart.  He upholds everything by the word of His power.  Remember that there is no crisis in heaven.  He will be exalted among the nations.

The Supremacy of Jesus Over His New Creation

Jesus is supreme over creation in verses 15-17.  As we turn to verses 18-23, we discover that Jesus is also preeminent over His new creation.  The focus shifts from the old natural creation to the new spiritual creation.  The creating God is the reconciling God.  

We see first that He is head of the church in verses 18-19: “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.  For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him.”  Paul uses a personal pronoun here that is very emphatic.  It literally means, “He Himself is the head.”  Only Jesus qualifies to be the head of the church.  The word “head” means that Jesus is the authority, or source of the church.  

We can relate to that.  The head gives the body the ability to produce growth, and without it, the body would die.  Many churches seem to forget this.  If Jesus Christ is not supreme in a church, then there is no church.  That was part of the trouble at Colosse.  They had lost connection to Christ and as a result they were experimenting with all sorts of false doctrine and sinful behavior.  Jesus is the head of this church, not me, not the elders, not the deacons.  Jesus Christ is supreme over this church and we bow before His authority.  

Jesus is the “beginning,” which means that He is the source.  The word actually has two meanings, “to rule” and “to begin.”   In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church.”  The church is the creation of Christ and as such we must follow His lead.  He is the “firstborn from among the dead,” signifying that as the supreme one, His resurrection is the guarantee that we too will rise again. 

I love verse 19.  It gives God the Father great joy and pleasure to have all of “His fullness dwell in Jesus.”  It greatly pleased the Father for the Son to have preeminence over creation and the church.  There are three significant truths about Jesus in this verse.

  1. The fullness of God dwells “in Him.”  It was not around, upon, or under Him; rather it was in Him.
  2. The word “dwell” means to “take up residence” and points to the incarnation.  It is used in the sense of a permanent dwelling and would remind believers of God’s desire to choose a place for His name to dwell in the Old Testament.  Look at Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
  3. The phrase “all His fullness” is a technical term in the vocabulary of the Gnostic false teachers.  It meant the “sum total of all the divine power and attributes.”  Paul uses this term eight different times in Colossians to show the believers that Jesus is the fullness of God, and no one else.  The fact that it pleased the Father to have all His fullness dwell in Christ is proof that Jesus Christ is God.  John 1:16: “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.”

The Gospel Message

In verses 20-23, Paul describes the work of Jesus in reconciling lost people to Himself.  As people come to saving faith in Christ and are reconciled to Christ through His blood, they become members of His church, of which He is the head.  Verse 20 begins with a general statement about reconciliation: “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.”  The false teachers at Colosse were teaching people that they could get closer to God through the worship of angels and by observing certain rules and regulations, but they couldn’t promise total and complete reconciliation.

Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines reconciliation this way: “The restoration of friendship and fellowship after estrangement.  It also means to change thoroughly from one position to another.”  Reconciliation happens when someone or something is completely altered and adjusted so that a relationship of peace can begin with the one with whom estrangement had taken place.  Paul establishes four elements about the reconciliation of Christ in this verse:

  • The Focus is to “reconcile to Himself.”  The focus is always to reconcile to God.  The initiative and action must come from Him.
  • The Scope is “all things.”  Reconciliation involves the whole universe.
  • The Result is “peace.”  Through Jesus, our hostility with God can end.
  • The Means is “through His blood, shed on the cross.”  Salvation is only through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross as our sin payment.

Verse 21 moves from the general to the specific.  Paul reminds us what we were like before we experienced peace with God: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”  

  • We were “alienated.”  One dictionary defines “alienate” as “to estrange; to withdraw; to make indifferent or averse where love or friendship before existed.”  We use the word “alien” to refer to strangers or outsiders.  Apart from the grace of God, all of us are estranged from God.  
  • We were “enemies.”  We were not just alienated; the Bible says that we were actively hostile to God.
  • Our “minds” were at war with God.  Romans 8:7: “The mind of sinful man is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
  • Our behavior was “evil.”  Bad thoughts often lead to bad behavior.  What’s inside will come out.

One early Baptist pastor expressed the biblical doctrine of depravity with great clarity: “Man, by nature, is destitute of all holy principles and desires; there is nothing in his character which is pleasing in the sight of God…all the actions that he performs, even those which are in themselves excellent and lovely, are still the service of an alien and a rebel, and consequently an abomination in the sight of heaven.  Every imagination of the thought of his heart is only evil continually.” 

Paul’s intention is not to dwell on what they were apart from Christ.  Despite these negative traits, God took the initiative in verse 22 and extended grace: “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.”  Notice that it was “Christ’s physical body” that reconciled us.  The false teachers in Colosse denied that Jesus had a real human body.  The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was both God and man.  1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you are healed.”

The purpose behind the pleasure of the Father and the reconciliation of the Son is “to present” saved sinners in heaven for all eternity.  That phrase “present” was used when someone inspected a potential sacrifice to God before offering it to Him.  It’s the same word used in Romans 12:1 when referring to the Christian presenting his body to God as a living sacrifice.  This word was also used when an individual would make a case to a just God.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, He is both sacrifice and justifier so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be declared righteous before a holy judge.

Let’s look at the three results of our reconciliation:

  1. “Holy in His sight.”  We are “set apart” and declared holy by God.  
  2. “Without blemish.”  This word was applied to the Temple sacrifices, which had to be free from any faults or blotches.  When God looks at you, He sees no blemishes!
  3. “Free from accusation.”  This is a legal term, which literally means, “not to be called in.”  No charge of condemnation or sentence of eternal death can ever be brought against believers in the court of divine justice. Romans 8:33-34: “Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Paul’s emphasis on our holy standing before God was a direct attack on the false teachers.  They promised a kind of “perfection” for those who had secret and mystical knowledge.  In essence, Paul is saying, “You already have a perfect standing in Christ, you are holy in His sight, without any blemish, and free from any accusation.  Why seek for it anywhere else?”

I’ll never forget an illustration that my friend Ray Pritchard used many years ago when he was trying to communicate the depth of what Jesus has done for us.  He held up his hand and told us that it represented our position before God.  We are alienated because of our sin.  We are enemies in His sight.  Our minds are at war with Him and our behavior is evil.  Our hand forms a fist that we shake in the face of a holy God.  He then took a white handkerchief out of his pocket and placed it over his fist to represent the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Now, when God looks at us, He sees Jesus.  We have been declared holy, without blemish, and free from any accusation.

Let’s finish by looking at the last part of our passage, verse 23: “If you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel….”  The “if” clause does not mean that a believer can lose his salvation if he fails to “continue in the faith.”  This can be translated, “If indeed you continue in the faith, and I believe that you are doing so.”  This is how the word is used in Colossians 3:1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…”

Paul is using an architectural image when he says, “established and firm, not moved…”  The town of Colosse was located in a region known for earthquakes, and the word translated “moved” can mean “earthquake stricken.”   Just as a house, firmly set on the foundation will not move, so too, if you are truly saved and built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, then you will continue in your faith.  Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:24, 26: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

The Supreme Question of Life

We’ve discovered at least seven characteristics about Christ this morning:

  • He is the image of the invisible God (15)
  • He is the firstborn over all creation (15)
  • He created all things (16)
  • He is the head of the body, the church (18)
  • He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead (18)
  • He has the fullness of God dwelling in Him (19)
  • He is reconciling all things to Himself (20)
Jesus Christ is exclusionary and must remain so

Contrary to what the leaders of that organization in Maryland have said (I can’t even call it a church): Jesus Christ is exclusionary and must remain so!  Because of His supremacy over all things, each of us must face a question this morning.  Is Jesus supreme in your life?  Is He supreme in my life?

I used to encourage people to “make” Jesus Lord in their lives but then I learned that Scripture never speaks of anyone “making” Him Lord, except God Himself in Acts 2:36: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  He is Lord of all.  One pastor hits it on the head when he says, “The biblical mandate for both sinners and saints is not to ‘make’ Christ Lord, but rather to bow to His lordship.  He is ever and always Lord, whether or not anyone acknowledges His lordship or surrenders to His authority.”

On Monday, Paul Harvey, during his noon broadcast, reminded his listeners that Billy Graham’s words were heard all around the world when he spoke at the National Cathedral several weeks ago.  Mr. Harvey then quoted from the Book of Daniel and the Gospel of Mark, stating that the gospel would be preached to the whole world and then the end would come.  He then paused and said this: “To some of you this brings great comfort.  To others of you, if it’s not comforting, you can make it so.”

Friends, it’s time to make it so.  Some of you have never surrendered yourself to Christ by receiving Him into your life for forgiveness of sins.  If you have never done that, you are still alienated, you are an enemy of God, your mind is at war with him, and your behavior is evil.  Bow before Him right now and receive forgiveness of sins and be declared holy, without blemish and free from accusation.

Others of you have already been converted but perhaps you’re living for yourself and not in recognition of the supremacy of Christ.  For some of you, Jesus is prominent in your life, but He is not preeminent.  He has a place in your world, but He does not occupy first place.  Maybe you’ve mistakenly thought you could just “add” Him to your life without bowing before His all-encompassing authority.  It’s time to surrender completely to Him.  Maybe baptism is the next step for you.

Philippians 2:10-11 provides a fitting close to our time this morning: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Sooner or later, everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Let’s make it sooner.  Let’s make it so right now.

  • If you are ready to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, as your Forgiver and Leader, would you please stand?
  • If you are already a believer and you want to rededicate your life to him, would you please stand?

Let’s all stand together to symbolize our submission to the supremacy of Jesus and repeat this together:  Jesus Christ is Lord!  He’s Lord of Creation.  He’s Lord of His Church and He’s Lord of me! 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?