Let’s begin by asking the “So what?” question. So what, if Colossians 1:15–20 is one of the greatest exaltations to Christ in all the Bible? Maybe the greatest. There are a few that come close.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–3, 14)
In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:2–3)
That’s close. But Colossians 1:15–20 may be the greatest. So, you are about to listen to me for the next thirty-five minutes or so wave my little expository finger, and point toward this Mount Everest of Christ-exalting Scriptures, and then you’ll go home. And the crucial question will be, So what?
I’m going to give you two answers to that question here at the outset from Colossians so you can be testing while I preach, and then when you go home: Is this happening? Is this text having this God-appointed effect on me?
Vaccine Against Error
Here’s my first answer to the “So what?” question. False teaching has begun to infect the minds of some of the believers in Colossae, and Paul intends for the clarification and exaltation of the majesty of Jesus Christ to be the theological vaccine that protects the Colossian Christians from the disease of Christ-diminishing, Christ-distorting error.
Turn with me to Colossians 2 to get three glimpses of the false teaching in Colossae. Notice that in every case the failure to embrace a clear enough and big enough Christ is what makes the church vulnerable.
Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
If you don’t embrace a Christ that is big enough and clear enough, you will be a sitting duck for Christ-diminishing, Christ-distorting philosophy, empty deceit, and human tradition.
Colossians 2:16–17: Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
If you don’t embrace a Christ that is big enough and clear enough, you easily mistake shadows for reality.
Colossians 2:18–19: Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head.
If you don’t embrace a Christ that is big enough and clear enough, you will stop holding fast to Christ as the great, all-supplying Head of the body, and take up sectarian strategies of self-improvement.
So, the first answer to the “so what” question is this: if you embrace a Christ who is big enough and clear enough — the way Paul shows him to be in Colossians 1:15–20 — you will have a theological, spiritual, biblical vaccination against a hundred Christ-diminishing, Christ-distorting errors — and they will not be getting fewer in the last days.
Endure and Give Thanks with Joy
Now, the second answer to the “So what?” question. Back to chapter 1. Last week, Pastor Kenny walked us through Paul’s prayer for the Colossians — and for us — which starts in Colossians 1:9. It’s the connection between this prayer and today’s text about the supremacy of Christ which clarifies the second answer to the “So what?” question.
Paul prays in Colossians 1:11 that we would be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience. And then that little phrase "with joy" could go either way, forward or backward. Endurance and patience with joy, or, with joy giving thanks to the Father.
Experientially, I can’t see any difference. We are enduring with patience the pandemic, the political acrimony, the war in Ukraine, churches in conflict, the sexual debauchery of the culture, the heartbreak of lost loved ones. Does it make any difference whether you say: “We are enduring with joy” or to say, “We are enduring, giving joyful thanks to God the Father”? In both cases joy marks our patient endurance in these days, and, God willing, to the very end. Serious joy, thankful to our heavenly Father to the very end.
“Joy marks our patient endurance in these days and, God willing, to the very end.”
But how can we have thankful joyful hearts as we patiently endure these days? Paul answers in Colossians 1:12, because God the Father “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” We are not going to be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Our inheritance is a new world where night will be no more. And there will be no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 22:5; 21:23).
And then Colossians 1:13 adds that we have already entered into this kingdom of light: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” And Colossians 1:14 adds that the reason that we guilty sinners can enter that kingdom of everlasting light and joy — it’s because “in [Christ] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” He paid the ransom with his blood for our forgiveness. By faith we are united to him. And his sacrifice covers all our sins.
Now, follow the flow of thought to see the connection with today’s text. Paul’s prayer in verses 11–12 is that we would endure with joyful thankfulness everything this fallen world throws at us until Jesus comes. The reason we can do that, he says, is because he has qualified us for an eternity of light and love not darkness. And the way he has done that is by paying the redemption price for the forgiveness of all our sins and bringing us already into the kingdom of his greatly loved Son.
“The supremacy of Christ is meant to sustain our joy through patient endurance.”
And at this point Paul is so full of awareness that our thankful, joyful, patient endurance depends on the greatness of the redemption of Christ and the greatness of the reign of Christ that he launches into the greatest tribute to the supremacy of Christ in the Bible (Colossians 1:15–20). In other words, the second answer to the “So what?” question is that, if your mind and heart are captured with the greatness and the beauty and the worth of Jesus Christ in verses 15–20, you will endure the hardships of this life with patience and joyful thankfulness. The supremacy of Christ is meant to sustain our joy through patient endurance.
Supremacy of Christ
So let’s look at the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1:15–20.
I see at least five ways Christ is supreme in relation to creation — and then three ways he is supreme in relation to the church. Or if you prefer, you can use the word “preeminent,” since that is the purpose of God stated at the end of verse 19: “that in everything he might be preeminent.” That’s the immediate goal of this passage: to show that in everything Christ is preeminent, or supreme — that he is the greatest, most excellent reality that exists.
Supreme over Creation
First, then, in relation to creation — five aspects of his supremacy.
1. Christ Is God
Colossians 1:19: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Even more clearly in Colossians 2:9: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Remember, in verse 13 Christ is called God’s beloved Son. Now we see that the Son is said to possess the fullness of God-ness. He is fully God.
And this divine Son came to earth and clothed himself with humanity. He has a body and a human nature. So Colossians 2:9 says, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” We call this the incarnation of the divine Son of God. There is now, and forever, a God-man. God the Son never lays down his body. He rises from the dead with it. He ascends with it. He possesses it in heaven today glorified according to Philippians 3:21. And he will return visibly in his body.
They could see him and touch him while he was on the earth. And we will see him when he comes again. I think this is what Paul means in Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God.” God is invisible. He is spirit. But Jesus is not invisible. He is the visible God. In John 14:9, Jesus said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
So I would ask you very frankly, Do you worship Jesus Christ? Matthew 28:17 says, “When the eleven saw him they worshiped him.” Do you? Is your Christ big enough and clear enough and supreme enough that you treasure him more highly than any other reality, as very God of very God?
2. Christ Is Before All Things
Colossians 1:17: “And he is before all things.” Why would Paul say that? It is so obviously implicit in virtually everything else he says about Christ in this paragraph. Well, sometimes it is very good to make implicit, glorious things explicit! Things that we just pass over and don’t ponder. I invite you to ponder the fact that before there was anything else, Christ was.
For example, this draws our attention to the fact that Christ’s relationship to things that are not Christ is very different from our relationship to things that are not us. We think that we are creators. We’re not. Not the way Christ is. When we make things, we just rearrange what’s already there. We rearrange chemicals and make a medicine. We rearrange molecules and make an atom bomb. We arrange materials and make house.
When Christ brought creation into existence, he didn’t rearrange anything, because he was before all things. There wasn’t anything to arrange. Christ is absolute reality. Everything else is secondary.
3. Christ Created Everything That Is Not God
Colossians 1:15–16: “[He is] he firstborn of all creation. 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.”
“Firstborn of all creation” does not mean he is part of creation. Four reasons:
- He is God — not part of what God made. We have seen that already.
- The ground of 15b in verse 16 contradicts that he is part of creation: “He is firstborn of all creation. Because by him all things were created.” It would make no sense to say, “He is part of creation because he created all things.”
- The word “of” in “firstborn of all creation” does not have to mean he is part of creation any more than my saying, “David is the coach of his son’s little league team,” means he is a little leaguer on the team. “Coach of” means “coach over” and that’s what Paul means here — he is the firstborn over all creation.
- The word “firstborn” came to mean, alongside its biological meaning, “having the highest rank,” as in Psalm 89:27 where God says to David, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” That is, not having his origin from the kings of the earth but highest over them.
So I say again, Christ created everything that is not God. And I suspect Paul listed the particular creations that he listed to make sure that the Colossians did not try to make exceptions by saying, “No, no, the thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities do not include evil powers.” Yes, they do! And that’s the point! Verse 13 just said we were delivered from the “domain (Greek exousias) of darkness” and that word “domain” is the same as the “authorities (exousiai)” in verse 16. He made them. And he delivered us from them. They have no independent existence or power.
No exceptions, Colossians. No exceptions, Bethlehem. Christ is the creator of all that is not God. Including all the demons and their political echoes in this world. Is it any wonder that Jesus simply commands fevers, and wind, and water, and demons, and they obey? As then. So now.
4. Christ Holds Everything Together
Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ doesn’t just bring everything that is into being. He holds everything that is in being. This may strike home to help us feel the way we ought, even more than knowing that he is our Creator.
Hour by hour the reason you do not fly apart into a billion fragments and then vanish is because Christ holds you together. And this is true of everything in the universe. Everything that man has ever made, and every body of every man and woman and child. And every mountain and ocean and cloud and supernova — all would cease to be if Christ did not hold them in being.
He holds together the metal on the tanks rolling into Ukraine. He holds together the cellphones in Ukraine that connect the resistance. He holds together the pew you sit on, the clothing you wear, the food you eat, the skin that covers your bones. As your Creator you might think he is distant, having done that work some time ago. But to confess that in him you’re very body and soul, millisecond by millisecond, are held in being is another matter. He is not distant. You are personally and radically dependent on Christ, even if you don’t believe on him.
5. All Things Were Created for Christ
Colossians 1:16 (at the end): “All things were created through him and for him.” What does for him mean? It can’t mean, in order to meet his needs. To be God means to have no needs. Acts 17:25 says, “God cannot be served as though he needed anything.”
“Christ created everything and sustains everything for the glory of Christ.”
One clue is found in Colossians 1:18 at the end: “that in everything he might be preeminent.” Creation exists “for him” in the sense of putting his preeminence on display. He does everything he does in order put his supremacy, his glory, on display. Christ created everything and sustains everything for the glory of Christ! This is why the universe came into being — to put the preeminence of Christ’s glory on display.
Supreme over the Church
Lest you think that makes an egomaniac out of Christ, we turn now, all too briefly, to three acts of Christ’s supremacy in relation not to creation but to the church in verses 18–20.
I’ll name them quickly:
- He is supreme as the head of the body. Verse 18a: “And he is the head of the body, the church.”
- He is supreme as the beginning of the new creation as he rises first from the dead, the first of millions. Verse 18b: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
- We’ve already looked at verse 19, so I skip to verse 20: He is supreme as the one whose blood secures a new heaven and a new earth where everything is reconciled and at peace with God. Verse 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Apex of Glory: Grace
Here’s what changes the whole idea of egomaniac. When we say that Christ has created everything for the glory of Christ, the apex of that glory is the glory of grace toward his people.
- It’s the glory of being the head (v. 18a) that supplies every need that the church ever has for everlasting holiness and joy.
- It’s the glory not of being the only one to rise from the dead, but the first one to rise from the dead (v. 18b), bringing with him millions upon millions of people who will be delivered from the bondage of death and brought into a new world of everlasting joy with Christ.
- It’s the glory of shedding his blood (v. 20) so as to make peace — to make a new world of only reconciled people in two ways: one is to supply the forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes, and the other is to strip from the hands of God’s demonic and human enemies all grounds for condemning God’s people and dismiss those enemies into outer darkness where they will not in any way infect the new heaven and the new earth.
- Jesus Christ is our God.
- Jesus Christ is before all things.
- Jesus Christ created all that is not God.
- Jesus Christ holds everything together.
- Jesus Christ created everything to display the supremacy and the glory of Jesus Christ.
This is not egomania. It is love. Because the apex of that glory is the glory of grace. It’s the glory of Christ’s supplying everything his church needs to be holy and happy forever. It’s the glory of triumphing over death in bringing millions of believing sinners to everlasting life. And it’s the glory of establishing a new heaven and new earth of peace and reconciliation by the blood of his cross.
What he wants from us is the answer to Paul's prayer — that we would find strength for all endurance and patience with thankful joy because we have embraced this Christ.