“Focused Solely on Christ”
Lesson Text: Colossians 1:12-23
Background Scripture: Colossians 1
Devotional Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
Colossians 1:12-23 (KJV)
12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.
To summarize Christ's relationship to the church.
To know that reconciliation to the Father is possible only through faith in the Son.
To emphasize that our daily walk should reflect an awareness of Christ’s presence and power.
Accept No Substitutes!
Are you a loyal customer of a particular product brand? Many people are. We have learned that our favorite brand delivers a level of quality or value that we cannot match in another product. When we have tried others, we have been disappointed. So we are loyal to our favorite brand.
Businesses know how we become loyal to a brand, so they try to play on that fact in their advertising. Extolling a product's virtues, they tell us to avoid inferior competitors. Common catchphrases are “Accept no substitutes!” and “Beware of imitations!” Such sloganeering can be so much hot air, so much “puffing.” But certainly some things are superior to others. If we want the very best, we will accept no substitutes.
Such is the message of Paul's letter to the Colossian church. Having come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Colossian Christians were later attracted to other, competing religious views (Colossians 2:20, 21; etc.). So Paul addressed them with a straightforward message: Jesus Christ is superior to all others, so it would be foolish to put faith in anything besides Him. Accept no substitutes!
Time: A.D. 60
Place: from Rome
As noted in previous lessons, Colossians is one of four New Testament letters that the apostle Paul wrote during his imprisonment in Rome, about A.D. 60. The letter was written to the church in Colosse, a city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The city was about 100 miles from the western coast of that land mass. Paul himself did not visit the city on his missionary journeys (Colossians 1:9; 2:1). The gospel was carried there by Paul's associates (1:7).
Paul apparently learned that the faith of the Colossian Christians was being challenged by other belief systems. We can infer from the contents of the Colossian letter that something or some things that brought together various pagan ideas and Jewish practices were attracting believers (Colossians 2:4, 8, 20, 21, etc.). Paul's approach to this problem was unequivocal, as we shall see across our next four lessons.
Paul Writes to the Colossians (Colossians 1:1-14)
1. Why was it necessary for Paul to write to the Colossian Christians (Colossians 1:1-14)?
The apostle Paul began this letter with thanksgiving for what the Father had done in raising up the church at Colossae (Colossians 1:3-8). Paul reminded the believers in the city about their priceless spiritual heritage. Then he penned a magnificent prayer for them (vs. 9-14). He concluded his prayer with thanksgiving for the Father’s deliverance of believers from the power of darkness, as well as for redeeming and forgiving them in the Son. This majestic spiritual reality led the apostle to comment on the supremacy of the Messiah over all creation (vs. 15-28).
Paul’s teaching about the person and work of the Son was needed at Colossae because the church was plagued by religious frauds. They tried to convince believers to reverence a unit of inferior created beings and angelic mediators, rather than the Savior (see Col. 2:8, 18). The apostle reminded his readers that the Son is the full and final revelation of the Father and that all human ideas must be brought into subjection to the Son. In brief, the only adequate response to heretical teaching is a correct understanding of, and commitment to, Jesus as the Supreme Creator and Redeemer (see Eph.1:20·23; Phil. 2:6-11).
These heretical teachings sound very contemporary. Yet they are the very issues Paul dealt with in his magnificent Epistle to the Colossians. We need this important letter today just as they needed it back in A.D. 60 when Paul wrote it.
Jesus, the Sovereign (Colossians 1:15-17)
2. How did Paul declare Christ’s supremacy over “all things” (Colossians 1:15-17)?
To grasp the significance of our redemption, we need to realize not just what we are redeemed from and redeemed to, but who did the redeeming. Our Redeemer is no less than the world's eternal Ruler. That idea is suggested first in His description as the image of the invisible God (compare 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3).
To this description Paul adds the term firstborn. In some contexts, the Greek adjective rendered “firstborn” denoted what was first in order of time. By way of example, in Paul’s day the term was used to refer to a firstborn child. In other contexts, the term referred to someone who was preeminent in rank. For instance, when Isaiah spoke about “the firstborn of the poor” (lsa. 14:30), he used a Hebrew noun that literally means “firstborn.” The second usage best fits the context of Colossians 1:15, in which Paul emphasized the priority of the Son’s rank over creation. So, when the apostle referred to the Jesus as “the firstborn over all creation,” he did not mean that the Son was the first creature the Father brought into being, but rather that the Son reigns supreme over all that exists.
Moreover, Christ is sovereign over creation because He created all things (v. 16). Everything owes its existence to Christ and ultimately exists for His glory. He created all, and so He rules over all (John 1:3).
Paul uses a series of expressions to stress that nothing is excluded from Christ's sovereignty. Genesis 1:1 uses the expression “the heavens and the earth” to refer to all creation, and so here Paul refers to things that are in heaven, and that are in earth to signify all creation. That includes both the physical world—things visible—and the world of the spirit—things invisible.
The apostle stressed the Son’s preeminence over the angelic realm. As noted earlier, within the Colossian heresy was the worship of angels. By listing the perceived hierarchy of angels (“thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers,” Col. 1:16), Paul attacked the systematic division of the angelic realm. Since the apostle referred to the visible as well as the invisible, this hierarchy probably includes human institutions. Paul exposed as foolish any homage to human or angelic authority because, in fact, Jesus is Lord over them all.
The issue of power is not confined to the invisible world of the spirit. Demonic spiritual forces are the inspiration behind the visibly evil actions among people in the world (compare John 13:27). But because Christ is supreme over all, His power is sufficient to enable His people to overcome evil (compare Romans 12:21).
What Do You Think?
What difficulties from various “powers” have you been facing recently? How does the strength of Christ help you face these?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Media influences on your family | Secular influences on your personal priorities
Requirements enacted by governmental authorities | Pressures at work to compromise principles | Other
3. What does Paul mean “by him all things consist” (v. 17)?
Paul piles on terms to stress Christ's supreme rule. As the eternal, creator God, He exists prior to all creation (John 1:1; 8:58). But He did not merely create the world; He also sustains its existence. The word consist indicates “ongoing existence.” Things do not just exist on their own, Paul says. They owe their continuing existence to Jesus. If He were to abandon it, utter chaos would result and the world would simply stop existing.
Christ the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18)
4. In what way is Christ related to the church (v. 18)?
Jesus has a distinct relationship with His people. As their Creator, their Redeemer, and the perfect exemplar of who they are to be, Christ is unified with His people and rules over them. So He is to them as the head is to the body (compare Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:15; 5:23).
His body is the church, and we should think about the use of the word church in Paul's time in order to understand it here. The word translated church is used among first-century Jews to refer to the assembly of God's people. Because Christ fulfills God's redemptive plan, makes the invisible God visible, and creates and rules as only God can do, Christ's people indeed are God's assembled people. There can be no higher status for a sinful human than to be welcomed into this assembly.
Christ is also the “beginning” in multiple ways (Col. 1:18b): existing before all creation, calling creation into existence, fulfilling the divine purpose for humanity. This sums up much of what Paul has stressed in the entire passage. For Christ's people, nothing is more vital than the fact that He is the beginning of their new life. As a Pharisee, Paul believed that God would one day raise His people from the dead so that He could bestow on them all His promised blessings (Acts 23:6-8). As an apostle, Paul now believes that God is fulfilling that promise in Jesus in a way that people did not expect. God raised Jesus first, and Jesus imparts to His people the resurrection life.
We experience that resurrection life as Christ empowers us to overcome sin and live faithfully (Romans 6:1-14). And we look forward confidently to the coming day when Christ will raise the dead to be together with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Thus Christ is firstborn from the dead, both the first one raised—never to die again—and the ruler over all whom He will raise.
What Do You Think?
What ideas have you heard that contradict what Paul says about Jesus? How do you counter these?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding Jesus' preexistence | Regarding Jesus' authority | Regarding Jesus' resurrection
Jesus the Peacemaker (Colossians 1:19-20)
5. What “fullness” purpose does the Father share with the Son (v. 19)?
We naturally struggle to understand the concept of God that Paul presents in this passage. The Father and the Son are not rival deities, like the many fictitious pagan gods. The true God is one God, but existing as Father, Son, and Spirit. They share perfect love and unity of purpose. So God the Father's will is fulfilled in what God the Son has done, especially as the Son reveals the Father and accomplishes His plan to save and rule.
God is pleased that in Christ we find God's fullness, the “utter whole” of God's being. This may be what some in the Colossian church think they can find outside Christianity. Perhaps they believe that they can approach God's presence by looking elsewhere. But in Christ we find everything that God is (John 14:9). To look elsewhere is not to seek more of God but to turn away from God.
6. How does reconciliation between the Father and His spiritual children occur (v. 20)?
Human rebellion marred God's creation, making the world a painful place for our existence (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 8:20-23). The divine Christ fulfills God's eternal purpose by restoring the entire creation to harmony and submission to His authority (Ephesians 1:10).
Amazingly, Christ accomplishes this universal reconciliation by suffering death through the blood of his cross (compare Ephesians 1:7). Death is the ultimate curse pronounced on human rebellion against God, but the Son of God takes our curse on himself! It was no ordinary death that Christ died, but death by crucifixion. This is the means by which a pagan empire demonstrates its ruthless, seemingly absolute power. But Christ defeated the power of death by willingly becoming its victim. No other being, no other power could so fully change our existence than has He.
7. What caused our alienation from God (vs. 21-23)?
Christ's work is to reconcile all of creation, but the focus and center of that work is people. We are the ones who caused the alienation to begin with; it was our rebellion against God that brought the curse on us and on creation. As rebels we were God's enemies, driven away from fellowship with Him (see Genesis 3:23, 24). We were caught in a vicious cycle: our minds giving rise to rebellious acts (wicked works), and our actions feeding our rebellious minds (Ephesians 4:17-19).
But Christ's work changes us: it first restores our relationship to God, then it transforms our minds and actions from rebellion to submission.
It was Christ's death that allowed what was unholy to be made holy (unblameable and unreproveable; Colossians 1:22, compare Ephesians 5:27). We had rejected God and wanted nothing to do with Him, making us anything but His set-apart people. But now through Christ we are reconciled to God; we belong to God again as His set-apart ones.
Still, there is a condition attached to our reconciliation: what we receive in Christ, we must agree to receive (Colossians 1:23). And we must cling to it (Hebrew 3:14). Our trust in Christ needs to be like a building on a firm foundation, solid and immovable. With everything that is available in Christ, what reason can we possibly have for abandoning our trust in Him? He has given us a confident expectation of the future, a real hope, when otherwise we would have nothing but fearful dread.
What Do You Think?
How do the example of Jesus and the strength of the Holy Spirit help you “continue in the faith”?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
For continuing in thought | For continuing in action
That hope came to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though once God revealed himself to a single nation, Israel, now He makes himself known to everyone, without borders, through this good news. Paul can speak of the gospel being preached to every creature even though it has gone only to a portion of the world in his lifetime. In God's plan, the gospel is moving forward without limitations.
God's plan is to redeem all the nations (Genesis 22:18), and this plan is fulfilled in Christ. So the preaching of Paul and others advances the progress of fulfilling that promise, the beginning of God's reconciliation, universally available, that can make people from every nation His people forever.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. We should have an attitude of thanks towards God for our inheritance through Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:12-14).
2. Christ in his human nature, is the visible discovery of the invisible God. Let us adore these mysteries in humble faith, and behold the glory of the Lord in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 1:15).
3. All things (you and I) were created by Him, were created for him; being made by his power, we were made according to his pleasure, and for his praise and glory. For He is the Creator and Sustainer of life! (Colossians 1:16-17).
4. Christ as Mediator is the Head of the body, the church; all grace and strength are from him; and the church is his body (Colossians 1:18).
5. We are now reconciled to God by the sacrifice and death of The Reconciler of All Things, Jesus! (Colossians 1:19-23).
What More Could We Want?
As we reflect on the description of Christ in today's passage, we realize how clear the apostle's message is. If Christ is preeminent, where else shall we turn to find what we need? If He has done all that Paul describes, what more could we want than for our lives to reflect our reconciliation to God, used to carry the message of Christ's reconciling power to everyone?
Heavenly Father, we fall before You in awe. Your Son, the author of life, died and rose to give us life. The lives He has given back to us we pledge to His service and glory. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Look only to Christ.