For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
Paul had just affirmed that it was his goal in life to warn and teach everyone that he could. However, he had never preached to those in Colossae. Even though this was the case, he wanted to assure them of his interest in their salvation also. He expresses this by saying that he wants them to “know how great a struggle” he had for them and for those in the neighboring town of Laodicea. Not only did he struggle for them, he struggled for all those “who have not seen me face to face” (Colossians 2:1, see also II Corinthians 11:28). While he had not been among them, he wanted three things for them (see Colossians 2:2):
· “That their hearts may be encouraged”
· That they would be “knit together in love”
· For them “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ”
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Notice that in Christ is where there is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). This wisdom and knowledge in Christ is the direct opposite of what those who would “delude you with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4) want you to believe. This is the first of four things that Paul will urge the Colossians to avoid in chapter two. We will be looking at each of these. Paul reminds the Colossians that, even though he is absent in body, that he is with them in spirit. Since he had heard about them (Colossians 1:4), he knew about their “good order” and the “firmness” of their faith (Colossians 2:5). Here, Paul uses two military terms to describe their determination. First, their “good order” is a military term used to describe the orderliness of soldiers as they approach battle. Then they were commended for the “firmness” of their faith, a comment that describes soldiers who were not willing to give up in the face of an enemy attack. While false teachers were making attacks, the Colossians were standing as good soldiers of the cross (see also Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians about being a good soldier in Ephesians 6:10-20).
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
If one is to have the “good order” and “firmness” that Paul encourages in Colossians 2:5, how will he then live? Colossians 2:6-7 has the answer. Even though Paul had not been their teacher, he knew Epaphras who had been. His first admonition is that they live “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” To walk indicates lifestyle. Paul wanted the Colossians to have a lifestyle devoted to Christ Jesus the Lord just as they had received it in the first place from Epaphras’ teaching, “just as you were taught” (Colossians 2:7). This would cause them to be rooted and built up in Christ.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
The second thing that Paul encourages the Colossians to avoid is “philosophy and empty deceit” (Colossians 2:8). Paul is not against all knowledge and wisdom; he had just encouraged them “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge” (Colossians 2:2). The kind of philosophy that is being challenged is that which is “according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Paul is probably referring to Gnosticism. Although the word “Gnostic” does not appear in the New Testament, the philosophy was well known to early Christians. While it took on several forms by combining elements of Christianity with Greek and Oriental philosophies, characteristic teachings which were always included were (1) that knowledge was a set of secrets or mysteries and (2) that possessing them would ultimately lead to the soul’s union with God, (3) that the physical world and all that is in it is bad and (4) that God is totally separated from the physical world to the point that He could not and would not have come in human form, (5) thus denying Jesus’ humanity including that he came in the flesh, ministered to the people, died and was resurrected. To Paul, this was “empty deceit.”
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
In contrast to the teachings of the Gnostics, Paul declares, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9) in Christ. The point is that not just one or two of the characteristics of God or some mystical spirituality was present, but rather the absolute, complete God dwelt in the form of the fleshly body of Jesus. His position in the universe is “the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:10). In contrast to the wimpish god of the Gnostics, Jesus was and still is God and has all rule and authority. This is because he is the Creator God (Colossians 1:16) and preeminent in everything (Colossians 1:18). Now, Paul goes back to remind them of how they had received Christ Jesus the Lord (Colossians 2:6). They had received a circumcision “made without hands.” They did this “by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). For Paul, circumcision was “a matter of the heart” (Romans 2:29) and you were part of “the real circumcision” if you “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Paul reminds the Colossians that in their baptism, they went through a burial and resurrection with Christ (Colossians 2:12). This passage is similar to the one found in Romans 6:3-4 and the student is encouraged to study that lesson for more details on the symbolism of the death, burial and resurrection as one is baptized into Christ. This accounts for the fact that in the New Testament baptism was by immersion as a part of that symbolism. It is in baptism by immersion that one comes into contact with the death of Christ and thus into contact with his blood. It is through the shedding of blood that Jesus reconciled us to himself and gave us peace (see Colossians 1:20). Thus when Jesus sent out the disciples, he told them that they were to teach faith, repentance and baptism in his name (see Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:46-49, Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16). The ones who had accepted the authority of Christ and had been baptized are the ones who “were dead in your trespasses,” yet God had “made alive” and “forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). He did this by (1) doing away with the Old Law or as Paul says “This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, see also II Corinthians 3:14, Hebrews 10:9-10 and Romans 10:4) and (2) “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). The rulers and authorities are the forces of evil in the unseen world (see Ephesians 6:12). The Gnostics would try to delude them with plausible arguments (Colossians 2:4) using philosophy and empty deceit (Colossians 2:8) and “secret wisdom” that was supposed to save. However, Christ, who was the complete fullness of God dwelling in a human body (Colossians 2:9) had (1) removed the Old Testament Law, (2) overcome the rulers and authorities (Colossians 2:14-15), (3) forgiven and (4) made alive (Colossians 2:13) those who had submitted to his authority (Colossians 2:10) and been baptized into him (Colossians 2:12). What a difference in the god of the Gnostics and the God of heaven!
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Based upon the power of Jesus, Paul gives the Colossians a third thing to avoid: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). Each of these items was an integral part of the Jewish system. However, Paul had already pointed out that Christ had nailed this system to his cross. He goes on to explain to them that this system was “a shadow of things to come.” However, “the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). A detailed discussion of this subject can be found in the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:13-10:39).
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
The fourth thing that the Colossians were to avoid is seen in Colossians 2:18. The Colossians were encouraged to not let anyone disqualify them. This is followed by a list of things that would lead to disqualification, including asceticism (a life based upon self-denial), worship of angels (this would be idol worship), visions (this is a direct hit on the imagined revelations of the Gnostics), being “puffed up” (self-conceited) for no reason other than a sensuous mind and refusing to hold fast to the Head (i.e., Christ cf. Colossians 1:18). In Colossians 2:19 Paul gives an excellent picture of the church as a body: (1) Christ is the head. (2) He nourishes the whole body. (3) It is unified by what he calls “knit together through its joints and ligaments.” (4) The growth it gets is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
In the final section of this chapter, Paul compares the way that they would live if they had died to the elemental spirits (see Colossians 2:8) by following Christ versus the way they would live if they were still alive in the world (Colossians 2:20). If they were still alive in the world they would submit to human precepts and teachings such as “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (Colossians 2:21-22). It is Paul’s contention that such things have the appearance of wisdom. They even promote self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body. However, they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23). Paul will explain the Christian answer to this dilemma in chapter 3.
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