Lectionary Reflection—17 July 2016
Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He’s the first-born Son, superior to all created things. For through him, God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things—including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place. He’s the head of his body, the church; he’s the source of the body’s life. He’s the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things. For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.
At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you—holy, pure, and faultless—into his presence. You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and mustn’t allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. It’s of this gospel that I, Paul, became a servant—this gospel which has been preached to everybody in the world.
And now I’m happy about my sufferings for you, for by means of my physical sufferings I’m helping to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, the church. And I’ve been made a servant of the church by God, who gave me this task to perform for your good. It’s the task of fully proclaiming his message, which is the secret God hid through all past ages from all human beings but has now revealed to his people. God’s plan is to make known the secret to God’s people, this rich and glorious secret which God has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you’ll share in the glory of God. So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ.
This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture! It’s so powerful and world-shattering that some of us just can’t get our minds around it. It exposes our prejudices and forces us to deal with them in one way or another.
Let’s start with Paul’s first statement—“Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God.” In other words, if you want to know what God looks like—what God is like—Paul says we’re to look at Jesus. Not only does this image shatter a lot of what Paul’s contemporaries understood about Yahweh, but it speaks volumes about our views of God, too.
When someone tells me that they’re having a tough time “seeing God” or “experiencing God” or even believing in God, I’ll often ask “What does God look like to you?” or “Can you describe what you think God is like?” More times than not, the image they describe is nothing like the picture we have of Jesus in the Gospels. And I usually reply with something like, “I don’t believe in that God either.”
For me, one of the greatest turning points in my view of God (aside from the Gospels) actually comes from another letter of Paul’s—1 Corinthians. Pretty much all of us are familiar with the so-called “Love Chapter” (chapter 13). It’s “so-called” because in it, Paul describes love. But a number of years ago, “God is Love” (1 John 4.8) became the cornerstone of what I believe God is. And, so, I re-read 1 Corinthians 13 and replaced “love” with “God.” This is what that looks like:
God is patient and kind; God isn’t jealous or conceited or proud. God isn’t ill-mannered or selfish or irritable. God doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. God isn’t happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. God never gives up; and God’s faith, hope, and patience never fails. God is eternal.
Wow. That’s a very big difference in the picture a lot of people have of God. But it lines up really well with what we read about Jesus in the Gospels. I think this is a great place to start when one’s wanting a biblical picture of God.
Another aspect of this passage is the last sentences of the first paragraph. I’m talking about the obvious Christian Universalism that most of us choose to ignore. While I like the way the Good News Translation says these sentences, a more literal translation might have something like this:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all [things] to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross (Mounce;** adapted).
I put the word “things” in brackets because it’s not in the Greek text. It’s been added to help understand the “all” to which Paul is referring. Although some might find this addition helpful, I don’t. In fact, I think it actually distracts us from the impact of what Paul said.
The Greek word for “all” here is πᾶς (pas) and it means, “all, every (thing, one), whole; always.” It’s the same word Paul used to refer to how much of God’s fullness indwelt Jesus—every bit of it. So when Paul says that God reconciled or brought back “all” to Godself, he meant every bit of it. Or, as the GNT put it, “the whole universe.” There was nothing—not one thing or person or animal or element or molecule—that was not brought back to God through Jesus’ death. God reconciled all.
This, my friends, this is the Gospel.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Scripture quotations marked (GNT) are from The Good News Translation in Today’s English Version—Second Edition. Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.
** Scripture quotations marked (Mounce) taken from The Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament. Copyright © 2011 by Robert H. Mounce and William D. Mounce. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.