Christ First

This week’s Scripture of the week is Colossians 1:15-20. Here it is again:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For everything was created by him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and by him all things hold together.
He is also the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have
first place in everything.
For God was pleased to have
all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile
everything to himself,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace
through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

This passage, which is considered by many scholars to be hymnic in form, features the word first three times in reference to the person of Christ. Christ is described here as the firstborn over all creation, the firstborn from the dead, and as the one who should have first place in everything. It’s a hymn to the centrality and supremacy of Christ.

I want to suggest briefly three broad ways in which Christians are called to put Christ first in our lives.

  1. It means we should be growing in our understanding of Christ. There are a lot of competing ideas, philosophies, and worldviews out there, and our culture is largely relativistic (there is no ultimate truth), individualistic (you need to discover and live by your truth), and pluralistic (all ideas about truth are equal). The idea that Christ is the truth about who God is is going to be considered offensive by most. If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we should be willing to study the Bible to understand him more fully. If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, as our text says, then knowing him ought to be our first priority.
  2. It means growing in our relationship with Christ. Christ is not an idea; he is a person. He is the Second Person of the Trinitarian Godhead. If Christ is who the Bible says he is, then we are invited to know him personally as the source of our existence who entered the world he made so we could know him. This is why the passage says that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. God was pleased to reveal himself in Christ and open the door to a relationship with us through the cross.
  3. It means growing in our obedience to Christ. Scripture calls Christ Lord; I am called to confess and obey him as Lord. Colossians 1 says Christ is the one who created all authorities and powers and that he is sovereign over all of them. We sometimes like to think we’re sovereign over our lives but we’re not. We always need to be seeking to serve our Lord Jesus so that others can come to know him and have a relationship with him.

All three of these ways of growing work together, like a three-legged stool. Remove one and the stool becomes lopsided and falls over.

That’s not to say that even those of us who are committed Christians are always growing as we should be. Often we need to be called back to the right priorities. We need to repent. We need to return home again. We need to pick up our Bibles and to open our hearts in prayer once more.

This is also why it’s important to remember that none of us can grow in the above ways if we’re completely isolated from Christian community. Paul wrote primarily to churches, not individuals.

Of course, being in Christian community comes with its own set of problems. For some, it can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. We all get frustrated and want to give it up sometimes. But then we’re called to look again at Christ, because putting him first means also being a part of some kind of Christian community. For Christ is not just my Lord but our Lord. He is the head of the church. So we also have to work towards unpacking what that looks like in our own church context.

I love the fact that if this passage was indeed an early church hymn, then Christians were exalting and worshipping Christ in the first generation of the church. It’s not a human invention. It’s not a doctrine imposed on churches by Constantine centuries later. It’s who the earliest disciples came to understand Christ to be because of his life, death, and resurrection. Christ was first for them. May he be first for us also.

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