Our 2018 Motto Verse:
The Image of the Invisible God and the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15)
Over the last few months we have spent time as a PCC and in our three congregations discerning God’s vision for St Mary’s with Holy Apostles. This process started with the PCC vision statement given to me as a new Incumbent for the church:
“We are called to look up to the Lord and reach out into his world, to build up and send out his people.”
In fact, this statement is more of an aspiration, because vision describes the steps you need to take you from where you are, to the place you aspire to be. In our congregational meetings we took an honest look at where we were as a church. We compared this to each of the 4 marks of the church: Worship, Fellowship, Ministry and Belonging. In so many ways our church is a healthy place, but it is no surprise to find that there are things in each of these marks that require attention. One way of attending to our spiritual growth is by using our yearly motto verse to concentrate on one mark of the church’s spiritual life. My idea is to devote the next 4 year’s motto verses to attend to each of these areas (God willing), which means that 2018 is about worship and how we might look up to the Lord.
Our highest calling is to worship God and we will introduce our motto verse during our services on the 4th of February as our preachers look at Colossians 1:15-20 with a sermon title: “In Jesus Christ, our God is Worshipped.” This amazing passage is actually an ancient hymn that was borrowed by St Paul from the Christian community and inserted into his text. As a worship song then, it is not so much about Jesus Christ, as addressing him in worship and adoration, which makes it a great choice for our motto verse helping us to focus on what it means to Worship God. In the original language verse 15 translates “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” which is an odd way to start a new verse. This means that it requires the subject of the previous verse to be complete. Verse 14 says that in Jesus “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” When you couple the two together we see how God holds the tension of redemption and creation in and through Jesus. In other words, Jesus holds both the old creation and the new creation together and this helps us value the creation around as a thing of amazing beauty, while we recognise that it is mired by evil and in desperate need of redemption. God in Jesus, attends to both of those truths and when you consider our hymns, they so often ascribe worship to God in the same way: for his beautiful creation and his staggering redemption.
For St. Paul, worshipping God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ is the foundation for his epistle to the church at Colossae. God is revealed in Jesus as a bridge between the unknowable invisible God to our world and all who live in it. Elsewhere (Acts 17:22-27) he argues, no longer do we have to grope around trying to find God like he is somehow hidden in the dark. No longer is God unknown to us that we have to guess who it is we should worship. No longer do we have to make images for what God might look like and risk adoring someone in our worship who is not like God. Instead Paul makes it plain Jesus “… is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation!” Jesus is the exact image of God who is otherwise invisible. In Colossians 1, Paul is showing us how Jesus is the Wisdom of God spoken of in the Old Testament because this passage closely parallels Proverbs 8:22: “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” In the same way, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:17 speaks of Jesus “Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.” It was God’s wisdom that the eternal Son of God should take up our frail flesh and demonstrate the life of God in our earthly tent.
In this way, God bridges the gulf between himself and our world and at the same time provides us with an image of himself. This image (the Greek is the word icon) makes a connection with the original purpose that God had for humanity that we should be “created in his image, in the image of God he created them (Genesis 1.26).” The fall of Adam broke that image, but God in his amazing grace and mercy is saying that a man, the Son of God will once again perfectly remodel that image of God in human likeness. When we read about the life and teaching, the example and the character, the self-sacrificial crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the gospels, then we are reading about the man who is the image of God. As this text is expanded, I wonder if you are led to worship, not just because God has done this, but the kind of being that he is: to conceive this redemption of creation in and through a man, a man that was the God-man.
This small verse ends with he is “the firstborn of all creation” and in many ways, this mirrors what I have just said, but these are a tricky few words. This Colossian hymn that Paul quotes uses five Hebrew ideas for Jesus as the head of all things. So, we have firstborn, supreme, head, beginning and firstborn to end (why not read through verse 15 to 22 and find these words!). The language of firstborn does not imply that Jesus is somehow less than God, or came after God because he was born, rather Jesus is head. He is central and supreme to our faith. It is as we give Jesus that supreme place of worship and make him central to our lives instead of trying to sort them out ourselves, then our faith will grow more and more. If it’s true that “for in him were created all things” then we as the created things can be sure he will re-create and redeem our circumstances. Friends, this is the importance of our motto verse for 2018 and I commend it to you that we all may grow together in worshipping Jesus Christ and let him reveal all the more how he is the image of the invisible God.
Blessings from Richard