Colossians 2 – Answering the Colossian Heresy
A. Paul’s conflict.
1. (1) The depth of Paul’s conflict for the Colossians and others.
For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,
a. What a great conflict I have for you: This great conflict was inside Paul (I have for you). It wasn’t that Paul fought with others about the Colossian Christians. Paul described his spiritual warfare and heartfelt care for the Colossians as a great conflict.
i. Paul used athletic imagery in Colossians 1:29 (striving), and he continues that sports metaphor with the words great conflict.
b. For as many as have not seen my face in the flesh: Apparently, Paul had never visited Colosse himself. Most of the Colossian Christians had never seen his face in the flesh. Even as Paul’s authority extended to those he had never met – to those who had never seen his face – so it also extends to us.
2. (2-3) Paul’s specific concerns and goals in the spiritual conflict.
That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
a. That their hearts may be encouraged: Paul wanted this because he was concerned about their enthusiasm. He knew that discouraged, downcast Christians are easy prey for the world, the flesh, and the devil.
i. Encouraged: “The word he uses is paraklein. Sometimes that word means to comfort, sometimes to exhort, but always at the back of it there is the idea of enabling a person to meet some difficult situation with confidence and gallantry.” (Barclay) Paul wanted these Christians to be fit for heroic action.
b. Being knit together in love: Paul wanted this because he was concerned about their unity. The unity wouldn’t come from coercion, but love.
c. Attaining to all riches of the full assurance of the understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery: Paul wanted this because he was concerned about their understanding. He knew that their unity and steadfastness was not just a matter of love, but also of growing together in God’s truth.
i. Paul knew that their unity came from not only love, but also from the truth, from both being knit together in loveand growing in the understanding and knowledge of God’s truth.
ii. The true wisdom Paul wanted them to know in Jesus would bring them together – indeed, knit them together in love – instead of dividing them the way that false wisdom did.
iii. For Paul, real riches were found in the believer’s full assurance. Many lack full assuranceabout the character of God and are unconvinced that He is really good and loving. Others lack full assurance of their salvation and wonder if their Christian life is for real. Great freedom and confidence comes when we come to this full assurance.
d. To the knowledge of the mystery of God: The term mystery of God is used in a few different ways in the New Testament. Here, Paul uses the term regarding the character and person of God – something we could not know unless it was revealed by Him.
i. “The word ‘Christ’ is in the same case as ‘mystery,’ placing it in apposition with it. The mystery is Christ.” (Wuest)
ii. “Others might lead them astray with specious talk of mysteries; but there was one mystery above all others – the mystery of God’s loving purpose, disclosed in Christ alone – and Paul’s concern was that they should come to know this all-surpassing mystery, and know it as an indwelling presence.” (Bruce)
iii. Three mysteries are described in Colossians 1:24 through 2:3:
· The Church as the Body of Christ, for which Paul suffered and served (1:24-26).
· The Indwelling Christ, the hope of glory in each individual believer (1:27).
· The Revealed Jesus, the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge (2:2-3).
e. Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge: This is an important idea in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. With this, Paul refuted some of the bad teaching troubling the Colossian Christians. They were influenced by teachers who told them to seek the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, but not to seek them in Jesus. Paul wrote, “You will only find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Jesus. He has them all.” It’s not wrong to seek after wisdom and knowledge; but we must seek it all in Jesus.
i. When Paul said this wisdom is hidden in Christ, he used the ancient Greek word apokruphos. “His very use of that word is a blow aimed at the Gnostics. . . . Gnostics believed that a great mass of elaborate knowledge was necessary for salvation. That knowledge they set down in their books which they called apokruphos because they were barred to the ordinary man.” (Barclay) Paul wanted all to know that real wisdom was not hidden in secret books, but deposited in Jesus Christ so that all can access it.
ii. ” ‘Hidden’ does not, however, mean that they are concealed but rather that they are laid up or stored away as a treasure.” (Vaughn)
iii. “Everything we might want to ask about God and his purposes can and must now be answered – this is the force of the verse – with reference to the crucified and risen Jesus, the Messiah.” (Wright)
iv. “He is indeed the Mystery of God, profound in the wonder of His being, and yet so real that the tiniest child talks of Him with sweet familiarity.” (Morgan)
v. When Paul describes the truth of God with words like riches and treasures, he reminds us that God’s truth is precious and worthy of sacrificial seeking.
3. (4) Paul’s earnest warning.
Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.
a. Lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words: Those who told the Colossians to find wisdom and knowledge apart from the simplicity of Jesus were very persuasive. The lure of “hidden” and “deep” wisdom and knowledge can be both strong and deceptive.
b. Lest anyone should deceive you: Paul did not say that they had already been deceived, but he clearly saw the danger and warned them about it.
i. It might sound simple, but deceivers are deceivers. They won’t announce their false doctrine as false doctrine, and it will often be similar enough to the truth to be dangerous.
4. (5-7) Paul’s confidence in their present standing.
For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
a. I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit: Through prayer – the core of his conflict mentioned in Colossians 2:1 – Paul genuinely felt he was among the Colossian Christians in spirit, even though he was absent in the flesh.
i. “Paul’s sense of being spiritually present with his absent friends could be extraordinarily strong and vivid. Perhaps the most remarkable example is found in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, where he speaks of himself as present in spirit at a church meeting in Corinth (at a time when he was resident in Ephesus).” (Bruce)
b. Rejoicing to see your good order: Continuing with the thought from the previous verse, Paul did not see a Colossian church that was given over to heresy. They were under serious danger, but they were still in good order and displayed the steadfastness of their faith.
i. According to Vaughn, the words order and steadfastness are both military words. “He sees the situation of the Colossians as being like that of an army under attack and affirms that their lines were unbroken, their discipline intact, and their ‘faith in Christ’ unshaken.”
c. As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him: This is a wonderful rule for Christian living. We cannot perfect in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit; therefore just as you received Jesus, walk in Him in the same way. The simple things of the Christian life provide continual and reliable spiritual fuel for growth. We always have to be reminded of the things we have been taught.
i. “When he says that they have ‘received’ Christ Jesus as their Lord, he uses the verb which was specifically employed to denote the receiving of something which was delivered by tradition. In other words, the Colossians have received Christ himself as their ‘tradition,’ and this should prove a sufficient safeguard against following the ‘tradition of men’ (Colossians 2:8).” (Bruce)
ii. “That is, Paul is speaking of the doctrines regarding the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus, rather than of Him personally, for the former were involved in the Colossian heresy.” (Wuest)
iii. “He does not receive his qualities and attributes [of holiness] as things apart from the Lord Jesus; but receiving Him, he obtains them. The holy man is he who has learned the art of receiving Jesus.” (Meyer)
d. So walk in Him, rooted and built up: Paul used a curious combination of metaphors. As Christians, we walk, but we are also rooted, and we are also built up. The metaphors are somewhat mixed, but the message is clear: be established and keep growing.
i. “It is not usual with the apostle to employ this double metaphor, taken partly from the growth of a tree and the increase of a building. They are to be rooted; as the good seed had been already sown, it is to take root, and the roots are to spread far, wide, and deep. They are to be grounded; as the foundation has already been laid, they are to build thereon. In the one case, they are to bear much fruit; in the other, they are to grow up to be a habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Clarke)
B. Paul warns against and exposes the Colossian heresy.
1. (8) A warning: Don’t be cheated by philosophies and traditions.
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
a. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy: The false teaching among the Colossians was marked by an emphasis on philosophy and empty deceit. Most of all, it was according to the tradition of men. It had the stamp of man on it, not God.
i. Peake says the best sense of the phrase cheat you is actually, “lead you away as prey.” It also had the ideas of robbing and plundering. “Their goods were the salvation they had received from Christ; and both the Gentile and Jewish teachers endeavoured to deprive them of these, by perverting their minds, and leading them off from the truths of Christianity.” (Clarke)
ii. This philosophy that threatened the Colossian Christians was a strange ecclectic mix of early Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, local mystery religions, and Jewish mysticism. The philosophy threatening the Colossian Christians was so dangerous because it was not obviously sinful and licentious. It was high-sounding and seemed highly intelligent.
iii. Vincent on the word philosophy: “It had originally a good meaning, the love of wisdom, but is used by Paul in the sense of vain speculation, and with special reference to its being the name by which the false teachers at Colossae designated not only their speculative system, but also their practical system, so that it covered their ascetic practices no less than mysticism.”
iv. There is significant debate among commentators as to the exact nature of the Colossian heresy. Some see it as predominately an expression of early Gnosticism with some Jewish mystical elements added; others see it as primarily Jewish mysticism with a few aspects of early Gnosticism. Whatever the exact origin or composition of this heresy, it seems clear that it had both elements.
v. The connection to early Gnosticism is clear from the way Paul brings forth his points.
· Gnosticism taught that God (as a Perfect Spirit) could not come into direct contact with the material world. Paul took care to point out that Jesus is God, and He came in the body of His flesh (Colossians 1:19-22).
· Gnosticism taught that since God could not have direct contact with the material world, that God Himself did not create the world, but He worked through lesser spirits or angels. Paul took care to show that Jesus was the creator of the world (Colossians 1:15-16).
· Gnosticism (and some forms of Jewish mysticism) taught that God did not deal directly with man and the material world, but that He dealt with the world through a series of mediators. Paul took care to show that Jesus did the work of reconciliation Himself (Colossians 1:19-20).
· Gnosticism (and some forms of Jewish mysticism) greatly esteemed these supposed mediators, and considered them angelic beings of a sort. Paul was careful to warn the Colossians that angels should not be worshipped (Colossians 2:18).
vi. The connection to Jewish mysticism is clear from the way Paul brings forth a few more points.
· Jewish influence on Christianity emphasized dietary laws. Paul took care to say that Christians were not under Jewish dietary laws (Colossians 2:16).
· Jewish influence on Christianity emphasized the observance of particular days as an obligation. Paul took care to say that Christians were not under these obligations (Colossians 2:16).
b. According to the tradition of men: The Colossian heresy promoted itself as traditional. It could trace some or many of its ideas back to traditions among the Jews or the Greek philosophers or both. Paul here warned that the tradition of men has no equal authority to the word of God.
c. According to the basic principles of the world: The ancient Greek word translated basic principles is stoicheia. It is a word that can mean several different things based on their context, and Paul may have used such a broad word to cover a variety of meanings.
i. “The noun stoicheia means primarily things placed side by side in a row; it is used of the letters of the alphabet, the ABCs, and then, since learning one’s ABCs is the first lesson in a literary education, it comes to mean ‘rudiments,’ ‘first principles’ (cf. Hebrews 5:12, as the ‘rudiments’ of the gospel).” (Bruce) Because of this association with fundamental elements, the word came to also refer to basic elements such as earth, water, air, and fire.
ii. Many ancient mystery religions thought of the world as a dangerous place, threatened by spirits or spiritual forces they called elements or elemental forces (such as Paul uses the word in Colossians 2:8 and 2:20). They thought one was protected from these dangerous spiritual forces by either worshipping them or by finding protection under a greater deity or spiritual power that was superior to these elements.
iii. Yet, one might say that Paul’s meaning here certainly includes an answer to early Gnostic ideas, but the meaning also goes beyond those specific ideas. “It has been frequently taken in this sense as the ABC of religious knowledge . . . the expression must apply to something both [Jews and pagans] had in common.” (Peake)
iv. Common to both Jews and pagans was the basic idea of cause and effect and in a sense it rules nature and the minds of men. We live under the idea that we get what we deserve; when we are good, we deserve to receive good; when we are bad, we deserve to receive bad. Paul warned the Colossians to not subject themselves to this grace-eliminating kind of thinking, and to consider themselves dead to it.
2. (9-10) The completeness of Jesus and our connection with Him shows other philosophies and traditions are unnecessary.
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
a. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead: This is a dramatic, airtight declaration of the full Deity of Jesus. Since all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus, He cannot be a halfway God or a junior god.
i. Godhead: “Paul is declaring that in the Son there dwells all the fullness of absolute Godhead; they were no mere rays of divine glory which gilded Him, lighting up His Person for a season and with splendor not His own; but He was, and is, absolute and perfect God; and the apostle uses theotes to express this essential and personal Godhead of the Son.” (Trench, cited in Wuest)
b. All the fullness of the Godhead bodily: The false teaching among the Colossian Christians was something like an early form of the Gnostic heresies that would come later. These Gnostic heresies made a radical separation between the spiritual and the material. That is why Paul needed to make it clear that all the fullness of the Godhead was in Jesus bodily, not in some strange, mystical sense. John also dealt with this false teaching in 1 John 4:2-3 and other passages.
i. A false teaching related to this in the early church was called Docetism, which claimed that Jesus had no actual human body; He only seemed to have one. Another false teaching was called Cerinthianism, and it said that “Jesus the man” was separate and distinct from “the Spirit of Christ.”
c. And you are complete in Him: This can only be true because Jesus is truly God. If He were not God, we couldn’t be complete in Him. Anything that says we are not complete in Him also takes away from the deity of Jesus.
i. If all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, and as believers we are united to Him in a faith-relationship, then we are also complete in Him. Therefore there was no need to go to the false promises and attractions presented by the false teachers among the Colossians.
ii. You are complete in Him: Paul says that this is a fact to be enjoyed, not a status to be achieved.
d. Head of all principality and power: In many New Testament passages, principality and power describes ranks of angelic beings, either faithful or fallen angelic beings (Romans 8:38, Ephesians 1:21, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, Paul here declares Jesus’ authority over all spirit beings. The false teaching among the Colossian Christians emphasized these lesser spirit beings, but Paul makes it clear that Jesus is far above them.
3. (11-12) The work of Jesus in His people through spiritual circumcision and illustrated by baptism.
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
a. In Him you were also circumcised: Most of the Colossian Christians were Gentiles who had never been physically circumcised. Paul assures them that they were indeed circumcised in a spiritual sense, which is even more important than physical circumcision.
i. The Colossians Christians had to deal with a whole variety of false teaching. Not only did they have wrong ideas about Jesus, but they also had wrong ideas about things like circumcision. Apparently, they were being taught that they had to be circumcised to be right with God. Paul makes it clear that they were circumcised, by putting off the sins of the flesh.
ii. “It seems probable that the false teachers set a high value on circumcision, and urged it on the Colossians, not as indispensable to salvation, in which case Paul would have definitely attacked them on this point, but as conferring higher sanctity.” (Peake)
iii. Our spiritual circumcision meant the putting off of the old man. “The Greek word for ‘putting off’, a double compound, denotes both stripping off and casting away. The imagery is that of discarding – or being divested of – a piece of filthy clothing.” (Vaughn)
iv. You were also circumcised: “A definite historical fact is referred to, as is shown by the aorist [verb tense]. This was their conversion, the inward circumcision of the heart, by which they entered on the blessings of the New Covenant.” (Peake)
b. By the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism: Paul says these Gentile Christians find their true circumcision in their baptism. Christians don’t need to be circumcised, they need to be baptized.
i. Even the Old Testament acknowledges that there are two types of circumcision: one of the body and one of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4 and 9:25; Ezekiel 44:7 and 44:9). Sincere baptism shows that the real “circumcision of the heart” has taken place.
c. Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God: Baptism answers circumcision, but it doesn’t illustrate it. Yet baptism does illustrate our identification with the death and resurrection life of Jesus. We were buried with Jesus, and buried under the water. We are also raised with Him, and raised up out of the water.
i. It is as if Paul wrote: “Circumcision is not important; what is important is the spiritual cutting away of the flesh that Jesus performs in the life of every believer. If you want a ceremony to mark this spiritual transformation in your life, look to your baptism and not to circumcision.”
ii. Because Paul made a connection here between circumcision and baptism, some – especially Reformed theologians – say that just as babies were circumcised, so babies should be baptized. But this presses Paul’s analogy between circumcision and baptism too far and neglects examples of baptism in the Book of Acts. Paul doesn’t say that circumcision and baptism are the same thing, but that circumcision is unnecessary for salvation because we are identified in Jesus and we are baptized to show that.
iii. “The emphasis of the verse, however, is not on the analogy between circumcision and baptism; that concept, though implied, is soon dismissed, and the thought shifts to that of baptism as symbolizing the believer’s participation in the burial and resurrection of Christ.” (Vaughn)
iv. Through faith in the working of God: This demonstrates that Paul understood that the power of regeneration was not in baptism or received by the act of baptism, but received through faith in the working of God.
4. (13-15) The work of Jesus in His people through His work on the cross.
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
a. And you, being dead: This is the place of every person before they are raised with Him through faith in the working of God as Paul described in Colossians 2:12. Before we have new life, we are dead. Before a person comes to new life in Jesus, he is not a sick man who needs a doctor; he is a dead person who needs a Savior.
i. We are not only made alive, but made alive together with Him. “It is true that He gave us life from the dead? He gave us pardon of sin; He gave us imputed righteousness. These are all precious things, but you see we are not content with them; we have received Christ himself. The Son of God has been poured out into us, and we have received him, and appropriated him.” (Spurgeon)
b. Being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh: Before we have new life in Jesus, we are dead in our trespasses. A trespass is a specific kind of sin: overstepping a boundary. We are dead because we overstep God’s boundaries in our sin and rebellion.
c. He has made alive together with Him: We can’t make ourselves alive, but God can make us alive together with Jesus. We can never be made alive apart from Jesus.
i. The new birth (made alive) and cleansing (forgiven you all) go together as features of the New Covenant, as prophesied by the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:25-27) and the New Testament (John 3:5).
ii. Having forgiven us is the ancient Greek word charizomai – a verb form of the ancient Greek word charis (grace). We are forgiven by grace.
d. Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us: The handwriting of requirements has in mind a list of our crimes or moral debt before God, a debt that no imperfect person can completely pay. But it can be taken out of the way, by payment from a perfect man, Jesus Christ.
i. The term handwriting is a general word for a handwritten document and has been understood in various ways. Some take it in a legal sense and say it represents the charges against a prisoner, or a confession of wrong made by a prisoner. Others take it in a financial sense and see it as a debit or ledger sheet that shows we are bankrupt before God. Either way, it means that the document that once condemned us is now taken out of the way, having been nailed to the cross.
ii. “Each of the ten commandments has, as it were, united with the rest to draw up an indictment against us. The first commandment says, ‘He has broken me.’ The second cries, ‘He has broken me,’ — the third, ‘He has broken me;’ and the whole ten together have laid the same charge against each one of us; that is the handwriting of the law condemning every man of woman born while he remains in a state of nature.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “It might even be said that he took the document, ordinances and all, and nailed it to his cross as an act of triumphant defiance in the face of those blackmailing powers that were holding it over men and women in order to command their allegiance.” (Bruce)
iv. According to Vincent, the ancient Greek word translated wiped out is a compound of the word to anoint and the prefix that means completely. The idea is that something was completely wiped over, and in the ancient world the term was used of whitewashing a wall, or overlaying a wall with gold. It means that the accusations against us were completely wiped away and covered over.
e. Having nailed it to the cross: Jesus not only paid for the writing that was against us; He also took it out of the way, and then nailed it to the cross. He did everything possible to make certain that the handwriting of requirements that was against us could no longer accuse us.
i. “Paul, looking at the cross, saw there instead the titulus that expressed the charge against all Jesus’ people, the written code that stood over against them, disqualifying them from the life of the new age. And it was God, not Pilate, that put it there.” (Wright)
ii. We remember that the accusations of Jesus’ crime were nailed to the cross and hung above His head (Matthew 27:37). Since we are identified with Jesus in His death on the cross (Romans 6:3-8), it is as if the handwriting of requirements that was against us was also nailed to the cross, just like the accusation against Jesus.
f. Having disarmed principalities and powers: Another aspect of Jesus’ work on the cross is that He disarmed principalities and powers. These ranks of hostile angelic beings (Romans 8:38, Ephesians 1:21, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:12) don’t have the same weapons to use against Christians that they have against those who are not in Jesus.
i. The greatest powers of the earth at that time – Rome, the greatest governmental power and Judaism, the greatest religious power – conspired together to put the Son of God on the cross. “These powers, angry at his challenge to their sovereignty, stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and celebrated a triumph over him.” (Wright) Here Paul shows us again the paradox of the cross; that the victorious Jesus took the spiritual powers animating these earthly powers and stripped them, held them up to contempt, and publicly triumphed over them.
ii. We can only imagine how Satan and every dark gleeful demon attacked Jesus as He hung on the cross on our behalf, as if He were a guilty sinner. “As he was suspended there, bound hand and foot to the wood in apparent weakness, they imagined they had him at their mercy, and flung themselves on him with hostile intent. But, far from suffering their attack without resistance, he grappled with them and mastered them, stripping them of the armor in which they trusted, and held them aloft in his outstretched hands, displaying to the universe their helplessness and his own unvanquished strength.” (Bruce)
iii. Paul wrote in another place that if the rulers of this age – by which he meant both the spiritual powers of darkness and their earthly representatives – had known what would happen on the cross, they would have never crucified Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:8). They were defeating themselves and they didn’t even know it.
iv. Against the believer, what weapons do demonic spirits therefore now have? They are disarmed, except for their ability to deceive and to create fear. These are effective “weapons” that are not tangible weapons at all. Demonic spirits only have power towards us that we grant them by believing their lies. The weapons are in our hands, not theirs. We will one-day see how afraid they were of us.
g. Triumphing over them: Paul used similar phrasing in 2 Corinthians 2:14, where he had in mind the Roman victory parade where a conquering general led his defeated captives through the streets in triumph.
i. Perhaps Satan, for a moment, thought that he had won at the cross. But Hell’s imagined victory was turned into a defeat that disarmed every spiritual enemy who fights against those living under the light and power of the cross. The public spectacle of defeated demonic spirits makes their defeat all the more humiliating.
ii. “Christ, in this picture, is the conquering general; the powers and authorities are the vanquished enemy displayed as the spoils of battle before the entire universe.” (Vaughn)
iii. “The death of Christ was not only a pardon; it also manifested might. It not only canceled a debt; it was a glorious triumph.” (Erdman)
5. (16-17) Applying the truth of Jesus’ victory in light of the Colossian heresy.
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
a. So let no one judge you: The opening “so” is important. It connects this thought with the previous thought. Because Jesus won such a glorious victory on the cross, we are to let no one judge you in food or in drink or in other matters related to legalism. A life that is centered on Jesus and what He did on the cross has no place for legalism.
i. “It would be preposterous indeed for those who had reaped the benefit of Christ’s victory to put themselves voluntarily under the control of the powers which he had conquered.” (Bruce)
b. Food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come: The Old Testament law had certain provisions that are done away with in Jesus, regarding such things as food and sabbaths. It isn’t that those laws were bad, simply that they were a shadow of things to come. Once the substance – Jesus Christ – has come, we don’t need to shadow any more.
i. The point is clear: days and foods, as observed under the Mosaic Law, are not binding upon New Covenant people. The shadow has passed, the reality has come. So for the Christian, all foods are pure (1 Timothy 4:4-5) and all days belong to God.
ii. Christians are therefore free to keep a kosher diet or to observe the sabbath if they please. There is nothing wrong with those things. However, they cannot think that eating kosher or sabbath observance makes them any closer to God, and they cannot judge another brother or sister who does not observe such laws.
iii. “The regulations of Judaism were designed for the period when the people of God consisted of one racial, cultural, and geographical unit, and are simply put out of date now that this people is becoming a world-wide family. They were the ‘shadows’ that the approaching new age casts before it.” (Wright)
6. (18-19) Paul rebukes the strange mysticism of the Colossian heresy.
Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
a. Taking delight in false humility and worship of angels: These aspects of false humility and the worship of angels were parts of the false teaching troubling the Colossian Christians. That is why Paul touches back on these themes throughout the letter of Colossians. The antidote for both of these false teachings is simply more of Jesus, exalting Him above angels, and realizing that because of His finished work there is nothing to take pride in.
i. “That is to say, the heretics probably insisted that their worship of angels rather than the supreme God was an expression of humility on their part.” (Vaughn)
ii. “Their humility found an expression in angel worship. It is therefore that lowliness which causes a man to think himself unworthy to come into fellowship with God, and therefore prompts to worship of the angels.” (Peake)
b. False humility and the worship of angels do not make anyone more spiritual. Instead, holding fast to the Head (Jesus) makes us truly spiritual.
c. Intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head: This describes the spiritual arrogance of these false teachers and those who believed what they taught. There are few things more dangerous among Christians than spiritual pride and arrogance.
i. Intruding into those things which he has not seen: “That is a mistranslation. The correct translation should be ‘making a parade of things which he has seen.’ The Gnostic prided himself upon the special visions of secret things which were not open to the eyes of ordinary men and women.” (Barclay)
ii. Vainly puffed up: “Vainly characterizes the emptiness of such pretension; puffed up, the swelling intellectual pride of those who make it. The humility is thus characterized as affected, and the teachers as charlatans.” (Vincent)
d. From whom all the body: When these strange, mystical movements arise in the church, they don’t appeal to the whole body, but only to a few “elite” Christians. This is not the cause under the Head, Jesus – He wants all the body to grow together.
e. Grows with the increase which is from God: This is God’s plan for church growth. We remain faithful and connected to Jesus (our Head), and God gives the increase.
7. (20-23) Paul rebukes the essence of legalism.
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations; “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
a. Do not . . . do not . . . do not: This is a perfect description of legalistic religion, defined more by what we don’t do than by what we do. Christianity is a moral religion; it does have clear moral boundaries. But at its foundation, Christianity is a religion of positive action.
b. You died with Christ from the basic principles of the world: Remembering this is the key to living above legalism. Our identification with Jesus in both His death and resurrection (as mentioned before in Colossians 2:12) becomes the foundation for our Christian life, instead of our law-keeping.
i. Which perish with the using: “They are things which come to an end in the very act of being used. Handling them, eating them, or the like involves their destruction. Food, once eaten, ceases to be food. These are not the things that matter most; these are not the ultimate realities.” (Bruce)
c. According to the commandments and doctrines of men: One aspect of legalism is that the doctrines of men are promoted as the laws of God.
d. These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom . . . but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh: We might regard this as the greatest indictment against legalism in the Bible. At the bottom line, legalism’s rules have no value in restraining the indulgence of the flesh.
i. All such legalistic rules may have an appearance of wisdom, but they have no real value. Legalism doesn’t restrain the flesh; it feeds the flesh in a subtle, powerful way. “In fact, the most rigorous asceticism can coexist with insufferable spiritual pride, one of the subtlest and most intractable of the ‘works of the flesh.'” (Bruce)
ii. Self-imposed religion is man reaching to God, trying to justify himself by keeping a list of rules. Christianity is God reaching down to man in love through Christ.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission