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by Adah L. Hutchcraft
I n the leading passage, Paul commended and encouraged the Colossians to remain firm in their faith and continue growing in Christ. His encouragement was necessary because the Colossians did not exist in a vacuum. Dangerous doctrines had become influential, particularly among certain Jews and so-called intellectuals of the time. The Christians needed to guard their hearts diligently so that no lie could persuade them.
In every age, Satan has craftily concocted lies to rob people of salvation by misrepresenting Christ. His purpose is to enslave people to sin, making them captive to his will by concealing the truth (2 Timothy 2:26). No lie about Christ is innocent. If Satan causes one to disbelieve the truth, he has gained the advantage over that person. Satan underhandedly seduces people into embracing lies so they reject the truth. Thus he robs the unbelieving of salvation and enslaves them to sin (John 10:10; 8:34).
It is important to note that Paul does not specifically refer to Satan in this context, but indites false teachers with spiritual robbery. The danger was that false teachers would secure deceived souls as spoil, enslaving them again into bondage. As Satan lies, so do his children (John 8:44). Spiritual captures occur when people are not alert. Therefore believers are to watch and hold to the truth lest they return to spiritual poverty and the unmerciful yoke of transgression (Gal.4:9).
❦ Philosophy and Empty Deceit
Human wisdom is highly emphasized by a prideful spirit. Philosophy and scholarship often supercede the authority of scripture and the testimony of faith. Many become infatuated with intellectual trends and contemporary sages, even to the point of rejecting the truth. If a person is not careful, the ideas of the age can quench faith only to replace it with ignorant pride and vain knowledge.
Some leaders in Colossae appeared wise while adding to the gospel and diminishing the ministry of Christ. But intellect that is not mixed with faith comes to foolish conclusions. The greatest wisdom the human mind can marshal apart from Christ is in reality absurd. It is philosophy, not factual. Philosophy asks hypothetical questions, and sometimes questions what God has already answered. If people lend their ears heedlessly to the world, they can be deceived into believing foolishness is wisdom.
❦ Traditions of Men
Christians have their identity and confidence in person of Christ and the work of God through salvation. But many professing believers trust more in tradition than truth. This text is not saying that all traditions are unprofitable or evil. Rather, human institutions that are placed above or equal to the saving Christ are demonic in intention. By adding to divine conditions for salvation, the ministry of Christ is debased. This results in spiritual enslavement, not deliverance.
This text is a prelude to what Paul addresses in depth later in the chapter, that is the observance of festivals and dietary laws. These traditions were not evil of themselves. But some were requiring their observance, thus saying that Christ’s sacrifice for sin was not sufficient to save.
❦ Elementary Principles of the World
Paul’s reference to “the elements of the world” has been interpreted by some as referring to astrology. It is true that Astrology was heavily influential in the Greco-Roman world. Culturally, it was believed that the heavenly bodies were able to reveal special knowledge or determine one’s fate. Astrology continues to pollute the world, compelling people to look to the sky rather than to the true heavens for direction. Yet one cannot help sensing that Paul’s intended meaning exceeded this explanation.
The word stoicheia (translated “elements”) literally means things which are set out in a row. It can refer to the alphabet or to elementary introduction into any subject. The Apostle’s train of thought indicates he is exposing the allegedly advanced philosophy and persuasive rhetoric of false teachers for what it really was-- rudimentary. These teachings were limited to human reasoning and earthly understanding. So, it is with understanding that Paul refers to those propagating lesser knowledge as robbers because they compelled believers to relinquish the profound truth of Christ for basal earthly knowledge.
The danger is clearly stated: human philosophies and traditions are not of Christ. Believers are consistently warned against being seduced by anything that detracts from the Lord Jesus. The end result of ungodly infatuation with sin, human trends, or human knowledge is regression into spiritual death.
T hose who have the knowledge of Christ available to them are foolish to search for God though any other means. There are many gospel vendors, but Jesus is the true representation of God. Any other spokesperson will not render God honestly or completely. The fulness of the Godhead (or Deity) dwells in Christ, placing him in perfect union with God and giving him authority to administer salvation.
Jesus Christ is the one God chooses to reveal himself through (Luke 10:22).This is because the “fulness of the Godhead” dwells in him. In Christ we see God representing himself. Jesus was not simply a prophet or a quasi-god. From a human perspective such messengers might seem adequate, but not according to God. Humanity fell too far to recover itself, so Heaven had to intervene on behalf of humanity. God did so in the person of Jesus, the one called Immanuel, “God with us.” Who better to reveal God than God himself? This is why God sent his Son, not a prophet or angel. In Jesus Christ we behold the glory of the Father (John 1:14). Of no other can it be said, “He is the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Those who fellowship with Christ are knit also with the Father (1John 1:3; John 5:19; John 10:38). Jesus is “the true Light which enlightens every person” (John 1:9), revealing to believers the deep things of God.
In Bodily Form
The incarnation of God was necessary in the plan of salvation. Some have debated this, saying that God could have saved us any way he pleased. There are some who choose to believe that Jesus’ death was only an act of love and not one of redemption. This is an ignorant, lopsided view. The implication is that salvation could have been obtained through an easier rout. To logically follow that train of thought leads one to the idea that every aspect of salvation was not necessary, but could have been performed another way. This teaching demeans the sacrifice of God by assuming that either 1.) it was not too great a sacrifice or 2.) God would readily give up his glory needlessly.
Contrary to the idea that Jesus’ bodily death was only a statement of love, scripture clearly states that in his body Christ accomplished something– That his death was necessary in redeeming humanity. Among many things, Christ took the power of death from Satan– through his own death! (Hebrews 2:14). Jesus also bore humanity’s sin while on the cross (Hebrews 9:28). Although Jesus’ death was indeed a demonstration of his love, it was only that because it was a redemptive act (John 3:16-17). From the beginning, God and Christ were one (John 1:1), but by coming in bodily form Christ made provision for us, too, to be one with God by the forgiveness of sins through his own death (John 17:21).
MADE COMPLETE IN CHRIST
Verses 9-10 state that the fulness of the Godhead dwell in Christ, and believers are made complete (are fulfilled; given fullness ) in Christ. The reasoning is then that in Christ we lack nothing. If one is abiding in Christ, then he/she also has fellowship with God. There is not need to add anything to the requirements of salvation or produce further steps to knowing God. Christ, the forerunner of our faith, is all we need to be fixed to (Hebrews 12:2). \
It must be said that this text in no wise condones empty claims to belief in Jesus. This verse addresses those who fully trust in Christ, believing his word and demonstrating their allegiance by their lives. Jesus said that those who abide in him “bears much fruit” (John 15:5). It is in this state of abiding that a person is made complete in Christ.
The fullness which is experienced in Christ pertains to salvation. That is why it was previously stated, “in Christ we lack nothing.” it is not to say, of course, that Christians no longer struggle with sin or have need to mature. It does mean, however, that everything we need to resist sin and advance in the Kingdom of God is provided in Christ. Though discipline is good, it is not through our personal achievements and obedience that we are made complete. Although people should exercise their minds, it is not through philosophy, intellect or education that we have been fulfilled (literal Greek translation). Instead, it is through the accomplishments of our Savior that we have assurance of salvation.
Let it be said that this truth is impossible for the flesh to accept. The flesh will never embrace Christ as the single source of salvation. The old nature, prideful as it is, is convinced that it must save itself (or at least fill in the gaps of redemption). This is ironic since it is because of the flesh’s failure to perform that humanity needs salvation to begin with. For scripture says, “What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did” (Romans 8:3).There is no redemptive deed lacking in the person of Jesus, and those who are in him also lack nothing.
The Head of All Rule and Authority
Paul states a truth that is consistent with his theology: Because Jesus is God, he has ultimate rule and authority. This statement is not limited to the realm of creation, but is also a spiritual reality. In fact, the unseen Kingdom of God will outlast the temporal, tangible kingdoms of the earth. In this sense, the unseen realm is more real than the seen realm. Christ’s reign is sovereign, therefore we are not obligated to serve anyone or anything else. We are Christ’s.
To the Church in Colossae, Paul refers to “the Kingdom of God’s dear Son” (1:13), which Christ brought us into after rescuing us from “the domain of darkness.” By Christ’s authority, Satan can hold no one captive who submits to God. And no human legislation, legal or religious, is able to condemn or save a person against the will and purpose of Christ. So, let no one take you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men and elements of the world, rather than according to Christ your Savior and King!
YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH
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