Colossians 1:15–28 (NRSV)
The Supremacy of Christ
(Cp Jn 1:1–5)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
Paul’s Interest in the Colossians
24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
The first century of the church was one that was filled with much diversity. At the time Paul wrote this letter there was several groups in the community that practiced different things. Looking at the cultural demographic of Colossi includes Jewish, Greek, Roman, and even remnants of the Persians. If you can imagine this cultural diversity had interesting flavor. This cultural diversity also put pressure upon the community of believers.
When people study the letter that Paul wrote to this community they sense several issues. One being similar to the church of Galatia where there were people within promoting the Gentile adherence to the Jewish laws. Another is very similar to the first with its roots in Jewish spirituality with a twist of angel worship. Then along with this there was the ideas of secret knowledge, and philosophy. They ranged from the very legalistic, to the charismatic including those focused on social justice and those more concerned with socializing. When I said last week that there is nothing new under the sun, I mean that in a very real sense of the word. Pretty much ever struggle we have within the church today has been a struggle throughout the centuries in some degree or another.
So Paul is sitting there in prison at Ephesus, receiving notes and updates from disciples who are going out into the communities surrounding the area and he receives the news about what is occurring in this city one hundred miles to the east. His cherished friend who has been working so hard teaching and encouraging these people finds himself caught under the pressure of multiple ideas weaving themselves into the gospel and he does not quite know what to think or do. We are not sure of the cultural heritage of this man but we do know that he loves Jesus and sought advice from a trusted friend.
That is something I do want us to remember. We are not alone in our struggles, and God does not intend for us to bear the burden of a community without assistance. This is something that is fundamental in the Christian faith, but one that we easily overlook. We are called to be a community, the very term we translate as Church means assembly. An assembly implies that there are multiple individuals present. Individuals with unique ideas and gifts that when brought together can make a beautiful collage of personality.
All these different people from various backgrounds. Some educators from Jewish tradition, some dyers of purple wool works, some shepherds, philosophers, and tradesmen. Men, women, slaves and freemen all gathered together celebrating life in Christ; singing and praising God all together. Have we ever really stopped to think about what a beautiful sight the church really is? Have we taken the time to actually appreciate the miraculous wonder that has brought all of us together not to mention the expansive kingdom of God that spreads around the world?
This diverse community is beautiful but it is also a struggle. When people come together very few of them have similar life stories, even close relatives have different experiences that have made them who they are. And when these various people come together with radically differing perspectives it becomes difficult to maintain unity. As much as we appreciate the uniqueness of individuals, as much as we respect and love the different stories that others bring into a community we also really like those around us to be as similar as possible. We are more comfortable around people who speak the same language, who enjoy similar activities, or have similar careers. We may tolerate differences but we would prefer that the majority around us we as much like ourselves as possible.
This is why Paul wrote this letter. His dear friend went to Colossae, to share the gospel. He may have been from this city or he might have just considered it to be a good place to move, we do not know how he got to where he is, but we do know that he encouraged those around him to take a journey with Christ. As he taught and listened people began to respond and eventually this man was ministering to an assembly of people. And as they grew in number and bore fruit tensions began to rise as well. And this pastor along with other leaders are becoming discouraged. Instead of one unified church factions are emerging. But there is one thing that brings them together, JESUS.
Today’s scriptural text includes what most believe to be a first century hymn. Something that all the various groups used and recognized. That is something amazing about music, it can cross those barriers we place between people. Believers from all the various traditions of faith will often sing similar songs. Even a poem composed by an American Quaker poet has become one of the most popular hymns of the United Kingdom. What is the hymn Paul includes?
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
Consider the words of this passage. As you read and listen you can sense a meter emerging. Paul speaks to them through a song to get their attention. There are factions among the people and Paul brings them together by reflecting of the testimony they speak as they sing. The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Imagine again this diverse group of people: Jews, Greeks, Romans, Persians maybe even a Galatian through in for good measure, all singing this hymn together. The image of the invisible God, those who come from a Jewish heritage approach these words with a perspective cast in the light of centuries of Jewish tradition. The Greek, someone who did not have the privilege of those centuries of tradition hear these words differently yet with just the same awesome grace.
The image of the invisible God. This is a powerful statement and a statement that Paul wants us to reflect upon. This faith which we claim, whatever the tradition is based on one thing, the one of which this song is sung. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is the one who embodies and lives the light of wisdom and hope offered through faith. Jesus himself confirms the truth of this statement when he spoke to his disciples saying, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” What Paul is telling them is we can know God and be known by God, he is not a statue in a temple and he is not a fearsome force read to devour those who are unclean but God is Jesus the one who walked with us and taught us how to live a life with God.
The song goes on to say that in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created through and for him. All things visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers or powers all of it created through and for Him. This should cause us to adjust our perspectives just a bit. Jesus the embodiment of God, for and through all things were created, created all thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers invisible and visible, for him. I want us to just consider that for a moment. There are reasons those who are in power are currently there and reasons why others are not. How often do we stop and consider this and how often have we pray for insight into why those in power are there for Jesus’ will?
If we were to continue to read through this hymn it tells us that Jesus came to bring peace and reconcile us and all of creation with us to God. Not because we were good enough for that honor but because we were not at all fit. We were hostile to God yet he came to bring peace to those who entrust their lives to him.
The song is encouraging us to stay focused on the proper things. This community and life is not about our own personal agendas, it is not about power or dominion, and it is about Jesus and bringing about reconciliation with all of creation. It is about the community who calls itself by the name of Christ living with and in Christ as they live among those in the world. It is about Loving God embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. The song and faith in general is about bringing those diverse lives and backgrounds under God’s banner and being able to use those stories to encourage those around us to turn to Christ who is the embodiment of all that is holy.
I approached this passage this week with a heavy heart because the very land to which this letter was written is again engaged in a struggle between factions. I approach this passage with a heavy heart because even our own nation seems to be engaged in a similar struggle. So often we as people let things divide us, God wants those very things to unite and strengthen us. Are we as a community of believers focused on the ways of Christ or are we allowing the things of this world to direct our actions? Are we as followers of Christ repenting and returning to God through Christ, and using that grace we have received to spread the hope of the Gospel? Paul encourages these people of Colossae to return their focus on Christ, and to live Jesus’ lifestyle in their community. He is encouraging them to allow God to redeem their diversity and use it for the glory of God. I pray that that too will be our will and our desire.