Cross Words: A hymn about Christ

By Isaiah Pauley

As a worship minister, my primary responsibility is choosing songs for our congregation to sing each Sunday. And this is something I take rather seriously. Because music is powerful. The songs we sing stick with us for years to come, influencing what we believe about the world, life, humanity—and, yes, even God.

So, I’m careful to choose songs that communicate biblical and theological truth. Songs that exalt God. Songs that confront sin. And songs that celebrate Christ’s work on our behalf. If, then, the songs we sing are more than a twenty-minute timeslot on a Sunday morning, they deserve our attention.

In the Book of Colossians, Paul provides a good example of just how important songs are to the people of God. Writing to a congregation influenced by a form of Gnosticism, Paul shares an early Christian hymn. And I find it fascinating that, of all things, Paul uses a hymn to speak truth into a culture full of lies.

According to false teachers in Colossae, God didn’t create the Universe, He never became man, and Jesus was an emanation—a good angel.

The apostle Paul begins to contradict this “Colossian Heresy” with a hymn about Christ. Let’s look at the lyrics together.

“He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:15-20 ESV).

This hymn is more beautiful than words can explain. My best attempt falls short. But I do want to highlight three things about Christ that must have been particularly interesting to those in Colossae.

First, Christ is the image of the invisible God.

He isn’t a good angel. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Heb. 1:4 ESV). Indeed, Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He has revealed God to us (see Jn. 1:18) by becoming flesh and dwelling among us (see Jn. 1:14).

The implications are enormous. Why? Because God came to us. He walked in our shoes. Ate our food. Wore our clothes. Slept. Wept. Worked. And struggled.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15 ESV).

So, while I’m not sure what you’re going through, I can tell you this: God understands. Because He made Himself known through Christ who is gentle and lowly in heart (see Matt. 11:29).

Second, Christ is the agent of creation.

There’s no separating God from creation. And people in Colossae aren’t the only ones trying. Even today, people reject God’s role as Creator and cling to scientific theories. In this hymn, the beauty of God’s work in creation is celebrated. Paul refers to Jesus as the firstborn of all creation. But what does this mean?

F.F. Bruce explains, “Christ, then, is prior to all creation, and as the Father’s firstborn, he is heir to it all.” In other words, Christ has the rights of inheritance. He is Lord. He is Ruler. And in Him—as His heirs—we have access to the Father.

Paul continues to explain how all things are created through Christ and for Christ. Both the things we see, as well as the things we can’t see. He mentions how, through Christ, all thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities are created. And this is important for the Colossians influenced by mysticism to hear (see Col. 2:8, 15).

Christ is the agent of creation—through whom and for whom all things are created. And He sustains this creation by the word of His power (see Heb. 1:3).

Third, Christ is the Prince of Peace.

In verses 18-20, Paul explains how Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. And now, as His people, we await our own resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). This is our hope. Made possible by the work of Christ on our behalf. That, through Christ’s blood, we have peace with God. Both now and forever.

In Christ, we’re set free from the bondage of sin. Creation is redeemed by His blood. All demons, authorities, rulers, and thrones subject to Him. He is the Prince of Peace.

So, do the songs we sing in worship communicate truth like this? Do they adequately display God’s Word in a culture full of lies? In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul uses a hymn to breathe theological truth into a secular culture, and I hope our songs do the same.

By Isaiah Pauley

Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.

Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.