In Colossians chapter 2 we discover that men were propagating two wrong doctrines that would undermine the work of God in the assembly at Colosse, as all false doctrine does, wherever it appears. These two evils were Gnosticism and Judaistic teaching. The former would set aside the Person of Christ, and the latter His work. Both errors are fully answered by Paul in this chapter.
Verses 1-3: The Supplications of Paul
If Paul moved in the arena as an athlete in Colossians 1.29, he is now in the ring as a wrestler, as he finds himself in great conflict, praying for the preservation of so many believers in the area. The thoughts of Paul toward these believers were already apparent; had he not brought the Gospel to them, and desired their preservation by the Gospel (1.23)? His ministry to bring them to an understanding of the mind of God for them is also manifested in the closing verses of the same chapter. He is now demonstrating the care of his heart as he reminds them of the supplications and agonising prayers that ascend to God on their behalf. Paul evidently believes in the power of prayer, and he is fervent in it. He is just like Abraham, who, when confronted with the disaster that faced Sodom and Gomorrah, sought God to have mercy for the sake of those who were dear to him.
Although it cannot be said with certainty that Paul ever visited the cities of Colosse or Laodicea, he still prays for all who might be exposed to the doctrinal errors prevalent in the area. His prayer is “that their hearts might be comforted” (the thought is of being exhorted, or challenged), through a genuine unity (“being knit together in love”), and for a rich understanding of the mystery of God, so that they might acknowledge (know more fully) the greatness of what is before them.
This mystery differs from “Christ in you the hope of glory” (1.26-27). Now it is concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Himself, and that which sets forth His eternal being as God. This is seen in verse 9, where we read “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The Gnostics propagated that they had all truth enshrined in their teaching, but this is swept away by these brief words, for the monopoly of all truth is only found in the Lord Jesus. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are revealed in Him alone.
Verses 4-7: The Steadfastness of the Saints
We are now brought face to face with the doctrines of men. In 1 Timothy 4.1-5 we have the doctrines of demons; here we see such doctrines set forth and practised by ungodly men. In Colossians 2.4 and 16 we find the words “lest any man” and “let no man”. Men will ever seek to set at naught all that is divine, and these must be dealt with according to God’s Word. We must take care that we do not follow men simply because of their ability or gift, but rather always prove all things. Men can beguile, that is, to reckon wrong or delude. They will also use enticing words of persuasive language, which is merely vain intellectualism.
The opening words of verse 5 would infer that this company was well known to Paul, and his feelings toward the believers were evidently valued. He knew them, and appreciated the character that marked them. This gave him pleasure, as he beheld the steadfastness of their faith in the Lord Jesus. Paul was so close in spirit that it was as if he actually looked upon them with the eye, and he could see that the saints set themselves in a solid front, like a Roman phalanx when facing the enemy. They were not capitulating before the attacks of the enemy, who would draw them away from the truth of the Gospel. There is an appeal, therefore, in verse 6 to continue as they had begun. When they had received Christ they had drawn alongside that blessed Man, and taken Him for themselves. All that Paul desired now was that they would continue in that pathway, and not embrace another doctrine.
The apostle often uses mixed metaphors in his teaching, and here we see that he refers to a tree planted, and a building built up. In the former, he desires that having been rooted at the beginning (a once for all term), that they remain settled. He also desires that they will be strengthened as they are built up. Finally, he longs to see them stablished in the faith. If the opening statement is once for all, the latter two are a continual process; the proof of an exercise before the Lord to maintain the ground they are on, with thanksgiving.
Verses 8-15: The Sufficiency of Christ
If the believers are warned against vain intellectualism in verse 4, they are now reminded that there are those who would seek to impose upon them human philosophy. They are called to beware, for they could spoil them – the idea of ‘kidnapping’ or ‘carrying off as booty’. Evil teachers must ever be watched. They have a love of wisdom but, as all wisdom is in Christ (v 3), theirs is but vain and empty. When exposing their teaching, he speaks of it being “the rudiments of the world”, that is, the ABC of the world’s thoughts, and the source from whence it emanates.
How blessed when we approach verse 9 to see One who is not of the world, but in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The Gnostics held to the fact that there were various emanations of God throughout creation, but Paul asserts that alldwells alone in the Lord Jesus, and that the fulness of deity is displayed bodily in Him. Not only so, but the Gnostics can add nothing to the believer, for we are “complete in him” (v 10). Being complete simply means to cause to abound, and to supply liberally. In relation to the believer’s standing before God, the Lord has left nothing needing to be furthered in the lives of the saints. They mean too much to Him, and He furnishes us with all that we need whilst here. The Lord is also in control of those that Gnostics would promote, for He “is the head of all principality and power”. In verse 18 we see the rashness of Gnostic teaching, because they would advocate a worshipping of angels. Yet the Lord is the Head of angels, and thus they are under His authority.
Having dealt with some aspects of Gnosticism, Paul now turns to expose the traits of Judaism that would also seek to turn the believer from a path of righteousness, and to be energised by the flesh. In verses 11-12 he takes up the two initiatory rights of both the old and the new covenants. In the former it was circumcision, and in the latter it was baptism. Another circumcision has been introduced which is not physical, nor practised by men. This is spiritual, not dealing with part of the flesh, but that where the problem comes from - the body of the sins of the flesh. That is, all we were in Adam before conversion has been dealt with, as this circumcision is associated with the Lord Jesus and puts an end, not to part, but to all the flesh that would seek to operate against what the Lord would desire for us.
We are now drawn to the fact that baptism is a fundamental teaching of the Word of God, and its significance is vital for us to appreciate. Let none say that it is not important or necessary. Such statements show a great lack of spiritual understanding. We see that baptism is a burial service, wherein the old man (all that we were in Adam before our conversion), now dead in Christ, is buried, and put out of the way, never to rise again (see also Romans 6.3-7). This is followed in verse 12 by the expression “wherein” (or, “in whom”, as in the MKJV1). It is in Christ that we are risen; not in baptism. We have faith in the power of God both to raise Christ, and to associate us with His beloved Son.
1 Modern King James Version.
(To be continued …)