St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, concludes his opening thanksgiving with the acclamation “he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). In the rest of the first chapter, we’ll see how this one central saving act is set out from three different angles.
Christ and Creation
The Apostle opens by proclaiming Christ to us as the one in whom the creation sees the otherwise invisible God, and moves immediately to his relation to Creation in general. In verses 15 and 16, we read of Christ’s headship over all creation; he is, we read, ‘the firstborn’, he is the heir of all; yet more than that – for all was created by him. Absolutely everything in heaven and on earth was created both through him, and for him. However, the relationship which Christ has to creation here is not just one of initiation; for creation continues to depend upon him to sustain it – as we read, ‘in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:15-17).
So far, we’ve seen the relationship of Christ to Creation which has existed since the beginning of time – now, we come to that great event on which all the three angles focus. Here, it is seen in Christ’s relationship with the new creation in his act of saving the whole of creation. You may have noticed that Verse 18 lists Christ as head of the church separately from his headship over the rest of creation in verse 16. Why would Paul do this? Well, the church is the forefront of the reconciled creation; it is in the church that we find the new creation even during the present age. Christ is the head not only of the old creation, but also of the new reconciled creation – he is the head of the reconciliation of all things to God. Verse 18 declares that “he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”, which speaks of his role now in the new creation, the Kingdom of those who have passed from death to life; it is him through whom all things are reconciled.
The picture Paul paints here is one of Christ’s role in the new creation as being in parallel with his role in the old creation. Christ, over both, is preeminent; and both are held together in him and for him. The one by whom the first creation was made, is the one through whom the new creation was reconciled.
Finally, this angle closes with a ‘big picture’ view of Christ’s saving work. We read of him that ‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:19-20). By his blood once shed upon that one cross outside Jerusalem, the whole of creation; hitherto alienated and cut off from God’s peace, was reconciled. All creation; the present age, and the age to come, every moment of history, every second of the future, turns on that one single event. There, before the eyes of man, the very image of the invisible God; the one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell; the one who is the head and firstborn of all creation; gave his life to achieve for all creation the peace of reconciliation with God.
Christ and Man
In the second part, Paul shifts the camera angle from creation to the salvation of man specifically. He addresses the Christians in Collossae as ‘you’, and sets out the saving work of Christ from their perspective. In verse 21, we read “and you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death”. The Christians in Collossae, just as all mankind, were once enemies of God, cut off from his peace, hostile to God’s truth, and living a life described aptly as ‘doing evil deeds’. Yet, these same over whom even the greatest optimist would despair, are the very people who Christ has now reconciled. Christ has reconciled them, we read, in his body of flesh – the flesh he took to share in the humanity of man, that he might redeem it from its bondage to death through his own death.
Why was Christ pleased to give his life for them? Paul declares that it is “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him”. That is, the reason they are reconciled is so that they themselves might be acceptable before Holy God; that they, being made holy, blameless and above reproach by the redemption that is in his blood – the forgiveness of sins, could be made members of the Kingdom of the Son.
How can they know that they are indeed reconciled, that they will truly be presented holy and blameless and above reproach before him? Paul tells us in verse 23 it is “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister”. According to God’s holy and perfect design, those who are reconciled are given faith in Christ’s great work of reconciliation by his blood; a faith by which they are assured both of reconciliation now and sure hope of the fullness of the Kingdom of the Son. They who are Christians then are marked first and foremost by this, a faith stable and steadfast, built firmly upon the hope of this one gospel.
Connecting back to the first part, Paul declares that this Gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven; at which point, he shifts the angle again for the third view – declaring that it is of the Gospel that “I, Paul became a minister”.
Christ and the Church
Although we’ve seen the great work of Christ from the point of view of creation, and the work of Christ in the reconciliation of men, we’ve yet to see how the two are connected. How do we go from Christ’s reconciliation of all creation to a sinner in Collossae, or Kuala Lumpur, being now reconciled to God by faith in the gospel?
Well, Paul speaks of himself as an example, for he has become a minister of the Gospel; from this angle, he explains how ministry of this Gospel is a central part of God’s design. In verse 24 we read, concerning the suffering of Paul – which as he wrote likely included present imprisonment, both that he rejoices in them, and that the sufferings he undergoes are for the sake of his fellow men. He can say this because they come as a result of his obedience to God’s command that he bring them the Gospel, and more even than that; for he writes of these sufferings that “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”. It is part of God’s purpose that those who are in Christ should suffer with him, and that all should grow into conformity to even Christ. What a great privilege it is for God to grant to suffer for the sake of the body of Christ.
In the next verse, we read that Paul “became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you”; which was specifically, “to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints”. It is God who is revealing the mystery of the Gospel, and he does it to his saints – those who are made holy by the blood of his Son. Yet, it is Paul who brings this word by which it is revealed.
Is it Paul who reconciles people? No; although Paul brings the Gospel to them, yet, as we see in verse 27, it is God who chose them, for “to them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. Indeed, not only is it God’s purpose, God’s plan and God’s choice, but the hope of this gospel itself is described as “Christ in you”, it is not Paul who reconciles, but God who in mercy and wisdom works the miracle of reconciliation through the means of the ordinary word of a redeemed sinner.
What are these words? Verse 28 assures us that Paul; (and not only Paul but all as they share in the true ministry of the Gospel, for here he has shifted from ‘I’ to ‘we’); proclaims Christ. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ”. This is the focus of his gospel ministry; and this is the aim – not straying from Christ, but working to build everyone up in Christ, that they might be presented mature in him.
This most personal of the angles concludes with words which summarise the task of the Christian as a minister of the gospel; we read in verse 29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me”. Eyes fixed upon the hope of the gospel, lives toiling and struggling to proclaim Christ, yet doing all by the energy of Christ which he works within us to fulfil his purpose.
So, through these three angles, we first see that great work of Christ in reversing the fall, of reconciling the whole of creation to God; secondly, we see the same reconciling work of Christ in the shedding of his blood as it applies to the salvation of mankind; and finally, we see the reconciling work of Christ being declared by God, according to the design of God, by the power and energy of God, through a faithful gospel ministry of Christians to their neighbours in all mankind.
So, from the first, we learn to set our hope upon the day when the fullness of the Kingdom of the Son shall be revealed, the reconciliation of all creation where all will be at peace with God. From the second, we learn to cling to the blood of Christ shed once for us, for the forgiveness of our sins; we are strengthened in our faith in his one sin-bearing sacrifice, and assured by that same faith that we – now entirely reconciled and forgiven by his blood – shall be presented holy, blameless and above reproach before him. And from the last, we learn of the centrality and great importance of the faithful ministry of the gospel; of preaching, warning, and teaching focused on Christ, and aiming at building one another up into maturity in Christ; further, we learn that even this is God’s powerful work in us. May we individually and as a church strive constantly in this ministry; if we suffer, may we rejoice that it is for the body of Christ; if we struggle, may we give thanks for it is by Christ’s energy that we do it; and as we speak, may we make the word of God fully known, teaching with all wisdom the rich glories of this gospel ministry.