by T. Austin-Sparks
This evening we come to the close of these meditations in the new creation in Christ Jesus, and we shall take the letter to the Colossians, and then if we have time, just say a very brief word about the Thessalonians.
Before we come to this letter to the Colossians, let me remind you that this is one of the letters that the apostle wrote in his prison in Rome; and I think that is a very wonderful thing. Paul did not know but that all his work was coming to an end. He was no longer free to travel about, visiting the churches, and he did not know but that any day the sentence of death would be passed upon him. He might have been a very sad man. He might have been occupied with his own troubles. He might just have been thinking about himself. But we find him writing these wonderful letters and in these letters he was moving over the greatest distances of spiritual life - the very greatest things that have ever been given to the church came from him at that time.
The reason why I mention that, is this: the best way of getting free from our own troubles is to be occupied with the great things of Christ. So Paul went right back to the beginning, and before the beginning of the world, and then moved on through all time and into the ages to come. And as he thought about the great things of God, he was delivered from all his own personal troubles since he then was really in spirit not in prison at all. His body was in prison, but his spirit was free, because he was occupied with the greatness of the Lord Jesus.
I think that is a great lesson for us: if ever we are tempted to be occupied with our own troubles, the way of salvation is to think about the greatness of Christ.
So we come to this letter to the Colossians, and we find it's full of the thoughts of the new creation. Paul takes us right back to the first creation, and as we have said, he takes us before the first creation and shows us the thoughts of God before the world was, and that all the thoughts of God were concerning His Son, the Lord Jesus.
Now we look at the letter. We've got this word creation in the first chapter and the fifteenth verse. Speaking of the Lord Jesus, the apostle says this, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." That is the beginning of the creation. Jesus is said to be the Firstborn of all creation. Now we look at what Paul says here about Christ as the Firstborn of all creation. There is the little word which begins verse 16 "for in Him..." "He is the firstborn of all creation for in Him were all things created."
Now you need to look very closely at the words, for very little words are very big words. The first statement is that in Him were all things created. What does that mean? It means that God created nothing outside of the Lord Jesus; that Jesus was the sphere of all God's creation, that God summed up all things in Christ. That is the very first thing that is said about the creation. Very little things can upset very big things. Now, I hope you've got hold of that very little word, "In Him were all things created" when you say all things, you cannot leave anything out. In this first chapter, that phrase "all things" occurs six times, and all things does mean all things. God created nothing that was to be outside of His Son Jesus Christ. God never saw any thing; in God's intention Christ was to be all and in all, so that God created all things in Christ.
And in the same verse, verse 16, it says that "through Him were all things created." He was not only the sphere of all the creation, but He was the instrument of all creation. The Father used the Son for the creation of all things. The Father's instrument in creating all things was His Son. The apostle John tells us that nothing was made without Him. "All things were made by Him," says John, "and without Him nothing was made," so that God's Son was the Maker of all things.
Then the verse says another thing, in Him were all things created, and through Him, and then: unto Him. He was the object of all created things. All the things that God created were to be given to His Son. God created all things by Jesus Christ for His Son's inheritance.
And then another statement is made: "In Him all things hold together." That is a very difficult thing to understand, but if we put it round the other way, it means this: if you take the Son of God out of creation, the creation will go to pieces. There is no reason at all why the creation should hold together when Jesus is put out of it. And we have two illustrations of that in the New Testament. When they crucified God's Son, when He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit," when He bowed His head and died, we are told that there was darkness over the face of the earth until the ninth hour. That was the time when it ought to have been most light, but there was complete darkness over the face of the earth. It is as though the sun said, "When you destroy God's Son, there is no further purpose for me to shine". All things were created for Him, all things hold together in Him. Destroy Him and you destroy the very unity of the creation. And then we are told that at that time there was a great earthquake. It is as though the very earth said, "Put out the Son of God and there is no reason for the earth to continue." You see, both the heaven and the earth were in a state of distress. It was as though heaven and earth were saying, "The very purpose of our existence has been destroyed because in Him all things hold together". Put Him out and nothing holds together.
Now, how true that is in the new creation. Why are things as they are today in the world? No one will ever say that this world is in a state of unity. The whole world is in a state of discord and disintegration, and what is true of the whole world is true of every man. We know that as unconverted men and women we are not a unity in ourselves - we are a confusion, we are a contradiction, we are a division. We are not one, we are two; more than two people, in one. There is civil war in our natures. There is no harmony or unity in us, but when we are born again a great change takes place. Then peace comes into our hearts, we feel that the war has come to an end. We become one person with one heart and one mind and one will. We are now united in the Son of God. But why is all this state in the world and in man; this state of disruption and discord? It is because God's Son has not got His place. The real purpose of the creation has not been given His place.
What I was saying the other evening is so true. As people who are not in Christ, we belong to all kinds of nations. There are all those national differences. We speak of one another as belonging to this nation and that nation, but when we are in Christ we forget all about that. We don't talk about one another as belonging to a certain nation. All these national and international problems are solved in Christ. It is just very wonderful! I have known in some of our conferences in London eighteen different nationalities to be represented - French, Swiss, Dutch, Indian and Chinese, Egyptian, and others - eighteen different nationalities, and we thought nothing about it. We were all together as though we all belonged to one nation. It was a time of wonderful fellowship. All the problems of the United Nations were solved, and that's how it is in the new creation: in Him all things hold together. These nationalities which can never hold together outside of Christ, do hold together in Him, and all the other things which in the old creation are disrupted, are brought together in Christ.
It is always good to be able to prove the scriptures to be true, and in a very little way, this very gathering tonight proves the scriptures to be true. You see, on this earth we belong to different nationalities and we speak different languages. There are many other differences about us, but tonight we are all speaking one language, we are speaking a language which we all understand; it's the language of Heaven. When we speak about the Lord Jesus, we all understand that, and we are not thinking about ourselves as on this earth; we are here as one family. The earthly differences don't count! We are all one in Christ Jesus. So we are a testimony to this proof, "In Him all things hold together". Now take Christ away from us and see how long we'll hold together! Not very long. But this is the new creation in Christ Jesus.
Now let us go on with this first chapter, verse 20, "And through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself."
Now let us go back over all these steps:
In Him were all things created: then He is the sphere of all things.
Through Him were all things created: then He is the instrument of the creation of all things.
Unto Him were all things created: therefore He is the object of the creation of all things.
In Him all things hold together: then He is the unity of all things.
Now the fifth thing:
Through Him to reconcile all things: therefore He is the reconciler of all things.
There is a big space between the fourth and the fifth. It is in that space that all things became disunited. The whole story of the entrance of sin and the disruption of the creation so that all things went to pieces and then at number five, He comes in to restore all things, through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself. The great story of redemption comes in there.
Now, what does all this amount to? And what is the purpose of this letter? It is to set forth the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus, and that explains the new creation. The new creation is that in which the Lord Jesus has His place:
Has His place as the one who inherits all things.
Has His place as the one who is the object of all things.
Has His place as the one who unites all things.
And has His place as the one who reconciles all things.
When it is like that, then you have the new creation or, to use one phrase in this chapter, "That in all things He might have the first place." The new creation is that in which Jesus Christ has first place, "That in all things He might have the pre-eminence".
Now there is a second part to this letter, and that tells us that the church is the vessel of all this. We are told in chapter 1, verse 18, "He is the Head of the Body, the church". As Head of the Body the church, and as having all things in Himself, He holds all things, in the first place, for the church. You see, it says here that in Him all the fullness dwells and He is the Head of the Body, the church.
Now, He does not keep all things in Himself as Head and His body gets nothing. Our body is just for receiving what is in the head. Everything that our body does, it gets from the head. You know that the body has no meaning without the head, and the head has no meaning without the body. Cut the head off from the body and neither of them are of any use! So as Head of the church, which is His Body, all the fullness that is in Him is for the Body.
In the companion letter to the Colossians, the letter to the Ephesians, that is stated quite precisely. It says that God gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church. Now, make sure that you recognise what that says. It does not say that He was made Head over all things in the church. Of course that is quite true, but it does say that He was made head over all things to the church. Do you recognise what that means? Here are the all things which were created, and here is the church. Christ is Head over all things through the church. All things in Him are for the church, in the first place. The apostle said to the Corinthians, "All things are yours whether life or death or principalities or powers. All things are yours and we are Christ's and Christ is God's," so that He holds all things, in the first place, for the church. His fullness is first of all for the church. So John says "of His fullness have all we received". The church inherits all things in Christ. The letter to the Hebrews puts it in this way, "We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ". Jesus Christ is God's heir to all things and we, the church, are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. This is a wonderful new creation truth.
Now look at that eighteenth verse yet once more. "He is the Head of the Body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead." He, Jesus, is the first born from the dead, but the church is also the church of the Firstborn One. That is a quotation from the letter to the Hebrews. Further, the apostle says, that we are "come unto the church of the firstborn one". That means two things. Firstly it means that the beginning of Christ is with the church. That is, all that Christ is at the beginning, is for the church. God begins with the church through His Son. After His Son, the next thing is the church. These are the first two things in the mind of God: His Son and His Son's church.
Now, the firstborn is always the heir. He inherits all things. You know what an important place the firstborn has in the Bible. If the church is the church of the Firstborn one, then the church is the heir with Christ of all things. The point is that the church comes first, next to the Lord Jesus.
And then there is one other statement here: chapter 2, verses 9 and 10: "For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily and in Him ye are made full". In the letter to the Ephesians that is put in this way, "and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all". If the church is the church of the Firstborn One, if the church is the beginning with Christ, then the church is chosen to be the vessel of His fullness. If the first part of this letter presents the greatness of Christ, and we all agree that it does, there is no place in scripture where the greatness of Christ is set forth as it is in this letter; this is the greatest presentation of the Lord Jesus that we have in the Bible. If that is true as to the Lord Jesus, and all that is to find its expression in the church, the church is the chosen vessel for all that, then the church must be a very great thing. It must be a very wonderful thing. I think we all need to see in a new way what a great thing the true church is.
Then pass to the next thing. Let us look at chapter 2, verse 20: "If ye died with Christ." Chapter 3, verse 1: "If ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died and your life is hid with Christ in God".
What does that mean? If we are to come into all the meaning of that fullness in Christ, then we must live on heavenly ground and not on earthly ground. Our hearts must be occupied with heavenly things, our lives must be taken up with heavenly things; we have died to merely earthly things as being our life. We were raised with Christ, and that means that we are alive only to heavenly things!
The sisters have to look after their homes and their children, the brothers have to look after their business, but one who is risen with Christ has higher things than those: they do their business for the glory of Christ. And while they should do their business thoroughly, they ought to have the interests of the Lord more at heart than their business. And when they have done their day's work thoroughly, it's then their real interest begins. It's the things of heaven. That's why you're here tonight, many of you have had a busy day in the home and in the business. You have done your work for the glory of Christ, but you were glad when you could leave that and come to the place where the things of the Lord are being spoken about. Perhaps you got your work done as quickly as you could, you got the things in the home settled up and the business completed, and your main thought was: "Let me get to that meeting!" These things are all right in their place but the main thing is the Lord - your hearts are really set on heavenly things.
If it is like that we shall come into the fullness of Christ more and more. If our homes or our businesses are the only things we live for, we certainly shall not come to the fullness of Christ. So here we are told that if we are to come to the fullness, we must set our affections on things above.
There are a lot of other things in this letter. We are not really studying the letter to the Colossians. We are only looking at it from one standpoint, and that is the standpoint of the new creation. And I think we have said enough to show what the new creation is. The new creation, may I repeat, is first of all Christ in His place; Christ in all things having the pre-eminence; and then it is the church living on heavenly ground. That is the new creation.
Now, seeing that we have to finish tonight, and I cannot begin to give you the message of the two letters to the Thessalonians, there is only time for me to say this one thing. The two letters to the Thessalonians are occupied with one subject, it is one subject in two parts. In the first letter to the Thessalonians, it is the Lord's coming in relation to believers. In the second letter it is the Lord's coming in relation to the world. But it is one subject in two parts, and I am so glad that these letters come where they do in the arrangement of the New Testament.
You will remember when we began these meditations, I said that the arrangement that we have in our New Testament is not the arrangement in the order in which the books were written. If we had the arrangement as the books were written, it would be very different. For instance, we should have to have the gospel of John right at the end of the New Testament, for it was practically the last thing written by an apostle. But we have got the Divine order, we have got the spiritual order, so we see that Romans comes first in these letters in the arrangement that we have, and Romans is the foundation of the new creation and in our arrangement, the letters to the Thessalonians come last. And that is quite right because it's about the Lord's coming. Everything leads on from Romans to the coming of the Lord, and when the Lord comes, the new creation will be completed. All we have to say is to point to that top stone, and you will recognise that that is a quotation from the Old Testament, "And they shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of 'grace, grace unto it'".
The crown of all will be grace. If you go through all these nine letters, you will find that a large place is given in every one of them to grace. Everything is through grace. So all His works are crowned with grace. When the work is finished and the Lord comes, then we shall all shout, "It is all of grace". They shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of "grace". We shall owe everything to the grace of God.
Shall we pray. Lord, we do thank Thee for the wonderful revelation that Thou hast given us in Thy Word. We thank Thee for the greatness of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus. We thank Thee for the greatness of the church into which we are called. We thank Thee for the glorious hope of His coming again, and if we thank Thee for anything more than anything else, it is for Thy grace. How wonderful is the grace of God by which we have been called into the fellowship of His Son, by which we have been called into membership of His Body, and by which we have been called into the glorious hope of His coming again. At the end of these hours together we want to worship Thee, we want to praise the Lord together. We ask Thee to write Thy Word deeply in our hearts, and although we do not understand it all, may it make a very great impression upon us. May we live from day to day under the impression of the greatness of Christ and the greatness of our calling in Him. So we take up the words of the apostle and we say, "unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all ages forever and ever".