The Mystery Kept Hidden For Many Generations
[Colossians chapter 1, verses 15-29]
Last week when we began our study of the book of Colossians, we covered the first half of chapter one. Today we’ll be finishing that up, God willing, as we continue our analysis of the writings of the apostle Paul. As I was closing out last week’s study, I was elaborating on “having a deep knowledge of God”, to quote the apostle Paul. As we continue today, you will see what Paul’s definition of deep relationship with Christ entails, as we start off at the 15th verse of chapter one.
“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 among the dead, so that in everything he might have 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 with 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.” (Colossians 1, verses 15-23, NIV)
There can be no question that Paul was writing about Christ in the superlative, as you can clearly see, holding back nothing. Jesus is the human image of a God that we can’t see otherwise. Even though the Bible says in Genesis that God the Father created the heavens and the earth, it was all done through Christ just the same. And the way God accomplished this was to give up his only Son for the sake of all of us, which elevated Jesus above and beyond all mankind and the angels of heaven and earth. And it was all so we could be with him in eternity. Without all of the above, we would have no hope of any life in the Spirit after the death of the physical body. Instead, when our lives were over we would simply blink into nothingness, forever forgotten after a lifetime of meaningless, pointless existence for its own sake. You can be assured that this is not God’s intention for our lives at all! Paul then continues going deeper in his letter to the church at Colossi.
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Remember the Star Wars movies from the late 1970’s, specifically episode three? “The force”, Obi-won Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker, “surrounds and permeates everything. It’s an invisible force that binds all things together”. That’s also a very good illustration of the personage of Jesus Christ (whether George Lucas was aware of it at the time or not only God knows). He is God’s son, and as such he is everywhere, all the time. Jesus is also the head of the church, “by making peace with his blood, shed on the cross.” Through his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus became elevated to the right hand of the Father, where he will remain for eternity. By presenting himself as the supreme sacrifice, “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.” There’s the caveat from the apostle Paul to all of Christendom. We will continue to be reconciled to God through Christ – provided we maintain and build on our faith in Jesus Christ to the point where our faith is continuously established and firmly strengthened. Plus, as Paul made himself a servant of the Gospel, so should we be emulating him in our own service for Christ, no matter what it is. Remember that the small things matter to God in ministry just like the big things do. God not only can still use you, he is happily willing to do so. Just ask him. If it’s within his will, God can ordain anyone as a pastor, deacon, musician, administrator or as an usher or anything else – and all are equally important in God’s eyes. Bearing that in mind, let’s finish up chapter one.
“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. To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col. 1, verses 24-29, NIV)
When Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you”, he is most likely referring to his persecution by the Roman Empire in general, and specifically with certain authorities in Colossi since Paul was the founder of the Colossian church. He apparently suffered greatly and had to put up with much hardship on a nearly continuing basis from the very foundation of that church onward, and all for the sake of the Gospel. Clearly Paul thinks his efforts paid off, and he was apparently not bashful about showing it. I suppose that if I had been imprisoned and tortured for my Christian faith and lived to tell about it, I would be proud of such an accomplishment as well, especially the part about God’s mercy in sparing my life.
Paul then goes on to reiterate what he had written above when he wrote, “…in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Once again Paul calls the church “the body of Christ”, just as he did above in verse 22. Then Paul echoes my own sentiments when he wrote, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness…”. And so let us also practice emulating the apostle Paul’s example every chance we get and “present the Word of God in its fullness”. I ride the bus as a general rule to get around town (since going green several years ago by not replacing my worn-out van), so I tend to run into a lot of people. All I have to do is to wait for the Lord to create an opening to initiating a conversation with most anyone who will listen. This is easy since all I have to do is wait for the right moment to introduce Jesus Christ into the conversation. So don’t be concerned about whether you can witness for Christ or not, simply stand back and let God, and he will make a way for you.
“God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery”, Paul wrote, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. The mystery is the revelation of God’s maximum fullness in his Word, which is personified by Jesus and his conquest of death. It is just as the apostle John wrote in the first verse of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning”. Paul may well have been referring to John’s gospel (as we know it today) but I can’t say for sure, and this bit of Christian history trivia has long since been lost through the dense fog of time. But Paul then closes with an interesting phrase, “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul closes chapter one by giving all the honor and all the credit for his early successes to a supernatural energy that comes directly from God. He also implies that he could not have had the success he did without it, something that I find very noteworthy. Let us ask ourselves about this as I close. Do I have success in life, in business, in my walk with Christ, and with my family? If not, could it be that I’m trying to succeed entirely of my own efforts? Are any of us leaving God out of the equation of life? This hearkens back to what I have closed Bible studies with before, the basic idea of letting go and letting God. Frustrated by failure? Exasperated by setbacks? Can’t get your timing right? It may not be your fault after all, you’re just forgetting to let go and let God. When we pray for God to intervene in our lives, he will do so, but only if we step back and let Him work. Sometimes letting go and letting God means stepping aside to get out of his way. Try it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it works. See you next week!