One Great Creator

| Colossians 1:15-17

The Point:  God created us and He knows each of us.

The Greatness of God:  Psalm 33:6-15.

[6]  By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. [7]  He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. [8]  Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! [9]  For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. [10]  The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. [11]  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. [12]  Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! [13]  The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; [14]  from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, [15]  he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.  [ESV]

“Psalm 33 looks to all nations and to all generations and calls on all people everywhere to praise God and thank Him for His universal blessings. The psalm has a straightforward outline. The first three verses are a call to worship. The last three verses [20-22] are a conclusion in which the worshipers declare their intention of waiting trustingly on God. In between is the body of the psalm in which the Lord is praised for His word and works. The opening call to worship contains six imperatives in which the righteous are called upon to shout for joy, praise, give thanks, make melody, sing, play skillfully. And they are to do these six things with loud shouts [3]. God’s Word and Works [4-19]. The body of the psalm expresses the psalmist’s praise to God. The two opening verses of this section establish the theme. They tell us that God is to be praised for His word and His works [4-5]. There are five qualities of God in these verses: upright, faithfulness, righteousness, justice, steadfast love. However, each of these is seen in all God’s words and all God’s works. God’s words and God’s works always go together. How different it is with us. We say one thing and do another, so that we are inconsistent at best and hypocritical or blatantly dishonest at our worst. God is utterly consistent, always upright, and consistently good. Thus He is always to be praised for everything He says and for everything He does. There are no areas of His speech or actions for which He can be faulted. Creation and Providence [6-11]. Both creation and providence are examples of the way the word and the works of God go together. The first and most obvious example of the unity of God’s word and works is the creation of the heavens and the earth [6-9]. Genesis 1, which these verses echo, says that God created the heavens and earth by speaking. The words and God said occur eight times in that chapter in regard to God’s creating something. This emphasis is picked up in verses 6 and 9 of our psalm, where the psalmist notes that it was by the word of the Lord and by the breath of his mouth that the heavens were created [6]. This a fiat creation, creation by the naked word of God, and it is entirely different from and infinitely superior to anything mere human beings can do. It is no wonder the writer interjects at this point: Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! [8]. The second example of the unbreakable link between God’s word and God’s work is providence, the ordering of all things according to the secret counsels of God [10-11]. The author’s statement of this is a longer expression of the better-known words in Proverbs 19:21. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. We should be glad it is so, because the word of the Lord is upright [4], while our words are inconsistent or false, our plans frequently wrong and ourselves unfaithful. Responding to this from a New Testament perspective, as we do, it is hard to think of God’s unfailing purposes in Psalm 33 without also reflecting on God’s stated purposes for us, as expressed in Romans 8:28-30. That passage tells us that God’s purpose is to make us like Jesus Christ by the path of foreknowledge, predestination, effectual calling, justification, and glorification, and that in everything God works good for those who are on that path. This means that we can thank Him for anything and should thank Him for everything, even hardships and suffering. Having spoken of God’s providence in thwarting the hostile plans of the surrounding nations and of firmly establishing His own good purposes for His people, the writer naturally turns to God’s special care of these people, which is what the next stanza [12-19] describes. The author is thinking of Israel as this special people when he writes, Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! [12]. That cannot be said strictly of any nation but Israel. But it is said elsewhere in the Bible that righteousness exalts a nation and that even an ungodly nation can be blessed because of the godly in it. The blessings of God surround His people, even in a godless or fiercely secular environment, and it is right to remember them. What are these blessings? The psalm lists them in three categories. (1) God’s watchfulness over us. The thought of God looking down on us and watching over us is so strong in this section that a number of scholars have titled it “God’s eye,” just as the previous stanza could be titled “God’s word.” The verses stress that God’s eye is upon everyone, the just and the unjust alike: the Lord sees all the children of man [13], He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth [14], he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds [15]. This is a good portrayal of omniscience over all of humanity. But it is not this kind of watchfulness that the writer is particularly concerned about. What he cares about is that God’s eye is upon His people and that He watches over them, as verse 18 makes clear. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love. In other words, this is precisely the kind of watchfulness mentioned in the preceding psalm, where David quotes God as saying: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you [32:8]. It means that God is keeping an eye on us so He can intervene in a timely way to counsel, help, and redirect us and thus keep us from wandering off the right path and doing wrong. Aren’t you glad that the watchful eye of God is on you? If a person is not in Christ, the thought of God’s watching eye is terrifying. It is frightening to know that “all hearts are open, all desires known” by Him with whom we have to do. But to those who are in Christ, those whose sins are covered by His blood, the thought of God’s watchful care is comforting. (2) God’s protection. The second blessing in these verses is that God protects His people, foiling the plans of their enemies and turning back their enemies’ attempts to harm them. It occurs to me, as I think about these words, that many deliverances are probably unknown to us because they are turned back before they even come within our vision. I think this is important. In our prayers we usually remember the many tangible blessings God has given to us. But while we remember these things, let us not forget to thank God for the things we do not have, the things we are spared because of His faithful and effective care. We do not know what these are specifically, but we can think of the categories. Have we been spared severe sickness during the past year? We should be thankful for that. Not everyone has been. If we have been spared, we should thank God for it. Have we been kept from serious accidents? That should be a cause of our most grateful thanksgiving. Have we been delivered from people who would harm us at work? In our homes? On the streets? If you have been preserved from harm by such enemies, it is the Lord’s doing and you should acknowledge it. And what about temptations? The Bible tells us that God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [1 Cor. 10:13]. This implies that there are temptations that God turns aside before they can reach us. If He did not, we would certainly have fallen into them. That we continue on the path of discipleship and righteousness is a result of God’s care of those who are His people. (3) God’s preserving care. This leads to the third area of blessing highlighted by Psalm 33: God’s preserving of His people in this uncertain and tenuous life. The author covers a lot of ground when he writes that God may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine [19]. Among other things, He covers the positive elements I mentioned earlier, including food, health, good homes, and other necessities for our physical survival. The conclusion of the psalm [20-22] strikes an entirely different note than was heard at the start. The opening verses call for joyful and loud praise to God. At the end the tone is quiet, as God’s people, who have now reflected on His power and goodness to them, declare their intention to wait for the Lord and to trust in his holy name. This is the natural thing to do. For if God is powerful and good, as He is declared to be, it is foolish not to trust Him. God has made the entire universe by His mere word and by the breath of His mouth. He foils the evil plans, not merely of individuals but of nations. God’s purposes prevail. His plans prosper. Besides, He constantly looks upon the affairs of this world to care for His people – to bless, defend, preserve, and prosper them. No one who trusts in this God is ever disappointed. No one who waits in trusting hope will be let down. Let God’s people say, Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you [22].”  [Boice, pp. 284-291].

The Supremacy of Christ:  Colossians 1:15-17.

[15]  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16]  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. [17]  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  [ESV]

Jesus: Lord of Creation [15-17][15]  Two assertions set the direction for the entire discussion of these verses. They are: He is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation. Two important matters emerge from the first assertion: the idea of the image of God and how the image is a revelation of God. In the Greek world, the word image conveyed one of two nuances of meaning: representation and manifestation. Both elements were always present, but one tended to dominate the other. In this verse the second element dominates. The symbol or representation brought with it the actual presence of the object. Paul meant that Jesus brought God into the human sphere of understanding. He manifested God. The terminology is similar to Hebrews 1:3, where the writer stated that Jesus is called the exact imprint of God, and John 1:18, which states that Jesus has made him known. The point is that in Christ the invisible God became visible. He shared the same substance as God and made God’s character known in this earthly sphere of existence. The revelation of God in Christ is such that we can actually see Him, even with all of our limitations. This points to a significant truth about the uniqueness of Christ. In choosing the word image, Paul stressed that God was present wherever Jesus was. He was the personal manifestation of deity. The second assertion about Jesus expresses His relationship to all of creation. This is found in the term firstborn. In the Old Testament, firstborn often expressed a special relationship with God the Father, one of privilege [see e.g., Ex. 4:22; Ps. 89:27; Jer. 31:9]. The term soon lost the meaning of the first in time and developed the meaning of first in priority. The meaning of privilege predominates in this passage in Colossians. In these verses, the term firstborn distances Jesus from creation rather than subsumes Him under it. Therefore, the point is that Jesus is the firstborn (preeminent) with reference to the creation. Thus two assertions are made regarding Jesus. In His work toward us as revealer of God, He manifests God to us. In His work toward creation, He is prominent over it. [16]  In verse 16 Paul provided the reason for asserting the supremacy of Christ over creation. The three phrases by him … through him … for him indicate the relationship. In actuality, three different ideas are expressed by these phrases. The first of these is the Greek expression translated literally “in him.” It should be understood as “in the mind” or “in his sphere of influence and responsibility.” Practically, it means that Jesus conceived of creation and its complexities. Creation was His idea. Theologically a clear distinction is to be made between the work of the Father and the Son. The Father, of course, has a significant relationship to creation. He is presented as the architect; He determined to bring creation into existence. The Son, Jesus, actually brought the plans into existence. Through His creative imagination and power, the created order exists. The Spirit, finally, does the actual work of applying the plans in a hands-on relationship to creation. This statement about Jesus, therefore, speaks to Jesus’ originating the details of creation and bringing them into existence by His own creative energy. The second informative phrase is that creation came into existence through him. This phrase means that creation came to be through His power and ability. He is the effective agent of creation. Finally, the passage affirms that creation exists for him. This means that Jesus is the goal of all creation. Everything exists to display His glory, and ultimately He will be glorified in His creation. When discussing Jesus’ work in creation, Paul expressed the dimensions of creation. They are in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. When discussing Jesus’ work in creation, Paul expressed the two dimensions of creation: heaven … earth; visible and invisible. In this passage heaven and invisible refers to the locale of the spiritual warfare in which Christians engage. This is clear from the list of spirit beings who live there and who concern the Christian: thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. These spirit beings occupy a significant place in the epistle. The special attention they receive suggests considerable preoccupation regarding them. Indeed, they are the object of much discussion here and in 2:8-3:4. Paul seems to have felt a need to note that these spirit beings are created by the power of Christ and conquered by the power of the cross [2:15]. [17]  The summary in verse 17 includes two statements of significance to the readers. The first is, he is before all things. Clearly this comment has a time orientation, and it teaches that before creation Jesus existed. Since for the ancients priority in time often meant priority of person, this argument not only stresses Jesus’ role in creating but also gives Him a prominent position with respect to creation. The second statement is, in him all things hold together. The work of creation included the continual sustaining of what was created. Looking to the present, ongoing routine of creation, therefore, Paul stated that Jesus keeps things in order. The Creator has not forgotten the creation. He daily maintains a balance in the universe.”  [Melick, pp. 214-220]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Psalm 33 teach us concerning God? What is the relationship between God’s Word and Works? How do we see this relationship play out in creation and providence? How are we to respond to God’s greatness?

2.         What are the three blessings of God’s providence listed in this Psalm? Make verses 20-22 your response to these three blessings.

3.         What does Paul teach us concerning the uniqueness of Christ in Colossians 1:15-17? How is Jesus the image of the invisible God? How is Jesus the firstborn of all creation? What do the phrases by him … through him … for him teach us concerning Christ and creation? How are we to respond to the uniqueness of Christ?

References:

Psalms, vol. 1, James Boice, Baker.

A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, Allen Ross, Kregel.

The Message of Colossians & Philemon, R. C. Lucas, Inter Varsity.

Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Richard R. Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman Press.