In our last chapter, Paul completed his explanation of the idea that Christ was first/pre-eminent in all relationships. In other words, in a chain that links God and man, He is every link:
- He is linked to God as one of the divine beings in the Godhead.
- He is linked to the creation as the force that not only brought it into existence and maintains its existence, but also the purpose for its existence.
- He is linked to mankind as mankind's only hope for salvation from sin and death.
- He is linked to the saved as the head of the body into which the saved are placed by God – the church.
So whatever the relationship, whatever point of linkage, Paul shows that Jesus has the credentials to be the first or pre-eminent individual at every point of contact – whether it be in the heavens, in the material world, among human beings or the church. Now onto this idea he adds the thought that as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he too has the credentials to be a teacher or minister of the church. He mentions his sufferings, the fact that he was appointed by Jesus and that he teaches only the words of Jesus – as the credentials he has to qualify him for this task.
I mentioned that Paul was building his case for the pre-eminence of Christ in order to refute the position and doctrine of false teachers that had crept into the church at that time. In the last section of chapter 1, Paul goes from talking about Jesus to references about himself as a legitimate teacher of Christ's doctrines. We will see that this is a transition Paul uses to begin a section about Jesus' teachings.
Christ: Pre-Eminent in Doctrine – 2:1-3:4
The last chapter focused on Christ and His pre-eminent role in personal relationships. This next chapter will zero in on the teachings of Jesus and their pre-eminent place in comparison to other religious doctrines. Remember those false teachers. First Paul shows how Christ Himself is pre-eminent in comparison to them, now he will demonstrate how His teachings are superior to their teachings as well.
Vs. 1-3 – For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
He begins by summarizing the thought he will explain in detail in the entire chapter and 4 verses of the next.
Vs. 1 - Paul is writing to people who know of him, but whom he has not personally met. Remember, this church was originally established by Epaphroditus and Timothy. Paul is in prison in Rome for having preached the gospel, the very gospel he is trying to protect among them with this letter. The struggle Paul talks about is his ministry, his imprisonment, his prayers and now this letter of instruction to people he has not met – all of this is a great effort that he makes for them as well as other churches for whom he feels a personal responsibility.
Vs. 2 - In this verse Paul describes what his struggle is for, what he strives for in his work. He describes his objectives for them as a series of attainments that have a final outcome. He wants the results of his work:
- to be a source of encouragement to them.
- that it might promote a loving unity among them.
- that they experience real hope (assurance of understanding) that comes from knowing the true revelation (mystery) of God which is the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Here Paul compresses all the information about the gospel into one word, "Christ." In other words, if you believe in "Christ" you have the key to understanding all of the Old Testament as well as all the teachings of the Apostles.
Vs. 3 - He repeats this idea in verse 3 where he explains that all wisdom and knowledge (about God's plan, the salvation of man, etc.) are contained in Jesus' life, teachings, cross and resurrection.
- It is not earthly wisdom about science or math, etc.
- It is heavenly, spiritual wisdom that pertains to man's condition and salvation.
So, as I said, Paul begins by stating that as far as wisdom, knowledge, teaching is concerned, Jesus is the embodiment of "revelation" – something that man, regardless of his intelligence, cannot compete with.
Vs. 4-5 – I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
Paul states that he has established Jesus' teachings as revelation so that they will not be "persuaded" to abandon these teachings for some other form of doctrine.
Persuasive argument is the manner in which these false teachers were drawing the brethren away. They did not have new revelation but they were smooth talkers and good debaters. They would use these tactics to fool, confuse and delude the brethren, and thus make them doubt the gospel. Even though he warns them, Paul is quick to also commend them for their personal discipline (self-control) and steady faith in Jesus.
They were being penetrated by false teachers but so far they were holding on to the truth and even though Paul is far away – he rejoices with them in this.
Vs. 6-7 – Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
The best way to prove doctrine is to live it. They have been taught about Christ and His teachings, now they need to practice that teaching in their every day lives if it is really to take effect. They have been well taught (rooted) and encouraged, now they need to put into practice those teachings that dealt especially with faithfulness and thanksgiving.
Now that they are being challenged, now that things are becoming difficult, they are being tested to see if their faith is true – Paul encourages them to persevere.
Vs. 8 – See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
This is another summary statement where Paul will briefly outline a new thought and then take several verses to explain in detail what he has just said. Again, he uses a compression word – "Christ."
Christ is the standard
In this case not simply the person but the teachings, the commands, the example of Christ… this is the standard by which all things need to be judged. The objective of the false teachers is slavery. They want to enslave the Colossians to their doctrine and their religious authority.
Christ sets one free from ignorance and fear.
Their tactics are the teaching of ideas and concepts from a variety of sources other than Christ. Philosophy (or concepts) that are really an empty show or deception based on lofty notions about man-made rules concerning the way the world works. There was speculation at that time that the angels somehow controlled the basic elements (fire, rain, thunder, etc.) and that these should be worshipped or that they provided spiritual insight.
These Judaizers (false teachers) were not necessarily educated men, but were making a show of their learning by putting forth these "new ideas" based on man-made philosophies involving angels and the manipulation of nature. And from this new worldview they were inventing rules for living which robbed the Colossians of their freedoms in Christ.
Paul says that the Colossians should not be held responsible to any teaching that does not have as its source the teachings of Jesus.
Paul will give 4 reasons why this should be so:
1. Jesus is divine
Vs. 9 – For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
The teaching of Jesus is the teaching of God because Jesus is God in human form. To follow His teaching is to follow God's teaching and it should not be replaced with the false doctrines of these other teachers no matter how "spiritual" they seemed.
2. They are complete in Christ
Vs. 10a – and in Him you have been made complete
By connection to Christ, who is divine, they have access to all that divinity offers (revelation, wisdom, salvation, blessings, etc.). They have no need of additional teaching, additional saving… they have everything they need spiritually in relation to Christ.
3. Jesus is the ruler of all
Vs. 10b – and He is the head over all rule and authority;
By saying head over all rule and authority, Paul says in effect that Jesus is Lord of lords, King of kings, sovereign over everything. If Jesus is their head or Lord, then there is no need for another head, another one to take this position – as the Judaizers were trying to do… with angels, secret knowledge, etc.
4. Jesus is the Savior – vs. 11-15
Finally Paul explains the most important reason why they should only follow the teachings of Christ – He is their Savior. The Judaizers (false teachers) were boasting that their circumcision and their adherence to laws on feasts and food made them superior and holier than their Gentile counterparts (who simply trusted in Christ) and thus worthy to be obeyed and followed.
Paul shows that the salvation they have in Christ has a greater value than the mere boasting in circumcision made by the Judaizers. Circumcision was of God. It was the sign of the promise God made to Abraham – which Jesus fulfilled with His appearance.
These men were using it as a badge to boast of their religious superiority.
Vs. 11-12 – and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Fleshly circumcision removed an actual piece of flesh as a sign of a spiritual promise of God. Paul says that through Christ what is cut away is the "body of flesh" meaning the "old person of sin," or the old nature that loved and served sin. This was removed by Christ through His efforts on our behalf. He then describes the physical or historical moment when that "spiritual circumcision" takes place, baptism. And this baptism is not just a promise or a symbol, it is the actual moment when the old man is removed and the new person is raised.
Paul says that what happens to us in baptism is verified and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For example, we are raised and renewed in baptism by the same Godly power that raised Jesus from the dead. Romans 8.
Vs. 13-14 – When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
In these 2 verses Paul emphasizes the value and importance of this "spiritual circumcision" that they received at baptism. It transformed them from death to life. He equates "uncircumcision" with being spiritually dead. He explains that they were spiritually dead because they were guilty of transgressing God's law, God's decrees (which said, in effect, if you sin you die). Paul says that they were made alive though the power of forgiveness, and what this forgiveness does is cancel or pay the debt of sin which constantly accused and condemned them before God. Jesus took all of these sins and atoned for them once and for all so that they no longer stood between God and man. His graphic imagery is that the sins (which he describes as a certificate of indebtedness) are nailed to the cross along with His own body.
Paul explains that the spiritual circumcision that takes place at baptism was made possible by Christ's sacrifice on the cross. We go into the water as sinners condemned by the Law that accuses us of our sins and two things happen in that watery grave:
- The bill or certificate of debt or mortgage we owe God for our sins is paid for by the cross of Christ. It is at the point of baptism that forgiveness for our sins takes effect for us.
- The old nature of sin, the old man of sin is cut away and we are given a new spiritual nature. It is at the point of baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit who enables us to live as spiritual people.
Peter explains this same phenomena but in a much shorter way in Acts 2:38. In the meantime remember that the importance and necessity of baptism is not something invented by the church of Christ. Jesus, Peter and Paul each emphasized that baptism was the moment that salvation, forgiveness and regeneration took place. When we focus in on this principle, we only emphasize what the New Testament itself emphasizes.