Our oldest son had a T-shirt that read, “There are two things you can be sure of: 1) There is a God. 2) You are not him.” The Colossians needed an 18-wheeler full of those T-shirts. After Epaphras had planted the church in Colossae (1:7) the church experienced a heresy that threatened to undo the good work of the gospel. False teachers were bent on a “Jesus plus” or “Jesus minus” faith. We may not know all the nuances of the heresy at Colossae, but we do know the remedy. That remedy is Jesus, with nothing added or deleted.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more Christ-centered epistle than Colossians. Paul wrote it while serving time in Roman house arrest in AD 62 (Acts 28:30, 31). Similar to how Paul wrote the twin prison epistle of Ephesians, the sentences were long and involved. Once he mentioned the supremacy of Jesus, he seemed to have difficulty knowing where to put the period. Verses 9-20 of our text is one sentence in the original language.
Paul Is Prayerful
In rather typical Pauline fashion the epistle begins with thanksgiving and prayer. He thanked God for their triad of virtues (faith, hope, and love). He acknowledged that they had borne fruit from the gospel as had other churches throughout the world. Because they had experienced some success in gospel productivity, Paul prayed for their ongoing growth and maturity all the more.
Paul prayed continually (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17) that the Colossians would be filled with the spiritual knowledge that only the Holy Spirit could give. Paul prayed that the Colossians would have an informed faith. Three words that highlight cognition were used; knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. But this knowledge was not intended to give anyone a big head. It was intended so that the believers would live a life worthy (walk worthily) of the Lord. Spiritual knowledge has to serve a purpose. Otherwise, it turns to the worst kind of pride (1 Corinthians 8:1).
When head connects with feet good things happen. Believers bear fruit, grow in additional knowledge, and are strengthened (literally “powered in all power”) for endurance, longsuffering, and the giving of thanks to God. And speaking of God, Paul asserted two things about God in his prayer. First, God qualified (made sufficient or authorized) the believers. Second, he rescued them from the “authority of darkness” to the “loving reign” of Jesus. God used Jesus to “redeem” them, and key in that redemption is the forgiveness of sins.
But Christ Is Preeminent
Without pausing for breath, Paul wrote one of the loftiest paragraphs in the New Testament about Jesus in these verses. To ensure that no one had a less-than-stellar view of Jesus, Paul marked out the preeminence of Jesus in four ways. First, Jesus is preeminent in creation (vv. 15-17). Jesus is the image of God and the firstborn of creation. He is not created. Jesus is the image of the invisible God in that he makes the invisible God visible. Jesus is the firstborn (first place) of creation because he was there in the beginning (John 1:1-5). His preeminence extends to Heaven and earth, to the seen and the unseen, and to the spiritual and the physical. He holds it all together because he is Creator.
Second, Jesus is preeminent over the church (v. 18). He is the head (the fountain from which everything flows and the authority) of the church. He is the founder of the church (Hebrews 12:2) and the first member of the church because he conquered death (the meaning of firstborn). This gives him supremacy (first place).
Third, Jesus is preeminent by virtue of the cross (vv. 19, 20). God’s fullness (Colossians 2:9) dwelt in him so that his reconciling death on Calvary was effectual. His death ensured that the universe was reunited with its Creator. This was most evident in people experiencing peace with God by the blood of Jesus. Paul was intentional to use the red button words and phrases of the heretics (knowledge, qualified, redemption, image, fullness, blood, and physical body) so there could be no misunderstanding of Jesus’ supremacy.
Fourth, Jesus is preeminent for his creatures (vv. 21-23). Those alienated and those enemies due to evil behavior became the very ones that were reconciled to God through Christ. Now they stand before God in holiness. All the Lord asked of them is that they continue (remain under) in their faith and not be disheveled by the false teachers.
Some of the things we admire in God we despise in people. If we claim to be something great, we are proud. If God claims to be preeminent, well, he can, because he is.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, ©2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.