The Preeminence of Christ
Passage: Colossians 1:15-18
Good morning once again! Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians 1. As you’re doing that, I have a question for you: How many of you have ever made a New Year’s Resolution? Can I see your hands? How many of you made some for this year? I haven’t typically made a lot of New Year’s resolutions; but I do see how they can be helpful tools for establishing better life habits. Personally, I added a habit this past year that I think has really increased my productivity. And that’s simply the habit of sitting down in the morning and making a list of the most-important tasks I need to accomplish that day. That simple exercise has really helped me, so much so that I’ve started applying it to other scenarios. For instance, our family is leaving on vacation to Phoenix this afternoon. So a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I sat down and wrote out a prioritized list of all the people we wanted to spend time with in Phoenix. Now maybe that sounds nerdy to you, but I’m prepared to defend my lists; because I believe that setting priorities is important!
So what does all that have to do with Colossians 1? Well, in this passage, Paul tells us about God’s priority. Notice that I didn’t say “priorities” (plural), but “priority” (singular). God’s number one priority is the exaltation of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s a bold statement, but I believe that the Bible supports it, so let’s take a look at what God has to say (Colossians 1:15-18).
The book of Colossians is a letter written by Paul to a church in the town of Colossi. And as we read this letter, it becomes apparent that false teaching had arisen to threaten that church (Col 2:8). Later on in chapter two, we see that this false teaching involved elements of ritual legalism, angel worship, and asceticism. Paul wrote to address these issues. But as was so often the case in his letters, Paul began by laying the theological foundation upon which his teaching was based. In Colossians, he focuses on what theologians call “Christology.” In other words, he emphasizes who Jesus is, and who we are in Him.
And that brings us to 1:15-18, which some scholars have referred to as “the height of Christology in the NT.” Out of all that the NT says about Jesus, it doesn’t get any better than this. So let’s dive in and see what God has to say about His Son. First, we see that Jesus is preeminent over creation.
Jesus is preeminent over creation (vv. 15-17).
So let’s unpack some of these phrases.
He is "the image of the invisible God.”
One time, Jesus asked some people to bring Him a coin, and then He asked them, “Whose image is on this?” Of course, it was Caesar’s. So an image is a physical representation of someone or something.
Genesis 1:27 says that “God made man in His own image.” So as descendants of Adam, you and I are image-bearers of God. But Jesus is more than just an “image-bearer”; He is the image!
John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.” If you were to see God, you would die. However, John goes on to say, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father.” Do remember how Jesus answered him? He said, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” Jesus is not the Father, but He is God; and the two are so closely related that to see Him is to see the Father.
What does this mean for us? Well, what do you do with a picture? You look at it, so we must study the life of Christ and what He reveals to us about God.
He is “the firstborn over all creation.”
This title has caused a lot of controversy. There was a pastor named Arius who lived in the third century and taught that Jesus was the first created being—that first, God created Jesus; and then through Jesus, He created everything else. The early church condemned Arianism as unbiblical heresy that denies the deity of Christ. But sadly, that heresy is once again being taught by one of the major cults. If you present Christ to a Jehovah’s Witness, he may take you to Col 1:15 and say, “Look! Jesus is the firstborn! Therefore, He must have had a beginning!”
The problem with that argument is that Paul goes on to say that the reason Jesus is the firstborn is that He created all things! And he insists that when he says “all things,” he means “all things.” He says, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible.” In the ancient way of thinking, things either existed on earth or in heaven. And of course, we know that if something is not visible, it’s invisible. So when Paul refers to things in the heavens and things on the earth, those that are visible and those that are invisible—that’s everything! Nothing could possibly be left out. And John 1:3 ratifies this point. It says, “Without Him nothing was made that was made.” So how can Jesus be a part of creation if He created all things? Did He create Himself? No! Of course not!
The fact is that the Bible is clear that Jesus is God. It says so explicitly in John 1:1; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Heb 1:8; and 2 Pet 1:1; and it is assumed or implied in countless other passages. And if Jesus was created, then He could not be God.
So then what does the word “firstborn” mean in this context? The word “firstborn” is often used in the Bible to picture the importance that was placed upon a firstborn son in ancient times. That’s why God could say in Ex 4:22, “Israel is My Son, My firstborn,” which is to say that Israel was the nation closest to His heart. In Ps 89:27, the Messiah is referred to as God’s firstborn. God says, “I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” So when Paul says that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation,” he doesn’t mean that Jesus had a beginning; he just means that Jesus is more important than all of creation. That’s why some versions translate this phrase, “the firstborn over all creation.” All creation is subordinate to Him. Why? Well, because (as we’ve already seen) Jesus was the agent of creation (v. 16).
He is the agent of creation.
Paul is careful to maintain theological precision in this verse. He doesn’t say that Jesus created everything, because the Father is the primary creator. But He does say that all things were created “by (or “in”) Him” and “through Him.” John 5:19 says that whatever the Father does, “the Son also does in like manner.” So the Father and the Son were both involved in creation.
As I said before, the Colossian heresy involved a preoccupation with angels and demons, so Paul emphasizes that Jesus created everything—not only things on earth, but also things in heaven, not only visible things, but also the things we can’t see.
Did you know that there are things all around you that you can’t see? You can’t see gravity. You can’t see energy. You can’t see certain forms of light. There are many things in space that are too far away for you to see, and there are many things that are too small for you to see, except under a microscope. All of those things were created by Jesus.
But when Paul mentions “invisible things” in v. 16, he’s not referring as much to gravity as he is to angels and demons. That’s why he goes on to reference thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. These words refer to powerful spiritual beings (whether angels or demons); and Paul says, “Jesus is way more important than any of these beings because they were all created by Him.”
So there’s no demon that you need to fear; there’s no angel that you ought to worship. Just focus on Jesus. In Him you were created, in Him you are saved, and in Him you are complete. You don’t need anything else.
“All things were created through Him and for Him.”
That word “for” is actually a word that usually indicates direction. We could say, “All things were created through Him and to Him.” In other words, He is beginning, and He is the end goal. Or as Rev 22:12 puts it, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First, and the Last.” One day, Jesus is coming back to rule this world, and that is the goal to which history presses. Everything was made for Him.
Have you ever been given the wrong Christmas present by accident? Maybe you even started opening it, and then someone had to come over and take it away from you and say, “I’m sorry. That wasn’t for you; I bought it for someone else.”
Sometimes I think we get the wrong idea that this world is for us. Now in some ways, it is. God gives us many good gifts to enjoy. But ultimately, this world is not for us. It’s for God. It’s for His glory. And it’s for Jesus. We were created for Jesus.
He “is before all things.”
This statement is really a review. Jesus is before all things. He existed before anything else existed. He is pre-existent, so He is the most important one.
The connection between chronology and importance is something that we all should understand. Some of you work union jobs, in which tenure is very important.
Chronology is also important in the home. Sometimes one of my daughters (who shall remain unnamed) will try to snuggle in close and get between me and her mother. That daughter needs to understand that her mom was around long before she ever came on the scene; and that to me, her mom is more important.
The same is true of God and Jesus. Jesus is more important than any of us will ever be because He has always existed in loving relationship with the Father.
By Him, “all things consist,” or hold together.
I remember in high school science class when I learned that most of the universe is made up of empty space, little electrons spinning around protons and neutrons inside every atom…. What holds it all together? Why doesn’t everything just fly apart? Ultimately, Paul says, because Jesus is holding it together. That’s what this phrase probably means.
So when it comes to creation, Paul says that Jesus is the beginning—it was all made by Him; He is the one who holds it all together; and He is the one for whom it is all being prepared. It’s all about Jesus.
So we’ve seen that Jesus is preeminent over creation. He is also preeminent over the church (v. 18).
Jesus is Preeminent over the Church (v. 18)
He is its head.
1 Cor 12 pictures the local church as a body. Some people are the hands, some people are the eyes, some people are the toes—we all have different gifts and places of service; and yet, we are all one body. United, worshipping the same God, serving the same Master, pursuing the same goal.
But in this passage as well as in Eph 5, Paul isn’t talking about the local church; he’s talking about the universal church—all of the Christians in the whole world from Pentecost to the Rapture. In 1 Cor 12, there are eyes and ears; but here and in Eph 5, Jesus is the head.
Commentator Doug Moo says, “In the ancient world, the head was conceived to be the governing member of the body, that which both controlled it and provided for its life and sustenance.”
So Jesus is sovereign over the church. Just like in our bodies, the brain calls the shots, and the rest of the body follows orders, so we are to submit to Jesus.
The church is also dependent upon Jesus. A body can’t exist without a head, and neither can we apart from Christ. His presence with us gives us life and joy.
The church is always in trouble whenever anyone tries to take Christ’s place and be the head. No one but Him can fulfill that role. That’s why it’s so important for pastors and other Christian leaders to remember, “It’s not your church; it’s Christ’s church. It’s not all about what you want, and you’re not supposed to get the glory, Jesus is! Also, people don’t really need you. They need Jesus. God may be using you—pastor—deacon—Sunday school teacher—but He can use someone else just as well. So don’t get cocky. Be humble, and remember, Jesus is the head.”
In the middle of v. 18, Paul once again says that Jesus is the beginning; but this time, he isn’t referring to creation, because he clarifies the word “beginning” with the phrase, “the firstborn from the dead.”
He is "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead."
The idea of the phrase, “firstborn from the dead” is that Jesus was the first one to rise from the dead, so His resurrection is the most important. Now I know that there were others who were raised from the dead before Jesus, but none of them received resurrection bodies like the Bible says we will have someday. Each of them died again, but our resurrection bodies will never die. Jesus is the only one so far who has received a body like this. He has gone before us, paving the way.
The commentators refer to Jesus according to this verse as the founder of a new humanity—a new kind of people, new creatures in Christ.
We affirm Christ’s importance every time we refer to ourselves as “Christians.” What does that title mean? Well, it was first used mockingly, but the word actually means “little Christ.” So as Christians, we are followers of the one true God; but even more specifically, we are followers of Jesus His Son.
Why did God set up the church this way? Why did He make Jesus the head and the firstborn from the dead? Paul tells us at the end of v. 18. It was so that “in all things, He [Jesus] might have the preeminence.”
He is to be preeminent.
Preeminence is just a fancy word that means “first place.” That in all things He might have “first-ness,” the highest priority.
And the word “have” could also be translated, “become”—“so that in all things, He might become the preeminent One.” Jesus was already preeminent over creation. But God the Father wanted to give Him even more importance, so He made Jesus preeminent over the church, as well. Philip 2:9-11 says that God has highly exalted Jesus “and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So what does this passage mean for you and me, as we get ready to head into a new year? Well, the beginning of a new year is always a good time to evaluate your priorities, and see if there is anything that needs to change. So let me ask you this: are you living in reality?
Perhaps we could imagine some mentally ill person who thinks he is someone else, talks to people who don’t exist, and is constantly paranoid about things that only exists in his head. We might say that that person needs to get in touch with reality.
But the same is true of you, if you are not living as if Jesus is the most important person in the universe. You’re confused. You’re sadly mistaken. And if you don’t re-orient your thinking, the consequences for you and those closest to you may be awful.
So how do apply all of this? Well, v. 18 ends with the phrase, “that in all things He may have the preeminence.” So you’ve got to honestly evaluate whether Jesus has the preeminence in every area of your life.
Do you love Him? Does Jesus control your heart? Does Jesus have first place in your life based on the way you conduct yourself at work? Is He the number one consideration when it comes to making career choices?
Is His preeminence evident in the way you spend your free time? Is His preeminence evident when you turn on Netflix?
Does Jesus have first place in your budget?
Does your church attendance reflect the fact that Jesus is the most important person in the universe?
Is the preeminence of Christ in your life evidenced by the music that you listen to?
Does it affect the way that you interact with your spouse, children, siblings, or parents?
Does the preeminence of Christ reflect itself in the amount and quality of time you spend pursuing a relationship with Christ through reading the Bible and praying?
Does the preeminence of Christ come across in your conversation? It’s so easy for us to stand around and talk about sports, or hunting, or parenting, or politics, or work; but how often do we just talk about Jesus, and what he’s doing in our lives?
You see, by its very nature, the preeminence of Christ is all-encompassing. It leaves nothing in your life untouched.
There may be someone here today who does not know Jesus as Savior. I pray that I have presented you with a compelling picture of the Savior. He is Lord over all, but He also died for your sins so that if you will come to Him in faith, you can be saved. He will receive you with open arms, and you can begin a relationship with Jesus. So let me invite you to come to Christ; and if you have questions about what that means or what it entails, please ask them. I would love to answer any questions you might have.
Believer, it’s possible for us, like the Colossians, to become enamored with other sources of spirituality—human philosophy, mystical ideas, legalistic rules and rituals—but the Bible is clear that the Christian life is much simpler than that. It’s first and foremost a relationship with Jesus. So set aside those other things and focus upon Christ. Love Him, obey Him, and walk with Him.