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February 17, 2008
The First Place – Part 2
Series: Above All
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Colossians 1:15-18

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In the series Above All, Pastor Philip De Courcy highlights the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as presented in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Christ is above all powers and all things. To go beyond Christ is to leave Christianity behind. In Above All, Pastor Philip reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ is creation’s only source, man’s only Savior, and God’s only Son, and He must be understood accurately.

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Colossians Chapter One, verse 15, I’m reading from the New King James translation of holy and inerrant scripture. “He is the image of the invisible God. The first born over all creation, for by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the preeminence.” We trust that God will richly bless his word to our lives this morning. The great painter Leonardo DaVinci was commissioned many years ago by the Duke of Milan to paint the last supper. And so he gave himself for several years to the meticulous task of rendering that scene that’s depicted for us in the gospels the night on which the Lord was betrayed.
The great painter labored with careful attention to every detail on the disciples faces, the grouping around the Lord’s table, the chalice, and of course the face of Christ himself. Once the picture was finished, Leonardo DaVinci decided to have a private screening for a friend even before the painting was put on public display. As he unveiled the picture, his friend was awestruck at this labor of love. He commented to Leonardo DaVinci, “What a beautiful cup. I can’t take my eyes off it.” And it is said that Leonardo immediately took his brush and painted through the chalice, crying that nothing should take precedence over the face of Jesus Christ. It seems to me the apostle Paul would appreciate the spirit and the sentiment of Leonardo DaVinci, that in all things the Lord Jesus Christ ought to have the preeminence.
And that’s where we’re at in this letter that was written around AD 61. Paul’s in Rome, he’s writing to a church he has never visited, but Epaphroditus, a friend and apostolic colleague has brought reports that the church at Colossae is under attack, that the doctrine of Jesus Christ is being assaulted by a body of false teaching and false teachers we probably identified as some form of Judaistic gnosticism. And so the apostle Paul takes pen and he gets a letter off to the elders and the deacons and the scions at Colossae. He wants them to understand that the Lord Jesus Christ must be preeminent in all things. You see, the teaching of these false teachers taught that Christ was only one of thousands of emanations from the great unseen God. He was a spiritual shadow of the real God, no more than a rung on the ladder to God himself.
He was a disembodied spiritual being created by God, a link in the chain, no more, no less. And so this was a great heresy, as you can imagine, it was a heresy that denied Christ’s incarnation. It was a heresy that denied Christ’s essential deity and the beauty and marvel of his reconciling work. And so it constituted a doctrinal red alert. And so here in these verses, Paul addresses the [inaudible 00:03:42] the preciousness and the preeminence of the Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact, some commentators argue that what we have here is actually a burst of confessional prayers. The very structure and syntax of the Greek New Testament here might argue to us that this originally was a hymn. The apostle Paul bursts out into a song and a defense concerning the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. One commentator put it in a very memorable way. What we have here is dogmatics set to doxology. I think it was Warren Wiersbe I once heard at a Moody conference I attended that never trust a theologian who can’t sing.
And the apostle Paul here is a great theologian. He’s defending the Lord Jesus Christ, but he can’t study Christ without getting passionate about the glory of Christ. Doctrine is a delightful thing. The more you get to know the Lord Jesus Christ the more you love him, the more you want to defend him, declare him. That’s where we’re at this morning. Paul is setting out to establish two things. First of all, that Christ is the Lord of the creation. And then secondly, Christ is the Lord of the church. He is not some subservient spiritual being. He’s not a spiritual subordinate. He’s the Lord of all creation. He’s the head of the body. And so we want to pick up where we left off as Paul establishes that Christ is the Lord of all creation, as the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation and we unpack those phrases. Paul establishes three things about Christ the creator. One, he created all things. Two, he claims all things. All things were created by him for him.
When we come to look at the third one this morning, this is the part we didn’t get to, it’s the third thought. Christ created all things, Christ claims all things, Christ controls all things. Look at verse 17. “And he is before all things and in him all things consist.” Christian theology is not deist in nature. God didn’t construct a world like some kind of watchmaker who builds a clock, winds it up and then lets it go, retiring from any involvement in that clock from that moment forward. God is not just the first cause. Jesus Christ is not just the first cause. He not only created all things, he controls all things. He’s not only a universal presence, which he is, he’s a universal pressure. All things consist in him. That’s a Greek word there, consist, that carries the idea of to hold together, to cohere. All things cohere in him. That’s an echo of Hebrews One verse three, right?
He upholds all things by the word of his power. This is what Paul wants to get across. It’s a tremendous thought. It certainly doesn’t fit into gnostic theology, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the center and cohesion of the universe. He’s the unifying principle of the world. He’s the glue, as someone has put it, that prevents the cosmos from becoming chaos. We need to understand that phrase this morning, is the Christ we worship. This is the one who’s name falls from our lips. It is due to Christ that the stars remain in place and don’t collide in a cosmic pileup along the Milky Way. It’s due to Christ that you can set your watch to the sun’s rising and setting. It’s due to Christ’s power that these things, these material entities and bodies exist and persist, for without his power things would tumble back into their original nothingness.
Have you ever thought about that? If Christ was not exercising his universal presence and universal power this morning, according to the word of God, that which came from nothing, the material, would tumble back into its nothingness. You and I breathe this morning, history inches forward this morning, the planets don’t collide this morning because Christ is the center and the cohesion of the creation. Amen. This is the one we worship and he must not be made subordinate to anything or anyone. In all things he must have the preeminence. Can you see why Paul get agitated as Epaphroditus said some of our people are buying into the thought that Christ is less than God. That he’s a spiritual entity and emanation, a derivation of God, not the very exact representation of the Father. It’s a powerful thought.
As I studied this week, science was never my thing, but I hope my information’s right here. Nuclear physicists have had their minds boggled and baffled by the essence of the atom. At the heart of the atom is, I believe, eight protons which are positively charged. Alongside them there are a number of neutrons which have no charge. And according to the law of physics and nuclear science like charges repel. And what baffles the nuclear physicist is, what holds the atom together? I mean, if you put two positively charged magnets together, they won’t hold together, but put one positively charged and negatively charged and they will come together. But at the heart of the atom, the very thing that holds everything together, the very force of the universe, all you have is positively charged protons that mysteriously hold together.
And you know what? According to one commentator, the American government, I’m sure along with some private sponsorship, has built in a research center at the cost of 600 million dollars to get to the essence of this mystery and other mysteries that surround it. Folks, we certainly can’t enter that, that’s way beyond where I’m at. But I know this theologically, while I may not be able to answer why the atom holds together, I do know who holds it together. Amen. Who holds it together? He is the cohesion. And that’s why when it comes to the end of history, according to 2 Peter 3 verse 10, the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat and the earth and its works will be burned up. And I’ve heard all sorts of kind of prophetic speculation as to what that might be. And it was very popular in the cold war era for prophetic writers to talk about a nuclear holocaust bringing the world to an end.
I think that’s fictitious. God will bring the world to an end. And you know how he’s going to do it? Jesus Christ will simply cease to uphold all things by the word of his power. And the heavens and the earth will pass away, and then he will create a new heaven and a new earth. The one who holds the atom together will someday cease to hold it together. And like a fragmentary grenade, every atom in this world will explode. Can you imagine? Certainly all things will melt with fervent heat. This is the Christ that Paul has us considering this morning. And I think there are a number of just practical applications to that I’ll just touch on and then move on. This truth reminds us that things are never really out of control in our lives. I know things may seem jumbled up this morning because we do not know all of God’s ways and his thoughts are much higher than ours.
And if you find yourself in a situation that is confusing you and challenging you, I believe that all things will work together for good, that a sovereign God and a powerful Christ is at work in this world, in the macro picture and certainly in the micro picture, and he who upholds all things by the word of his power will uphold you. He sets limits and whatever seems out of control to you is not out of control. Everything coheres in him. And since all things coherent in Christ, there is not a maverick molecule missing and there is not an out of place moment in your life on any given day, because all things consist in him. I think one other application would be that if Christ is the unifying power of this universe, he must be the unifying principle and purpose of our lives if our lives are to hold together and not break apart. Why are so many families disintegrating? Why are so many people emotionally and internally imploding and collapsing? Because Christ is not the unifying principle and purpose of their life.
He is that to the universe, and he must be that to the highest point of God’s creation, man himself, created in the image of God. And I urge you this morning to have Christ at the center of your life. Christ is the integrating center of all creation. Therefore, a life that is not rightly related to him is fighting the tilt of creation, the upward movement of history, and the very hand of God. Christ alone can unite a man with God and a man with his true self created in the image of God. I like the story of the little boy who tore a picture out of a Christian magazine of the world and he was cutting it up to create a jigsaw for a school project where he had to put the world together. But as he tried to do that, he got frustrated and his father could see the frustration in the little boy’s eyes. He was close to tears.
He had witnessed this and so he went over to the boy and he took the picture and he turned it over because he had seen as the little boy ripped the page out of the magazine, that on the other side there was a photo of Jesus Christ. And the father said to the boy, you know what, why don’t you put the face of Jesus together and then the world will come together. Seems to me that’s a wonderful illustration of what Paul is driving at here. When Jesus Christ is in the right place everything else will be in its right place. And when he’s not in the right place, everything else is disorder and disintegration. And so Paul’s arguing here for the supremacy and the sovereignty of Jesus Christ as the Lord of the creation. Now he moves on in verse 18 to a second thought, and that is that Christ is not only the Lord of creation who created all things, claims all things and controls all things, he’s the Lord of the church.
Christ’s sovereignty extends beyond the cosmos to the church. The text here is moving our thought process on, and we move from the topic of the old creation to the topic of the new creation, the church. You see, the original creation was marred by sin and man fell. That didn’t take God by surprise because according to the word of God he had a plan from eternity to take from the old creation a new creation, to take from the old humanity a new humanity called the church. And this is Paul’s focus here. And it’s a natural transition. Christ is not only Lord of the physical universe, he is Lord of a worldwide company of men and women who have embraced the word of truth, the gospel. Look at verse five and six of Chapter One, “Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you as it also has in all the world and is bringing forth fruit, since the day you heard of it.”
Christ is not only the Lord of the universe. He’s the Lord of a worldwide body of men and women, redeemed people. Christ is not only the glue that holds the physical material universe together, he’s the grand reconciler of man and God through the blood of his cross. According to verses 19 through 22 Christ has brought God and man into harmony. And so Paul here is establishing and publishing the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ over the church. This new creation, this new humanity, and in doing so again he is reminding these Colossians to shun anything or anyone that seeks to downgrade or degrade the Lord Jesus Christ. And he establishes Christ’s supremacy over the church by describing him as one, the head of the body. This is a reference to Christ’s jurisdiction over the universal church in which all believers are baptized into by the Holy Spirit the moment they believe.
First Corinthians 12, verse 13, and here Paul is utilizing the metaphor of the body for the church and is pointing to the sovereignty of Christ over it, just as our bodies are controlled by the head so Jesus Christ gives direction and definition to his church as the head. When we speak of the head here, we’re not speaking of source, we’re speaking of authority, and I think if that’s an issue for you may want to read something of Wayne Grudem’s defense of the headship, both of Christ in the church and the husband in the home. And so the headship issue here is an issue of authority. As the head directs the body, Christ is over the church. Secondly, he’s described as the beginning of the church. He’s not only its head, he’s its beginning. He’s the very fount of the church’s life. In fact, this word beginning is aligned closely with creation, isn’t it?
In the beginning God, Genesis One verse one, “In the beginning the word,” John One verse one. And so here we’re seeing that Christ was not only the genesis of the fount of physical creation, Jesus Christ is the genesis of the new creation, the new humanity, the church. Which is, as far as this church is concerned, an entity that began in the New Testament at the day of Pentecost, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit the church be began to exist. He is its head. He is its beginning. And then there’s this third description that he’s the first born from the dead. Remember back to our study of that phrase in verse 15? And the cults like to use that term to tell us that Jesus Christ was the first creature of all creation.
But we saw that that term in the Old Testament was used of rank. Often the sons of Old Testament fathers were called the first born and yet they may have been born second or third in family line, but they were given rank because of some issue. And so here we have got the idea that he is first in rank from the dead. The idea of beginning here is being amplified. Christ’s resurrection was not the first resurrection, but Christ’s resurrection is the source of all resurrections. It’s the resurrection of all resurrections and because he has been raised victoriously from the dead and over death itself, he is the source of life for the church. And so Paul is arguing in these three titles that there ought to be no fudging on the person and preeminence of Christ. He’s its head, he’s its beginning, and then rank, he’s its life. The very source of its existence and persistence.
Paul then goes on in the light of that to say that in all things he might have the preeminence, he’s the head, he’s the beginning, he’s the first born, therefore he’s preeminent. I thought about two things as it comes to the preeminence of Christ in the church. Number one, the dogmatism of Christ’s preeminence and in the dynamism of Christ’s preeminence. If you study the language and the argument of Paul here, you’re going to see he’s quite dogmatic, okay? This is not one of those take it or leave it deals. This is not a gray matter when it comes to theology or teaching for Paul. Paul dogmatically asserts the overarching rule and reality of Christ over and among all things. Let’s begin again with this thought. He is the head of the body. You may want to circle the pronoun there, he. The idea is it’s an intensive pronoun in the Greek. It’s given oomph by its very character in the Greek text.
And Paul is saying he is the head of the body. It’s almost like, you know what, he created all things and he upholds all things and he is… it’s like he raises his voice, he almost gets off his seat. He’s intense about this. This is an emphatic rendering, no fudging over this issue. Christ deserves the first place in the church because he alone is the head of the body, reminding us by the way, that we don’t look to Rome this morning to find the head of the church. Neither do we look to Canterbury this morning to find the head of the church. We won’t find the head of the church sitting on any throne in England either. Christ alone is the head of the church. We deny the jurisdiction of the papacy over our church this morning. And if you doubt that’s the claim, let me read you something from the Catholic encyclopedia. The Bishop of Rome exercises universal jurisdiction over the whole church as the vicar of Christ and the successor of St. Peter.
Well, we don’t believe that because He is the head of the church. Peter never got to Rome, and even if he did what difference does that make? He was never given succession by Jesus Christ. The apostles never saw Peter as a first among equals. Neither the Pope of Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Queen of England is head of the church. This is a dogmatic thing. And that’s why the local church must submit to Christ alone. A body of elders or a team of deacons is not the authority in a local church, only to the degree that they submit to the head and his word. And Paul’s not done with his dogmatism yet because you’ve got this binding argument. He is the head. He’s the beginning. He’s the first born that in all things, circle that, that’s the purpose clause, hina in the Greek. You might translate it in order that he will have preeminence in all things.
Paul is arguing here, and he is arguing, he’s almost acting as a lawyer or a magistrate that the supremacy belongs to Christ because he is the head and because of the reason of his resurrection. He has triumphed over all principalities and powers. Who can challenge him? He has defeated them all on the cross and the resurrection. Therefore logically, historically, cosmically, the Lord Jesus Christ is preeminent. And I just want to make an application and move on here in terms of the dogmatism of Paul here, this is a statement of fact, that’s the important thing you need to grasp. This is not up for debate this morning. The intent of this message is no more the case in the intent of Paul, that as I argue for the preeminence of Jesus Christ in the church, that you and I sit and go, “Okay, I need to think that through and I’ll decide whether he is preeminent.” No, he is preeminent. This is a statement of fact, this is not an exhortation. This is an explanation. This is not an imperative in the Greek. It’s an indicative. This is a fact.
It’s a statement. And I think it’s important for you and I to realize that, that subjugation and submission to Jesus Christ is not a debate to be had. It’s a reality to be confronted, which by implication reminds us when we take Christ to be our savior, we take Christ to be our Lord. This idea that you come to Jesus Christ as your savior and in it some time later you decide to surrender to him as Lord is both unbiblical, foreign to the New Testament and a corruption of the gospel. He is the head, the beginning, the firstborn, proving that in all things he will have the preeminence as Lord of the creation and Lord of the church, he is implicitly Lord of the Christian, right? He is your Lord this morning. Have you confronted that reality? It’s not a debate. Have you confronted that he is Lord? And therefore, you must ask yourself, has he got first place in my family, my job, my ministry? Does he have first place in matters of intellect and time and romance and leisure?
Is he preeminent in what I watch? What I eat? What I listen to? Who I spend time with? First place is his by virtue of our natural birth, he’s the Lord of creation, and by our spiritual birth he’s Lord of the church. It’s a tremendous challenge. Charles Simian was an Anglican minister in Cambridge. One of his final sermons in 1835, he actually preached on the very passage were studying this morning, Colossians One verse 18. When he got there, this old man, [inaudible 00:27:05] visibly straightened up in the pulpit and he said this, quote, “That in all things he might have the preeminence. He must have it. He will have it. He shall have it.” Folks, our Father has given him an name, which is above every name. And just before those atoms explode like fragmentary grenades all over the world and the heaven and the earth passes away, the Bible tells us they’ll come a point at the pinnacle of world history, regarding this old creation, that every knee will bow and every tongue confess.
He will have it. He must have it. I hope you’re giving him it this morning because he’s Lord of the creation and he’s Lord of the church. And Paul is dogmatic about that. Secondly and finally here, there’s not only the dogmatism that I find challenging, there’s the dynamism that I find encouraging. This is implicit in the text, more than explicit. This passage was a shout across the bow wakening this church up. Hey, what are you doing? Selling the crown jewels of the gospel? Is a Lord Jesus Christ now up to the highest bidder? You’re going to rob him of his divinity and his supremacy? So he warns them. You can’t do that, this is the Lord of the creation. This is the Lord of the church. But it’s not only a shot across the bow, it’s a shot in the arm. Remember what we said on an opening study? This is a small church in a small town in the Lycus Valley.
It’s being bypassed, all the commerce and the traffic is heading to Laodicea and Ephesus and some of the other cities surrounding Colossae. It’s on the slide, this city has seen better days, and here you have this little church hunkered down in a dying city, under threat, under pressure, their backs to the wall, around them is a swelling tide of pagan culture that times must have seemed overwhelming to them. Now understand, here they are, this little body, the ecclesia, the called out ones, hunkered somewhere in the Lycus Valley, a little church, they’re now being challenged by this false religion. The culture has rejected them and this word comes. What a word, it must have braced them and blessed them. You know what folks, he’s Lord of the creation and he’s the Lord of the church. And that’s a dynamic doctrine that under the sponsorship of the ruling and risen Christ, the church will exist and the church will continue to persist.
If the one who’s described before us is able to uphold all things by the word of the power, let me ask you a question this morning, as I’m sure they must have asked themselves with great relish, is he not able to build his church so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it? I mean, that’s the point Paul’s making. He’s kind of saying those things, if he can take care of the universe, can he not take care of us as the head? Can he not supply our need? Can he not defeat our enemies? Can he not cause us to triumph? Of course he can. The one who rules the universe is the one who rules the church. And a little commentary on Colossians. Steve Brady of England asked this question, do you know about the Peter Principle? Tom Peters is an American management guru who coined the phrase the Peter Principle. In essence, the principle states that people keep getting promoted until they reach the level of their incompetence.
How does that apply to the Lord Jesus? We’ve got to be careful here, is there a point at which the Lord Jesus gets promoted to a level of incompetence and he can’t go any further or do anymore? Of course not. He who is the head of the church is the Lord of the creation. And here’s the application, Christ’s competence far exceeds his responsibility. Amen. Christ’s competence far exceeds his responsibility. If he can take care of the old creation, he can take care of the new creation. The one who upholds all things by the word of his power can take care of his little flock among the wolves of the world. Here’s the best way to illustrate that. Our next men’s breakfast is coming up in June sometime, how do you think Jack Welch would do at organizing a men’s breakfast? Do you think he could handle that? I do. I mean, this guy took GE when it was on its knees and has left it a world leading company.
Do you think he could handle 75 men at a men’s breakfast here? Could he organize that and make sure that everybody’s in their place and knows the rules. Of course, his competency far exceeds that responsibility. That’s the whole point here. Christ’s competency far exceeds his responsibility. He is the head of the church. He is able, he is its leader, he’s willing to lead us into triumph and we need to grasp the scope and the strength of what Paul is stating here. The church may falter, but it will not fail for Christ cannot be defeated. This church may falter, but it cannot fail because Christ cannot be defeated. Has it ever struck you that the book of Acts finishes with adverb? That’s a funny way to finish a book. The last word in the Greek New Testament in the book of Acts is the adverb translated in our English Bibles no one hindering him or without hindrance, but that is the message of the book of Acts.
This little group of men and women met in an upper room and the risen Christ sent the Holy Spirit who baptized them into this body. They numbered no more than a couple of hundred, maybe 120. By the time we get to the book of Acts, the church has reached Imperial Rome. It’s spreading across the world. It has faced persecution from without, it has faced betrayal from within, but nothing is hindering the church. In one generation this little body of believers had become an international entity. Christ’s competency far exceeds his responsibility. No one hinders the church because Christ cannot be defeated. I think that’s a tremendous encouragement. I think I’ve told you this story before, during the filming of Ben-Hur, Charlton Heston had trouble learning to drive a chariot. Who wouldn’t, right? With much practice he finally was able to control the vehicle, but he still had some doubts.
And so he shared with Cecil B. DeMille, he said, “I think I can drive the chariot now, but I’m not sure I can win the race.” To which Cecil B. DeMille said, “You stay in the race I’ll make sure you win.” It’s a great illustration of what we’re talking about here. Here’s this little church hunkered down in the Lycus Valley, false teaching is making its inroads draining this church of it’s power and impact. Paul sends a letter to remind them that Christ is supreme, Christ is sovereign. And he who upholds all things by the word of his power can through his mighty arms around this church and embrace them, protect them and cause them to be a witness for Jesus Christ in Asia Minor. All they had to do was stay in the race and Christ would make sure that they would win, because he’s the head. He’s the beginning. And in rank, he’s over all.