SCRIPTURE – Colossians 1:15-28
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
Who’s in Charge around Here?
July 11, 2010
In my last church, we had a very informal 8 a.m. service. The congregation sat in folding chairs and I sat on a bar stool with a podium in front of me to lead the service. There was no accompanist and no choir; instead, for our music we had an old songbook. Someone would call out, “Let’s sing No. 44” and we’d all turn to No. 44 and warble out “Amazing Grace” or “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” or whatever No. 44 was. One of the most popular choices to sing was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It seems like that one was requested about every week.
It’s a great song to sing and presents a beautiful image of Christ, but it begs the question for me: Can we get too friendly with Jesus? Is it possible to get too buddy-buddy with the Savior? I actually believe it is. I believe it’s possible to regard Jesus in such intimate terms, to cozy up to his humanity, that we lose sight of his divinity, of the fact that he was God incarnate.
That’s what Paul was fighting against in today’s reading from Colossians. Paul had never actually visited the church in Colosse, so he didn’t have any direct influence on their hearing and accepting the gospel. I think that contributed to the church’s struggles. They didn’t have Paul’s words ringing in their ears, Paul’s example lifted up in front of them. They were vulnerable to outside influences, false teachers who wanted to convince them that Jesus was their friend, or a good teacher, or a bold prophet, but was not the son of God and certainly was not God incarnate.
Some of these false teachers were called Gnostics, and it is against their beliefs that Paul writes to the Colossians. The Gnostics held to several theological tenets that devalued Christ. First, Gnostics believed that the creator of the world was not God but someone hostile to God. How else do you explain the presence of evil? Surely God didn’t create evil, so someone else must have done it, someone who was an adversary of God.
Based on that, Gnostics believed that all material matter was evil. The only way God could relate to our evil world was through a series of intermediaries that provided some distance between our good God and our evil world. The Gnostic belief was that Jesus was not unique but was one of these intermediaries, one of the layers God provided that protected God from the evil of our world.
Stay with me now. If all matter is evil, then that means the body is evil, so there’s no way God would come to earth in a real body. God could not stand to inhabit such an evil form. The Gnostics took this belief to the extreme, claiming that as one of God’s intermediaries, Jesus wasn’t in a real body, but just appeared to be, so that when we walked he didn’t leave any footprints.
So God is good, the world is evil and Jesus is just one of many go-betweens. Therefore, the only way to get to God is not through anything physical, or through Jesus, but through special knowledge (which in Greek is “gnosis,” from which we get “Gnostic”). The Gnostics believed that if you just knew the right passwords and secret codes, you could make your way to God. And of course, who had those passwords and secret codes? The Gnostics claimed they did.
So now you see what Paul was dealing with. The Gnostics had infiltrated the Colossian church and were convincing people that Jesus wasn’t really the son of God, but just one of many messengers. He wasn’t the messiah and he certainly wasn’t divine. He might be a really good friend or respected teacher, but there really wasn’t any point in worshipping him.
To which Paul emphatically responds with one of the strongest statements of Christ’s divine nature to be found in the Bible. “He is the image of the invisible God.” In other words, if you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus. In those times, when a legal contract was drawn up, a physical description was included of the people involved so that everyone would know who the parties were. The word used for that physical description is the same word Paul uses here for “image.” You want a description of God? Look at Jesus.
We all know kids who look just like their parents, don’t we? We’ll have people come up to us and say, “Your daughter Sydney looks just like you!” Of course, half the people think she looks like Leigh and the other half think she looks like me. But many times you can look at the child and see the parent. That’s what Paul is saying. If you look at God’s son, you will see God.
Paul then goes a step further to debunk the Gnostic view of matter. “For Christ and in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created…all things have been created through and for him.” Make no mistake about who created this world, Paul says. It was God the Creator, who we now know through Jesus Christ. This is not our buddy Jesus, this is the Cosmic Christ, who was there in the beginning with God, making this world. Matter is not evil. The world is not evil. The body is not evil. That doesn’t mean that all of those things can’t be used in evil ways, because we know they can. But that’s not how God created this world or us.
And when things feel like they are starting to fall apart, Paul says in verse 17, “In him all things hold together.” It’s like the joke that says how is duct tape like the Force from Star Wars? It has a light side, a dark side and it binds the universe together. Well, Jesus is divine duct tape. In Christ, all things hold together. Even when it feels like our world is falling apart, even when we have no idea how we’re going to make it to tomorrow, Jesus is there, providing the supernatural Super Glue, holding us together. When we look back on an especially trying time in our lives and say, “Wow, I don’t know how I made it through,” remember that in him all things hold together.
Not only is he holding the universe together, he is paying special attention to his believers. Paul says, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” That is a controversial statement in some churches. Christ is the head of the church and should have first place in everything. Does Christ have first place here at Crestwood? I was in a meeting in another church where the Board was considering nesting a Korean congregation. The church had done this before with mixed results, so during the discussion one of the old-timers began criticizing the idea, spelling out all the things that could go wrong. He wrapped up his diatribe by saying, “I know it’s the Christian thing to do, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
I wanted to stand up and ask, “Who’s in charge around here?” If we know something is the Christian thing to do and we don’t do it, who’s running things? Who has first place in our church and in our hearts? Sure, the Christian thing may be costly or inconvenient or involve some sacrifice on our parts. That’s what makes it the Christian thing to do. Jesus is not just a good friend who will be understanding if we don’t take his advice. He is our Lord, our ruler, our shepherd, our Savior. He is God incarnate. He should be in charge.
And Paul says he came to earth for one specific reason: “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.” In other words, he came for reconciliation. He came to bridge the gap between us and God. He came to stand up where we fall short. He came to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
Let me put it this way. We try to help our children know the difference between an inside voice and an outside voice. For example, we use our inside voices when we need to be quiet and don’t want the whole library to know you just went doody. There is a time for our outside voice and a time for our inside voice.
Jesus is God’s outside voice. Jesus is God’s way of putting a megaphone to our ears, of waking us up to God’s divine nature. God sent Jesus to look us in the eye and say, “Pay attention.” So, are paying attention to the work of God around us? Are we mindful of the Christian thing to do? Do we remember who’s in charge?
That should be the lens through which we filter everything we do as a church. Will this decision help further the spread of the gospel? Will it help someone understand God’s love for them? Will it bring honor and glory to God by demonstrating God’s grace? Sure, the decision may be costly or messy or challenging, but God isn’t asking us about those things. God isn’t say, “So, Kory, what do you think I should do?” God doesn’t need my help. Instead, God reminds me who we are here to serve. Do we remember who’s in charge?
Paul says if we remember, then we will participate in Christ’s work of reconciliation with each other and with the creation. One commentator I read said Christians are called to be “agitators for reconciliation.” An agitator is defined as “a person who stirs up others in order to upset the status quo and further a cause.” We are called to agitate the status quo when it doesn’t honor God or further God’s work. Anyone who serves the church by widening her boundaries, promoting her faith, doing her work in this world, showing Christ’s love for others is participating in the reconciling work of Christ. If that work involves suffering and sacrifice, then like Paul we are sharing in the very suffering of Christ. We need to see our own small experiences of reconciliation – the effort to recycle, the swallowing of pride, the word of forgiveness – as a part of the larger work of reconciliation which Christ is doing throughout the world.
We do have a wonderful friend in Jesus. But we also have so much more than that in him. What we have is not special knowledge that is only accessible through secret passwords. As Paul says, “It is Christ who we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom.” This means that our little lives are caught up in something greater than ourselves, contributing to something cosmic, working alongside Christ himself to make God’s harmonious kingdom real here on earth. Let’s stay focused on why we’re here and who is in charge because I believe if we do that, we can transform this world in Jesus’ name. That’s the Christian thing to do.