Colossians 1:15-20 – The Supremacy of Christ

The church at Colossae was not founded by Paul. It is likely sometime during Paul’s time in Ephesus (Acts 19) a man named Epaphras brought the Gospel to the small town of Colossae (for details, see Who was Epaphras?). Perhaps Epaphras reached out to Paul for advice on dealing with a growing problem in his small church and Paul responded with a short letter addressing what is often called (rather dramatically) the Colossian Heresy. Whatever the heresy was, it is quite different than other issues Paul dealt with in earlier letters.

The churches in Galatia struggled with Gentiles who wanted to keep the Law. The churches in Corinth struggled with Gentiles who did not sufficient “depaganize” and allow Christ to transform their moral behavior. In Colossae, it appears the problem was a Jewish mystic, possibly exorcist who advocated “secret knowledge” which only the spiritual, insiders could obtain. This teaching was possibly esoteric, secret knowledge about the true nature of Jesus Christ. It is also possible some in the church wanted to use Jesus’ name as a powerful tool for dealing with other spiritual beings. For more on the Colossian Heresy, see What Was the Problem in Colossae?

The false teaching Paul addresses in Colossians is a very pragmatic Christianity which attempts to hide knowledge of the real facts until the believer is sufficiently prepared to receive it.  While I am not sure the Colossian heresy was a mystery cult in the technical sense of the word, there seem to have been an initiation for the believer before they were shown the true state of things.

For Paul, Christianity is not at all an exclusive religion which hides doctrine from the outsiders.  In fact, everyone is welcome and the whole gospel is preached from the very beginning.  There are some deeper, more difficult doctrines, but there is nothing which is a secret.  This is one of the real differences between Christianity and many of the other “mystery cults”popular in the first century (and today!)  It really is easy to understand the basics of Christian claims and beliefs, whether you like them or not.

Paul therefore goes to the root of the problem and lays out in the introduction to the letter exactly who Jesus is.  All the “secrets” are laid out before the reader and there is no question who Jesus is by the end of 1:20.

  • Christ as the image of the invisible God.  By saying that Christ is in the image of God, he affirms that he is an accurate picture of what God is, and in fact, he is God. F. F. Bruce once said “To call Christ the image of God is to say that in Him the being and nature of God have been perfectly manifested—that in Him the invisible has become visible.”
  • Christ as the firstborn of creation.  This title for has been a very troublesome exegetical point since it appears that Jesus is a created thing, the first thing that God created.  But if this phrase is read against the background of the Hebrew Bible, the word “first born” is actually an expression of position – the son chosen to the the heir as opposed to the naturally born first son.  A bit later Paul calls Jesus the“firstborn from among the dead,” an obvious non-literal use of the word “firstborn.”

The point Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things.  All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created.  The command is therefore to worship Christ as God, something that would be idolatrous if Christ is a created thing himself. The centrality of Jesus is therefore the starting point for theology in Colossians, but also for ethical and moral teaching and proper worship.

Bibliography: F. F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems: Part 2: The “Christ Hymn” of Colossians 1:15–20″ BibSac 141 (1984): 99-111

21 thoughts on “Colossians 1:15-20 – The Supremacy of Christ

  1. It is easy to switch our worship to the things that are created than our actual Creator. Things that are created are tangible and physical so it’s easy to get caught up in them. The Colossians, however, were more caught up in reaching a level of Spirituality where they were revealed more about Jesus Christ and thus able to harness His powers so to speak. Yet, that points at so many wrong theological points, namely that we can have a power of God by knowing these secret things. Paul uses this text to the Colossians to reveal to them that there really isn’t anything hidden about Jesus Christ. He has been made known in the scripture and there isn’t any aspect of Him to be discovered so as to gain more power. Yes, as we draw closer to Jesus Christ we are able to battle more of our Spiritual battles, however, our relationship with God or knowledge of Him does not mean that we are able to have unique powers, like He had. On the contrary, as we draw closer to Him we should be dying to ourselves and gaining more of Him in our lives. It is His power working through us when we are able to do something we did not think we could. It’s important to realize that it is not anything that we can do, only the work of Jesus Christ that creates this in our lives. It is essential that we understand Jesus Christ is God and that He has been set-apart as someone to be fiercely praised. He is the single being that deserves our worship and praise!

  2. Because our minds are so limited in grasping the awesomeness of who God is, it is sometimes easier for us to begin to worship things that are created, rather than the Creator. The reality that we are to worship Christ as God, as stated in the post, is hard for me to grasp sometimes because I feel like my brain just can’t process it all sometimes! But what I love about Christianity and all that has been revealed to us through Scripture is that we are able to understand the basics, and much more. There is so much given to us through Scripture so we are able to even obtain a little glimpse at the reality of who God truly is. Maye there is something intriguing in other cults (then and now) about constantly having to dig to find the deeper meaning or some hidden truths. The problem with this is that one can become so wrapped up in trying to find the mystery piece they are missing, that they totally miss the one who deserves all of our time- Jesus. The centrality of Jesus in the theology of Colossians is a reminder that the same should be true in our theology today. It hasn’t changed.

  3. As Kim said, the draw of this kind of religion is that it supposedly gives its member godlike knowledge and/or power. Mankind has been possessed by this kind of desire since Satan gave Adam and Eve the idea in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:5). From that moment on, human pride has been tickled by the concept of being like God. Everything from cults to superhero movies play off of this desire. The funny thing is that the one belief system which allows human beings the ability to imitate the divine – Christianity – instructs its followers to do so by being humble and loving to others (Phil. 2:5; Eph. 5:2). We are more like God when we serve the helpless and forgive our enemies than when we show off our power and knowledge.

  4. As what others have said, it is easier for us to get caught up in worshiping other things, like money and sports than worshiping God himself. As it says in 1 John 2:15-16, “Do not love the world or the things in the world, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not from the Father but is from the world.” Along with what Kim says, Colossians was more focused on reaching a level of spirituality to get closer to God, than worshiping God himself. It is impossible for us to fully understand God on earth, and there is no point to do things that will give us more spiritual knowledge to fully understand God. Instead God tells us to be more like him with helping the needy and the poor, or to help the elderly than do something to get a higher level to be closer to God.

  5. I agree with Emily in that as humans, we seem to grasp onto tangible object or things that have been created, rather than giving due respect and worship to the Creator. It is clear that to help the Colossians form this realization, Paul demonstrated how Christ is not a created being but rather is directly linked to God. Christ is in the image of God and is God. Paul wanted the Colossians to realize that worshipping Christ and still worshipping their pagan deities were not the same thing; Christ is the image of God and “in him all things were created” (Col. 1:15-16). Why worship these pagan deities that have origins when one could worship the living God who was Creator? Paul had the difficult task of separating the pagan ideas that were culturally ingrained into these believers’ mindsets and showing them freedom and the opportunity to really know who Jesus was.

  6. One of the problems with worshiping the things that God created is that it takes away the glory and power and amazing-ness that God is. Well, it may not take those things away, but it stops us from seeing God in that way because we are focused on the things He created. It is okay to be blown away by God’s creation, because after all, that is one of the ways He reveals Himself to us, but when we start praising creation for how wonderful it is, there is a major problem. When you praise God for creating His wonderful creation, you begin to see Him as just more than Creator. You realize that He is ever-present and actually cares for you. Pohill says, “Paul’s message of the all-sufficient Christ is liberating… The realization that Christ is both Creator and Redeemer at the same time is also an important lesson… The God who made us is the same God who loves us and gave himself to save us” (Polhill 342). Maybe Paul wanted to tell people how amazing God is so that they would realize that there is absolutely no need to worship creation.

  7. Even now to day we struggle with this “mystery” of what we dont know, Yet for us believers its not a mystery of the unknown but the known that is in Christ Jesus. To wrap our heads around a God who is so much bigger, stronger, and wiser beyond what we could ever know or see is a humbling thought. These mystery cults that Paul talks about sprang up telling things such as only enlightened people or special revelation that gives them something over other people. Yet it is clear the bible spells out the same truth to all believers not just the clergy, pastors, or other name for leadership of a church. Revelation is from God. ” The God who made us is the same God who loves us and gave himself to save us” (Polhill 342). There is no higher ups in church only elected officials and truth comes from the bible not from advanced learning.

  8. Just as Kim has said, it is easy to worship the things that God has created, as opposed to worshipping Him. It’s something that has been a struggle for all Christians in every generation and seems to be something that will be a problem until Christ returns. We will always struggle with holding on to the things that were created by God. I agree with Paul, as I’m sure everyone else does or should, that it is pointless to worship things that were created by God. The things that God has created are things that will not last and therefore they are pointless to hold on to. It’s too easy to not give God the glory for things if we cling too closely to them. We should not worship anyone or anything but God. Everything came from God so if you are compelled to worship that thing, you should be compelled and motivated to worship the maker of the thing that you want to worship.

  9. I thought when scripture speaks “Christ being the firstborn overall creation”(v.15) it was addressing the preeminence of Christ, and that he was before all else that was created, and therefore he was preexisting to created things. Though God was real and cosmic, he wanted to legitimatize himself in someway,the way being Christ. Christ was the penetration of God’s fullness into history. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him”. God was pleased to select Christ as the personal designation of God to dwell.
    Christ choose to die for use when we were in enmity towards God (Rom. 5:10). through his blood we are redeemed. And by his death we have be reconciled, have hope in the present. The gospel is simple, no secret in’s and outs. I am dumbfounded as to why it doesn’t make sense to others. In despite of cultural conflict

  10. I have to agree with Dave that believing in mystery cults was not just a first century fad, but it is also very prevalent today. It is difficult for even believers to comprehend God’s creation…in fact its impossible to fully comprehend. People become uncomfortable with not being able to fully understand something, especially when it is not physical. So as a result, people are more apt to search for something tangible to submit to, because they know that it is real. It is silly that people give up that fast in their faith; I think honestly it is a result of laziness to give up trying to comprehend our divine creator.

  11. It is not very difficult to develop feelings of esotericism, especially if you’re an “established” Christian. As a student who is acquiring his bible “minor’ from a bible college, it becomes quite deceptive to think that I have earned the right to more fundamental, profound theology. This, however, does not mean that this is the essence for everyone else. Though we have been privileged to have come to know Christ at a much earlier stage of our lives than others, there are others who have yet come to the realization of the reality found in Christ Jesus. Polhill quotes about this particular passage in page 342, “Paul’s message of the all-sufficient Christ is liberating. We only need to continue in our relationship to him, and he will sustain us.” We don’t need to preach the fancy elements of Christianity in order to fully illustrate the concept of Christ. Instead, the message of Christ as the image of God and firstborn is enough to captivate the essence of God’s message of Salvation to his people.
    Therefore, as Dr. Long stated above, though we have been bequeathed with the instrument of theology, etc., the ultimate goal is to preach Christ and not the things that we hold as esoteric. The basics are found in the gospel, not the essence of the meaning of “1000 years” in the book of Revelation (though those things will eventually benefit the process of our growth as a Christian and they will help in getting to know God in a greater realm, but let time take its course).

  12. It is hard for us, in this world, to understand and comprehend the greatness of God, so therefore we put our worship and concentration on things here on earth. It is so much easier for us to worship the things here on earth, because they are physical, and we are able to feel and see them now. Although they are temporal and will all come to an end, it is much easier to worship something that we see and feel rather than what we have to strive for, can’t see, and sometimes feel. We find things here on earth easier to pursue. Our relationship with God is something that we have to strive for, and something that is not seen, and it is not something that we get satisfaction from all of the time. Our relationship with Christ is something that we may feel discouraged with and is something that we cannot totally grasp, and that is why it becomes so easy for us to worship something here on earth rather than what is eternal, and not physical.

  13. It is interesting to wonder how often we as Christians do not worship Christ, but worship things man has put in place in this world. When we go to Church does the building point our hearts to Christ or does it bring our minds to a place that sees the structure. This thought evokes a sense of worry in that i may have at one point worshiped a song and not our savior however if i’m concerned about this have I already seen that the true value is in Christ. I feel like one can go in circles for quite a while in a chicken or the egg type thought process of where there worship really lies and maybe even feel like they need “secret knowledge to truly worship, which may be where the Colossian people found there struggle.

  14. Christ as fully God and above all is a very important theme for Christianity. Man has struggled between following God and falling in love with created things since the fall. People still fall for created things today. In America it’s not as widespread to worship an actual idol carved from wood or stone, but many worship money, celebrities, and material possessions which are idols in their own right when we place them above God. It is too easy to get caught up with the things we can see, hear, and touch and begin to exalt them, but this must not happen. Christ needs to remain above all in our lives so that true worship can follow.

  15. Throughout history, this has been a big problem that practically every nation and culture has faced. In the past, people often worshiped nature or animals. Today, most often we find ourselves worshiping objects, such as money or clothes, or even people who we wish to be like. However, throughout scripture, God reminds us that He is the only one worthy of our praise, because he created everything (Revelation 4:11), because no one can ever fathom his greatness (Psalm 145:3), and because he is the only thing that can truly protect us (2 Samuel 22:4). There are so many other reasons why we should praise God alone, but Paul points out that Christ, who is God, created everything around us. If this is the case, why would we worship the world, when we can instead worship the One who created it? It is so important for us to remember this and not let the things of the world distract us. It is easy to lose focus on God and start worrying about the things of the world. And often times, the things that distract us seem like the are worthy of our attention – things like struggling to pay the bills and not having enough time to get work done. But we shouldn’t let these things take priority over God, because the truth is, God is our provider (Philippians 4:19), and he will always take care of our needs, even if we are overwhelmed. We must never lose sight of the One who created us.

  16. A part of Paul’s ministry that often gets overlooked is his time working with the Colossae church. One problem that was of great importance was to make sure that the members of the church had a sound theological foundation. According to Dr. Phillip Long, he asserts that one of the sources of false teachings was associated with the philosophy, and the exclusive religions of the time (Long, 2019). In other words, Paul is in a situation where he has to redirect the attention of the church to understand what the true meaning of Christianity was. The matter was critical to his time in Colossae because his main goal was to ensure the community was mature in their faith. However, he makes a bold statement in Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (NIV). When it comes down to it, Paul is making a statement that represents the church as a whole. At the same time, however, this verse is indicating that Paul was attempting to relate to the culture of the time, while also illustrating where all supremacy should lie. At the end of the day, Paul wanted to ensure the church would not conform to the culture of the time.

  17. One of the reasons Paul wrote Colossians was to counter some false teaching that was circulating in the church (Long, 148). This false teaching questioned the divinity of Christ (Long, 148). Paul goes right to the heart of the problem in Colossians 1:15-20 which is a powerful passage on the divinity and authority of Jesus. Paul does this by highlighting three aspects of Christ. First, He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). This is a clear assertion of his divinity. Second, Christ is the “firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15). The use of ‘firstborn’ here does not mean that Christ was created but was an indication of inheritance and honor (Long, 151). Christ participated in the creation of the world and is still ruling it (Long, 153). Third, He is the head of the church (Col 1:18). Christ as the head and the church as the body is a common description in the New Testament. Paul’s use of it in Colossians indicates that Christ is the leader that the church cannot function without.

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