The Incomparable Christ: Exposition of Colossians: The Incomparable Christ – Exposition of Colossians I

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 1, 1996

Colossians 1:1-2

Colossians 1:1-2
The Incomparable Christ

Please turn with me in your Bibles to the book
of Colossians. Colossians, chapter 1. We begin with a series of expositions of
this great epistle of the Apostle Paul. Hear now the word of God.


Lord and our God, this is Your Word. We ask spiritual insight and we ask for a
spiritual posture that we might obediently sit under the word allowing it to
search us out, to see if there is any unclean thing in us, allowing the spirit
to freely move within us to move us, to encourage us in our graces and to
mortify those sins which remain in us. Open our eyes that we might behold
wonderful things from Your law and we’ll give You all the praise and all the
glory, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The book of Colossians is about the
incomparable Christ. It is about the soul-sufficient Christ, the sovereign
Christ in whom is everything that we need, in whom is everything that we have as
Christians. The gospel of Jesus Christ was not brought to the Colossians
directly by Paul. Paul tells us in the passage we just read that Epaphras had
come to the Colossians with the word of truth. It is very likely that Epaphras
had been in Ephesus some hundred miles to the west of the Lycos Valley and he
had heard the preaching of the Apostle Paul there and that faithful man and the
Apostle Paul compliments him with that great accolade, that faithful man took
back the gospel to the Colossians and they came to Christ and a church was
formed in that city where Paul had never been. In this letter, Paul is
responding both positively and negatively to the Colossians that Epaphras has
now told him.

Epaphras has visited Paul and one of the
things that he has told Paul is that there are apparently new teachers, false
teachers in the congregation which are confusing young converts. They are
teaching an add-mixture of Christian truths with Jewish ritual practices and
even pagan beliefs and practices. They are not outrightly denying Christ, but
they are mixing the gospel of Christ with truth and error. It’s a hodge-podge of
things that they are teaching. Paul will outline for us in chapter 2 some of the
distinctives of this teaching.

For instance in chapter 2:11, 16, and 17,
the Apostle Paul tells us that these people were apparently requiring that
Gentile Christians obey Jewish Old Testament ritual law.

In that same chapter, just a little bit
further on, you will notice in verse 18 that apparently these people were
teaching that we ought to worship angelic mediaries, the worship of angels
apparently was part of their bag of tricks. And you may say now how in the world
could a young Christian fall for that. But you could imagine a presentation like
this. God is great and awesome and spiritual. We are small and weak and
material. How can the material world have fellowship with the spiritual world?
We need a mediary between us and God and even between us and Christ if we’re
really going to have a fullness of fellowship and so we should worship these
mediaries. You can hear the logic going something like that and young Christian
converts scratching their head and saying, ‘well I guess that makes sense.’ And
certainly in the culture of their day that would have been a very compelling
sort of argument.

Thirdly, in this same passage, chapter
2:20-23, you see that these teachers are also teaching sort of an asceticism, a
bodily form of excessive self-denial which was apparently very significant in
their teaching. All these teachings were being add-mixed with Christian truth
and according to the Apostle Paul, not only changing the gospel but endangering
the spiritual lives of the believers at Colossae because truth is unto godliness
and untruth leads to destruction.

And so the Apostle Paul writes this letter
to combat this error, to combat this error which offered a fullness of spiritual
experience which had never been previously known by the Christians in Colossae,
to combat this error which offered a new spiritual freedom for those who would
follow it. To combat this error which claimed a particular insight into the
powers of evil and the ability to protect the Colossians from those powers. To
combat this error which offered a deeper knowledge of God and a greater
experience of his power. To combat this error which inclines some to think of
themselves as superior to other believers. To combat this error for its
impressive self-denial and to combat this error which was divisive in the church
in Colossians, the Apostle Paul presses home one truth applied in a multiple
variety of ways over and over again in the book and that one truth is the sole
sufficiency of Christ to this error. Paul’s antidote is the unfolding of the
cosmic implications of Christ’s absolute pre-eminence and directing us to the
sole sufficiency of his saving work. Paul’s one answer to this erroneous
teaching is the person and work of Christ. For the message of the book of
Colossians is that believers are complete in Christ and that faith in him
necessarily rules out reliance on anything outside of him, anything subsidiary
or under him. For nothing in the universe is outside the scope of his
sovereignty and so the Apostle Paul sets forth before them the sufficient
Christ, the solely sufficient Christ, the sovereign Christ and the incomparable

Christians receive Scripture as authoritative in all matters of faith and life.

This morning I would simply like to look with you at the first two
verses. Please direct your attention there. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
by the will of God and Timothy our brother to the saints and faithful brethren
in Christ who are at Colossae. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” The
Apostle Paul in this brief greeting is doing just that. He is giving a
salutation to the Church but it’s not just a polite ritual. Paul has significant
content in that greeting meant to minister to the souls and in fact we’ll see in
a few moments the content of his greeting actually undercut everything that the
error that is being taught in Colossae purports to teach. Paul in this brief
greeting sets forth a claim, a claim about himself. He gives a description of
what believers are and then he gives a blessing to the believers at Colossae. I
would simply like to look at this great salutation with you this morning and see
if we can glean truths, truths from the word of God to be applied to our own
hearts and our own situations.

Paul’s claim begins first. You note the
words. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” You see that
phrase is an assertion of Paul’s authority. Paul has never been to this church
before. There are new teachers at this church, visiting professors, if you will,
coming to this church to teach them new and improved versions of Christianity.
The Apostle meets this congregation by letter. He does not know them personally.
They do not know him personally. He tells them who he is to begin with. I am an
apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. The Apostle is setting forth very
clearly the fact that he is an authority. What he is about to say is not an
opinion. He comes with decisive directions and truths.

The Apostle Paul is laying forth a
foundation for the Colossians to receive the word which he is going to preach
and teach and write to them and so he emphasizes that he is an apostle by the
will of God. This reminds us of the importance of the authority of the scripture
in our own experience. For Christians receive scripture as authoritative in all
matters of faith and like. When the Scripture is read this morning it
comes with no arguments to try and convince you that it is what it is, except
itself. It is self-evidently true. It testifies to your heart when you read the
Scripture that it is true because it describes what you are like inside. It
unfolds the mystery of salvation. It is perfect in the scope of the plan of
redemption. It reveals a plan that men nor angels could have invented for the
plan of salvation. The scripture shows forth itself to be what it claims to be,
the word of God. And it’s our job to receive it.

Now I doubt that there are many here who
would openly reject the scripture. If we did at least we wouldn’t talk about it
amongst fellow church members. Most of us struggle not in the area of openly
rejecting the scripture but rather an apathy or an indifference about the
Scripture. Perhaps we are not interested personally in coming to be believers
who know the word of God, who thirst for the word of God, who drink in the word
of God day in and day out, in private, in family devotions as well as corporate
study and worship. Perhaps our problem is not so much with an interest in the
scripture. Perhaps our problem is with a practical denial of his authority in
our lives. We accept that it’s the word of God and yet we live in ways which
contradict it. We say that it is the authority but we live as if it were not the
authority in our lives.

But the mark of a Christian is a love for
God’s word. The mark of a Christian is a love for God’s love. We not only desire
to be under it for teaching, we desire to be under it for living. Calvin said a
long time ago that “the Bible is the scepter by which the heavenly King rules
His church.” And so I ask you this day what is your attitude to Scripture? Do
you have the proper attitude, the attitude which the Apostle Paul wanted the
Colossians to have to his word? Do you come to the Scripture expectantly, bowing
the knee, ready to be changed, ready to be corrected, ready to be encouraged,
ready to be strengthened, ready to be directed? Is that your posture for its
holy Scripture. Christians receive Scripture as authoritative. That is part of
Paul’s first claim. He is authoritative. The words that he is writing are
Scripture and the Colossians are to receive it. And if you will look with me in
verse 2 you’ll see at least three components to this description that the
Apostle Paul gives of these Christians.

II. Christians are chosen by God,
set apart, dedicated to be His own people.

The first you’ll see in the phrase “To the Saints at Colossae.” To
the Saints at Colossae. Here we see that Christians are chosen by God, set
apart, dedicated to be His own people. When Paul says “To the Saints at Colossae,”
he doesn’t mean to those extraordinarily holy people who are members of that
congregation. He doesn’t mean to that super spiritual set of Christians that are
a part of a larger body, to those who are most involved in all the activities of
the congregation. No, the Apostle Paul means to all the members of the
congregation. Those whom God has chosen for Himself. Those who have been set
apart by God for his own people. This relationship to God is underscored by the
word saints just like the relationship that they have to one another is
underscored by the word brothers or brethren. Saints, your
relationship to God. Brothers, your relationship to one another. And that word
saint is to bring to mind God’s electing rights of the people of Israel
in the Old Testament. He did not choose them because they were the greatest, for
they were the least. He did not choose them for anything in them but because he
loved them we are told in Deuteronomy 7. He chose them to be a peculiar people,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation and now the Apostle Paul says to these
Gentiles in the Lycos Valley surrounded by the mystery religions who thirty
years ago had never ever heard the Old Testament. They had never, ever heard the
prophets preach. He tells them you are now saints.

My friends do you have any idea of the
implications of that for our security? C. S. Lewis said a long time ago
“Amicable agnostics will talk cheerfully about man’s search for God. For me they
might as well talk about the mouse’s search for the cat. God closed in on me.”
You see this is the truth of our sainthood. This is the truth of God’s electing
love. He has sought us out. Before we came to Him, He came to us. The reason we
came to Him is because He came to us. Oh, the implications for our security.
And you think about these brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae in the
midst of the mystery religions and the immorality of the Lycos Valley in their
day. Laodicea is only a few miles away and you remember about Laodicea. This
was not a place noted for its orthodoxy or its holiness and yet here are people
who have been called out of darkness into light.

You are saints. Paul doesn’t say
explicitly in this greeting how one becomes a saint but he sure does give a hint
doesn’t he in that little phrase, verse 2, in Christ, saints in Christ.
Those who are in Christ and those only are saints. To be in union with Christ,
to be in fellowship with Christ, to be in relationship with Christ, this makes
one a Saint. The Spirit unites us to Christ and the instrument of that bond of
the Spirit is faith. So those who are in Christ trust in Him, they believe in
Him, they rest on Him, they flee to Him. Faith is the invariable response to
spiritual initiative and so this is the first thing that we see in the
description. Christians are chosen by God. Saints. Notice again, he calls them
faithful brethren at Colossae.

Christians, in response to God’s initiative, are faithful or loyal to their

And so we see a second thing. Faithful brethren at Colossae.
Christians in response to God’s initiative and response to God’s love are
faithful or loyal to their calling. This word from Paul is a stimulus, it’s an
encouragement to faithfulness, to obedience. We have been made to be the true
Israel. We have been chosen by God and now as we have been dedicated by God we
are to be loyal to God. Do we reflect that reality in our own experience? Is
faithfulness something that we could say that we are characterized by. Are we
loyal to God? Is He our priority.

A. W. Tozer said, “The Bible recognizes no
faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that
does not spring from faith.” The two are opposite sides of the same coin.

in virtue of their relation to God, are now all brethren.

A third thing you notice as well, in verse 2, Christians in
virtue of their relation to God are now brethren. They are not simply faithful,
they are the faithful brethren, Paul tells us. Now you know that brethren
is a common New Testament term for Christian. Paul has just used it for Timothy
in the first verse. It is Paul the apostle and our brother Timothy. But for Paul
to repeat that greeting, brethren, so soon after he’s just called Timothy his
brother must bring to mind the unity which is established when we are brought
into Christ. For you know how Paul felt about Timothy his son and you know how
Timothy felt about his spiritual Father, Paul. And Paul uses that term brother
to show their closeness, and when he calls the Colossians brethren it is as much
as a call to the unity and community of believers We are to be united in love,
united in mutual love, united in ministry, united in mutual ministry, united in
fellowship, and I don’t mean the sentimental insipid definitions of fellowship
which float around in the environment today. I mean shared life, real Christian
fellowship, mutual commitment, mutual concern, mutual involvement in all our
losses and crosses, in all our trials and our triumphs. That type of mutuality
of what the Apostle Paul’s application of the term brothers implies with regard
to the way we relate to one another.

Do we reflect those realities in our
experience? Can we look back and say, that’s a description of me. I know what
it means to be chosen, to be called out by God, to be saved from myself, to be
saved from my sins, to be rescued and brought to Christ. I know what it is to
love my brothers and I know what it is to respond in loyalty to God. Does that
reflect our experience? That is the description that Paul gives of what a
Christian is to these Colossians.

Let me just remind you that the Apostle
Paul is not speaking from personal experience of these people apparently. He’s
never met them. The Apostle Paul is setting forth our status. He’s saying this
is what we are and think how often he does this. He says this is what you are,
Christians, now be who you are. It’s just like the land of Canaan. Joshua,
that’s your land, now take it. He says, Christian, this is who you are. Now be
who you are. You have been chosen by God. Realize what that means. You have been
made to be faithful, now be faithful. You are brothers and sisters in Christ,
now act like it.

The Apostle Paul always places the
indicative before the imperative He says what you are before he tells you what
he wants you to do. Here’s who you are, believer. Now live in accordance with
what God has made you to be. That leads us to the blessing. Again we look at
verse 2.

Christians are recipients of God’s unmerited favor.

Here Paul pronounces a blessing, a benediction, on the Colossian
Christians. He says grace to you, grace to you. That grace, of course, refers to
God’s favor towards you. You probably know that the Hebrew term behind that word
signifies the blessedness enjoyed by one from a superior, one who is favored by
a superior. And so the grace spoken of speaks of the favor of God and the
blessedness of life of those who are so favored by God. Paul takes the term and
he reminds us that this grace, this favor is freely bestowed by God apart from
our deserving, apart from our sin, apart from what we are at enmity with God.
God’s grace is undeserved and it is despite our demerit. And the use of that
word in this salutation, you see, is much more than a simple greeting, a
politeness. It is a prayer that these Colossians might enjoy the blessing of God
himself, that they might see the face of God and commune with him.

Thomas Manton, the Puritan, said many
years ago “There is no chemistry like grace. Where grace is it reigns, and it is
the dominant thing in that experience.” Have you tasted that kind of grace? Do
you know what it is to be favored by God, to be brought into fellowship with
him, to know the sweetness of that fellowship? Is it the desire of your heart?
The Apostle Paul’s blessing calls you to examine yourself in that area.

Christians, in virtue of God’s grace, enjoy an inner peace with God.

And then the follow up, the subsequent to grace in the blessing, we
see again in verse 2, grace and peace from God our Father. This peace speaks of
spiritual prosperity. It is the healthy condition of life experience by the
person who enjoys the favor of God. It is both objective and subjective. It’s
not just an inner peace, though it is that. It is a peace that first knows that
I have been brought into right relationship to God by trusting in Jesus Christ
and there is now nothing that can separate me from the love of God which is in
Christ. And then, it is a peace which keeps the waters from overflowing us when
we go through the trials of life because it is a peace not brought to us by
circumstances but in spite of circumstances. For our peace is not based on an
absence of adverse circumstances, it is based on the presence of Christ in our
lives. He who is in us who is the hope of glory. It is the kind of peace that
enabled a godly man named Job to survive the messengers who told him that his
fields were lost and his animals were lost and his houses were lost and his
children were lost. And to fall on his face and say. “blessed be the name of the
Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord who gives and who takes away.” That is the
kind of peace that comes from relationship with living God.

Do you know that peace? Have you ever once
left your own strivings and your own attempts to be righteous, and your own
attempts to hoist yourself into fellowship with God or to get relief from your
conscious. Have you ever left them behind and simply come to Christ, fled to
Christ and clung to Him? David Dixon the great Scottish minister said many years
ago, “I have taken my good deeds and my bad deeds and thrown them together in a
heap and fled from them both to Christ and in Him I have peace.”

Have you been there? Have you fled to
Him? Do you know what it is to have the benediction of God pronounced on your
soul? Oh, my friends if you come this day and you have not tasted of that, I
plead with you close with Christ. He awaits. He awaits with arms open to receive
any who will come to him. And if you come as a Christian today, and you have
forgotten some of these great truths, these great varieties which uphold us in
the midst of trial, I pray that the spirit would bring them again to forceful
remembrance in your life that you might walk in the security and the holiness
that we are called to by God. May the Lord bless his word. Let’s look to Him in

Our Father this is Your word and we know
it’s meant for our encouragement and for our edification and so we ask, O God,
that you would bless it to our spiritual nourishment. Help us to realize these
things. O God, if there is even one who have not tasted of the peace which you
hold in your breast enfold them now in the shelter of the shadow of the wings of
the Almighty and we will give you the praise and the glory, for Christ’s
sake. Amen.

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