Do you have that one, favorite worship song that just seems to get you every time? The opening chords ring out and tears puddle in your eyes as you involuntarily lift your hands. You can’t help but sing it loud and you don’t really care if you’re on key or not. I’ve had several of them throughout my life, and no doubt will have several more.


Jesus made things good so that we can have a trust-filled, love-soaked relationship with God.
The older I get, though, the more I appreciate the rich theology of the church’s great hymns. Words matter, and the words we sing to God matter most of all.

Many scholars believe that, in Colossians 1:15-20, Paul is quoting an ancient Christian hymn. This is the kind of hymn I would like to sing with my church. In it, we would sing of Jesus as the Creator and Reconciler of all things.

All things!

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We often think that God is angry or exasperated with us. In our minds we imagine him a gray-bearded, toga-wearing, lightning-bolt wielding deity bent on dispensing cosmic justice through divine wrath. Is this the picture of God that you see when you worship, pray, or even sin?

Jesus-Replaces-WebWhat we imagine when we think about God is important. The image of God we construct in our minds is vital for determining what kind of relationship we have with him. Whether we have a relationship with God founded on love or terror, grace or law, depends in large part on the picture of God we live with in our inner being.

So what does God look like? Is he a baptized Zeus, full of righteous anger and quick to dispense divine punishment? Or does he look like someone else?

In Colossians 1:15, Paul quotes an ancient hymn, the first line of which is this: The Son is the image of the invisible God. The hymn, of course, is about Jesus, and it boldly proclaims that Jesus is the image of God. When we imagine what God is like, therefore, the picture that ought to come to our minds is Jesus.

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The Redeemer’s Hymn – 1:15-20


15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Many scholars believe that these verses constitute, at least in part, an ancient Christological hymn. Whether or not Paul is the author of the hymn is uncertain, though there does appear to be a poetic pattern and rhythm in the original Greek. While there is not consensus on how the hymn is divided (if at all), in general it is broken up this way:

  • Section One: Verses 15-16
  • Section Two: Verses 17-18a
  • Section Three: Verses 18b-20

There seem to be two larger sections, each containing the word “firstborn” in the opening line. These larger sections are broken up by one smaller section. This shorter strophe (a chorus, perhaps?) contains sweeping theological statements that link the two larger sections together. While the structure of the hymn may be confusing, the theological themes it contains are quite clear. “[The First] section presents Christ’s relation to the created world. Paul answered basic questions about the origin and purposes of creation. The [second] section presents Jesus’ relationship to the redemption of what he created. Paul reminded the readers of the redemptive purposes of God in and through Christ.”[i]

The theology of the hymn is expansive, presenting themes found throughout the rest of the letter. It is fundamentally about the power and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. It presents him first as Creator, and secondly as Re-Creator. As N.T. Wright says, the hymn presents “the parallel between creation and new creation; hence the emphasis that is placed on the fact that each was accomplished by means of the same agent. The Lord through whom you are redeemed…is none other than the one through whom you (and all the world) were created.”[ii] The hymn is rich and dense with Christology, cosmic in scope, sweeping in nature. The word “all” appears seven times, and the phrase “all things” appears five times. The repetition of this vocabulary tells us that there is nothing that lies outside of the supremacy of Christ. Would that every song in our Sunday morning worship hour was bursting with such high theology!

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kingdom of Jesus

In recent years, millions of people have been violently displaced from their homes and forced to live as refugees in foreign lands. These poor souls have endured catastrophic suffering and loss, and they have little or no hope of returning to a normal life in their homeland. All that they had is lost or destroyed. Many of them are victims of tyrants and warmongers bent on controlling land and resources to enhance their own empires and kingdoms.

kingdom of JesusDarkness is a tyrant that has made refugees of us all. Our native land is Eden, where our first ancestors experienced perfect communion with God. This is the life for which we were created, but that we have since lost due to the sway of sin in our hearts and the power of the dark forces of evil which wage constant war against both God and us. We are homeless and wandering, living in the ambivalence of being both victims of the dark tyrant and complicit in our own expulsion from Eden.

But God has seen our plight, and he has acted on our behalf. Colossians 1:13 says that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” The dark tyrant has been overthrown, and now we may enter a new kingdom – the kingdom of Jesus. In Christ we are granted far more than refugee status; we are made heirs of his kingdom! Jesus has not given us simple food and shelter; he has given us a crown and a throne. Imagine a refugee, broken and desperate, taken from a camp and made a member of Congress. This is the audacity of King Jesus, that he would take sinners like us, made refugees of Eden by the joint effort of the dark tyrant and our own weak hearts, and make us kings and queens of his kingdom through the means of his own death and resurrection, whereby we are redeemed from the dominion of darkness and all of our sins are forgiven!

intentional spiritual development

Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident. Nobody becomes more like Jesus by going through the motions of life, paying lip service to obedience, or ignoring the Scriptures and prayer. There is an intentionality demanded by spiritual development without which it is impossible to please the Lord, much less become like him. To use church language: salvation requires no effort on your part, but sanctification demands it.

Intentional-Spiritual-Development-WebIn Colossians 1:10-11, Paul lists four characteristics of spiritual maturity that bring pleasure to the Lord: faithfulness, wisdom, perseverance, and gratitude. Book upon book has been written about each of these characteristics, and I have nothing new to say about them here. But we must admit that, when it comes to spiritual maturity, none of us are savants. Nobody is born with a genius-level gifting in godly character. This is because we are actively oppressed by dark spiritual forces that seek to suppress and undermine our spiritual development.

So we have to fight – or to use a more biblical term, walk. Spiritual maturity is a journey. Becoming like Christ means going from where you are to where he is. This is why we walk. We must make conscious decisions to leave certain places behind, specific ways of thinking and behaving that do not please Jesus. We must walk from faithlessness to faithfulness. We must travel the road from foolishness to wisdom.

This is not a journey that you are able to walk on your own. Thankfully, it is a path well worn by the Holy Spirit. He is the guide on the journey toward Christlikeness. And not only is he with you, but so are countless other saints. Some are by your side, some far ahead, while others are lagging behind. Another name for this company of sojourners is the Church. In church, we walk together, guided by the Holy Spirit, on the path toward Christlikeness. Let us, therefore, learn from those ahead, encourage those behind, and spur on those at our side. Together, we will reach the destination.

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