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Teaching

The Preeminent Christ (Colossians 1)

Colossians 1 (ESV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

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.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now 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 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

 

With Leonard gone for 4-weeks straight I decided to take on an ambitious project and preach through Colossians.

We’ll be covering a single chapter per week, which is a pretty quick pace given how much truth is packed into this short letter.

Nevertheless, these letters were meant to be read at once so there is some benefit to taking the entire letter and dividing it into four chunks over the next few weeks.

We won’t examine every tree but I hope to give you an understanding of the forest.

Colossians bears many resemblances to Ephesians but appears to be aimed at a particular problem at the Church at Colosse.

We have to read between the lines but it appears that there may be an early form of a Christian heresy there that may have seen the Creator as distant, the world as evil, and the need for lower powers to create things.

There are types of religious thinking and philosophy, to include a form of denying the body through what we eat and drink, that Paul is battling.

Paul accomplishes this by showing forth the excellencies of Christ and our possession of Him.

We don’t need to know all the specifics of what they were struggling with but Colossians contains many important truths that, understood correctly, will build us up and equip us for the work of ministry.

Paul opens the letter by noting that he is an apostle by the power of Christ.

We ought to come to attention at this point because, as an apostle, He speaks for Christ and all who refuse to listen to the apostolic witness refuse to hear the Word of Christ.

He addresses the letter to the saints – the holy ones, the set-apart ones at Colosse and he pronounces his common phrase:  grace and peace.

Two simple nouns that are used as greetings that communicate the grace of salvation that we have in Jesus Christ, which is the ground of our peace with God.

Verse 3-8 show that the Apostle Paul not only knows about the Christians at Colosse but daily prays and gives thanks for them.

Why does he give thinks?  Because of the inheritance that his laid up for them.

They have believed the truth of God, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so they have an inheritance in God.

I’ve been pretty down in the dumps lately, off and on, because of the way that Christians treat each other on social media.

I think if James were to write his epistle today he would tell us that not only the tongue but the keyboard can burn things to the ground.

Paul, here, models the kind of love that Christ has in His heart for His own.

Before Paul begins to correct them, he reminds them of their common inheritance in Christ.

They have hope for the future resurrection, they possess Christ Himself, and so whatever Paul tells them is only with an aim to help his fellow heirs.

Paul expresses confidence that the Gospel which came to them and had spread throughout the known world at his time was bearing fruit.

He doesn’t put his confidence in programs or ministries, these are fruits.

He puts his confidence and hope in the fact that the Gospel, as it goes out, bears fruit in the hearts and lives of hearers.

It is the power of God for salvation.

He takes time to commend to them their own Pastor, Epaphras.

It was from Epaphras that they heard the Gospel.

They hadn’t gotten it from The Gospel Coalition or from a podcast or from needing to hear the Gospel in some particularly novel or creative manner from Paul or some other great teacher.

Paul commends to them the man who is ministering the Gospel to them.

This labor of love – of ministry.

Week in and week out, presenting the very Word of God to the people so that they may be brought from death to life and then built up in the faith.

Paul hears of the fruit of that ministry.

I truly believe that some of the tears that we’ll need to wipe away from our eyes will be how much we undervalued our local ministers.

I think it will be mostly the small ministers that nobody ever read about – that didn’t have a great following – we’ll see the profound effect that they, in particular, had in bringing this great throng to the foot of Christ to worship Him.

We’ll see clearly, then, how often we thought it a small thing to miss worship on a given Sunday when something seemingly as insignificant as a man opening the Word of God was at hand.

Paul doesn’t call preaching foolishness in the eyes of the world for no reason but it is the power of God for salvation.

As we miss Leonard these coming weeks, let us be reminded of the treasure he has deposited in the hearing of this congregation for almost 10 years now with only now a short sabattical.

 

In verses 9-14, Paul tells the saints that he never ceases praying that they will be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding so that they might walk in the way of the Lord and bear much fruit.

I really think this is what the modern Church most desperately needs is spiritual wisdom and understanding so they know the way to walk and, in so walking, bear fruit.

We must know the things of God in order to know how to walk in them.

It is only in walking in the way that God has commanded, and putting our trust in Him, that we actually bear fruit.

The knowledge that Paul speaks about here is not some sort of knowledge that the Christian goes seeking after as some sort of mystical pursuit.

No, the knowledge and wisdom of God is a revealed one.  It is the truth that we have been set free from darkness and a redeemed people who have eternal life in the Son.

I’ve discovered that the hardest thing to get Christians to understand is that they have to stop thinking as if they are free thinkers and reckon with the slavery to sin, yes even their minds, that is their condition apart from Christ.

We’re not only hard-wired as rebels to think that we can see and think the way things are in ourselves but there are sects of Christianity that make the Gospel a matter of us using our willpower to make good or bad decisions.

When Paul speaks of our share of the saints in light, what he’s getting at is something that was given to those who had no right to that inheritance.

Even as the land was divided us among the tribes, we have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of light, the Kingdom of Christ.

It was not because we were natural heirs.

We were born in darkness, in sin, and in rebellion to God.

Our inheritance, naturally, was eternal death and enmity against God.

The glory of the Gospel, the true knowledge and wisdom that Paul prays for, is that we would get into our bloodstream that what separates us from those in the world outside of Christ is not geography.

We walk and work in the same places as the unbeliever.

Yet, we walk as those redeemed.  We are in the realm of those who have been set free from slavery to sin because Christ died to free us from the bondage of sin and death.

Walking in the light is a manner of knowing that we are Christ’s and so we know, by His Spirit, that we have the power to overcome sin and temptation.

We have already been qualified to be in the light not by our good behavior or because of anything in us but because God has qualified us and given us faith to reach out to the Son as He says:  Your life for mine.

The rest of the world, apart from Christ, walks in bondage to sin and death but we no longer live or think in those terms.  Our minds have been renewed and are being renewed and, as we obey in that light, we will bear much fruit.

Lest we think that this is just a matter of how hard we believe, Paul utters profound truths about the nature of our Savior:

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.

This Jesus, the Son of God, is God Himself.

All things in heaven and earth were created through him and for him.

He is before all rulers and authorities on heaven and earth that could enslave our thinking or our conduct.

He is before all things and everything in the universe is held together by Him.

In other words, lest we think it a small thing that Christ is for us, this very Christ is the reason for everything.

If He is for you then no matter how small you believe your faith is, it is enough that you lay hold of Him because it is not your excellence but His that can be relied upon.

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.

Christ is our head.

He is the firstborn from the dead meaning that, because we are in Him, we know that where He went, we also have gone.

Wherever the head goes, so does the body.

Paul, in Romans 6, reminds us that even as Christ died and rose, so do we all who are in Him.

Even as Christ reigns, so will we.

The Son of God took on flesh for the very purpose that He might bring us into loving union with Him and, in Him, with the Father and the Spirit.

He has made peace with God for us at the cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Paul reminds us again that we wer dead apart from Christ.

This same Christ Who is Lord of heaven and earth.

It is His very purpose, His delight, to redeem us from our sinful condition to present us blameless.

Again, do you believe that you were once slaves in this world and do you believe that Christ has set you free from this bondage?

Paul is not saying we are no longer tempted but do you understand that sin, for the Christian, is not inevitable?

How often do you meditate that Christ’s purpose for you is to present you holy and blameless.

Yes, temptation remains, but you are in Christ.

Do you continue steadfast in that knowledge realizing that you are in desparate need of Him and the ministry of His Word and the fellowship of His Body.

You have been brought out of the world into a local Body where Christ ministers to you by His Word.

This is how Chapter One concludes as Paul, in verses 24-29 writes about the endless toil of the ministry of this Word.

I really think some might walk away thinking that this sermon teaches them to just consider how excellent Christ is and then take that knowledge away into the privacy of their thought and prayer life.

Yet Paul makes that an impossible conclusion.

His confidence is in Christ but he then talks about how inevitable and important it is to be a minister of the Word of God to the saints.

The knowledge of Christ does not impel him to inner contemplation but to the labor – the the very walking – that is necessary for fruit.

It drives him to service of the Church and the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul is willing to suffer and suffer mightily for the purpose that the knowledge and wisdom of the death and resurrection of Christ might be known.

Paul labors that that we would know the mystery of God.

Not some far away knowledge hidden on a mountain but a public truth revealed on the cross of Jesus Christ.

That we Gentiles – that all people – may approach God through Christ.

This Christ, who was hated by the world, was put to death at the hands of sinful men who expressed their hatred of the holy God by putting Him to death on a Cross.

Christ died on a Cross and can be harmed physically no more.  He is out of the reach of the world.

But His people are left here as His Body, as His witnesses.

And they suffer.

There is suffering in the ministry of Christ until Christ comes again because, if the world cannot hurt Christ directly, it will hurl insults and inflict wounds upon His people.

It is the way of suffering that is the path to fruit because the knowledge and wisdom of Christ leads us to walk in the way of Christ, and in so doing, we will be hated by the world.

Remember what Paul wrote that he prays that the knowledge and wisdom of Christ would cause us to walk in that knowledge and, in walking, bear fruit.

Abiding in Christ does not mean that we merely contemplate Christ and remove ourselves from activities where it will take us into suffering.

It’s the scary thing but the glorious thing about being a Christian that we are called to suffer and, in so doing, identify with Christ so that others might come to the knowledge and wisdom of the Savior.

Matthew 5:11-12

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Do you believe this?

Can we, like the believers in Acts, rejoice over being flogged and reviled for Christ’s sake, rejoice that this is our lot in life?

The pleasures and the approval of this world are fleeting.

If we have been given eyes to see then we realize that we were once enslaved to think like the world and it gave us all the pleasures our hearts desired.

The approval of others.

Esteem.

Riches.

Leisure.

Being who we were born to be – at least who we decided we wanted to be.

And yet, after chasing these treasures, we found them empty.

Our very goals and aims – our trust in ourselves – our desire for the approval of the world – was suddenly seen for what it was.

A prison.

We were enslaved to sin and could only love our own way but we were far from God.

Worse, we saw that we were His enemy and had no hope to reach Him.

But then we looked up at the Cross and saw the Son of God hanging between heaven and earth touching us in His humanity and God in His divinity.

Could it be true that He has borne all our selfishness and self-serving in His flesh?

Throw your heavy load off and trust in Christ!

What is the reproach of the world compared to the riches we have in Christ.

The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of the Lord is everlasting.

You have your full inheritance in Christ.

Invest in it.

You are no longer slaves and so fix your mind on Christ.

Let Him lead you, in His strength, into the way of suffering.

Serve your brothers and sisters here.

Enter into their sorrows and weep with them.

Serve your neighbors.

Be a witness of the reconciliation of Christ to the world and be willing to cast off your love of the world for the reproach that the Cross will bring you.

This is Christ’s very desire and purpose for your reconciliation.

May the knowledge and wisdom of Christ impel you to walk in the way of suffering with Him that you would bear much fruit.

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