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Colossians: Christ’s Preeminence in Creation, the New Creation of the Church, and All Things

January 31, 2014 Comments off

I’m now going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Colossians series, and enjoying it even more than I expected to.  This is a great study on this epistle, complete with many quote-worthy comments and observations, so applicable to our day as it addresses the nature and being of Christ in answer to the heresies already developing in the 1st century.

From Colossians 1:15-20, Paul’s great Christology, the following observations:

The Lord of the First Creation

This section may have been part of an early hymn, perhaps written by Paul or someone else, or even composed by multiple people in the early church.  If it is a hymn, the hymn of the beloved Son begins in verse 15 with a statement concerning the essential basis of his Lordship, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every”, or of the whole, “creation.” 

The description here is of the Lord Jesus as the unique perfect likeness and manifestation of God, the great and final theophany.  The Greek word for “image” suggests that He possesses the Divine Attributes.  Concerning the word eikon and its usage:

There is a related word to it formed of the same root entirely, absolutely, I should say, which was used of a photograph, and further, there is a word very closely related to it, one is eikon, and the other is eikonian, a diminutive of it, a little eikon which was used when individuals signed a contract in legal terms guaranteeing certain things to others.  For example, in an IOU, it was customary for when the contract was drawn up for an eikonian to be drawn up as well.  And what that meant was certain sentences which would describe the individuals who entered into the contract were set in the contract in order that there might be evidence of precisely who entered into the contract, so that there would be no misunderstanding.  That was called an eikon, that is, a description of the individuals involved.

This text presents Christ’s essential basis of His Lordship. Then, the last part of verse 15 presents the Economic Basis of His Lordship:  He is the firstborn of the whole creation.  As Dr. Johnson well notes, this does not mean He is a creature – the Arian heresy.

He’s not a creature.  He’s the creator of the creatures.”  And Athanasius convinced the early church, properly so, that the Lord Jesus may be called firstborn of the whole creation, but not in the sense that there was a time when he entered into existence, so far as his person was concerned.  In fact, the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son, and He is the creator of the creatures.  In Him the whole created universe came into its existence.  So the term firstborn then takes on the meaning that it had in other passages in the Bible: of sovereignty over.

So we have three prepositional phrases.  “All things were created in him.”  “All things were created by him.”  “All things were created for him.”

Lord of the New Creation

Paul moves from the cosmological (the physical creation), to the soteriological, our personal salvation.  Christ is the head of the body, and thus He controls the church, He owns the church, and has authority over the church.

Of course, that has great practical significance so far as our personal life is concerned too.  We are related to the Head who is in heaven.  And if we are to live a life that is acceptable to the Lord God, we must be submissive to the Head, the Lord Jesus in a personal sense.  And as a body of believers who are under shepherds, elders, it’s most important for them and for us to be under Him and to look to Him for control and guidance and authority in the things that we do.

Preeminent In All Things

Verse 18, “that in Him should all fullness dwell.”

I don’t think that the apostle, when he says, “All fullness,” here is referring simply to our Lord’s deity.  That doesn’t make sense in the context, that is, that He should have the preeminence because He’s firstborn from the dead because He’s God.  It should relate to His saving work by which He became firstborn from the dead.  So I suggest to you …. what I mean by “all fullness” … all saving fullness, all saving power, in grace, because He’s the covenantal head of the people of God.  So he says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all, ‘saving’ fullness dwell.”

This point is especially important to the Colossians, in answering the heresy of gnostic Judaism, which included the idea of a God so holy that He doesn’t directly create.  Gnosticism has a series of eons, angelic type beings, that come forth from God the father, each a little less holy, and Christ is one of these beings, not a divine being but a created, secondary being, a mediator that is secondary and not god himself.  Paul emphasizes this point, that it “pleased the Father” to have all saving power reside in Christ – Jesus Christ the covenantal head and having all saving power.  So there is not a hierarchy of mediators between God and men as the heretics were saying.  But by the fact that He is raised from the dead, there is evidence that He is the one and only saving mediator between God and men. 

Various Devotional Thoughts

April 16, 2010 Comments off

Several different devotional thoughts and teachings have helped encourage me in my daily Christian walk.

Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs has a good article in his study through Colossians, about being thankful — a good reminder every day.

Today’s “Morning and Evening” devotional from Spurgeon has a great “evening” edition, from the text of Exodus 17:2 and the prayer of Moses.  As usual, Spurgeon is spot on with his observations, such as this one:

It is far easier to fight with sin in public than to pray against it in private. It has been observed that while Joshua never grew weary in the fighting, Moses did grow weary in the praying; the more spiritual an exercise, the more difficult it is for flesh and blood to maintain it.

The more I continue daily reading and study through God’s word, the more I realize my need for it every day.  A related thought: yesterday’s grace and yesterday’s prayers and thoughts are not sufficient, but continual reminders are needed; even then, sometimes my soul is still dull and sluggish to respond to the things of God.  Thank God for His immutability, His unchanging nature — even though we are often “foolish and slow of heart” (Luke 24: 25), our God is infinitely patient and will never forsake us.  Often I recall the words of the man who exclaimed to Jesus, “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

One important teaching impressed upon me these last few months has been that, as S. Lewis Johnson put it, our salvation gives us many things, but one thing it does not do is “guarantee that we shall never stumble in the Christian life or that we shall not have periods of declension.”   This point especially comes out in lessons through the lives of the Old Testament saints in Genesis, and in the topical series through the lives of Gideon, Samson, and David.  My frequent failures and up-and-down feelings toward God used to plague me to despair, to the point of doubting my salvation — in the face of several years of that tone of teaching at the local church, with its emphasis on the ever forward-moving improvement and sanctification in the believer’s life, without the proper balance of the reality as illustrated in both Old and New Testament saints.  Such teaching — from a weak preacher who describes the narratives of David’s failures as though they were not declensions but what David had to do and thus it was okay for David, and portrays David as actually a better, less sinful man than the rest of us (because of his special chosen status before God and as a type of Christ) — just didn’t address the truth that David and others in the Bible did blunder, and did so quite often.  As S. Lewis Johnson also pointed out in reference to David as a type of Christ, David is not a type of Christ in his sin, in his humanness.  David is a type of Christ (only) in his official activity — “officially he is a type of Christ because he is a king, and thus he represents the Messianic king who is to come.”   We can learn from David’s personal example, but that is different from teaching that David, being a type of Christ, was somehow better and less prone to sin than the rest of us.

This morning my MP3 teaching came from the message  “Declension of David,”  in which we see the steps David takes in his walk away from the Lord (1 Samuel 21), starting with fear — then to deception, lying about need of haste, needing a sword, a flight to Achish king of the Philistines, then to the feigning of madness and being driven away from a pagan king.  But then Psalms 34 and 56, written at the time of these events, shows us the way out of that declension (Psalm 34) and how to maintain a right walk before God (Psalm 56).