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Focus on the Son | Colossians 1:15-23

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

You cannot improve on the Son of God…

1) Because he is preeminent as creator and sustainer (15-17).

2) Because he is preeminent as redeemer (18-20).

3) So keep your eyes set on him (21-23).

Focus on the Son

Colossians 1:15-23

March24, 2024

Docetism, Gnosticism, Montanism, Adoptionism, Universalism, Valentinianism, Sabellianism, Marcionism, Monarchianism, Modalism, Patripassianism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, Tritheism, Collyridianism, Subordinationism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism, Eutychianism, and Monophysitism.

What do all of these “isms” have in common? They were all false teachings that infiltrated the church in the first few centuries of her existence. They also have in common the fact that none of them denies Jesus. Each position gladly proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord,” but then went on to explain that they believed that Jesus was much different than what the Bible had to say about him. 

In the church, it seems easy to reject teaching that comes in your face and says, “Forget Jesus!” It is more difficult, however, to combat the teachings that begin by saying, “I love Jesus, and he is my Lord,” but then go on to say that you need something more than Jesus or that the Bible doesn’t get Jesus totally right. 

Truth, mixed with deadly error, is harder to spot than straight error, just like many leaders throughout time have come to discover that food laced with a little bit of poison looks normal and tastes good even though it eventually kills you. 

We face today the threat that has been with the church from the very beginning, which is the threat of saying that the Jesus of Scripture is wrong or not enough. In saying that Jesus is not enough, false teaching calls you away from him but in a subtle  way. After all, it doesn’t deny Jesus. It changes him and redirects your hope, saying that you need something in addition to Jesus. You need hidden knowledge; another testament of Jesus Christ; another pill in order to be happy; another Ted talk to get your life together; a spouse, job, or higher income bracket to be fulfilled. 

Whatever the teaching is, they all hold in common this idea: “Jesus isn’t enough.” 

As we noted last time, Paul is writing this letter to a church he does not know personally. The gospel message has reached Colossae through Epaphras, Paul’s coworker. Epaphras has made known to Paul that people in this city have come to Christ and a church has been planted, he even notes evidences of their faith in Christ, love for each other, and how this is obviously tied to the hope that they have in Christ. 

But Epaphras also told Paul of the false teaching that threatened this church. So, as an apostle, Paul was drawn to write to them and correct the error. He will get to that in full as we reach chapter 2. But before he addresses the false teaching directly there, he sets the ground work for how he will address it in 1:15-23. What he does in these verses is point to the supremacy of Christ over all things. After doing this, he turns to give them an exhortation based on the fact that Christ is supreme over all. 

What I want to do this morning is simply walk through this explanation and exhortation based on who Christ is. I want to do this because it is not given merely for the Colossians. We need it as well because, whether you know it or not, you are tempted to take your eyes off of the Son and hope in other things. Like the Colossians, we are tempted to try to move past the Son or add on to him, as the false teachers were calling the church to do. This is why we need to hear what these verses say about Jesus. 

This passage screams to us, “You cannot improve on the Son of God either by adding to him or going beyond him.” But how does it do that? Let’s walk through it together. 

You cannot improve on the Son of God…

Because he is preeminent as creator and sustainer (15-17)

To speak of the Son as the creator and sustainer is no small thing. After all, what sets God apart from all the so called Gods in the Old Testament is the fact that he is the creator, sustainer, and thus owner of all things. No other so called deity can make such claims and back them up. 

Thus, to claim that the Son is creator and sustainer is the same thing as saying that the Son is God, which is exactly what these verses claim. And get this clear: he is not a god, but the God. And, since he is God, he is obviously of paramount importance. But do these verses really make this claim? Let me show you how they do by pointing to four key statements:

  • He is the image of the invisible God

  • The firstborn of creation

  • All things were created through him and for him.

  • In him all things hold together

The Image of the Invisible God

First, verse 15 begins in saying that “he,” referring back to the beloved Son of God spoken of in verses 13-14, “is the image of the invisible God…” Such a statement may make us want to jump straight to the incarnation and say that God the Son, by taking on flesh, made the invisible God visible in a way. When Jesus was asked by Philip in John 14 for Jesus to simply show him the Father, Jesus replied, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). To see Jesus is to see the Father not because Jesus is the Father but because all that the Father is, all of his essence, God the Son is. And while God is invisible, when God the Son took on flesh you could see him according to his human nature. 

But that isn’t how image is used here. This isn’t speaking about the incarnation of the Son, and we know this because the Son being the image of God is not tied to the incarnation in these verses; it is tied to creation, as we see clearly in verse 16, which speaking of the Son as the agent of creation. This means that he was God’s image before the incarnation. In fact, we can say that he is the image of God because he performs the act of creation. 

Speaking of the Son as the image of the invisible God, then, is not speaking of the incarnation but of the eternal relationship between Father and Son. What Paul is getting at here is the same thing that John meant in John 1:1 when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” To say that the Word is God means that they are one in nature or essence; to say that he is with God is to distinguish him from the Father.

This is what is meant by image here as well. The Son is the image of God—meaning that all that God is, he is; but he is also distinguished from God—meaning that he is not the Father. 

The Firstborn of Creation

But, let’s move on to the second statement, “the firstborn of all creation.” How can we say that the Son possesses all that it means to be God—including being uncreated—when he is said to be the firstborn of all creation? Arians, the heretical group in the early church that taught that God the Son was a creature and not the creator—grabbed on to this verse and held it up as proof that God the Son, while superior to us, was not equal to the Father. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons champion similar things today. 

But if you read the expression “firstborn of creation” that way, it shows that you are a poor Bible reader. I don’t say that as a boast but as one who has benefitted by knowing the great Bible readers of the Christian tradition. What the early fathers of the church said in response to the Arians is what we need to hear today, namely that this expression is often used in Scripture to speak of preeminence and not literal birth. For our call to worship this morning, we read from Psalm 89. This is a Messianic Psalm in which God declares that he will take one of David sons and make him the highest of all the kings on the earth—the King of kings. Did you notice the expression he used to convey that reality? Psalm 89:27, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” This isn’t talking about literal birth. It is speaking of preeminence and supremacy over others. 

To say that the Son is “the firstborn of creation” is another way of saying that he has authority over all creation. Why does he have such authority? Verse 16 tells us why: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” In other words, he has dominion over all creation because he is the creator. 

Firstborn does not mean that he was created but that he is the creator of all that was created and thus the ruler of all creation by this right. As Psalm 24:1-2 says, 

“The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” 

All Things were Created Through Him and For Him

Verse 16 then ends with this statement: “All things were created through him and for him,” which means that he is the one by whom all creation came to be—which includes what is seen and unseen, as verse 16 stated—but also the purpose for which all creation came to be. 

What is so striking about this statement Paul makes about the Son is how similar it is to one that he makes about God in Romans 11:36, which we read earlier,

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” 

Clearly, Paul speaks of God as being the author and point of all creation in Romans 11:36. Now, in Colossians 1:16, he points to the Son and says the exact same thing. 

The Sustainer

Paul then caps this all off in verse 17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” To say that he is before all things means that he is before all created things. He is eternal. To say that he holds all things together speaks of how he sustains the universe. He is all powerful. 

To put this all together, the Son is preeminent because he is the creator and sustainer of the universe, the second person of the triune God. 

A Question for You

We will focus more on application later, but I want you to focus on this question right now. Since the Son is God, how could you ever find someone or something that is better than him or someone or something that can actually augment him? As your creator, what does he not know? As the sustainer of the universe, what does he lack that he cannot provide you? No one and nothing can improve him or add to him. 

But that isn’t all. Verse 17 finishes the idea of the Son’s preeminence by saying that he sustains the universe, but this statement that he holds all things together goes beyond creation and moves toward his work in the new creation, which is how we continue to see his preeminence. So, second, we see that you cannot improve on the Son of God…

Because he is preeminent as redeemer (18-20)

Verses 18-20 continue the theme of this passage of pointing to the Son’s preeminence in all things. Not only is he preeminent as creator and sustainer, these verses show us that he is preeminent in the salvation of sin wreaked creation. The Son has taken the lead in redeeming the broken creation and ushering in the new creation.

Ultimate Authority in the New Creation

Verse 18 communicates the reality that the Son has ultimate authority in the new creation. This is said in two different ways in verse 18. 

First, we read that he is the head of the body, the church (18a). Paul often uses the analogy of a human body to speak of the church, and here he adds to this analogy by saying that Christ is the head of this body, meaning that he has preeminence and authority over the body. 

Keep in mind that this is not mere ecclesiastical authority, meaning that Jesus has authority over how the church worships. Jesus has complete authority over the church as Lord. What he commands, we are to obey; where he leads, we are to follow. And we do this not because he is a hard task master. No, his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We do it because he is worthy.

And keep in mind that the church is not a mere organization. When you view the church with a worldly lens, then it comes across akin to a club. But God says that the church consists of his new creation people. He is calling people to himself now, transferring them from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of his beloved Son. The church seems most broken to us when we think of it as a resort or as a business. Things are supposed to be clean and tidy at a resort; orderly, profitable, and no none-sense at a business. But the church is neither a business nor a resort. It is more like a front line hospital that cares for the wounded, nurses the sick to just enough help so that they can join in aiding others. Or the church is like an embassy in enemy territory and we must serve as ambassadors declaring the goodness of our God to those in rebellion against him. We declare the glorious hope of the gospel to God’s enemies and we care for the broken because this is what our head calls us to do. This is the Savior who is preeminent among us. 

Second, he is the firstborn from the dead. While he is literally the first fruits of the coming resurrection life and the glorified body, do not forget the significance of this expression “firstborn” that I mentioned earlier. It is another way of saying he is the head of the church, but it expands out to all of creation. As the second half of verse 18 states, by virtue of his resurrection from the dead he becomes preeminent over all things. 

But wasn’t he already preeminent as creator? Yes, but creation was in rebellion. Through the incarnation, the Son gained what had rebelled against him but already belonged to him by right. Like a King coming into his war torn land in order to reclaim what was rightfully his, the Son of God took on flesh and dwelt among us in order to redeem us. And as he did so, we can look at Jesus and read verses 19-20 as speaking of him, “For 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.” 

And how does he reconcile all things to himself and what does that actually mean? 

The Son’s Work in Reconciliation

The end of verse 20 answers the first question. He reconciled all things to himself by the blood of his cross. In other words, through the cross Jesus, God the Son, becomes the means by which creation, destroyed by sin, is brought back to its former state. He accomplishes new creation by the blood of his cross. 

This makes sense when we hold the storyline of the Bible together. God created all things and made man in his image and likeness to rule over creation. As they ruled by God’s word, creation was at peace. But in sinning and turning from God, all of creation was subjected to futility under sinful humanity. This is why Paul writes, speaking of creation in Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the Sons of God” because when they are revealed, creation will be released from the corruption of sin and made new. 

But Christ, in bearing the penalty we deserve for sin, as opened the doors for the new creation. The wages of sin is death, and so God the Son took on flesh, lived a life of perfect obedience, bore the penalty for sin by dying on the cross, under God’s wrath, and rose again from the grave as a declaration that the full penalty has been paid. New Creation is purchased. Reconciliation is accomplished by the blood of his cross. 

Reconciliation does not mean that all things are made right immediately, but that the source of the enmity, sin, has been dealt with. 

But, as verses 21-23 make explicit, this is not universalism. Reconciliation is accomplished by Jesus, but you must grasp it through faith. Jesus has reclaimed creation by his work on the cross, but only those who take refuge in him will experience the joy of the new creation. Judgment awaits all who reject him. 

One Question for You

Since all of this is true, why would you go anywhere else but to the Son? And why would you think that anything else could add to what the Son has done? 

Glimpsing the glory and beauty of the Son should have an effect on us, and this is what Paul turns to in verses 21-23. It is our major application and take away from our passage this morning. Last, you cannot improve on the Son of God…

So keep your eyes set on him (21-23).

In these verses, the attention turns to us. Obviously, as creator and redeemer, we need Jesus. Yet, many in the church, while never admitting it, feel like they don’t need Jesus or like they need something beyond Jesus.


The Twisting of False Teaching

Because they forgot the true story and take their eyes off of Jesus. Paul is reminding us of that true story in verses 21-22, “And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” 

Do you see what these verses convey? False teaching comes into the church and convinces people that Jesus isn’t enough because it convinces people that they have needs different than reconciliation with the perfect creator. 

The story of Scripture says, “All things were made through the Son and for the Son, so you will find your fulfillment in the Son. But sin has alienated you from God, so what you need is a redeemer. Good news. The one through whom and for whom all things were made has come to rescue you and make peace on your behalf by bearing the penalty you deserve so that you can be reconciled with God.”

But false teaching creeps in and says, “What you need most of all is Jesus, of course, and you also need…[fill in the blank]. Is the church not teaching you how to have those? Oh, really. Well, I could do it.”

Hope Only In Christ

This is why Paul gives the warning in verse 23, saying that you will be presented as holy blameless and above reproach “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.” 

What is Paul saying? You only get the benefits of Jesus if you stay with Jesus. Other fads will come, but it will not bring you into the new creation. Other teachers will pop up, but if these teachers aren’t in accord with the gospel that is going forth through all creation, then it is not good news. 

Paul’s warning should sober us. Just as God uses means to bring us into the faith, namely the preaching of the gospel that we grasp by faith, he uses means to keep us in the faith, warnings like this being one of them. 

When Do You Shift Hope?

How do you know, though, if your hope is shifting in the way that Paul warns us here? We shift in our hope when we lose sight of our true need. If we lose sight of the fact that our greatest need is redemption, then Jesus will not appear beautiful and necessary for us. He will be a mere add on. If we lose sight of the fact that we are made for God but are separated from him because of our sin, then we will lose sight of the glory and beauty of the gospel and that we have all we need in Christ. 

And other stories creep into our hearts all the time, changing what we think we need and thus causing us to shift our hope away from Christ and on to something else. 

Stop and ask yourself right now, “What do you really need?”

Money? Then whatever promises you money will steal your hope in Christ away.

A spouse? Then whatever promises you a spouse will steal your hope in Christ away.

Respect? Honor? Renown? Comfort? Physical pleasure? 

I am not talking about what you want, I am talking about what you need. What do you need so much that if everything else was stripped away, you would still say, “Hallelujah! I still have this!” 

If it is not Christ, then you will lose everything because you are building on sand that will not last past judgment. But if it is Christ, then you gain everything even if you feel like you lose it all right now. 

How to Keep Your Hope Stable

So what are you to do, Christian, to remain stable on the hope of the gospel that you heard? Do exactly what this passage helps us to do: set your eyes on Christ and all that he offers you in himself. Set your eyes on his excellence, his power, his beautify, his love. Set your eyes on his gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace that come by his cross. Set your eyes on the new creation that he brings in and will consummate at his return. As you do this, you will find your hunger and longer for Christ stirred, just as your hunger for food is stirred when you walk into a room full of a delicious aroma. 

As we turn to the table now to share the Lord’s Supper, we get to do this together as a church. Let us pray that we would set our eyes on Jesus and all we have in him. 


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