He is Before All Things

Colossians 1:17-18,

And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.

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.

That He existed before anything or anyone else existed is something our finite human minds have a hard time grasping. We’d like to think that there was. . .just. . .nothing. . .before WE came into being, but that is as far from the truth as it is possible to be. God never didn’t exist. Do I truly understand that? No. I’m limited to human intelligence. But I can say it with confidence because GOD says it, and therefore it is so. God said it. That settles it, whether or not I believe it.

Firstborn: The ancient Greek word prototokos can describe either priority in time or supremacy in rank.  Jesus was both first in time and first in rank. The same word is used of Jesus in Colossians 1:18Romans 8:29Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5. He was not less than God: He IS God, and without Him nothing would exist at all.

He holds all creation together: The entire creation of God, the universe in its infinity all the way down to the smallest insect and the atoms and their infinity, all are Christ-centered. Without Him, it would all fall apart.

Head of the body, the church: Christ is the source of the church, just as, for instance, the mighty Mississippi River has its source in tiny Lake Itasca. He is the beginning of all things.

Firstborn from the dead: Jesus was certainly not the first One to die. He wasn’t even the first to be raised from the dead. But the difference is that He is the first and only One to die and rise from death never to die again; also, He was raised by His own will and His own power, whereas others, like Lazarus, were raised not of their own volition but by the power of Jesus Christ.

He is, in all things, to have preeminence.

Why does Paul make such a point of emphasizing His preeminence? It is because, when false teaching arises, one of the first things denied by the false teacher is His preeminence. The false teacher wants preeminence. The only way he can get it is to reduce Jesus Christ to man’s level, while the false teacher raises himself to a higher plain of knowledge than that of anyone else.

The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1: 15-16

Who is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature:

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:

Verse 15 refers back to verse 14, stating that the One through Whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sin is the visible image of the Father; He is the Firstborn of all else. He existed before the heavens and the earth were formed. Those who were privileged to look on His face during His years on earth were seeing the visible form of the invisible God!

Not only is He the Firstborn; all else that exists was created through Him and for Him.

The major teaching, then, in these two verses, is that Jesus Christ and the Father are One. They are the same.

Jesus accepted so much abuse, yet remained silent–until His accusers blasphemed the Father. When that happened, He defended the Father and silenced His abusers. He would not be silent when the Father was denied.

Everything, that which is visible to us, that which is invisible; thrones and kingdoms, rulers and invisible powers–all have been created through Him and for Him.

All things includes you and me. We were created by Him, for Himself. That fact alone gives us so much value, much more than we can garner through the fame of mankind, because in the end, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that He is Lord! (Phil. 2:10-11). Every ruler, small or great; every tyrant, every benevolent king–every knee shall bow at the Name of Jesus!

He is preeminent, before all and over all.

Throughout the ages, Satan has fought at every possible level to destroy His Name, turning the hearts of mankind to stone; making good evil, and evil good, in his effort to gain supremacy over Jesus Christ. The irony, of course, is that Satan knows his own doom. Still, he battles on to gain the souls of those who will deny Jesus Christ, turn away from God, and worship that which is created more than they worship the Creator.

Believer, is Christ preeminent in your life? Preeminent, sovereign, all-powerful, all-consuming, having the most important place in your heart, your mind, and every fiber of your being?

Redemption Through His Blood

Colossians 1:13-14.

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son:

In Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

What is “the power of darkness”? It is the domain of Satan, full of deceit, hatred, and anger against God. Jesus spoke of it in  Luke 22:53, describing the darkness surrounding His arrest and passion. “Darkness” was the evil forces marshaled against Him for decisive combat in the spiritual realm. But Jesus conquered the darkness through the shedding of His blood, through which we have forgiveness of sin when we ask Him. That deliverance is spoken of in this passage as rescue by a sovereign power. There is no darkness where Jesus Christ abides.

Being translated into the kingdom of Jesus Christ carries the idea that we were adopted into the kingdom when we accepted His death and resurrection as payment for our sin. We did not earn it; it came to us through the natural process of adoption, which gives us equal standing with Jesus Christ to all that He possesses (Rom. 8:17).

Thank about that. No, really–THINK about that! “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us (Titus 3:5).

Redemption: Release by a legal ransom. Once a ransom is paid, the debt is redeemed and the prisoner is set free. Our debt was paid by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. So, all mankind is redeemed, right? No.

Let’s say a person is sent to prison for life, because he murdered several people. Someone offers to serve his sentence for him, thereby redeeming him from prison. But–the prisoner refuses the offer, preferring to pay his own debt. “He’s nuts!” we might say. “He could go free! He should accept the offer!”

That’s the same situation as when a person who rejects Jesus’ sacrifice in his behalf says, “No, I’m just not feeling it. I’ll work it out when I’m ready.” What is missing, with the murderer and the one who rejects Christ, is an understanding of the depth and consequences of sin.

The word for forgiveness in this passage is from the Greek aphesis, which indicates a sending away. Thus, the blood of Jesus sends our sin and its consequences away from us.

I’m sure you are aware, if you’ve been with me for any length of time, that there’s always a song playing in my mind as I write. Here is today’s:

Patience… with Joyfulness

Colossians 1:11-12.

Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;

Giving thanks unto the Father, Which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

The previous verse ends with the words increasing in the knowledge of God. It is the increased knowledge of God that will strengthen us according to His unlimited power. It is increasing in the knowledge of God that allows us the strength to be patient, to have endurance; and to walk through whatever He places in front of us with a joyful spirit.

If you read straight through this epistle, which I strongly recommend that you do, you will see how often Paul speaks of the importance of knowledge and wisdom. As we journey through each chapter, we will see that Paul addresses the heresy springing up in the church in Colosse from the perspective of knowing God, and through that knowing, to have the wisdom to recognize and turn away from false teaching. When we truly know God, and are students of His Word, we WILL recognize false teaching. And the knowledge of God will strengthen us to stand against such teaching, in spite of threats and accusations of having a spirit of division. It is always interesting to me how often those who teach something that is unbiblical quickly turn to passages on unity and, especially, to obeying those in authority. We are not meant to be blind leaders of the blind. We are meant to be students of the Word, able to rightly divide, or understand and explain, His truth.

While we are learning to know God, we will also develop a spirit of thanksgiving to Him because He has made us able to take part in the inheritance of all those who have gone before us who live in the light of His love, power, and the joy of knowing Him through His Word.

I want to end, today, with a quote from Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

‘Fruitful in every good work.’ Here is room and range enough – in ‘every good work.’ Have you the ability to preach the gospel? Preach it! Does a little child need comforting? Comfort it! Can you stand up and vindicate a glorious truth before thousands? Do it! Does a poor saint need a bit of dinner from your table? Send it to her. Let works of obedience, testimony, zeal, charity, piety, and philanthropy all be found in your life. Do not select big things as your specialty , but glorify the Lord also in the littles – ‘ fruitful in every good work.’ ”

Spurgeon, Blue Letter bible

Sunday Morning Coffee: Humor

A few days ago, I was stripping my bed to wash the sheets. My habit is to get the sheets loose, then put any other laundry in the middle, and bundle it all up like Santa’s bag of presents. All went well until I twisted the corners together and hoisted it up over my shoulder.

Well, I TRIED to hoist it. Couldn’t get it off the bed. Totally confused, I decided to open it back up. Aha. I have a weighted blanket that weighs at leas 25 pounds. Forgot to take it off the bed. I’m old, dearie, and ever so weak and fragile. Slinging 25+ pounds over my shoulder was not a great idea 🙂

Another morning last week, I was getting my breakfast. I use a French press for my coffee. First I grind the beans that my grandson roasts for me, then dump the grounds into my press, pour boiling water over the grounds, put the cover on and let it brew.

Only this time I poured the whole beans into the press, then stood there for several seconds trying to figure out what to do next. I did figure it out, but I sure felt silly.

Years ago, I was getting ready for work, putting on my makeup. Grabbed my tube of under-eye bag concealer and swiped it on–only it was lipstick. Bright red. Sigh.

I actually did go to work one morning with a blue shoe on one foot and a grey one on the other. Didn’t notice it until my first client pointed it out to me. We both had a good laugh.

One time, when I was teaching, I was looking for something in my top desk drawer. I was standing, and had bent over to reach to the back of the drawer. Must have bumped the drawer, because it slammed shut–on my dangly necklace. Hoo boy. And I couldn’t get the drawer to open, had to ask for help. My students were enjoying my predicament.

Then there was the time I walked into my class room, dumped my bag, took off my coat, getting ready to go to staff meeting. I jumped about a mile when a deep voice coming from somewhere above me said, “Good morning, Mrs. Kreger!” This kid had climbed up to the top of the bookshelves, stretched out on his side, and waited for me to come into my room. Honestly, he scared me out of ten years’ growth. Laughing all the way.

I could continue, but that’s enough for now. I don’t always intend to be funny, but things just kind of happen to me, and it seems I have a reputation that I’m not sure I want 🙂

Aren’t you thankful for a sense of humor? Thankful that you can laugh at yourself just as quickly as you laugh at someone else? I’m thankful for laughter. It’s good for the soul and the body. I look forward to the day I hear God laughing! There will be great joy in heaven. I believe we will have endless reason to enjoy laughter.

Learn to be thankful for the small things in life. You’ll be a happier person.

Walk Worthy of the Lord

Col. 1:9-10.

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Since the day Paul heard what Epaphras had to say about the love the Colossian Christians had toward one another, he and Timothy had prayed “without ceasing” for those believers, and the work God was doing through the church in Colosse.

Paul’s desire was that the believers in Colosse would know the will of God; that they would be wise, and have spiritual understanding.

I’ve stopped to ponder what it would be like to have a giant of a Christian like Paul praying for ME, for wisdom, spiritual understanding, and knowing the will of God. Wouldn’t that be something to motivate me to stretch toward those goals!

Many years ago, I heard a woman, speaking at a conference, say that any time someone gave her a compliment, she would take a minute to go somewhere private and write it down so she wouldn’t forget it. When she got home, she would put it in a notebook she kept for that purpose, and then she would pray, “Lord, help me to live up to what that kind person thinks is true about me! Let it be true about me!”

Having spiritual understanding changes us. It helps us get over ourselves, and become more like Jesus. It eliminates spiritual pride, which is an entirely different matter. What a blessing to the Colossian believers, that Paul prayed they would have spiritual understanding.

Also, he prayed that they would “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

He didn’t just say, “walk worthy of the Lord.” He explained it. Be a blessing to everyone. Let others see the wisdom and beauty of Jesus in your lives. Abound in good works. Find ways to bless others with your hands as well as your heart. Above all, increase every day in your knowledge of God.”

Sometimes it frustrates me that I can no longer open my home to people the way I did when I was younger. Age has limited my strength; pain has slowed down my ability to shop, cook, bake, and clean for company the way I did for so many years. I miss being able to offer hospitality, for instance, to missionaries or teams from various colleges that minister in our church. So I’ve asked the Lord to show me other ways to minister, to be a blessing to others, and He has provided as much as I can handle. I can still teach! I write posts for this blog nearly every day. Lately, I’ve learned how to make sleeping mats from plastic bags to be distributed to the homeless. That’s something I can do with my hands, sitting in my comfortable chair, knowing that each person who gets a mat also gets the gospel at the same time.

Those things are examples, at this point in my life, of “every good work.” And I have the time, now, to increase in my knowledge of God. There’s no excuse. I’m not too busy to be in the Word. I can take the time to go down all sorts of rabbit trails as I read His Word, and I do so. It’s wonderful!

Walk worthy of the Lord. Great food for thought in those few words.

Love in the Spirit

Colossian 1:6-8.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;

Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

Referring back to verse 5, and the words the truth of the gospel, Paul reminds the Colossians that the gospel has already brought forth fruit in them from the very day they first heard it.

I have often wondered what it must have been like in those days following the return of Jesus to the Father. Pentecost was an amazing experience, with the Holy Spirit filling the apostles with an evangelistic fervor. Thousands heard Peter’s incredible sermon that day, and accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. The fervor spread wherever the apostles went.

Keep in mind that all of “religion” was centered on idol worship, in all the nations surrounding Israel. There was dreadful immorality involved in much of that idolatry. There was constant philosophizing among the more educated. The Greeks even had an altar dedicated “to the unknown god.” People were searching, in that day as they are today, for something that would fill the God-shaped hole in their hearts. As the gospel spread from person to person, caravan to caravan, town to town and city to city, the excitement was so great and so fervent that there was immediate change in the lives of those who heard and accepted the gospel.

Paul always gives credit where it is due, naming the men and women who helped him in ministry, thanking them and referring to them with great love and respect. Other than a brief mention in Philemon, I believe Colossians is the only place Epaphras is mentioned in scripture; yet his influence cannot be diminished in the establishment of the church in Colosse; his faithful service to his people, and to Paul; and his reputation for being a man of prayer and dedication.

Epaphras had told Paul that the people in the church in Colosse were known for the love they had for their fellow believers. Such love is ignited in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and causes us to become a closely-knit fellowship of believers who not only care for each other, but show their concern for the community around them that needs to hear the gospel. I don’t know how that love worked out for them, but I know how it works in my own church family and in our community. We take care of each other. We pray for each other. We reach out in several ways to the community around us. Most important is that believers always keep in mind Whose Name they bear. Christians must always live in such a way that others see Jesus in their lives.

The faithful saints in Colosse seem to have learned that, and lived it.

Thanksgiving and Praise

Colossians 1:3-5.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

The Apostle Paul, highly educated and a gifted writer, was not constrained by our modern grammatical rules. He wrote in long sentences, which are punctuated with semi-colons in the old KJV, but often go on for several verses. Of course, there were no chapter or verse divisions in his letter. Those were added later for ease of locating a particular passage. Today’s passage, starting with verse 3, goes on through verse 8. I have read the entire passage, and it would probably be a good idea for you to do the same, for the sake of continuity.

I took one year of Greek in Bible college, so I do not claim to be a scholar of the language, by any stretch. I wish I knew more. Maybe that’s something I will pursue in these retirement years. When I do mention the original language, I am doing so through several reliable resources that I depend upon. Also, someone recently asked me why I still use the old KJV here on this blog. My response: It’s my favorite. It’s what I grew up with, and what I have memorized. I love the beauty of the Elizabethan English. I do not believe it is flawless, nor the only acceptable translation. It is simply the one with which I am most comfortable. I do look at other reliable versions, for verification and clarity.

All right, back to our text.

I find it interesting and encouraging that Paul wrote of his thanksgiving for the church in Colosse. He told them that he prayed for them often; he mentioned their reputation for their faith in Jesus Christ, and their love for other believers.

In verse 2, Paul mentions the saints and faithful brethren. All true believers are saints, but not all the members of that church were faithful. Some had embraced the heresies that Paul addresses in his letter, knowing that those teachings were like poison that could kill the effectiveness of the church.

He also mentions the blessed hope of heaven that they had heard, possibly through the preaching of Epaphras. Hope, in this context, is not just a nebulous wish. It is the reality of life with Jesus Christ after the death of a believer; it is a sure foundation that enables believers to endure all things here, because of the sure hope of heaven after death.

If you will look closely, you will see a trio of themes that Paul used often: Faith, hope, and love. These things characterized his writing and, indeed, his entire life after his conversion on the Damascus Road.

Paul’s Greeting

Colossians 1:1-2.

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

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our practice today is to put our names at the end of a letter. In Paul’s day, it was normal to identify oneself in the formal greeting at the beginning of the letter. Makes sense to me 🙂

Paul states his authority for writing to the Colossian church: By the will of God, he was an apostle. The strict meaning of apostle is “one sent,” with the idea of being called to a special purpose. The other of the apostles had seen the living Christ during His ministry on earth. Paul had been gifted with a heavenly vision of Christ as he traveled on the Damascus road, seeking to persecute believers (Acts 9 and 26).

There are many paintings of that scene, which of course are all drawn from imagination. I like this one because it was indeed a dramatic moment, shocking to all who were present. It was the event that changed Saul the Persecutor to Paul the Apostle.

Paul mentions Timothy in his greeting. There is no indication that the much younger Timothy had a part in composing the letter. He was there to comfort Paul in his imprisonment, and perhaps acted as the amenuensis, or scribe, for Paul’s words. We really don’t know. We know only that he was there with Paul.

Paul continues his greeting, calling the recipients of his letter “saints and faithful brethren.” We don’t know what Epaphras may have told Paul, but it would seem from this greeting that there were those in the congregation who truly looked for truth, and wanted to live out their faith as God would have them to.

Then, as was typical, Paul blesses them with the hope of grace and peace sent from God.

Wouldn’t it be heartwarming to receive a letter that started this way? Of course, our written communications these days are generally email or texts, but still. Old-fashioned letters need to make a comeback. They offer the time and space to write much more thoughtfully and deeply than a quick e-communication does. Paul’s letters have stood the test of time. I don’t think our texting will do that.

Colossians: A Little Background

(I’m thankful for kind readers who catch an error and point it out. Previously I said the earthquake that destroyed Colossae was @ a.d. 46. Without realizing it, I was counting from the date of his birth, not the date on which he assumed the crown of Rome, which was @ a.d. 54. So I’ve changed the date of the earthquake to the more correct a.d.63. A tip of the hat to RJ Dawson.)

Colossae was a mercantile city situated not too far from Galatia, Ephesus, and Philippi. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the ninth year of Nero’s reign, (about 63 a.d.) and was rebuilt. The modern town of Chonas is at the ruins of old Colosse.

It is widely accepted that Paul did not start the church in Colosse. That credit goes to Epaphras, a fellow worker with Paul (Col. 1:2,7; 4:12). It is also believed that Col. 2:1 indicates Paul had not been there previous to writing the letter. It is commonly accepted that Colossians was one of the prison epistles, written around a.d. 61, when Paul was confined and unable to travel from church to church.

The epistle can be simply divided into two parts: Doctrinal, and application to daily living.

Religious syncretism, which has existed practically from the beginning of human history, is the practice of incorporating various themes and practices all together into one belief system. This happened before the Flood in Genesis, when idolatry had taken hold and Noah and his family were the only ones found in God’s sight to be faithful to His direction. It is still happening today. Believers tend to resist completely forsaking their early beliefs and practices, and weave them into Christianity. Doing so creates a great deal of confusion, because in the process of this interweaving, God is lost among the pantheon of gods created by those who worship them.
Syncretism is Satan’s ceaseless effort to humanize God and deify man. In today’s world, this practice is embodied in secular humanism.

The particular problem in Colosse was the inclusion of Judaic ceremony, and Gnosticism, which was a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was a representative of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric (known and understood by only a few special people ) knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit. (You may need to read that paragraph a couple of times to get the entire picture. I’ve reworked it several times to make is as clear as I could, but Gnosticism is difficult to put into simple language.) As you can see, the Colossian church seems to have wanted to hang on to Judaistic ceremony and include the mystical beliefs of Gnosticism into the Christianity they were being taught.

The Gnostic concept of emanations also removed purposeful activity from God’s purview. Here’s a brief definition: “The concept of emanation is that all derived or secondary things proceed or flow from the more primary. It is distinguished from the doctrine of creation by its elimination of a definite will in the first cause, from which all things are made to emanate according to natural laws and without conscious volition.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It seems to me that the Gnostics spent a lot of time and mental energy in their efforts to dilute the power and sovereignty of God and turn Him into nothing more that a distant, non-involved supreme divine being.

There was a lot going on, and apparently Epaphras and the other leaders felt incapable of dealing with all of it, and went to Rome to consult Paul (1:7-8). Paul’s letter of reply was sent with Tychicus and Onisemus (4: 7-9). The first half of Paul’s letter took down the heresies that were being taught and practiced. The second half encouraged new believers to embrace Christianity fully, forsaking legalism and the worship of man’s own imaginings.

It seems clear that Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he either wrote or dictated this letter (Acts 28:30-31; Col. 4:3, 10, 18).

If you are interested, as I am, in a more detailed history, you can find it here. I do not necessarily agree with everything the writer states, but the article stands up historically with everything else I’ve researched and reduced to this brief introduction.

Tomorrow we’ll start studying the epistle itself.