Colossians 1:15–20 (ESV):
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.
In the Old Testament, a key truth was that no one could see God and live. At Mt. Sinai where God’s presence came near, the Israelites were warned not even to touch the mountain or they would die. Moses, who enjoyed God’s presence more closely than any other Old Testament hero, was only allowed to see God’s glory fading, after God passed him by. And then, Moses was so affected that his face literally shone from being in the presence of God.
Along with this key truth was the principle and command that no images should be made to picture God. The Israelites came under severe discipline for worshipping the two golden calves, which Aaron presented as the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, Aaron tried to keep the Israelites from totally abandoning Yahweh during Moses’ absence by proclaiming physical objects as the image of God. God was not amused.
One of the amazing, even startling, realizations about who Jesus, the Son of God, is that he is the image of invisible God (Ephesians 4:15)! For the Jews, no doubt this concept may have been troubling in that for centuries they had been taught not to make an image of God, and that they could not see God and survive. These objections, of course, would be in addition to other objections such as who Jesus’ father was, where Jesus came from and more. An objection that must still be handled even today is the question of how Jesus can be fully God and fully man.
Accepting this wonderful truth and reality, however, results in a religion like no other. When we realize that God came to humanity by taking on flesh, it astounds us. We are astounded by the lengths to which God would go to demonstrate his love to us, and we are amazed that God could take on so much of humanity without tarnishing his holiness.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
All that God is, Jesus is. Jesus is not a lesser form of God. Even though he is the Son of God, he is not inferior to the Father. Yes, we believe in a Trinitarian view of God – that God is Three in One – three Persons in one Godhead. Yet we must also be careful not to compartmentalize our understanding of God such that the activity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are somehow separated in our minds. In Genesis 1:26 (ESV), we read
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
All members of the Trinity were active in the creation of the world. Pre-incarnate Christ created our universe! Isn’t it mind-boggling that the Creator of the world would be born a human baby and placed into a cattle trough? During his ministry on earth, Christ Jesus sought to glorify the Father, but he freely acknowledged that the Father would glorify him. In our text, Paul emphasized the preeminence of Christ to combat those who were teaching rules and regulations and their mysterious knowledge as essential to salvation. Jesus is God; we can rest assured in this assertion, for it is fact.
Paul’s assertion that Christ created the world makes sense, when we remember the Trinitarian implications of Genesis 1:26. But the following truth of Colossians 1:17 is still startling.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
First, we must emphasize that Christ is eternal – he has no beginning and no end. He did not begin to exist when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. Second, and more startling is the concept that if Christ did not exist, this world would fall apart at the seams. If Christ did not actively assert power to keep this world intact, our universe would spiral into chaos. Thus, the creative power of God, and especially of the Son, is seen not only in the moment of Creation, but also the maintenance of the world.
Genesis 1:1–2 (ESV): 1 In the beginning, … 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.
Paul’s words in Colossians 1:17 suggests that without Christ’s ongoing creative powers, the world would return to that chaos.
Returning to verse 16, Paul wrote: all things were created through him and for him. The purpose of Creation is found in Christ – in pleasing Christ, in fulfilling Christ’s purpose, in glorifying Christ.
This thought is explained more in verse 18:
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.
The church is that great assembly of called out people, called to be holy in the midst of an unholy world, called to share the good news to a world full of desperation. But this verse contains an important reminder: the purpose of the church is NOT the church; the church of the church is to glorify Christ and fulfill his purposes. Jesus is the head of the church, not any person, local church, or group of local churches. While we should be part of a local church, which may be part of an association of churches, our loyalty should always be to Christ. We look to Him for our direction for life and ministry. We find satisfaction in accomplishing His objectives. We glorify Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.
To do this is only right and logical,
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
Jesus is fully God and fully human. Jesus is not some lesser God than the Father. Rather, in Jesus the Father is fully manifested. This does not mean that Jesus and the Father are the same; Jesus is not the Father. But Jesus is fully God. Our Trinitarian concept of God is not fully explainable to the human mind, but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different Persons, yet one God.
The important application for Paul’s thought here is that Jesus is fully God; therefore, He is worthy of our praise and obedience. In the Old Testament, we read of King Saul and his son Jonathan who both commanded armies for Israel. But Saul was king. And while Jonathan’s solo charge up the cliff against the Philistines was the right thing to do and necessary to break the awful stalemate and malaise of the war, Jonathan’s subservient role was displayed later as he came under judgment for disobeying the king’s orders (even though those orders were foolish). In contrast, the Christian does not need to worry that by following Christ’s example, he will be led away from the Father’s will. Jesus assured his disciples, John 10:30 (ESV): “I and the Father are one.”
Even more specifically, Paul asserted Jesus is fully God in order to explain Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
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.
As has often been pictured in methods of sharing the Good News, Jesus is our bridge to God. Our sin created a chasm over which we could not cross to the Father, but by Jesus’ incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection, there is a Way – the only Way – back to God.
We stated this earlier, and the point is plainly obvious from the text, but the point of our passage is that Christ must be, should be, and would be preeminent in our lives and church. Anything that would usurp Jesus’ authority or our attention from serving Him and giving Him glory is an imposter.
This is a potent warning in our celebrity culture today. So often, we go to church or serve or worship because of the pastor, a worship leader, a comfortable setting or something else. How ridiculous is this! Any honor and glory we might receive in service to King Jesus comes only because of the grace of God! How dare we usurp his praise and authority?!
In the past few years, a shocking number of high-profile – and even lesser known – leaders in various churches have fallen from grace, have been exposed for hypocrisy and more. Can we connect these tumbles from grace to an unhealthy, even idolatrous, preoccupation of people – and God’s refusal to allow man to have the preeminence over Christ’s Church?
Whether this conclusion is warranted or not, it is wisdom – and only right – that we acknowledge Christ is Lord of His Church, as well as the rightful Ruler of the Universe. We must resist the worldly way of exalting people, denominations (or even organizational affiliations), local churches, … or anything in competition to Christ.
He only is Lord!
How do we keep Christ preeminent in our church and our lives?
- We worship only to glorify Christ, not to celebrate others, be with friends, make connections, etc.
- We seek God’s direction for our lives and our church’s ministry, rather than merely making decisions on what we think is best.
- We recognize Christ’s creative and sustaining power and seek to fulfill our role in His purposes as the Body of Christ, the Church of God.
Heavenly Father, may I make Christ preeminent in my day, my family, my worship, and my Christ. May I follow His leading and serve as a visible extension of Christ in my world. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.