Summary: The absolute supremacy of Christ means we are safe in his arms.
We all like to feel safe and secure. When I was a young lad, I had this dream that has stayed with me for 45 years. I dreamt about a large house with a flight of external stairs. For some reason I was scared, I couldn’t work out why. Then I felt compelled to climb the flight of stairs—step by scary step. I reached the top and walked into the house. And from another room, in my dream a witch appeared with a long, curved nose wearing an evil black dress—and I screamed, so loud and so hard!
I woke sweating in the arms of my mum. I felt safe and secure. I felt safe because she was a lovingly mum and there was nothing she couldn’t do. I felt secure as she wrapped her arms around me—I was free from the terrors of my imagination. In my home, she was the supreme lady, she was sufficient to meet all my boyish needs.
Those words ‘supreme’ and ‘sufficient’ lead us back to Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church. The saints in Colossae were safe and secure in their Lord. They were a mature church and Epaphras had reported this much to Paul in Ephesus (Col 1:3). But there was a threat to this stability. So after his opening prayer, the apostle gets down to business with a compact and probing explanation of the wonders of Christ’s person and his actions for a rebellious humanity.
Col 1:15–20 is a christological high point in the New Testament. It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘hymn’ which expounds the supremacy of Christ in creation and redemption. There’s lots of discussion in the literature as to whether or not Paul wrote hymn and whether he got it from somewhere and inserted it into his letter. It’s a strange debate which should not delay us, for in either case Paul takes responsibility for its content as he expounds the priority of Christ to the Colossian Church.
There are different ways we can visualise our passage. Scholars such as Douglas Moo and F.F. Bruce divide the hymn into three sections based on the repetition of key words and phrases. Whilst these divisions are useful, I am attracted to the twofold division used by Dick Lucas. The first division is verses 15–18 which concern themselves with the ‘supremacy of Christ’. The second division is verses 19 and 20, about ‘the sufficiency of Christ’ (which we shall look at next time).
So Paul’s hymn brings to our attention the ‘supremacy’ and ‘sufficiency’ of Christ. And in this way Christ is portrayed as the exclusive instrument through whom God created the universe, and through whom he is in the process of pacifying the universe .
The false teaching in Colossae was questioning Christ’s exclusive role in providing spiritual growth and maturity. The false teachers were arguing from cosmology to spirituality: since the universe is filled with spiritual powers, ultimate spiritual fullness can only be found by taking them all into consideration. This is not unlike our experiences in life. The way forward is to keep everyone happy. If you won’t a promotion at work: keep your colleagues and the boss happy. A big part of success in sport is pleasing all the sports administrators.
Likewise, the false teachers were saying, if you want salvation then please every spiritual power you can find. Not unlike the Athenian monument to the ‘unknown God’ in Acts 17. It’s smart to have an altar to the god you don’t know—just in case. The false teachers were urging the Colossians to pacify every spiritual force because herein lies the key to salvation. In today’s language, Christ plus the new age gods. Christ plus mysticism. Tap into the spiritual realm where Christ is supposedly unable to go. Even Christ plus baptism: that somehow the physical, sacramental act crushes spiritual forces in a way that Christ on our behalf cannot.
The theme of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the sufficiency of Christ, and he can’t be sufficient if he is not supreme. This supremacy of Christ means that we are safe, for the universe is not about to change hands and receive a new owner. We are living safely under the rule of Christ and this will never change. And the sufficiency of Christ means that we are secure—he meets all our needs again and again and again because all power is given to him.
If you can picture the early day explorers cutting a way through extremely dense jungle—it’s hard work and its like the work we shall do now as we plough our way through the very dense text in verses 15 to 18. So get your knife out, dowse yourself with mosquito repellent, get your mind into gear and come with me into this remarkable hymn.