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Colossians 1:18a; Brief Thoughts

18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

The Church is the collection of people who have united around the common faith that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. That is to say, Christianity is based on the truth that Jesus is the one who died for the sins of the world and who rules over all things. Here in the center of his hymn of praise to Jesus, having already asserted Jesus’ primacy in priority and time, Paul proclaims Jesus’ headship over the church.

Jesus is the head of the church. He is the first in priority over all creation, as such, He is the first in priority over the Church. He is before all creation and by Him, all things are created, likewise, the Church has existed because He called it into existence. He is the sustainer of all things and He is the purpose for all things, in the same way, the Church is sustained and derives its purpose from Him. Christ is the chief authority over the Church. It is His Church, He created it, He leads it, He is in charge.

In modern churches, the question of authority is often met with convoluted answers. When the question is asked, “Who is in charge at your church?” the answer usually asserts some sort of pastor, committee, deacon body, or leadership board. Seldom is the answer, “Jesus” or “God’s word.”  Yet, the truth remains – Jesus is the head of the Church. The direction of the Church is not determined by leadership or ecclesiastical polity. The direction of the church is established by Jesus Christ and His word. In general, churches have lost the fundamental understanding of authority. Many modern churches do not know how to answer the question of authority. Paul reminds his readers that Christ is the head of the church. The head of the Church is not a pastor or a deacon body or even an elder board. The head of the Church is Christ.  Though much of the Western Church has forgotten this simple truth, it remains true, nonetheless. Local churches must reeducate the congregations to understand this truth.

Re-education starts with a biblical ecclesiastical structure. In order to re-orient our churches, leadership must model submission to Christ through the word of God. Local churches must determine their leadership structure and function from the Scripture. (If you’re searching 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are good places to start.) Instructions to the congregation must be unambiguously directed from Scripture. Further, any engagement or discipleship of a believer within the community must be rooted in Scripture. Leaders must submit to Christ, recognizing that they have no authority apart from Him.

The local church and church leaders must also establish the Scripture as the central authority within their congregation. If Christ is the head of the Church, then His word must be placed at the forefront. Every congregation member must understand that they have equal spiritual authority to every other member, including the leaders. While there may be a pragmatic and structural leadership that is in place for the purpose of effective church ministry, the one supreme and primary authority is His word. The elders, deacons, pastors, committees, and directors have no more spiritual authority than any other member. They may have greater responsibility, but they share equal submission to the Word of the Lord.

Finally, the church must prize surrender. People, in general, do not value surrender. We often place a high premium on self-reliance, yet Christ models surrender. Surrender to Christ’s precepts and to the authority of Scripture must be seen as a high value. Surrender to Him as the head must be praised and acknowledged. In exalting surrender, the church will diminish pride and self-righteousness. In doing so, the church will lead the congregation to a fuller understanding of Christ’s headship.

Leaders, model Philippians 2 for your flock. Christ is the head… act like it.

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Colossians 1:15; brief thoughts

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Sin blinded the eyes of mankind so that no man could see God. The very image of God was marred and broken by the fall of man. In the beginning, God created mankind in the image of God and commissioned man and woman to spread His image and glory across the world (Genesis 1:26-28). Yet, Adam sinned and as a result, the image of God was shattered (C.f. Romans 5). As history has progressed, God’s image has become more and more depraved through the work and sin of man. Indeed, so great is the fall of man, that man no longer resembles the image of God.

The loss of this image is the loss of communion with God. God’s creation has been severed from Him by sin: the willful rejection of God by the beings that are supposed to reflect Him. God began His work with the intention of spreading His own image across the earth. His mission has not changed. Christ comes as the image of God. He is the perfect reflection of the glory and character of God. Being God, Himself, Christ is God. Thus, when you have seen Christ, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). That severed communion is re-created and restored in Jesus Christ. In knowing Jesus, we can know God.

The image of God is the son of God. He is the heir to all that God has. Jesus, being one with God, is also distinct as the second person of the Trinity. He is the Son. He is the image of God and bears the same essence as God, yet remains uniquely individual. His position in the Trinity is best understood in human terms as, Son. In this way, we can understand that He inherits all the wealth of God. This is what is meant by “firstborn.” This is not to say that Jesus was a created being. He was not created. He has been God from the beginning (c.f. John 1:1-5). He was not created but born. The terminology of birth here is specifically addressing priority. Jesus is firstborn of creation in the sense that He is the first in priority.[1]

Jesus is the image of God, and the firstborn. Consider for a moment the implications of such truth. In Jesus, men can see what is invisible. The invisible God of all creation is made visible in Jesus Christ. Further, He is the One on whom priority in all things rest. He is the first to be worthy. He is the first to be recognized. He is the first to be worshiped. He is the first to receive glory. He is the first to be honored. He is the first to speak. He is the first to whom one should listen. He is the first in authority. He is first in position. He is first in majesty. He is first in mankind’s affections. He is the first to work. He is the first! He is first. There are too many things and people to which western Christianity ascribes priority. Too many things take the place of first priority over following and knowing Jesus. Yet, Jesus remains first. If anything else stands in front of Him, then truth is lost.

Jesus is not granted the priority based on man’s acceptance of that order. Rather, Jesus is given priority because that priority is the truth. Jesus being firstborn does not depend on man’s opinion of His position or authority. He simply is firstborn. He is the Son of God. This is truth and it needs no validation from humanity. All the earth could reject Jesus Christ and still, He remains: the image of God, firstborn.

 

[1] For a fuller examination of this I recommend John MacArthur’s commentary on Colossians.

Colossians 1:11; Brief Thoughts

11 Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

The second refrain describing the worthy life of a Christian is verse 11. This second refrain deals with the power that accompanies the knowledge of God’s will. The Christian is uniquely empowered by God, Himself. The power that accompanies the Christian life is not some sort of physical empowerment granting super-human strength or supernatural health. It is the power to endure. The power that the Christian is afforded is the power to withstand every trial. In truth, it is this power to endure that is the greatest power a persecuted Christian could ask for. The ability to see beyond circumstance and delight in suffering, the power to maintain faith in the face of certain death, the strength to press beyond all trial and revel in the goodness of God. This is the power Paul prays for. This is the power he exemplifies in his ministry and explains in Philippians 4.

Note the source of the power: “His glorious might.” It is not by one’s own strength or merit that the power to endure is granted. If it were, the Christian would be no better off than any other person. It is, rather, from the infinite power source of The Creator and Sustainer of all things that the believer draws their power. It is His glorious might that bestows the ability to endure with patience. It is because of His power that Christians are able to endure joyfully.

Consider that for a moment: the God of all things exercises His great might for the sake of His people. He makes available to His own, the infinite might that holds the stars in place. He provides power from His infinite resources with which He sustains all of creation. This God who sustains all things, commands the ocean’s movements, and holds the cosmos in place is certainly able to strengthen and hold in place the believer. What a tremendous power dwells inside the believer!

Paul does not pray for a portion of the power, but for all of it for the purpose of all endurance. Christians are not simply given strength for a moment or a portion. No, this is strength is sufficient for all. All power to face troubles and trials, all strength for the pursuit of holiness, all that is needed to overcome sin and press on. All: total, complete, everything necessary. All that is needed to endure is in the hands of the Father who dispenses that power. Not only does the strength empower endurance but also patience and that with joy.

Joy is a defining mark of Christianity. It is what distinguishes the Christian’s struggle from the struggle of the world without Christ. This joy is deep and abiding. It is profound and overcomes all difficulty. This joy is supernatural and amazing, but it is also subtle and often overlooked. The joy of a Christian is manifest in contentment and quiet peace. The joy of a Christian affords the believer the ability to look at every trial and say with confidence, “I need nothing but Christ!”[1]

Take heart brothers and sisters in Christ. You have been given the power to endure and that power is supported by the strength of the prayers of the saints.  Be bold in the gospel, be fearless in adversity, trust Jesus!

[1] For a more extensive discussion on the subject of Christian joy and happiness, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness.

Brief Thoughts; Colossians 1:9-10

9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

The heart of Christian unity is found in the prayers of the saints. It is a unique character trait of the believer that permits such a response to the report of love in the Spirit. There is no desire for them to excel in fame or prestige. There is no passing apathy resulting from a competitive spirit. There is no desire to direct their steps and take charge of them. On the contrary, Paul prays for them to know God’s will and understand it.

What a tremendous prayer! That the Colossians would “be filled with the knowledge of His will” (v.9). He does not merely pray for some knowledge or a provision of knowledge. Rather, Paul prays that they would be filled with knowledge. Further, it is not simply general knowledge that Paul seeks, but especially the knowledge of God’s will. The will of God: that sovereign desire that will be brought to fruition. Paul prays that they would be complete in their knowledge of God’s will.[1] Imagine what it must mean to be complete in the knowledge of God’s will. Such knowledge would bring tremendous confidence. That very confidence that is needed to face trial and the strength to overcome sin are wrapped in the knowledge of God’s sovereign will. Take note, it is not knowledge of the specifics of God’s plan or His direct intention. Rather, it is a knowledge of His will specifically. Christians do not require knowledge of every detail of God’s plan, only the full knowledge that He has such a will and can be trusted. As the Christian becomes more aware of and confident in God’s will, the strength of their walk grows.

The knowledge of God’s will is accompanied and processed by “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v9). This is faith that is complete. Complete faith does not merely trust in the knowledge that God’s will is sovereign, it also understands it and responds to it in wisdom. Christians who trust in God ought to live as the wisest among mankind. The wisdom of Christians ought to exceed the wisdom of the world, precisely because the nature of Christian wisdom is spiritual. The wisdom of Christians extends beyond the temporal world and exists in spiritual realms. As a result, the wisdom of Christians comes from a source that both influences and alters both temporal and spiritual realities.

Paul’s desire for the Colossians is that their lives would reflect the holiness of God. Christians live differently from the world around them. They live a life that is set apart. A life that is in pursuit of holiness. So, Paul prays that they would have the knowledge to enable such Christ-like living. Knowledge is given to Christians for the purpose of a changed life. A person who claims to know Christ and yet remains unchanged and unholy does not know the Lord. An unchanged Christian is not a Christian at all.

The life that is worthy is here explained in three descriptions each beginning with a participial phrase. The first description bears itself out in three simple phrases of verse ten. First, it is a life that is pleasing to God. That is to say, it is a life that delights in the word of the Lord and pursues holiness. It is not merely a passing delight. The life that is worthy is one that is “fully pleasing!” It is a life that delights God in every aspect. The Christian life is one that brings joy to the Lord not only in the view of the public but also in the secluded moments of privacy. Second, it is a life that bears fruit that is displayed in the work of the Christian life. The fruit of a Christian is not measured in tangible numbers or acts of people. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the character of the Christian (C.f. Galatians 5). Yet, the fruit of the Christian life is born out in the works that Christians do to love their neighbors. It is revealed in “every good work.” Note that it is every work, not merely the ones that have been performed for an audience or in view of specific groups. The fruit of a Christian is displayed in all the works that are accomplished both public and private. Further, Christ admonishes His disciples in John 14 that the world will know His disciples by the way they love. Christians who bear fruit, work. Finally, the worthy life is one that increases in the knowledge of God. A Christian who does not grow in their knowledge of God is either starving their soul or they have not been redeemed. Either way, they are missing the delight and power of the Christian life. The worthy life is one that is spent tenaciously pursuing God. The worthy life is one that lays its selfish desires aside for the sake of knowing the Creator of the universe. The worthy life is a life surrendered to the pursuit of God.

The life of a believer is a changed life. It is a life that both defies the calls to success from the material world around it and embraces a tenacious love for that world. The Christian life is a life altered by the creator of all things. It is a life that is radical in its love towards others, relentless in its pursuit of holiness, and constant in its praise of God.

Oh Christian, how beautiful a worthy life is! Consider what our world would look like if believers genuinely pursued Christ so as to live a worthy life. Such great love would be displayed that the whole world would be forced to take notice. Indeed true Christianity has this effect on the community that surrounds it. When believers work to live lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the world around them is made more beautiful by the outflow of love that results from their pursuit of God. Pray, dear Christian that you and the other brothers in the faith would be filled with the knowledge of God. In that knowledge, the world will see the glory of God!

[1] The greek word used here indicates a completeness or fullness.

Colossians 1:6-8; Brief Thoughts

5… Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8and has made known o us your love in the Spirit.   

Salvation comes by hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17). The gospel is the truth: that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world and was resurrected to bring life into dead souls. By His death, Jesus takes the just wrath of God upon Himself and by His resurrection, He extends eternal life to those who believe in Him (c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21). In one glorious moment, the believer is brought from death to life in the simple act of belief. From the dust of humanity, the individual’s desperate soul is pulled from the grave into the spiritual life of God. This life is granted by faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (Eph. 2:1-8).

The Colossian believers heard the news of the gospel and believed. At some point, Epaphras (v.7) preached the truth to them, and they believed. As Paul elucidates the gospel’s story in the heart of the Colossians, he describes the gospel in active terms. Notice, the words “come… bearing fruit and growing” (v.6). These terms are actions that are accomplished by the gospel. The gospel “has come” upon the Colossians as if the message itself is alive and makes the effort to come and seek out the sheep of God. Indeed, so great is the power of God’s message of salvation that it is alive. It invades the soul, aggressively calling the dead to life. The message of God’s love for His people is so deep and profound that it takes on a personification that boggles the mind of man and can only be understood in active terms.

So great is the power of the gospel message that it bears fruit across the world. The gospel is not only viable where the individual who believes is, but is so great that it extends to the entirety of the earth. It is so powerful that it changes the world in which we live. The Colossians are reminded that the gospel is moving beyond what they can see. It is “bearing fruit and growing” across the earth (v.6). Take heart, dear Christian! God is moving through the gospel even where you cannot see Him.

The Colossian believers “heard and understood the grace of God in truth” (v.6). With the eyes of their heart enlightened to the truth, they have been able to grasp the grace that God grants to believers. They have been transformed in their reception from dead beings who were enslaved to sin into saints who delight in obedience. This gospel comes as truth! It is not speculation or desire that Paul expounds upon in this letter. It is the truth! Each dash of his pen draws forth greater understanding of the transforming power of the gospel.

The Colossian believers heard the news of Jesus from Epaphras, here identified as “fellow servant” (v.7). Epaphras has served as a sounding board for the Colossians and has heralded their love for the Spirit. Further, he has served the apostle as a minister on behalf of the Colossians. So great was the service of Epaphras to Paul that he is recorded as being Paul’s fellow prisoner in Philemon 23 and is cited as struggling in prayer alongside Paul in Colossians 4:12. He has been a faithful brother in the cause of the gospel and clearly speaks with great love for those whom he has taught the gospel. It is a great truth of the Christian faith that brothers and sisters hold each other in high regard and speak of genuine faith with great affection.

Epaphras’ love for his brothers and sisters at Colossae is indicative of the love that a teacher of the gospel has for those they teach. The teaching and receipt of the gospel of Jesus Christ are so transformative that a bond unlike any other is forged in the examination of the subject. When the gospel is taught, the student and the teacher are engaged in a spiritual exercise by which transformation or utter rejection must occur. When the hearer believes in the gospel, a life change occurs and the believer is grafted into a spiritual family that is united in the truth. The tender affection with which Epaphras speaks of his beloved family in the faith is not unique to him. It is the common affection of all believers toward each other. This is the foundational love that unites the church. It is this unique marker that should define Christian community.

O, Christian, seek out teachers who will unite their souls with yours in the gospel ministry. Teachers who will labor over you with the love and affection of Jesus Christ. Seek out community that will intertwine their lives to yours in the filial affection of faith. In this way, you will experience many teachers like Epaphras, and you will delight in the community of faith.

Colossians 1:5-6; Brief Thoughts

4… since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth,

The greatest evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is love. It is not miraculous works, gifts, or charisma. Love is the distinguishing mark of Christianity. The Spirit of Christ indwells the soul of every Christian and manifests His love in unfathomable measure, amidst the world that rejects such love (c.f. Eph. 1:13-14). So great is this identifying characteristic that Jesus says that the world will know His disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). The first-century church models this kind of love by sharing all their material goods in common and giving to any that had need (Acts 2:43). In history, true Christians have been at the forefront of social programs to aid the poor and downcast. True Christianity is marked by love for others.

This distinctive character trait seems conspicuously absent from many church congregations in the modern western church. Perhaps this missing trait indicates that the Spirit of God does not dwell in the heart of many self-professed Christians in the west. If the reality is that there is a lack of Spirit-indwelled believers in the west, then the impotence of the church is not surprising. It is not surprising because it is not true Christianity. Yet, there is hope! There is hope for salvation. Christ has died and been resurrected and His Spirit is present and active. Belief in this truth transforms the soul of the believer, leading to love. This belief recognizes Jesus as Lord and thereby demands repentance from sin and obedience to His precepts. Surrender to Christ, trusting that what He accomplished through the cross and resurrection is sufficient to atone for sin.

If we want to see love abound in the hearts of the people in the western church, the western church must begin to preach the gospel truth. True belief in Jesus is the same as surrender to Him. He is Savior and Lord: the basic confession of Christianity. If He is Savior and Lord, then He must be obeyed. If He is obeyed, then love will abound.

Such great love for saints is motivated by the “hope laid up for [Christians] in heaven” (v.5a). There is a tremendous truth to which Christians cling. The reality that life does not end at death for believers. Indeed, for believers in Jesus Christ, life begins when this world ends. Life is “birthed” when the earth is done. In Revelation 21, Jesus proclaims, “I am making all things new” and “it is born” (Revelation 21:5 and 6).[i] Life begins in eternity! What tremendous hope: that believers await eternal life, the true and everlasting life!

It is this hope that gives Christians the ability to love deeply. Knowing that their actions here on this earth are preparation for the life to come, Christians labor to love well. Indeed, the concerns and troubles that hinder love are removed from one who pursues heavenly dwellings. If one’s actions on this earth influence one’s life in the next, then one’s work will be dedicated to doing what is good for the next life. Further, if a person recognizes that their treasure is being held for them in the next life, then they will not war over treasure in this life. If they do, then they do not know.

The Colossians heard of the hope of eternity from Epaphras when he preached the gospel to them (v.7). They heard the truth, assimilated it, and it affected every aspect of their life. Their lives have been changed by the message of The One True God who brings salvation to all who trust in Him. In verse six, Paul explains that the gospel bears fruit when it is understood. The gospel changes the soul. One who has been confronted by the gospel of Jesus Christ and has understood it cannot stay in the same condition that they were in before faith. Christians change. They do not remain willfully disobedient to God, for He works in their hearts and is faithful to complete the work He began (Philippians 1:6).

O Christian, your soul is changed when you believe. Love deeply. Surrender your obsession with the things of this world and labor to love well.

[i] Verse six is commonly translated “it is done.” The Greek word used is the word for “born,” indicating that a birth has occurred. In a sense, “done” is a good translation. Indeed, the work has been completed on earth and the uniting of heaven and earth is now a reality. However, in the context of this glorious scene of Revelation 21, Jesus is proclaiming that He “IS making all things new.” Heaven meets earth at the end of the Bible and ushers in eternity. Christians would do well to recognize that the end of Revelation marks the beginning of life, not the end.

 

Colossians 1:3-4; Brief Thoughts

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,

There is little that can bring greater joy than the comfort and affection of brothers and sisters who have joined in the gospel ministry of love. The gratitude that springs from the soul when someone shares in the labor is tremendous. Paul is grateful for the Colossian believers. He is thankful for their faith and he is grateful for their expressed love to all the saints. Yet, Paul’s gratitude is not directed at the Colossians. Rather, his thanks-giving is directed to God. He is grateful to God for what God had done in the Colossians. The object of gratitude is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, God is the only appropriate recipient of gratitude for faith and love, for they only exist within the context of His mercy and grace. Christians are capable of faith because God has changed their nature in redemption (Col. 3:9-10). Christians are capable of love because God has first loved them (1 John 4:19). It is fitting to lavish gratitude upon the source of faith and love.

Further, Paul understands that the faith and love that has manifested itself in the Colossians is the work of God alone. In Philippians 1:6 Paul credits God with the work of salvation in the lives of the Philippians. In Ephesians 2 he explains that God has redeemed them from death and brought them to life. In Galatians 2:20 Paul states that he has been “crucified with Christ” and he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. It is the Lord who changes the souls of men and it is He who works out faith and love in Christians.

Is there a greater motivation for gratitude than the actions of a God who births faith and love in the hearts of obstinate people? The actions of a King who calls friends from out of the midst of enemies and rescues those who hate Him (C.f. Romans 5:1-11). Could there be a more perfect target for thankfulness? Not only has God born faith in Paul, He has also done the same mighty work across the world! Two deep truths are present in this reality. First, God moves apart from any one individual. God moved in the hearts of the Colossians with such great power that Paul “heard of” their faith and love. He did not see it first-hand. The transforming power of Christ’s spirit in their hearts was so profound that Paul “heard of” it and was drawn to gratitude towards God for the work God accomplished. Paul did not have to be there for the gospel to transform the Colossians. Second, God is faithful to redeem even when we are not present to see it. Just because you do not see the movement of God does not mean He is absent or still. He is moving to redeem His people and one day you may be fortunate to hear of it.

The faith and love of the Colossians have been “heard of.” Consider that for a moment. What a great accolade for the Colossians. Their faith and love have reached the ears of other believers in far off lands! So great is their witness that they have garnered a reputation as faithful and loving. How tremendous! O that every Christian would have such a reputation among the masses. Imagine what it would be like if Christians were actually known for their love as Christ said they would be (c.f. John 13:31-35). To be as the Colossians were would be a beautiful sight to behold.