At the time of this writing, the apostle Paul felt the need to warn the Colossian Christians about the false teachers and to encourage them to remain steadfast in the truth of the Scriptures. He comforted them in the fact that they had been taught the whole truth about the person and work of Jesus Christ and contrasted it here with the false doctrines of men.
Paul’s heartfelt prayer was that the Colossian believers would reject the false teachers’ doctrine that sought to turn the true believers in Christ away from God's will.
Colossians 2:1. “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...”
Paul had never met these brethren but he had a deep love and concern for these fellow Christians. His struggles and conflicts for those in Laodicea, which was about 11 miles west of Colosse, were evidently against Satan and his helpers, the false teachers in that entire region. We have no record that Paul had visited there but he was concerned for all the Christians under this satanic influence.
Verses 2-3. “...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, 3. in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
The "heart" is the center of all true understanding. That includes everything in the inner man including the mind. Proverbs 23:7. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he...” The Christian's wealth is his or her understanding of God's truth. The substance of God's revelation to man is Christ (Colossians 1:27). The better a Christian understands God's true revelation concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ, the better he or she will be able to recognize and refute false doctrine.
God has revealed in Christ all that a person needs to know to establish a relationship with God. Looking elsewhere for that understanding can only produce disorder in the Christian life.
"Knowledge" is knowing the truth. "Wisdom" is “the full understanding” of the truth. The word "hidden" points to the fact that a person can have knowledge of the truth and yet not have understanding of the truth.
Verses 4-5: “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. 5. 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.”
The stability of the Colossian church brought joy to Paul’s heart. How well most of us know that when there is disagreement over doctrine or other disputes in a church, that is not a happy church. He points out that their faith with its unyielding nature and adherence to Christ, was the object of his prayers and praise.
So far the believers were holding their position against the false teachers, but Paul feared that might change. He didn’t want any smooth talking false teachers to persuade them to believe their deceptive arguments.
Verses 6-7: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7. rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”
Paul encouraged his readers to continue following Christ in harmony with the sound teaching that had resulted in their conversion.
His point was now that as the Colossians had become Christians by faith in Christ they should continue to walk by faith because they were “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”
There are four characteristics that describe the happy Christian in this verse. First, he stands firmly rooted as a tree, that is, "he is born again."
Second, he is becoming more firm in his faith daily. 1 Peter 2:2. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby...”
Third, he is becoming increasingly stable in the faith and the ways in which this new life should daily express itself. Hebrews 3:14. "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end..."
Fourth, he demonstrates the fruit of thankfulness constantly praising and thanking God, sometimes even for things that are not what he would have expected or done the way he would have done them. 1 Thessalonians 5:18. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” When a believer is abounding in thanksgiving, he is really making progress.
Verse 8: “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.”
In this verse the apostle encourages the readers to remain faithful to the true revelation they had received and believed, or, as he puts it, “according to Christ.”
The natural man knows nothing of the nature of God until he is dealt with by the Holy Spirit; therefore he has no desire to know Him. Since man is born with an inherent need to prove himself righteous, he seeks ways to attain this. The word “philosophy” appears for its one and only time in the New Testament here and refers to those who teach false doctrine about Christ and God.
The speculations and ideas of false teachers are not rooted in divine revelation. These ideas came down by merely human tradition and are called "empty deception" by one commentator. The idea is that the particular philosophy Paul had been warning his readers about was empty deception. This had come down to his readers as pagan tradition although the title may well describe other alien systems of thought that have invaded Christianity down through the centuries since then.
Verse 8 probably has reference to a type of philosophy at Colosse that was a disastrous mix of legalism, asceticism, and mysticism with Christianity. Paul's warning to "beware of philosophy" may be applied to many of the religious practices the false teachers are promoting even today.
The view of many commentators is that these false religious systems probably included observance of the Law of Moses and that Christ was neither the source nor the content of Paul’s teaching.
Many of these elements developed into the Gnosticism of the second century but with more elaborate philosophical-religious views than are found in Colossians. A good deal of the error being taught to the Colossians came from the fact that it was a mix of Jewish, Gentile, and Christian worship that resulted in a watered down version of the all-sufficiency of Christ's salvation and also His personal preeminence as the Son of God.
Verses 9-10: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10: and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
Verse 9 gives us Paul’s answer to the false teaching that Jesus was less than God in the flesh. What his readers had in Christ was complete. He is the very essence of deity in whom this "fullness" permanently dwells.
Paul states plainly that the “fullness of the Godhead bodily,” means the humanity of God was here on earth in the form of the man, Christ Jesus, during His earthly ministry.
He didn’t give up His deity when He became a man. It still continues in His resurrected bodily form and He still maintains His rule and authority over all spirit beings.
As one in Christ we, too, partake of His fullness. We have no real need that He doesn’t supply. Because Christ is fully God and fully man, believers, 'are made full,' that is, share in his fullness. This great promise was not taught by the cults in the time of the apostles. They taught that salvation could only be attained through enlightenment and that only a select few could attain it at all.
Verses 11-14. “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, 12. 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. 13. 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, 14. 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.”
It might seem a little strange that Paul used the words in verses 11-14 to reinforce his statements concerning Christ to a mostly Gentile church. They would have been readily understood by Jews so the church there may have included a number of converted Jews.
Verses 13-14 are the basis for true faith in Christ for our salvation, and Christ’s death on the cross for your sins and my sins is the only way of salvation. This speaks directly to the believer.
In these verses we find His sufficiency evident in several of the things He has done for us when we got saved. These are simultaneous and permanent at the moment of salvation.
We are spiritually circumcised when we get saved.
We are buried with Him in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Our sins have been blotted out and nailed to the cross.
Unbelievers are sinners by nature. Our spiritual circumcision took place when He saved us. It involved the cutting off of the domination of our sinful nature, often referred to as the flesh. He gives us a new nature.
Water baptism does not save us. We are buried with Him in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul used the symbol of water baptism as a picture of the baptism of the Holy Spirit being a sign of the believer’s association with Christ.
Believers sins are forgiven. This is true if, being a Jew, we violated the Law of Moses. And it’s also true if, being a Gentile, we violated the law of God written on our hearts. Romans 2:14-15 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15. who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” God has forgiven believers. He has canceled our every debt.
Christ really died as our substitute under the false charges of breaking the Mosaic Law, not under the supposed charge that He falsely claimed to be the King of the Jews.
Verse 15. “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
Christ triumphed over Satan's hosts at the cross “having disarmed principalities and powers.” He disarmed the angelic rulers and defeated their evil powers by His death and resurrection. “He made a public spectacle of them” refers to Jesus' disgracing the powers of evil when He died on the cross openly bearing the sin that was their claim and hold on human beings.
To the casual observer the cross appears to be only an instrument of death, the symbol of Christ's defeat; but Paul represents it as Christ's symbol of victory.
In the next eight verses, Paul carries the attack against the false doctrines of men even further. Verses 16-17. “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, 7. which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."
Paul had already revealed what believers have in Christ, he next pointed out the errors of the false teachers more specifically to help his readers identify and reject their instruction.
Sad to say, there are many Christians who actually believe that some person, religious system, or discipline can add something to their spiritual experience. But they already have everything they ever will need in "the person and work of Jesus Christ."
The false teachers were encouraging the Colossians to place their Christian freedom under their control. They wanted to limit it by prohibiting certain perfectly legitimate activities. The five things mentioned in verse 16 were all part of Judaism. It’s probable that the legalistic false teachers were to some extent Jewish as they were advocating obedience to the Law of Moses for justification and sanctification.
The believing Gentiles in Colosse never were under the Law of Moses; the Law was given only to Israel. Romans 9:4. “...who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises...”
It seems strange that, now that they were Christians, they would even consider submitting themselves to Jewish legalism. Under the Law, the offerings were reflections of the one genuine saving offering at the cross; the priesthood was a foreshadowing of the priestly ministry of Christ, and the kings of Israel faintly suggested the coming King of kings and Lord of lords.
The new age, then, is not the extension of Judaism; Judaism was only a picture of the present age foreshadowed in the past. When Christ came, He explained that the Mosaic Law was no longer binding.
Verses 18-19. “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, 19. 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 second error some of them made was entering into mysticism. Colossian legalism was primarily Jewish in origin, Colossian mysticism seems to have been mainly Gnostic and pagan.
Verses 20-23. “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 - 21. "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22. which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23. 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.”
The third error Paul speaks of here is asceticism, or extreme practices of self discipline. The practices he referred to seem to have been extensions of the Mosaic Law. He rightfully taught that believers "died" to human ordinances of Judaism and Gnosticism when they got saved. Nevertheless it’s possible to live under these like the unbelievers in the world. The false teachers were urging the Colossians to live by the world system by placing these requirements on them.
Some of these decrees had to do with certain food but these are only representative of the many such laws.
These laws are inadequate for three reasons. The things prohibited perish through normal usage, the laws are of human origin, and they do not solve the real problem, namely, the desires of the flesh.
The emphases of these false teachers are still with us today. The first is "higher" knowledge (Gnosticism). The second is the observance of laws to win God's love (legalism). The third is the belief that someone or something other than Christ must mediate between people and God (mysticism). The fourth is the practice of abstaining from things to earn merit with God (asceticism).
When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation as only part of the total of our spiritual beliefs, we cease to give Him the preeminence. When we strive for 'spiritual perfection' by means of rituals, we go backward instead of forward. Believers have to beware of mixing their Christian faith with things like yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and all things that offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ. “In all things, He must have the preeminence!”
Nowhere in the epistle did Paul make a distinction between professing Christians, who were supposedly the objects of his warnings, and true Christians. He appealed to the Colossians as genuine Christians to watch out for this real danger. Genuine Christians can be deceived by false teaching, even teaching concerning Christ.
There is also the danger of a false profession by one who is closely associated with true Christians and has a desire to “fit in.”
It’s important that we realize we do not stand before God on the ground of responsibility. The responsible man failed utterly to keep his obligations. There was nothing for him but condemnation, but our Lord Jesus Christ has borne our condemnation; He voluntarily, and in infinite grace, took the place of the sinner and bore his judgment on the cross. All who believe are given a perfect representation by Him before the throne of God. We are in Him by virtue of being partakers of His life. We were "In Adam," meaning that we were sinners, born of his race. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are "in Christ." We receive a new life from Him and, in no sense, are we to think of ourselves as on probation. All that was ended on the cross when Christ said: “It is finished!”
Jesus died and we died with Him,
Buried in His grave we lay,
One in Him in resurrection,
Soon with Him in Heaven's bright day.
Death and judgment are behind us,
Grace and glory are before;
All the billows rolled o'er Jesus,
There exhausted all their power.