A Warning against Error. Col 2:1-8.
The danger of being beguiled:
V.l. For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, v.2. that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, v.3. in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. V.4. And this I say lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. V.5. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.
The apostle had told the Colossians that he was assiduously laboring in their behalf and bearing not only his own, but also a part of their share of the sufferings which the Christians assume as they take upon themselves the cross, the yoke, of their Master. He now makes a direct statement to that effect:
For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and (for) those in Laodicea, and (for) as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. Paul was probably not personally acquainted with any of the members of this section of Phrygia but Epaphras and Onesimus, and the latter had not been a member when he escaped from his master. Nevertheless, the Christians of these congregations were just as near and dear to the apostle as those of other cities whom he knew in person. He was earnestly, anxiously concerned for them, for the welfare of their souls. He is wrestling for their souls, for their happiness, in view of the fact that error is endeavoring to enter their midst. He wants them all, also the Christians of Laodicea, who were exposed to the same dangers, to know of his prayerful solicitude for them.
The apostle’s object in writing to them so frankly is: That their hearts may be encouraged, being firmly knit together in love and unto all wealth of the fullness of insight, to the full understanding of the mystery of God and of Christ. Paul wants the hearts of all the Colossian and Laodicean Christians to be strengthened in comfort, to forget all doubt, uncertainty, wavering, to be possessors of a courage which overcomes all enmity and opposition.
Instead, therefore, of permitting any tendencies toward disharmony to appear in their midst, their hearts should be knit together, joined together in love, brotherly affection reigning in their hearts at all times. With this love governing their hearts, they would also be joined to all wealth of the fullness of insight.
The apostle cannot find words enough to characterize the blessedness of the spiritual gifts which fall to the believer’s lot. They have all the wealth, they are rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Not in this world’s goods, indeed, but in the full and complete understanding, in the knowledge of the mystery of God and Christ. The longer the Christians search the Scriptures, the longer they hear the Word of their salvation, the more firmly they are grounded in the certain understanding of the gracious will of God for their salvation. The longer a person is a Christian, the more firmly he learns and knows what the Word and the will of God is; he is sure of the revelation of the mystery of God, that Christ died for the salvation of his soul, that God in Christ has comprehended and consummated the decree of redemption, and he quietly relies upon that fact, he lets that conviction take an ever firmer hold upon his heart.
But all this is not out of man’s own reason or strength. It is rather, as Paul says: in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden. Not merely some, a few, of the riches of spiritual wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, but He is the vessel, the bearer, the source of them all. There is no counsel of God for the salvation of the world which does not find its fulfillment in Christ; there is no revelation of the salvation of the world in Scriptures which is not based upon Christ. And the most wonderful truth is that every doctrine concerning Christ, just as every attribute of Christ, presents to us the whole person of Christ, the Redeemer. The teaching of Jesus Christ is the only perfect, the only fully satisfactory, the only saving system of doctrine in the world. This knowledge the Christians should strive for, upon this wisdom they should meditate.
If this is the constant endeavor of the Colossians, then they will heed also the apostle’s warning: This, however, I say, lest any one should deceive you with specious talk. He calls attention to his words as of great importance in the present situation. His hearers should heed his warning in time, before the errorists have made any headway in taking from them the basis of their faith. For these men that were so busy in their midst were using false reasoning, specious talk, glitteringly persuasive speech.
To emphasize this warning, which is in place at all times, since the false teachers always employ the same methods, Paul adds: For though I am absent in the flesh, yet in the spirit I am with you, rejoicing and seeing your order and the firmness of your faith toward Christ. Paul’s earnest solicitude and anxiety of which he had spoken above proved that he was with them in spirit, that he was seriously concerned about their spiritual welfare, that the endeavors of the errorists to beguile the Colossians must be met. Christian love and fellowship, which unites the believers, and especially the teachers and the hearers, causes them to feel the most earnest concern as soon as danger of any kind threatens. It is not necessary that a person be physically present to have this feeling; in fact, absence rather tends to increase it.
At the same time, Paul was in a position to use the strongest kind of entreaty and admonition in stating that he was full of joy in beholding the order which they observed, the fixed, orderly deportment which characterized them. They were still presenting a closed front to the enemy. They were still firmly grounded in their faith toward Christ Jesus, their Savior. If any member of the Colossian congregation had actually begun to waver, these confident words on the part of the apostle, this declaration of his trust in their Christian common sense, would be most apt to bring him back to the path of sound spiritual thinking.
The apostle now builds up his admonition on this tactful premise:
V.6. As ye have, therefore, received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him; v.7. rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding there in with thanksgiving. V.8. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
This admonition tended to be all the more effective, since the apostle had so cheerfully acknowledged the attitude taken by the Colossians. The fact of his appreciation could not fail to arouse in them the most eager determination to prove themselves worthy of the apostle’s trust.
Paul, moreover, always places the most important fact first: As, then, you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, it is in Him that you must walk. The Phrygian Christians had through faith accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, Him who had been promised of old and had been revealed in His incarnation in the fullness of time. They stood in the most intimate fellowship of faith with this Savior. In Him, therefore, they should lead their lives, in His fellowship they should continue, John 15:1-6; 1 John 2:4-6; 1 John 3:24. in the daily realization of our sinfullness and unworthiness, in the daily acceptance of the grace which His atonement has brought to us, in the daily endeavor to walk before Him to all His good pleasure, the Christian life consists according to His will.
This blessed condition of the Christians is further characterized by the apostle: Rooted and built up in Him and being firmly established in the faith as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
As the tree sends down its roots into the richest soil, in order to draw the purest and strongest nourishment from the bosom of the earth; as every wind and every storm causes the tree to cling with greater tenacity to its hold in the earth, so shall we be rooted in Christ, drawing all our spiritual power from Him and clinging all the more tenaciously to Him as the storms of tribulation sweep over us.
As the stability if any building depends upon the firmness of its foundation, so our faith, having Christ Jesus as its basis and His Word as its stay, is safe against all the storms of adversity, because it rests in the heart, in the mounds of Jesus. The true Christians are not looking for some new doctrine that may tickle their fancy, for some new leader to show them a new way to heaven; they abide by the old doctrine of sin and grace, as they have been taught.
The revelation of the gracious will of God as we have it in the Bible is sufficient for all our needs. “New revelations,” “new light,” “keys to the Scriptures,” all these have no right to exist; our faith rests upon Jesus, and that is sufficient for us. In Him we can and shall abound in the faith with thanksgiving, Phil 1:9; Rom. 15:13. We should excel in gratitude and thankfulness; these should fill our whole hearts. Lost and condemned sinners as we are in ourselves, the pure and boundless mercy of God in Christ Jesus has brought us salvation, has made us partakers of salvation through faith. So a Christian has reasons always to be happy, always to be thankful.
But this thankfulness demands also a continual watchfullness: Take heed lest there be any one that makes you his spoil through the philosophy and vain fraud according to the tradition of men, according to the precepts of the world and not according to Christ.
Christians must be vigilant always, they must always have their eyes open, they must always be on their guard. For there are men that are determined to seduce them, to lead them away as a prey, as a spoil. This they attempt to do through philosophy, through a system of doctrine that wants to explain the reason and object of being on the basis of reason only.
Other deceivers attempt to gain their end through empty fraud after the traditions of men, by offering explanations of divine things according to the ideas generally held by men and almost invariably opposed to the divine revelation. Or, in other words, they attempt to deceive according to the precepts and rules as laid down by the children of this world in general. Cp. Gal 4:3.
Every person by nature expects to find some ways and means of becoming righteous before God by his own wisdom and ability, and thousands of false teachers make use of this tendency by proclaiming a way of salvation through works, by following certain precepts of behavior which are supposed to set a standard for the whole world. But these precepts and rules, this doctrine concerning man’s own ability to be justified before God, is a vain deceit and not according to Christ and His doctrine of salvation. In these last days of the world no other error is working such fierce havoc in the Church as this precept after the tradition of men.
Christ’s Work for His Church, Resulting in Sanctification. Col 2:9-23.
The glory of Christ in His work of salvation:
V.9. For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. V.10. And ye are complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power; v.11. in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; v.12. buried with Him in Baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead. V.13. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses; v.14. blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; v.15. and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
The apostle here brings his reasons for admonishing the Christians to lead such lives as are conformable to the high character of their calling.
In the first place, they have part in the fullness of His Godhead: Because in Him dwells the entire fullness of the Godhead bodily. Here is a plain and unmistakable asseveration of the deity of Jesus Christ. Paul does not merely state that He is divine, that He has some attributes of God, but he says that the deity, the essential majesty of the Godhead, dwells in Him bodily, according to His body. The fullness of the Godhead assumed human nature in the person, in the body, of Jesus Christ. When the Son of Mary was born at Bethlehem, the eternal Word, the Son of God from eternity, became man; when the Prophet of Nazareth died on the cross, God Himself died, for in His body the fullness of the divine Godhead lived; the fullness of the essential deity had been communicated to Him in such a manner that it partook of all the functions of the human body. Since the same Christ has ascended to the right hand of the majesty of God, it is our Brother, our flesh and blood, in whom the fullness of the eternal Godhead dwells bodily.
In this fullness the believers take part: And it is in Him that you are made full, who is the Head of all principality and power. In Christ the believers reach their full life, in fellowship with Him through faith they are filled with all the fullness of God, Eph 3:19. They have life, divine, abundant, active, fruitful life, in Him, John 10:11. In Him they come behind in no gift, 1 Cor 1: 7.
This fact ought to have all the greater influence upon the believers since this Christ who lives in them with His gracious power is the Head of all principality and power. The entire universe, including the domain of all the angels, both good and bad, is subject to Him. Therefore we also, to whom this fullness has been imparted, fear no power on the earth or under the earth, since we have Christ on our side, since we are united with Him by the bonds of the most perfect union.
The Christians, furthermore, have in Christ regeneration and a new life through Baptism: In whom you also were circumcised with a circumcision not performed with hands, in the stripping off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ.
The apostle here, in addressing a congregation which consisted chiefly of Gentile Christians, compares the sacrament by which they were received into the Church with that by which the Jews of old were made members of the outward people of God. This sacrament is not, indeed, like the circumcision which was performed with hands, in a slight operation upon the body, but it is a sacrament in which the body of the flesh is put off, in which the old, sinful nature of man is laid aside like a filthy garment, never to be donned again. A circumcision of Christ the sacrament is called by which the believers of the New Testament are joined to the Church of Christ. All believers in Christ are in full possession of all the promises which were given to Abraham to apply to all nations. Through this sacrament of admission all believers have become a peculiar people, a people consecrated to the Lord.
The apostle now says expressly what he has reference to: Buried with Him in Baptism, in whom you also were raised up through the faith of the operation of God, who raised Him from the dead.
The circumcision of Christ, the stripping off of the sinful nature in man, is Baptism. That is the visible means by which the Lord works regeneration in our hearts. The old Adam in us was mortally wounded when the Lord received us as His own in Baptism. So the figure is consistently carried out: We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death, Rom 6:4, because in Baptism we became partakers of all the spiritual gifts which He earned for us by His entire life, death, and resurrection.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin, we now, through the effective working of the word in Baptism, become partakers also of Christ’s resurrection: We are raised with Him. The blessings of His redemption are transmitted to us through faith. Not, indeed, as if even this faith were our own meritorious work, for it is a faith of the operation of God. When we were dead in trespasses and sins, He quickened us together with Christ, Eph 2:1-6. He wrought faith in our hearts through the Sacrament of Baptism. It was a proof of the same divine power by which God raised up Jesus from the dead.
Note: The casual comparison between circumcision and Baptism in this passage affords a very strong argument in favor of infant baptism; for the rite of circumcision, as practiced by the Jews, had to take place on the eighth day, and Baptism is spoken of as being parallel to circumcision.
The third great benefit of our union with Christ is this, that we now have the assurance that all sin and guilt is forgiven: And you being dead through trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made you alive with Him, having forgiven us all trespasses.
The apostle here presents the work of regeneration much as in Eph 2:1-6: When the Colossians were dead through, by reason of, their sins, when they were lying in spiritual death and were subject to eternal damnation. That this was a lasting condition of the Gentiles, Paul indicates by speaking of the uncircumcision of their flesh.
He is speaking of a spiritual condition, Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4, of the sensuous, sinful nature of natural men, of their inherited state of disobedience and enmity toward God. While they were in that condition of spiritual death, while they had no longing for spiritual life, when all their thoughts were at variance with God’s holy Word and will, then it was that God quickened them, made them alive with Christ, made them partakers of the resurrection and of the life of Christ.
Paul here skillfully changes his address from the second to the first person, thus softening the harshness of the passage and including himself as a recipient of this blessing. This great gift, this wonderful blessing of being awakened to spiritual life, was transmitted to us by the fact that God forgave us our trespasses; He graciously canceled the debt which was charged against us.
This miracle the apostle proceeds to describe in greater detail: Having blotted out the handwriting in ordinances that was against us, which was directly opposed to us, and He has taken it out of the way by affixing it to the cross. Without Christ the Law was before us like a bond or note of hand, made by us as the debtors in writing, always held before us as a debt which must be discharged. We were under obligation to keep the Law of God, its unfulfilled decrees were a continual accusation against us. No matter which way we turned for relief, there was the Law before our eyes, an insatiable creditor. But then Christ came and paid the entire debt of all mankind, He paid the guilt of all their sins, He secured a complete redemption for them all. Therefore the handwriting is blotted out, the note is canceled, its constant menace has been removed from between God and us.
And here Paul, in his eagerness to impress the fact of this great truth upon his readers, uses the strongest possible figure: God has affixed the handwriting of our guilt to the cross. When Christ was crucified, laden, as He was, with the guilt of mankind, God thereby nailed the Law to His cross. Thus it shared in His death, thus it was abrogated, thus it was canceled. Cp. 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13. Thus there is no more guilt to condemn us, the Law no longer has power over us: Christ’s death has brought us eternal life.
In Him, therefore, we also may triumph over all the powers that oppose us: Having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them with boldness, triumphing over them in it. God, being in Christ for the purpose of reconciling the world to Himself, while He was at the same time the great Ruler and Judge of the universe, made the principalities and powers the object of spoil and booty, He divested those spirits that were opposed to Him, the angels of darkness, of their authority and power. The evil spirits are now no longer able to accuse and condemn the Christians; one little word can fell them.
In proof of the fact that the principalities of darkness had been fully conquered, God made a show of them openly, frankly, freely. It was done with that easy confidence and certainty which marks a complete, permanent victory. By virtue of this fact every Christian can point the finger of derision at the mighty spirit of evil, so long as he adheres to the Word, which makes him certain of the great victory. Yea, God has made a triumph of Satan and his host in the cross. Like a mighty general that has fully vanquished a dangerous opponent and is leading him along bound in fetters, so God made the Cross, otherwise the symbol of shame and sorrow, the sign of victory and final triumph over all His enemies. This entire victory, with all its blessings, is ours through the gift of God, by faith. We are victors over the kingdom of darkness, we can triumph over all our enemies, even here in time, and hereafter in one glorious hymn of triumph in all eternity.
Warning against a false righteousness of works:
V.16. Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days, v.17. which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. V.18. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, v.19. and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. V.20. Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, v.21. (Touch not; taste not; handle not; v.22. which all are to perish with the using,) after the commandments and doctrines of men? V.23. Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.
Having declared to the Colossians the glorious advantages which are theirs through conversion and Baptism, the apostle now names specific errors which threaten to deprive them of the blessings of the Gospel.
Among these dangerous errors is that of Judaistic insistence upon the observance of certain days; Let no man, then, judge you in food or in drink; or in the matter of a festival, or new moon, or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of coming things; the body, however, is of Christ. This seems to have been one of the points upon which the Judaistic teachers insisted, that the precepts of the Ceremonial Law were still in force and must be kept. They wanted the distinction between clean and unclean foods maintained; they probably extended the vows which the Nazarites made voluntarily into laws binding upon the consciences of all men. Cp. Lev 11; Lev 10:8-11; Num 6:1-4.
They insisted that the great festivals of the Old Testament, the new moons, and all the Sabbaths must still be observed by divine command. In other words, they wanted the entire Church, or Ceremonial, Law of the Old Testament continued for the time of the New Testament as well. These people are not without imitators in our day. Not only are there special denominations whose fundamental principle is that of the observance of the Jewish Ceremonial Law, but there are individual teachers in practically all denominations of our country that insist upon keeping at least the Sunday by divine command, believing that it has taken the place of the Old Testament Sabbath.
But St. Paul’s comment on all such efforts is brief and to the point: Let no man pass an unfavorable judgment upon you, let no man criticize and condemn you for your attitude. For all the things comprised in the Jewish Ceremonial Law served merely as a shadow of coming things; they were merely types of the future, permanent values of the New Testament. The body is Christ’s, in Him all the types are fulfilled, and therefore no longer have any need to be observed. Cp. Heb 9:8-12. He that chooses any day as fixed by divine command, he that confines his diet to certain articles of food and drink as being demanded by the Lord, is deceiving himself, placing himself under the yoke of the Ceremonial Law, and is in danger of losing his soul’s salvation. Cp. Gal 4:9-11.
Another specific instance of Judaizing influence to which Paul finds occasion to refer is that of the superstitious worship of angels: Let no man defraud you (give judgment against you), taking pleasure in humility and cult of angels, intruding into the things which he has not seen, vainly inflated by the mind of his flesh, and not holding the Head, from whom the whole body, through the joints and ligaments being supplied and held together, increases the increase of God.
The apostle uncompromisingly designates this as another species of fraud, as another scheme to deprive the Christians of the glorious blessings of the Gospel. By their critical, supercilious attitude the false teachers were condemning the Colossian Christians for adhering to the simple truths of the Gospel; they were intimating and teaching that the way advocated by them was so much better, to be commended so much more highly. They took pleasure in exhibiting very ostentatiously what they wanted men to regard as humility; they were advocating a cult or worship of angels. They tried to make it appear as though man should consider himself as too lowly and insignificant for fellowship with God, that he should be satisfied with communing with angels.
Under a show of meekness and lowliness, therefore, they had the audacity to intrude into the domain of spirits, into the transcendental regions. They thus became subject to delusions, which they nevertheless wanted to inflict upon others. Without the slightest ground they assumed an attitude of superiority, puffed up by the mind of their flesh, of their old sinful nature.
The pride of these people, therefore, as of all their followers in our days, consisted in this, that with all their ostentatious humility they permitted themselves to believe that men could not be satisfied with the simple knowledge, obedience, and belief of the Gospel, but must strive to attain to a peculiar, higher wisdom and sanctity. This resulted, of course, in their not holding fast to Christ as the one Head of the Church. They severed themselves from connection with Christ.
But, as Paul says, it is only from Him that the entire body of the Church in all its members receives power and strength to increase according to the will of God. It is just as in the case of the human organism, in which the various limbs and members are held together by joints and ligaments, this being the condition under which they are supplied with blood and nerve force from the centers of life, especially from the head. Note: No one can remain a member of the body of Christ unless he clings to that Redeemer and His Gospel in simple faith and rejects all the systems and methods that are offered as substitutes for the truth in our days.
The apostle concludes this section with some very pertinent and pointed remarks: If, then, you are dead with Christ, away from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you suffer decrees to be laid upon you, (such as) Touch not, taste not, handle not? all of which ordinances lead in their use to (spiritual) destruction, after the commandments and doctrines of men, which have a reputation for wisdom in arbitrary cult and humility and unsparingness of the body, not in any honor, but (only) to the satisfying of the flesh.
Here the apostle makes the application to the Colossian Christians. When they learned to believe in Christ, they, with Him, died unto the rudiments, the precepts, of the world, all the ceremonial laws by which people hope to earn something in the sight of God. It is self-evident, therefore, that Christians will not permit false teachers to lay this unnecessary yoke of human ordinances upon them again, just as though they were still members of this present world, as though they had never yet heard of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Those precepts were indeed being taught by the false teachers, just as those of our day are characterized by their insistence upon such commands: You must not touch that food; you must not taste that drink; you must not be found indulging in this or that or another thing, all of which are things indifferent and therefore matters of Christian liberty.
If a person persists in keeping such precepts as commandments of God, the word will apply to him: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, Matt 15:9. The keeping of such ordinances will thus finally result in the spiritual destruction of those that insist upon them. For they are nothing but commandments and doctrines of men, which, indeed, have a great show and reputation of wisdom, as if they were of value in furthering people in knowledge of a holy life. But it is an arbitrary worship, a self-chosen cult, not based upon God’s Word and will.
The attitude of such people, moreover, is one of false humility; they have a great show of meekness, but in the final analysis they will be found full of pride of self and unwilling to accept instruction.
And finally, they practice an austerity toward their own bodies in ascetic abstinence which is without command and promise. Thus all their attempts to excel before God with a piety and righteousness not based upon the Word of God are vain and foolish.
The apostle pronounces a simple judgment upon all such efforts: Their reputation is without real basis, without honor which will stand before God, And what is more: All these things are done only to the satisfying and gratifying of the flesh. The poor deluded errorists that are trying to lead other people astray by insisting upon works which are not commanded by God delude themselves more than any one else, because, after all, they derive a great amount of self-satisfaction out of the practices which they advocate, in other words, they are deliberately trying to earn justification before God by works of their own choosing. The fact remains that all precepts, all doctrines, all schemes, all methods, all works that aim at merit in man thereby take away merit from Christ and must result in failure.