All the New Testament passages most commonly identified as taken from hymns in the early church are about Christ. No surprise there. They celebrate his uniqueness, his glory, his powerful work in accomplishing our salvation. I’d like to begin with the classic—and controversial—passage from Colossians 1:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
This is an inductive passage—that is, it draws us along to its main point at the end, rather than stating it up front. The main point is that God the Father has planned a cosmic reconciliation by placing all that God is into a human form; “all the fulness” of God is “to dwell in” Christ (Co 1.19), “His beloved Son” (Col 1.14). This is the means God has chosen to accomplish his primary goal, “to reconcile all things to himself” (Col 1.20).
Why should God become human? Why this shredding of the fabric of the universe?
Because, as an old churchman named Anselm noted, only God can make an infinite payment, and only man can die, death being the payment required. So God designs the perfect and eternal payment for sin “through the blood of his cross” (Col 1.20).
Can the Son accomplish such a work? Can he reconcile God, the perfect Creator, with his broken and devastated creation? Is he capable? Is he worthy?
Paul presents the answer to the question, the evidence for the conclusion, at the beginning of the passage. The second person of the Godhead, God the Son, is
- The image of the invisible God. By becoming man, he makes the invisible visible. He can be seen, and touched, and heard (1Jn 1.1-3). Those who have seen him have seen the Father (Jn 14.9).
- The ruler over all the universe. The Jehovah’s Witnesses use the phrase “the firstborn of all creation” to support their heretical claim that Jesus was God’s first created being. I’ve written at some length about why their reading of this text is certainly wrong. As that series demonstrates, the phrase means that he is the ruler over everything that has been created. Why is that?
- Because he is the Creator of all things (Col 1.16). This fact is stated repeatedly elsewhere by other writers (Jn 1.1-3; Heb 1.1-2). If you make something, you are sovereign over it; you can do what you want with it.
- Because all things were made for him (Col 1.16b).
- Because he maintains all things (Col 1.17). They exist because he continues to want them to, and he directs how their existence proceeds.
- He is the ruler of all those to be delivered by his cross, called here “the church” (Col 1.18a). The Father has appointed him to this position (Eph 1.19b-23).
- He is the one whose resurrection makes possible the resurrection of all those who follow in his train (Col 1.18b).
I’ve mentioned that some of the biblical benedictions are thought be early church hymns as well. It seems appropriate to include one here:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Ro 11).
Sing of him. Sing of his marvelous works.
Sing it in private and in public. Sing it to those you love, and to those you don’t. Make it what everyone who knows you thinks of when they think of you.