Centered in Christ

by J. Randal Matheny, editor

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Obvious. A commonplace. Almost a cliché. Whatever it may be, the truth that all Christian teaching should be tied to Christ and to the heavenly Father is sometimes left in the lurch.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul dealt with the problem of bumping Christ from the faith. False teachers retained Christ in their new system, but he was not central, not preeminent.

Hence Colossians 1:18 might be considered the key verse of the book:

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (ESV).

Christ should take first place in everything. His person, teaching and redemptive work must stand out in every way.

This old problem continues today. Preachers tell feel-good stories that focus more on emotions than the facts of Christ. Psychology occupies the space once given to faith and repentance. Personal development co-opts growth in the Spirit, and management principles overlay the simple service taught and demonstrated by Jesus.

Bible classes heat up over the size and shape of communion bread, table cloths for the Lord’s table, women’s hats, hair and veils, and such like, with no connection to Christ. As a consequence, such discussions lose the preeminence of Christ and veer into human speculation and empty talk. No one is edified, growth is stumped and the congregational frustration level shoots up.

To a church challenged by the loss of Christ as its central point, Paul offers the Colossians a preeminent charge for their faith.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV).

CHRIST RECEIVED

Whether it be restoration or retention of the faith, the initial experience sets the mold. Christ Jesus is Lord and was received as such (see NET Bible). The word “received” is almost a technical word for accepting the traditions of the apostles, so no distinction need be made between receiving the gospel of Christ and receiving Christ himself. The former implies the latter.

In order to walk in him, the Colossians must must continue to hold to him as the Supreme Sovereign.

SO WALK IN HIM

False teachers presented an inferior Christ in a different system. The Colossians should continue to walk in that same teaching they had received, for they risked being deluded with plausible arguments (v. 4) and taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit (v. 8).

The metaphor “walk” is translated to “live” in some versions and thus misses the link of a major Biblical theme of the saint’s conduct and communion with God. The NET captures the progressive movement of the verb: “continue to live in him.”

Paul describes the nature of the Christian walk with three terms (rooted, built up, established), a mixed metaphor of horticulture, architecture and law. The point: faith is established when all activity occurs in Christ and doctrine has him as its focus.

JUST AS YOU WERE TAUGHT

Though more can always be learned, continuity is the key to Christian faith. If the foundation in the beginning was solid, the structure built upon it will also be firm.

The phrase, “just as you were taught,” reveals Paul’s emphasis upon the content of the teaching as connected to Christ both in the beginning and during the Christian’s walk.

ABOUNDING IN THANKSGIVING

Paul keynotes gratitude in Colossians and mentions it three times in three verses in 3:15-17. Gratitude recognizes the full measure of what God offers in Christ. When false teachers pointed to other supposed sources of spiritual sustenance, dissatisfaction could have set in and a desire created for more than Jesus.

We give thanks today for the fullness of Christ. And we desire that every word, every teaching, every action have its center in Christ Jesus the Lord.

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