Christ the Center

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Colossians 1:1-8

In a world such as ours, with a seemingly infinite number of voices all clamoring for our attention, where does one turn for the truth?

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Colossians 1:1-2 nrsv

So begins a letter written 1,935 years ago by the apostle Paul to a group of Christians living in the city of Colossae. Paul was writing from prison in Rome, where he was being held for the “crime” of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In addressing the Colossians, Paul was writing to a church he had not founded, in a city he had never visited, to a group of people he had never met. But even though he was a stranger to them, Paul knew all about the Colossian Christians, and he cared very much about their life and faith.

THE CHURCH IN COLOSSAE

Colossae was a small city in the Roman province of Asia (Asia occupied what is presently western Turkey). In the first century, Asia’s leading city was Ephesus, a place where Paul had invested three years of his life in missionary labor. While in Ephesus, Paul superintended the spread of Christianity throughout the entire region, for as people became Christians in Ephesus, some of them took the gospel out with them when they traveled to other places, so that Christian churches were eventually founded in many cities. One such missionary was a man called Epaphras, who had first brought the gospel to Colossae and established the church there. Then a number of years later he visited Paul in prison in Rome to report on the condition of the Colossian church (Col. 1:7-8 and 4:12-13).

The report Epaphras gave Paul had both good news and bad news. The good news was that the Colossians were continuing in the faith of Christ, remaining loyal in their commitment to him and growing in love, the one sure sign of spiritual health and vitality. The bad news was that the church was also being upset and divided by people whose teachings contradicted the truth that the Colossians had been taught and through which they had first become Christians.

You might think that a brief letter written almost 2,000 years ago by a Jewish Christian theologian from a Roman prison cell to a group of pagan converts living in rural Asia Minor would have very little to say to us today. Surprisingly, though, Colossians is one of the most strikingly relevant books I know. In many respects the church in Colossae is a prototype of what young churches throughout the world are like today. It was planted through the simple witness of an ordinary person who became a believer in Jesus and then hurried back home to share his new faith with relatives, neighbors and friends – no famous apostle, no big-name founder. This is exactly the way Christianity is continuing to spread today in places like China, Indonesia, Africa, India, even in the Middle East. Furthermore, the young church in Colossae (probably only four or five years old at the time of Paul’s writing) was marked by strong faith in Christ, great spiritual fervor, and zeal for God, just as many of the young churches in our world are.

But it, like so many of them, was also an easy target for false teaching. The single greatest problem facing young churches (or Christians) is the lack of spiritual maturity and the knowledge of the Bible that is the only thing which enables one to correctly evaluate the teaching of would-be spiritual authorities. The false teachers troubling the Colossians were not from non-Christian religions. Rather, they were “insiders” who claimed to have superior knowledge to impart.

Generally false teachers like these follow two lines of approach with enthusiastic new Christians. The first is to claim to have a further revelation from God beyond the basic gospel message about Christ. “You have the Bible,” they say. “Well, that’s all right as far as it goes. But did you know there was another book, a later writing? You’ve accepted the teachings of Jesus; well enough. But have you heard what our prophet has to say? People who just believe in Christ don’t have the whole truth.” So the attack goes.

The other tactic of false teachers is to claim to possess a secret knowledge or to have special techniques which can lead people into a deeper and more powerful kind of spiritual experience. They are proponents of a two-stage Christianity: an ordinary sort of faith for the masses (who only have simple belief in Jesus), but a special advanced stage for the elite (namely, for those who follow these teachers’ instructions and adopt their rules and share in their special spiritual experiences).

JESUS THE CHRIST

Paul’s response to all of this is to call the Colossians (and us) back to Jesus Christ. “Christ is the center,” he says – the center of everything. There’s nothing more we need in this life or in the life to come than what is to be found in him. There is no further advantage to be gained, no deeper experience to be sought, no greater blessing to be bestowed than what God gives us in and through Christ. Over and over in this brief letter Paul draws our attention back to Jesus Christ. Christ is the subject or the object of almost every verse. If I were to summarize the theme of this little book in one phrase, it would be this: “The Supremacy and All-Sufficiency of Jesus Christ.”

Paul directs our attention to Christ at the very outset in the opening words of his greeting, where he introduces himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus and addresses his letter to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Paul was writing as God’s appointed representative, an ambassador of Christ. As such he could speak with authority to strangers from a different culture because everything that he said came from Christ himself. The church in Colossae to whom Paul addressed his letter was the community of people who were “in Christ,” that is, who were linked to Christ by faith. So right from the beginning we are given an important clue that the main topic of conversation in Paul’s letter is going to be Jesus Christ.

But who then, or perhaps we should say, what is Christ? Obviously he is a person. We tend to use “Christ” as if it were Jesus’ surname; so we refer to the founder of Christianity either as “Jesus,” or “Christ” or sometimes “Jesus Christ” (first name, last name). You may have noticed, though, here in Colossians 1:1 that Paul has reversed those terms. He speaks of “Christ Jesus,” thus reminding us that the word “Christ” originally was not a name but a title. It meant “the Anointed One.” According to the New Testament, Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, the one who has been designated, set apart, authorized by God himself to occupy a unique place and fulfill a unique role for the whole world. There have been and are many religious teachers in the world, many prophets, spiritual authorities, people claiming to be guides to a better life; but there is only one Christ.

Jesus Christ, the anointed one, is God’s appointed representative, God’s executive officer. God has, so to speak, put Christ at center stage, putting him forward and authorizing him not only to speak for him but to rule all things on God’s behalf. Christ is like a president who has won an open election – he has been given the highest authority. Christ is like a king who has been publicly crowned – he has openly received the symbol of his supreme office. Christ is like an athlete who has been placed on the victor’s stand with a gold medal hung around his neck – he has won the right to his place and title by virtue of his triumph over all his foes.

THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING

In mentioning Christ at the very outset of his letter, Paul is directing us to the heart of everything that he has to say. I’m calling this message “Christ the Center,” which is also the title of the new series I’m beginning on the book of Colossians. And Christ is certainly the center of this letter. In the 95 verses of this little book, Paul refers to Jesus more than 40 separate times, sometimes calling him “Christ Jesus,” as here in verse 1 of chapter 1, sometimes “the Lord,” or “the Lord Jesus,” but most often referring to him simply as “Christ.” This is the letter of Christ; he is the subject.

More than that, in Colossians, Paul shows us the ways in which Christ is central in our world, our faith and our lives. For example, Paul reminds us that Christ is the center of the gospel. He is the heart of the message which Christians believe, and believing which makes them Christians. “Him we proclaim,” cries the apostle, “warning and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

Christ is the center of the Christian message because he is also the center of the relationship between God and humanity. Our desire to know God and God’s desire to save us intersect in Jesus Christ. God has placed Christ between us and himself, and in Christ he has done what had to be done in order to restore our relationship and re-establish a personal fellowship with himself. “Through him,” says Paul, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things . . . making peace through the blood of his cross” (1:20).

Christ is also the center of the church. 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” (1:18 niv). The kingdom of God is also, says Paul, “the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14).

Christ is not only the center of the church, he’s the center of the entire universe. In perhaps the most dramatic statement in the whole letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:15-17, niv). Think of it! In those breathtaking verses, we are given a glimpse into the heart of ultimate reality. What we see there is Jesus Christ at the center, the One in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (1:19) and through whom God created the entire universe and now continues to rule and sustain it. All things hold together in Christ.

Finally, he is the center of the Christian life. Everything we have is found in him. Everything we do is done for him. “. . . if you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (3:1-4). If you are a Christian, Christ is your whole life; there’s nothing else beside or beyond him.

That leaves really only one obvious question. Is Christ actually the center of your life? He’s the center of everything else – whether you like it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not, whether you even approve of it or not. You can no more change that fact than you can make the sun rise tomorrow morning in the west instead of the east. The issue is whether or not you recognize him as the center of all things, or whether you go on trying to live as though you – or some other power or god – was at the center.

Let me say this: life is much better with Christ at the center.