Shelby G. Floyd
We appreciate so very much the wonderful crowd that we have today. It is a beautiful day. It always makes us feel better after we have had a week or two of nasty weather to see some good sunshine and to see the clear skies.
THE PREEMINENCE OF CHRIST AS HEAD
This morning I am talking to you on the subject of the preeminence of Christ. In Colossians 1:19, the apostle Paul expressed the preeminence that Christ should have over His church when he said, “and He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead: that in all things He might have the preeminence.” We must give Christ preeminence in all things and especially we must give Him first place of importance in the church. When Paul said He is the head of the church, the word “head” means originator, source, leader and ruler. Christ is the head of the church in the sense that He brought the church into being. He is the originator of the church. Christ is the head of the church in the sense that He is the source of the life of the church. Christ is the head of the church in the sense that He is the ruler of the church. He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He has executive authority: He proposes. He has legislative authority: He disposes. He has judicial authority: He judges. So we must give preeminence to Christ as the head of the church, the originator of the church, and the source of all life in the church, the legislator, the executor and the judge of the church.
THE BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH
When did the church begin? There have been a lot of different ideas as to the time that the church began. Some have said that the church began in the days of Abraham back in the Old Testament. That seems a little strange since it seems to be a New Testament institution.
Some of our religious friends teach that the church began in the days of John the Baptist—that he actually was the founder of the church. That seems also strange since John said I must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:30). John said I am not even worthy to stoop down and unloose a latchet of the shoes of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:17). It doesn’t seem likely that John would be the founder of the church in view of the fact that he was only the best man and he referred to Christ as the bridegroom (John 3:29). No, the church did not begin in the days of Abraham and it did not begin in the days of John, but it began on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.
THE CHURCH BEGAN ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST
The church had its beginning after Christ promised to build it in Matthew 16:13-19. Let’s rehearse that a little bit. Jesus was in the northern part of the land of Canaan in an area called Caesarea Philippi. And He asked His apostles, “Who do men say that I the Son of man am?” They said. “There are various opinions floating around as to who you really are. Some say you are John the Baptist, others say you are Elijah. Some say you are Jeremiah and still others say you are one of the old prophets.” Jesus then asked the apostles a personal question. He said you have told me what other people think about me, who they think that I really am, but who do you think I am? Simon Peter was of such a nature that he was impulsive; he was impetuous; he was quick on the trigger; he was always the first to speak out. Sometimes he did not fully think through the answers that he gave, but it seems that on this occasion, he gave the right answer and he was also the first to speak. He said. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus complimented him for his answer and said:
“Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, flesh and blood hath not revealed this answer to you, but the Father which is in heaven and I say also unto you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).
So Jesus promised to build His church. And Paul says we must give preeminence to Christ as the head of the church.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
What is the church? What does the word church mean? You know we use the word church today in a very broad sense. We use it figuratively to stand for the church building and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we understand that the church building is not the church, but the church building can be called the church in the sense that this is where the church meets. But that is not really the church. The word “church” is an English term that translates the Greek word “ekklesia.” “Ekklesia” is a noun, but is actually made up of two other words in the Greek—“ek” which is a preposition meaning “out of,” and a verb “kaleo” which means, “to call.” So those two words “ek” (out of), a preposition, and the verb, “kaleo” (to call), were put together to make a noun and so if we define the noun literally it means “to call out of.” Well, that’s what the church is. It is a group of people who have been called out of the world (Colossians 3: 15).Who does the calling and what is the call? Christ does the calling. He calls us to come out of the world (1 Peter 2:9). By what message does He call us? We are called by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14).We are called into one body, the church. And so I think you can see what the church really is. It is a body of baptized believers who have been called out of the world to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in His kingdom, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of righteousness. That’s what the church is.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH
And Jesus said. “Upon this rock I will build my church.”Upon what did He build the church? Some have said that the church was built upon Peter. Some even go so far as to say that Peter is the head of the church; that the church was built upon him, that he was the first pope. No, Jesus did not say that he would build the church upon Peter. He did compliment Peter and the word “Peter” means a “pebble,” a small rock. We actually could translate his name Simon Rock, instead of Simon Peter, because his name means rock, but it doesn’t mean the Rock of Gibraltar. His name means a small rock, a pebble, as compared and in contrast to a ledge of rock. So, Jesus said, Simon. I am going to give you a new name, you have been unstable; you have been impulsive; you have been impetuous, but you are going to become rocklike in your character, but Simon, I am not going to build the church on you, I am going to build the church upon this rock. What is “this rock” that Jesus promised to build his church upon? It is the confession that Peter made. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Upon what is the church built today? What is the foundation of the church? Paul states that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Paul taught, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). So the church is built upon Christ, upon the fundamental proposition that He is the anointed of God, the divine Son of God. That’s what Jesus promised to build His church upon; His own divinity and His divinity was not proved until He died upon Calvary, was buried, and until He was resurrected the third day out of death, Hades and the grave.
CHRIST HAS FIRST RANK OVER THE CHURCH
And so let’s give Christ the preeminence over the church, because He is the head of the church; He is the originator of it; He is the source of it; He’s the leader of the church; He’s the ruler of the church; therefore, give Him the preeminence over the church as the head of the church. Then Paul says in Colossians, “who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” The word “beginning” there does not mean that Christ had a beginning. He is the beginning of all creation and He is the beginning of the church, but that doesn’t mean that, he had a beginning. Christ only had a beginning in the sense that He had a fleshly body. God prepared a body for Him (Hebrews 10:5). He was born of the virgin Mary. He had a birth date just like all of us. So He had a beginning as far as His fleshly nature is concerned, but He predated, antedated, and is before all creation (John 1:1-3). He created all things, so he Himself is uncreated. He is eternal in His nature. He is the image of the invisible God, so Christ is the beginning in the sense that he is to occupy the first rank, the first order of importance over the church.
GIVE CHRIST PROMINENCE, OR PREEMINENCE?
Do we give Christ the first rank, the preeminence? Oh, we make Him prominent, but do we really give Him preeminence? Do we really give Him first place in our lives? We must do that if we are going to be a child of God that will he pleasing in His sight. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus dealt with the things that we have to deal with today, like food, clothing and shelter. Have you ever thought about how much of your time, your thinking, your activity and your efforts, are put forth in connection with food, clothing and shelter?
Those things occupy a lot of preeminence in our life. We give them importance almost every day of our lives. I do not deny that we must give importance to those things, because they are important. We live in a physical world; we live in a material world and we must have material things in order to survive. We must have a house and a roof over our heads. We must have food on our tables and clothes for our bodies. Those things are important, but they are not to be given preeminence or first rank in our lives and yet many times they do. Jesus said in Matthew 6: 26-30, “Look at the little birds of the air, they don’t have store houses or barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. You’re better than the birds.” And he says. “Look at the flowers of the field, look at the lilies. They do not sow, they do not spin, and yet Solomon in all his vast array of glory could not be compared to one of these lilies of the field. You’re worth more than the lilies of the field. You’re worth more than the flowers and the grass which today is and tomorrow it withers and dies and is burned up.” He says you are worth more than that. He closes out by saying that all of the Gentiles seek after these things, but He said you should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).
Members of the church, are we giving preeminence to Christ? Are we putting his kingdom first? Is it first rank, first of importance in our lives, in our daily activities, in our thoughts, in our prayers? Christ should have preeminence as head of the church, because He is the beginning, He is first in rank and first in importance.
THE PREEMINENCE OF CHRIST AS THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD
The Bible says Christ is the firstborn from the dead. There is that word “first” again. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. Was Jesus Christ the first person that was ever resurrected from the dead? Firstborn cannot mean that He is the first resurrected from the dead because Jesus raised Lazarus in John chapter 11. So Lazarus was firstborn from the dead before Jesus was. Firstborn from the dead does not mean first in order of time; it means first in order of importance. Out of all the people that had been resurrected and out of all the people that will be resurrected from the dead, Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. What does that mean? It means that He has the first rank, first of importance, highest of the order, preeminence. Jesus is preeminent over those from the dead. When Jesus Christ died upon the cross of Calvary, many people did not expect to ever see Him alive again. Even the apostles did not understand when He said the Son of man would go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the scribes and chief priests and elders and He will be raised the third day (Matthew 16:21-23). That did not sink into their heads. It went in one ear and out the other. They did not understand and comprehend what He was saying. And yet the enemies of Christ understood it. They said you go and you bury Him and you make it as fast as you can. The Jews understood it to some extent, because they had the Romans to guard the tomb lest He should be stolen out of the grave and His followers go out and say that He had been raised from the dead. They did not expect it to really happen. And yet on Sunday morning, very early in the morning, an angel of the Lord came and rolled away the stone and Jesus was resurrected the firstborn from the dead, not the first one, but the firstborn from the dead (Matthew 28:1-8). And that simply means that out of all who were raised from the dead, (and many were raised even after His resurrection, as a sign, as a token, as a pledge, that others will be raised at the last day), Jesus occupies preeminence, firstborn, first rank. In fact, there would be no resurrection of any of our loved ones who have died and are now buried out in the silent city of the dead, if Christ had not been resurrected. We would never see a one of them. We would never see any of our fathers or mothers, sisters or brothers, sons or daughters, who have been laid away in the grave, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. Paul makes that argument in 1 Corinthians 15. He said. “If Christ be not raised, then the dead have died in vain.” Do we give preeminence to Jesus Christ as the firstborn from the dead? Let’s hold Him up as first in rank, of greatest importance out of all who have ever been raised from the grave.
CHRIST HAS PREEMINENCE IN ALL THINGS
“He is the head of the body, the beginning, and the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence in all things.” There are only two times in the New Testament that the word “preeminence” is used and it is in Colossians 1:18 and in 3 John 9 where reference was made about Diotrephes who loved to have the preeminence in the church. Diotrephes claimed to be a leader in the church and he wanted to have preeminence; he wanted to be of first rank, first in importance, and the highest rank in the church.
You know what kind of leaders we need in the church today. I have been thinking this week about leadership in the church. I was thinking about Iraq and their leader of first rank. Their preeminent leader in Iraq is Suddam Hussein. But I know that a lot of those people now wish they did not have him as their leader. Look what their leader has done to their country. And I have been thinking about the church and we hear about many churches that put in men as elders and deacons as leaders in the church and then, because they do not put the right kind of men in the church, they have to live with the decisions and the consequences of the leadership that they have created in the church. The people of Iraq have to live with the decisions of the leadership that they have allowed to assume first rank. In other words, they have to live with the consequences of the decisions of Suddam Hussein.
Churches must also live with the kind of leadership that they create. If we have good leaders, then the church will prosper and be happy and be at peace and unity with one another. If the church allows the wrong kind of people to assume leadership then the church has to live with the consequences and many times they are very negative and very disastrous. But what kind of leaders do we need in the church today?
We need leaders who are followers. You can only have two kinds of leaders. You can have leaders who are filled with human wisdom; in other words, they follow the dictates of human wisdom. Or you can have leaders of the church that follow the dictates of divine wisdom. The best kind of leader in the church is a leader who follows divine wisdom and gives first rank of importance not to human wisdom but to divine wisdom; that gives first rank of importance not to human leaders, but to chosen leaders, found in the word of God. Why was Moses such a good leader? Because he listened to what God told him to do and tried to carry it out. Why was Saul not a good king over the kingdom of Israel? Saul was not a good leader because he paid more attention to human wisdom than divine wisdom, to human authority rather than to divine authority. He was not a good follower of God’s Word and Samuel the prophet told him as much. He said it is better to hearken unto the word of God than to offer up sacrifice with the fat of lambs and rams. Yes, that’s the kind of leaders we need in the church today. The best leaders are those who have the right kind of “followship.” We follow the Lord, we give Him the preeminence; we respect His Word and we try to obey and teach and carry out what He has told us to do in His Word. He is the head of the body, the church, the beginning, and the firstborn from the dead that in all things He might have the preeminence. Let’s give Christ preeminence in all things.
CHRIST IS PREEMINENT IN SALVATION
I want to summarize the teaching from Colossians 1:13-18 and emphasize Christ’s preeminence over the church. Christ is to have preeminence in salvation, versus 13 and 14. Why? Christ is to be preeminent because he delivered us from the kingdom of darkness. Second, He translated us into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Three, he has redeemed us. And number four, He has forgiven us through His precious blood. Christ is to have preeminence in salvation. Christ is to have preeminence as head over the church. Christ is to have preeminence over all creation, because He is before all creation. By, in, for and through Him all things have been created. And Christ holds all creation together by the Word of His power. In Him all things are held together and consist.
Are you giving Christ preeminence over the church as the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead, the originator, the source, the leader, the ruler of the church? Have you given Christ preeminence in your life, because you have allowed Him to be your Savior? He wants to deliver you from all the powers of darkness, Satan, and angels and principalities and powers. He can deliver us from all the powers of darkness. He can transport us from that country to a new country, the kingdom of light and right and goodness and love. He will translate us into the kingdom of His dear Son. He will redeem us. He will buy us back through the blood of Christ, the death of Christ on Calvary, and he will cancel out our debt of sin. He will forgive us through the blood of Christ. Won’t you give Him preeminence, first place? Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Give Christ first rank in your life. Hold Him up as the ruler of all. “If Christ is not ruler over all, how can He be ruler at all?” Why not give Christ first place? Give Him first place in your life! Seek Him first; love Him with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength. Own Him as your Savior, crown Him as your Lord that Christ may be in all and over all and give Him preeminence in all things while together we stand and sing.*
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon February 3, 1991 at the South Central Church of Christ, 265 E. Southport Rd., Indianapolis, Indiana; and also September 30, 2012 at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana.
Copyright © 2002, 2012 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved