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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 22, 2010
The Preeminence of Christ Over the Church
Have you ever noticed that language causes confusion? You use a word thinking you are communicating one concept, but those who hear you think of a different meaning for the word resulting in your original idea becoming confused. This kind of miscommunication is often at the root of interpersonal conflicts. You mean one thing, but they understand it as something else. That is why good communication and working through conflicts are the key to good relationships with others. When you add translating from one language into another to the mix, the potential for confusion rises exponentially.
This also occurs in our understanding of the word of God. Because it was written down in ancient Hebrew and koine Greek (with a few passages in Aramaic), it is not uncommon to find that we come to wrong conclusions because of a failure to understand what God had actually said. This can be because the words used, and especially cultural idioms, do not translate well into another language, or the translator did not choose the best word to convey the meaning of the original, or we have the wrong connotation of the word.
An example of this is the word, “church.” Our English word actually has its origin in a compound word that means “lord’s house.” Because of that, church is often used in reference to a building that is set apart for religious services or for the religious services that take place in such a building. Those are the meanings when people say they are going to church or they had church at a particular place or time. The word church is also used in reference to the people that will meet together for such religious services and for the particular people that have authority over such a group. Those are what is meant when people say the church gathered together or the church made a decision. Putting all these together in one sentence can be very confusing – the church (authorities) called the church (people) to meet at the church (building) to hold church (services).
While such semantics can be confusing, the greater difficulty, in fact, tragedy, is that what God has actually said about the church gets lost in the confusion and man made ideas replace God’s directions. This morning we are going to be examining Colossians 1:18-24 and what the Apostle Paul states about Jesus is supreme over the church. Just as we saw last week that Jesus being preeminent over Creation, so we will find this week that He is preeminent over the Church.
Last week we looked at the first part of this passage that explains Jesus’ position and nature. Colossians 1:15-17 states, “And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Jesus is God in human flesh revealing His nature and character to man, and so He existed before Creation, is the architect, maker and possessor of all creation, and He holds all of Creation together (See: The Preeminence of Jesus Over Creation).
This week we will be looking at the remaining part of this section in verses 18-23 which read, 18 “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say], whether things on earth or things in heaven. 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, [engaged] in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach– 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” Jesus existed before the Church. He is the One that brought it into existence. He directs it and accomplishes His purposes through it. Without Jesus, there is no Church.
Jesus’ Position – vs. 18
The Head of the Church. In order to understand the importance of Jesus’ position within the church and its practical ramifications, we must first understand what Scripture means when it talks about the church. Verse 18 states, “He is also head of the body, the church.” The word church is the Greek word ejkklhsiva / ekklêsia which is better translated as congregation or assembly. The term was used in Greek society of the citizens of a community being gathered together in a public place. The congregation is made up of those who belong to the same community and hold the same citizenship. All true Christians hold a common citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and are therefore part of the same community. Properly then, the Biblical use of the term “church” refers to the people that make up the congregation.
Paul gives further description of this congregation as being the “body.” He uses this same analogy several other places – Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; and Ephesians 3,4 & 5. The idea is simple enough, yet one often missed by those who claim to be part of the church. Here are some of the practical ramifications of it.
First, a body is an organism and not an organization, yet many are those that work hard to organize the church as in a corporation with all sorts of lines of authority thinking that will make the church successful. While I am all for an organized body, I am against corporate structure within the church because it is not about lines of authority but rather opportunities to serve. In an organization those at the top tell those below them what they are to do. In a body, each part works in harmony with the other parts for the benefit of the whole.
If a body needs to move, the legs go to work and carry the rest of the body with them. When the body needs to pick something up, the back and legs bend so that the arms can swing down and eye can coordinate the hands grasping the object. The nose senses the danger of smoke while the eyes assess the cause and the potential harm of the fire so that the rest of the body can either fight the fire or flee from it. When the feet ache from over use the arms and legs coordinate so that the hands touch the feet to massage them to make them feel better. Then there are all the internal organs that work in harmony so that the body can live. The digestive system is designed so that the body can get nutrition. The heart, lungs and blood are designed to deliver oxygen to each cell. The liver and kidneys are designed to clean out impurities. All the parts of a body need the other parts in order to function properly.
Second, in this passage and others it is clear that Jesus is the head of the body and not any person or group of people. Man is the one that has come up with ecclesiastical titles and placed unauthorized authority in those holding them – pope, cardinal, bishop, etc. They forget that it is Jesus that directs and builds His church, not man. Even when we examine the few offices God has given to men within the church that carry some authority, it is for the purpose of carrying out God’s directives and not for being authoritarian. The word of God was written down through the prophets and apostles. The purpose of evangelists and pastor/teachers is to train the body for the work of the ministry. Deacons and deaconesses are servants by definition. There is an office of leadership in a local church which does carry authority. The various titles given to it – elder, presbyter, bishop, overseer, pastor, shepherd, – describe the qualifications, nature and function of the office and none of them are authoritarian for the authority rests in the Scriptures and not in the person holding the office itself. Even the admonishment in Hebrews 13:17 – “obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” – is based on godly wisdom given such a person in order to lead. A pastor may have to exercise strong authority in protecting the flock God has entrusted to Him from wolves even as Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, but the attitude the pastor is to have with the flock is described in 1 Peter 5:1-3 – “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”
Jesus is the head of the body, the church. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him, so He has the right to command and the ability to enable His followers to carry out His will of making disciples by going out, baptizing those that respond to the gospel and teaching them to obey whatsoever He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). He is the one that directs how His body is to function, and those serving Him are obligated to do His will in His way. That is to be especially true of those He has placed in leadership positions since they are to be models of godliness for the rest of the flock. Jesus is the one that builds His church (Matthew 16:18), so all His servants need to be careful to follow the blueprint He has given and follow His commands. Listening to the wisdom of the world in how to attract people results in building large religious institutions instead of actual churches which are part of the body of Christ.
The Beginning. Jesus is head of the church because He is also the beginning. The term used here (ajrchv / archê) has a wide range of meaning, but in this context it would be best to understand this beginning in the sense of being the origin. The church has its origin in Jesus. The very first use of the term is in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus tells His disciples that He would build His church. Acts is the record of Him building the church through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The church begins with the coming of the spirit on the day of Pentecost and empowering those present to be His witnesses. The Holy Spirit continues that ministry to this day in empowering Jesus’ disciples to be bold witnesses of the gospel and proclaiming the mighty deeds of God.
The First-born of the dead. Jesus is also first born of the dead. The word used here is the same as we saw in verse 15 last week (prwtovtoko” / prôtotokos) which can be used in the sense of the first child to open the womb or the first in a series. Quite a few commentators suggest that usage here, but Jesus is not actually the first one to physically die and be raised back to life. Elijah raised the widow’s son (1 Kings 17) and Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4). Jesus Himself raised several people from the dead including the widow’s son (Luke 7), the Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9) and Lazarus (John 11). Now perhaps this could be a reference to the first of those who would rise from the dead and receive glorified, resurrected bodies, but that would seem to be adding something to the text.
The context better supports that the term first-born here is used in the same manner as in verse 15 in meaning the foremost in importance of those that had been and of those that would be resurrected in the future. Since His resurrection was with a glorified body, He is superior to those who had previously been raised from the dead because they all eventually did die again. He is also superior since His resurrection with a glorified body is the type and means by which all future people who will be resurrected. It is in Christ that we shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22), and whatever our resurrection bodies will be like, it will be like His (1 John 3:2).
The First in Everything. All these factors taken together are why Jesus has become first place in all things. By virtue of being the Creator He was already supreme in Creation. He became supreme in humanity by becoming a human, living a sinless life, dying as the sacrificial payment for sin, being raised from the dead in a glorified body, and ascending to heaven to be at the Father’s right hand. This statement contradicts the claims of the various heretics in Colossae that either Jesus was not God, a lessor god, not human or detached from the physical world in someway. They also show why He is the head of the body, the church.
Jesus’ Nature – vs. 19
In verse 19 Paul remarks on Jesus’ nature and begins an explanation of how Jesus brought about the church. 19 “For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him.” In the eternal counsel of the Godhead, the Father took pleasure in filling the Son with all the attributes of deity so that He is the image of God who is also the architect, maker and possessor of all Creation. Paul makes similar statements Ephesians 1:23 and Colossians 2:9 about the fullness of deity dwelling in Jesus. Fullness here (plhvrwma/ plêrôma) is the idea of full measure, complete, sum total, totality and the context show this is in reference to attributes of deity and savior. The term dwell here (katoikevw / katoikeô) is one of permanence rather than a temporary sojourning. Both of these are contrary to what the Gnostics would teach – that Jesus only had partial attributes of deity and that the aspects of deity were only upon Him temporarily. Jesus has all the attributes of God and they are His permanently. He is also the one that would bring about the church through redemption and reconciliation which Paul expands on in the verses following.
Jesus’ Work – vs. 20
In order for the church to exist there had to be reconciliation between God and man. Without reconciliation man continues in his sin and lives under God’s condemnation and abiding wrath. Because God is longsuffering, the fulness of that wrath is held in abeyance, but is over man like Damocles sword ready to fall upon him at anytime. God’s kindness and patience should cause man to repent (Romans 2:4), but man continues on his way in his own self righteousness. Man could not do anything to correct the problem himself even if he wanted to because the penalty of sin is death and that would result in permanent separation instead of reconciliation.
Two weeks ago I talked about redemption, the price paid to purchase us so that we could be delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ. The redemption price was the death of Jesus on the cross as the payment for our sin which satisfied God’s holiness and justice. Reconciliation is brought about by the same act of Jesus yielding His life as the payment for sin to bring about the necessary change so that there could be peace between God and man. The means of reconciliation is referred here as “the blood of His cross” signifying the nature of Jesus’ death as a sin sacrifice, for “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” (Hebrews 9:22), and there could not be peace between God and man until the sin problem was solved. The redemption price allows for reconciliation. There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), and “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
However, having the price paid so that reconciliation could take place does not mean that it will take place because both parties have to be agreeable to it. God has done His part in removing the barrier erected by sin, but sinners must still respond to the offer and repent and receive forgiveness. That is why 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 describes the ministry of believers as one of reconciliation in which we, as ambassadors for Christ, beg people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. Jesus has already paid the price and done the work to make possible what is otherwise impossible for men, but men must still respond to the offer in repentance and belief.
Paul adds here that the blood of the cross has brought about reconciliation of things in heaven and on earth. We know from Romans 8 that Jesus’ death is also the means by which the earth, which groans under the curse of sin in the present, will one day be set free from its slavery to corruption. That is a common theme in the writings of the prophets about a future restoration of the nation and land of Israel during the millennial kingdom. In some similar way not fully explained here, Jesus’ death has also made possible a reconciliation in heaven. This would not be a redemption and reconciliation of the fallen angels, for they will remain condemned along with unrepentant men and both will be cast into the lake of fire at the final judgement (Matthew 25:41,46; Revelation 20:15). Yet there is some reconciliation by which the defilement of sin on earth and in heaven will be removed so that all will have peace with God.
Man’s Position & Nature – vs. 21
Paul explains man’s natural position and nature in verse 21. “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, [engaged] in evil deeds.” This matches what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-4 about us walking “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. . .” living “in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath. . .” Apart from Christ man is alienated, estranged, excluded, shut out from God. This is not due to God rejecting man, but man rejecting God. Ever since the fall, man has been hostile in mind toward God because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7), and man does not want his evil deeds exposed. He loves the darkness instead of the light because his deeds are evil (John 3:19). Remember that even in the Garden of Eden, it was man that hid from God, not God hiding from man. It has always been God that searches man out to bring about reconciliation and not the other way around. Man wants God as much as a thief wants the police. Man’s religious quest is for a god that man can handle. The gods formulated by the various religions are ones that can be appeased by man’s own efforts and which will allow him some means to still hold on to his sin.
The Purpose of Reconciliation – vs. 22
Man will not seek out God to reconcile, but God has made the provision for it anyway in order to bring about His purpose as explained in verse 22, “yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” Paul again takes us back to the cross, but this time He emphasizes that it was through the death of Jesus’ fleshy body that reconciliation was achieved. Once again showing the falsehood of the teaching of the heretics that Jesus was somehow separated from the material world. Paul states clearly that Jesus was part of the material world because He died in a fleshy body.
But what was the purpose of this reconciliation? Many people treat Christianity as if it was an intellectual acknowledgment or perhaps just a cultural identity which has little to do with the way in which they actually live. Many live in practical Gnosticism in which their mental and spiritual assents and professed beliefs are separated from the material world in which they live. They say and claim one thing but live in an opposite fashion. For some it seems they think they are doing God a great favor by claiming to be Christians, so God should return the favor by letting them live however they desire. No wonder so many of the mega-churches have more in common with a theme park or entertainment center than a house of worship. No wonder so many so called “Christian” colleges use the same techniques as the secular college to attract students that want to have a good time with a little bit of academic education thrown in here and there to justify the huge expense.
God did not reconcile us through the death of His son as “fire insurance” so that we can peacefully go our way doing whatever our flesh, mind and pride desire. He reconciled us so that our lives would be changed and we would reflect Christ in lives that are holy, blameless and above reproach before Him. A holy life is a life separated unto God. It is characterized by a mind that is set on things above instead of the things of this world (Colossians 3:2). It is a life lived for God’s glory and the good of others instead of self. Blameless (a[mwmo” /amômos) means to be without blemish. It is a life lived without disgraceful conduct. Above reproach (ajnevgklhto” / anegklêtos) goes beyond this with the idea that there is no cause for reproach. A holy, blameless life that is above reproach is one that is lived for God without cause for accusation and any accusation made cannot stick. Ephesians 1:4 states that having this kind of character and life was the very reason that God chose us for Himself. Such a life is a life lived worthy of His calling of us and pleasing to Him.
The Necessity of Perseverance – vs. 23
Paul ends this section with a warning to continue in the faith. “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” In theology we refer to this idea of continuing in the faith as the perseverance of the saints. In other words, those that actually belong to Christ, though they will struggle at times and waver in the strength of their faith, will in the end persevere in what they believe which in turn will affect the manner in which they live.
There is a false belief that has risen out of a wrong application of the doctrine of the security of the believer. It is true that a person who is saved by Jesus Christ cannot be lose their salvation because Jesus loses none of those given to Him by the Father (John 6:39). It is not true that every person who thinks they are saved actually is saved. There have always been tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:25-40) and those who prove to have false professions because they actually have false beliefs (1 John 2:19). The emphasis in some circles on some action as the evidence of belief and salvation – walking the aisle, raising your hand, praying a prayer – has led people to falsely trust those actions instead of believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. I am saved not because of anything I have done but because of what Jesus did for me at Calvary, and I am secure in my salvation because of His promises. I live for Him because that is the only rational response to my beliefs. Since He is God and my creator, then I have the obligation to obey Him, but that is a joy to do since He loves me and knows what is best for me.
The true Christian may take three steps forward and two back, but there will be a progress in their life in a growing faith and trust in God that Paul describes here as firmly established and steadfast. If someone can move you away from the hope of the gospel, then your faith does not have these characteristics and it had probably been in the wrong thing all along. True faith will be challenged, and it might even waver with doubt, but it will work through such challenges and doubt and come back stronger from the testing. That is a common testimony of many strong believers including myself.
When the essential truths of the gospel are believed – man is sinful and justly condemned by God, God is holy and just but also longsuffering and loving providing a way of redemption and reconciliation through Jesus Christ who God in human flesh, lived a sinless life, willingly died as the substitute payment for our sin, was bodily raised on the third day, and is now at the right hand of the Father preparing a place in heaven for all who believe and place their trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sin – then any challenges in these areas and all secondary issues can be worked through to become a faith that is firmly established and steadfast.
This is the gospel that the disciples of Jesus were proclaiming wherever they went. It was to this gospel that Paul was made a minister. If this is not the gospel that you have heard and believed before today, then today is the day of salvation by repenting and believing what God has revealed. Talk with myself or any of our church leaders and we would be glad to take you through the gospel step by step so that you might believe and know God’s peace.
Sermon Notes – 8/22/2010
The Preeminence of Christ Over the Church – Colossians 1:18-23
Jesus is preeminent over _____________- Colossians 1:15-17
Jesus is the image of God existing before time and the architect, maker, possessor & sustainer of ______
Jesus’ Position – vs. 18
The Head of the Church – “He is also head of the body, the church”
Church, ejkklhsiva / ekklêsia, is better translated as congregation or ____________
The congregation is made up of those who belong to the same community and hold the same __________
The body is an __________, not an organization.
Each part of the body works in ____________with the other parts for the benefit of the whole body
Jesus is the _________of the body, and not any other person or group of people
Church leaders are to carrying out ___________ directives, not be authoritarian rulers
Jesus has the _______to command & power to enable His followers to carry out His will (Matt. 28:18-20)
Jesus builds His church, His followers simply need to ________ and do things His way.
The Beginning – “and He is the beginning,”
ajrchv / archê in this context means beginning in the sense of being the ___________
The First-born of the dead
“First-born” (prwtovtoko” / prôtotokos) here has same meaning as in vs. 15 – __________in importance
The First in Everything – “so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.”
By virtue of being the Creator He was already supreme in all ___________
By virtue of His incarnation, sinless life, atonement and resurrection He became supreme over the _____
Jesus’ Nature – vs. 19 “For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him.”
Fulness = complete, totality. Context is in reference to attributes of ________ and savior
Dwell (katoikevw / katoikeô) is one of __________________rather than a temporary sojourning
Jesus has all the attributes of _________ and they are His permanently.
Jesus’ Work of Reconciliation – vs. 20
Without reconciliation man continues in his sin and lives under God’s condemnation and abiding ______
God’s kindness & patience should cause man to _________(Rom. 2:4), but man continues on his own way
__________is the price paid to rescue man from the domain of darkness and transfer to Christ’s kingdom
_____________ is the restoration of peace after the payment for the offense is made
“The blood of His cross” is Christ’s sacrificial _________ that atoned for sin – Hebrews 9:22
God has done His part & paid the price, but man must _____and believe accepting the gift of forgiveness
Christ’s death will free the ________ from its slavery to corruption (Romans 8).
Some unspecified reconciliation also happens in ___________ due to Jesus’ atonement
Man’s Position & Nature – vs. 21 (see also Ephesians 2:1-4)
Apart from Christ man is alienated, estranged, excluded, shut out from God – because ______rejects God
Man’s religious quest is for a god he can _______________to earn his own salvation and continue in sin
The Purpose of Reconciliation – vs. 22
Jesus brings reconciliation in His own _______body through death – Jesus was part of the material world
_________ Christianity is not an intellectual assent nor a cultural identity nor a practical Gnosticism
Redemption & reconciliation are not “_____________” that allows us to live as we desire
We were reconciled so that our lives would be changed to reflect Christ in ____________.
____________ – set apart unto God – a life lived for God’s glory instead of self (Col. 3:2).
Blameless – without ___________ – a life lived without disgraceful conduct
Above reproach – a life lived without cause of _____________ and acquittal if accused.
The Necessity of Perseverance – vs. 23
Perseverance of the saints – there will be struggles, but _____continues, grows and affects conduct of life
If faith can be moved away from the hope of the gospel, then it ____________true faith in the gospel.
________will be challenged & may waver, but it works through doubt to become established & steadfast
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Write down all the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times reconciliation is mentioned. 3) Talk with your parents about what it means to be reconciled with God
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What are some of the root causes of misunder-standings? Why is Jesus preeminent over Creation? What is the church according to the Bible? How is a body different from a corporate organization? What is the relationship of the head to the rest of the body? What role does the rest of the body have toward the head? What authority do Biblical church leaders have and how are they to exercise that authority? In what sense is Jesus the beginning – vs. 18? In what sense is Jesus the “first-born from the dead” since others were resurrected before Him? What does it mean that Jesus is first in everything? What is Jesus’ nature in reference to God? What is the difference between redemption and reconciliation? How are each brought about? What role does man play in becoming reconciled with God? Are you reconciled with God? What is the nature and position of man apart from Jesus Christ? What should be the result of reconciliation with God? Why do so few people that profess to be Christian live lives that are holy, blameless and above reproach? What are some of the differences between truth faith and false faith? How do you respond to challenges to your faith? What do you do with doubt?
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