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.

Pleasing the Lord – 1:10b-14


…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

There are four ways by which we please Jesus:

  1. Bearing fruit in good works;
  2. Growing in our knowledge of God;
  3. Being strengthened by God so that we can have endurance and patience;
  4. Giving joyful thanks to God the Father.

The four qualities could be summed up by these words: Faithfulness, Wisdom, Perseverance, and Gratitude. Certainly these are not the only ways that we can please Jesus, but they are among the most important.

We please the Lord when we do good works that bear kingdom fruit. This is not to be confused with the vain attempt to earn your salvation. Instead, good works honor the Good King. Jesus is pleased when we testify to the goodness of his kingdom by serving others in a sacrificial way. His kingdom goes forth in power as we lay down our lives for others, taking up our crosses and following him.

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The Spirit of Early Christian Thought

What the Book is About

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought is a survey of the greatest thinkers of the early church on a broad range of subjects. Each chapter is dedicated to a single topic, such as the Trinity, virtue, politics, or apologetics. Wilken artfully weaves thoughts from at least two primary writers in each chapter, diving to the depths of the issue, offering the wisdom of the ancients to a modern audience. Wilken is careful not to rely on the same thinker over and over, so the audience is treated to a wide range of authors, including Justin Martyr, Iranaeus, Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, and others. He admits, however, that there were four giants, so to speak, to which he returned more often than the rest: “Origen in the third century, Gregory of Nysa in the fourth, Augustine in the fifth, and Maximus the Confessor in the seventh.” (p. xix) Any student interested in learning from the great masters of the Church would do well to start with these four.

As noted above, Wilken’s approach is to tackle one issue in each chapter, and to do so under the guidance of two ancient writers. While he does not typically quote any author at length, he pieces together their thoughts and gives them flesh through his own prose. The reader may be left with the hunger to hear more directly from Origen or Augustine, but the effect is to give the audience the best of their thoughts in modern formulations. A typical example can be taken from the first chapter, which dealt with the Christian concern of apologetics.

In the debate between Christian thinkers and their critics the central issue was where in the search for God reason is to begin. Christians argued that Christ had brought something new; the life he lived, though fully human, was unlike that of anyone who had lived earlier. …For the Greeks, God was the conclusion of an argument, the end of a search for an ultimate explanation, an inference from the structure of the universe to a first cause. For Christian thinkers, God was the starting point, and Christ the icon that displays the face of God. “Reason became man and was called Jesus Christ,” wrote Justin. Now one reasoned from Christ to other things, not from other things to Christ. In him was to be found the reason, the logos, the logic, if you will, that inheres in all things.-The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 14-15

In taking this approach, the reader must trust that Wilken has done his homework, and is faithfully presenting the thoughts of each author. While I often found myself longing for lengthier quotations, I came to conclude that Wilken’s approach was best. Nearly two thousand years separate my mind from the ancient author’s words. In such a sweeping survey, it is helpful to have a learned mediator bridge the gap between the style of their writing and the form of prose which best suits modern readers.

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