"He is the image of the invisible God, the 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 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, 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.
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, 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, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 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. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me."
Paul would make a poor poker player. We come to the first major section of his letter and he puts everything on the proverbial table. He doesn’t know how to play his cards close to the vest. In poetic rhythm, he convincingly describes Jesus, creating perhaps one of the most notable passages in Scripture for understanding Jesus. As Paul prepares to address the ways in which this church has subjected Jesus to the authority of other “powers” in their lives–ascetic practices, dietary laws and restrictions, elementary principles–in short the “powers” that were at work in the world and being manifest through the structures of their society. Paul is getting ready to lay into these powers, but he begins the body of his letter with a bold declaration, that Christ is supreme over all.
In order to understand the weight of this message, we need to first see the situation that this church found itself. They were under Roman occupation and had a wide variety of religious practices that were a part of their cultural framework. Indeed, they had heard the gospel and believed, but this good news was set alongside their other practices, beliefs, and pragmatic thinking. There were likely economic realities that played into their submission to certain regulations. As they faced these cross pressures in a highly pluralistic society, it was more natural to attach one belief to another–creating a religious amalgamation that diminished the sufficiency of Jesus.
The parallels between this church and our own Western culture is sobering to say the least. We likely do not realize the vast amount of ways in which we have syncretized the Gospel with our own culture. Our ability to generate cultural distance between us and our surrounding culture will help us to see with great visibility the ways Jesus has been subverted into our story, rather than seeing the ways in which Jesus is Lord over our cultural story. We like to make Jesus into our image, instead of realizing that he is the image of the invisible God. This letter to the Colossians might as well say “To the church in America”. We desperately need to hear Paul’s words today in new ways that challenge our notions and uproot our axioms, so that we can recognize what it means to serve the King of kings in a world that demands our allegiance, sets out the path to satisfaction guiding our affection, and promises security that doesn’t require affliction.
We give allegiance to Jesus
This may seem like a strange way to say this, but in our context, this needs to be more expressly stated. We have a “pledge of allegiance” to our flag (by necessary inference our country’s principles), but to wholly care about our country, our ultimate allegiance can’t find it’s end here. Our national allegiance is only valid as long as it does not compromise our allegiance to our true King. The church’s claim is rather large in this respect and ought to be considered with sober judgment. As we profess Christ as Lord, we are making a direct statement to all rulers and authorities at once, saying, “you are not the ultimate ruler or authority.” Your rule is under Jesus and your authority has only been given to you by him for his long-range purposes. This is true for the broadest levels of authority you can fathom (i.e., presidents, prime ministers, kings, governors, etc.) all the way into the intimate authority of a father who guides his family. We ought to be careful in posturing ourselves this way though to not recognize the authority that God has placed in our midst and show our appreciation for the role they serve. However, always remembering, we obey King Jesus over all other authorities, rulers, kings, presidents, etc. in our life. He has our allegiance and therefore, all other authority in our life will benefit from our allegiance to King Jesus because we will be uniquely postured to both 1) appreciate and savor the creational good and also 2) stand in prophetic opposition to destructive idolatry.
We show affection for Jesus
You can give your allegiance to a dictator and not have affection for him. The allegiance we have for Jesus grows out of the foundation of the love that he has established in us (Colossians 2:6-7, Ephesians 3:17-19). Love is the garden bed from which our life emerges. The love of Jesus forms the foundation of the structure–which is our communal life as a church. If we don’t have love, we don’t have much of anything (1 Corinthians 13). Love will define not just what we do, but much deeper, who we are. The watching world will know that we are established in Jesus by the way we love (John 13:35).
Affection is an interesting thing. You are helpless to shut off the valve of your affections. You must pursue something, all the time. This never ceases. This endless chase is now a frantic escape because death is pursuing us. Perhaps this is what Augustine had in mind when he spoke of our restless hearts: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” He knew that our hearts are racing at breakneck speed to capture something, anything that will satisfy or satiate. Our faith in Jesus, the supreme one, declares to our heart that he is the only one who satisfies. In him, the frantic race is over and we find rest.
We suffer affliction with Jesus
This rest though does not mean our lives enter a state of impeccable bliss, but rather, we must relearn how to navigate this broken world with a heart resting in Jesus. He did say that following him would lead to suffering. I mean, did we really think that our allegiance to and affection for Jesus would mean that our lives would be trouble-free? Quite the contrary. Paul, writing from prison knew this. His allegiance to and affection for Jesus landed him in shackles. This may be what is destined for some of us in this life–chains, imprisonment, even death. However, a cautionary word is needed. Affliction comes in all different forms and we ought not create a singular frame for how this looks in our lives, but rather, realize that affliction with Jesus may mean: we never land the job we desire, we struggle with our children, we suffer economically for decades, we are never recognized for the good we’ve done, we develop chronic illness that translates into constant low-grade pain. These all are marks of our corrupted world laying siege to us in ways that are not perhaps as romantically associated in our minds with martyrdom, but are ways in which suffering may come to us. You might not die at the stake for your faith, but you may feel the brokenness of this world come at you over a lifetime. This, even this, is sharing in the suffering of Jesus.
In all this, we need to acknowledge that the “powers” of our world are there, looming over our heads, but they are all, every one, under the feet of King Jesus. He is the one who holds all things together.
Our Via Communities are our primary discipleship tool. This section is to help you as you discuss the sermon with others in your life. It is designed for communities to utilize but can be used to facilitate a conversation between spouses, good friends, co-workers, etc., as we live to be faithful to God’s mission in his world.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?
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