The Prison Epistles, Lecture 3

Colossians 2

1. The Pastor’s Heart Revealed, 2:1-5

Paul begins this second chapter of Colossians with a note of concern:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (2:1)

Previously, Paul had laid the groundwork for his confrontation with those in the Colossian church who had become embroiled in the emerging heresy. Obviously the Laodicean church was having a similar problem and Paul wrote he was “struggling” for both congregations. The word for “struggling” is the Greek agona, and suggests a wrestling match, strenuous combat between two persons. Of course, Paul is not speaking of physical combat here, but a spiritual one, in prayer. This verse brings to mind another of Paul’s:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

The reasons for Paul’s spiritual exertion for his congregations are as follows:

  • [T]hat they may be encouraged in heart. William Kelly writes that these people were not happy now, they were oppressed, their were getting clouded in their thoughts. The Greek for “encouraged” comes from parakaleo, “to call to the side of.” It is the root of a more familiar NT word: paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Hendriksen, commenting on this verse, writes: The heart of all true pastoral activity is to be an instrument in God’s hand to bring the hearts of those entrusted to one’s care to the heart of Christ..
  • [U]nited in love. According to Moule, the thought behind “united,” symbibasthentes, denotes being “compacted, welded together.” This is the ideal state for the church to be in, but with the false teaching making its way through the congregation, member was pitted against member and unity was absent.
  • [S]o that they may have the full riches of complete understanding. The strengthening of love between members of a congregation creates the atmosphere where learning and complete understanding can take place. Quarreling and disunity within a church hinders the clear comprehension of the gospel of truth. A person may be a Christian, sing hymns, raise their hands in church, and say all the things Christians are supposed to say, but at the same time be completely in dark about Jesus Christ. The riches of being a believer are not emotional worship services or witnessing signs and wonders; the the riches of the Christian life involve a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ.
  • [T]hat they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. Paul would also write these words concerning the purpose of pastoral ministry:

…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12, 13)

Believers grow into maturity through a knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that knowledge comes from an understanding of the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says,
[F]aith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

2. The Pastor’s Ministry Revealed, 2:8-23

In these verses, Paul makes his direct attack against “the Colossian heresy.” One of the unpleasant tasks of the pastor is to admonish members of his congregation when he sees them running into error. The tone of this section is both admonitory and affirmative. His admonitions are built around the supremacy of Christ. Even in his discipline, Paul makes it all about Jesus Christ, not man.

Verse 4 is a kind of prelude to this section and serves to illustrate exactly what had taken place in this church: I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. The KJV translates this verse:

And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

Notice a couple points. First, evil is potent, and though a church is built up spiritually through the preaching of the Word, it is torn down by words of false teaching. Words are powerful tools for good or evil, and that all depends on what is being preached from the pulpit. Second, the tiny word “lest” or “so that” must not be overlooked. As powerful and destructive a force false teaching may be, it can be resisted. False teaching need not overpower any congregation. It may be resisted as long as that congregation is united in love, brought to maturity through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

[a] The Warning, verse 8

As verses 6 and 7 state, it’s not enough to simply “confess Christ,” a believer must be rooted and built up in Him, that is, they must have a firm grasp on fundamental doctrines and not caught up in wild ideas and strange philosophies. It becomes clear that in this group of verses (8-10) Paul is intensely concerned about the false teaching of those in the church whose speculative theories, cleverly presented might undermine the confidence of the Colossians in Christ as their only complete savior.

The exact nature of this errant philosophy is not known, although many speculate. It was an early error that had crept into the church, likely of Jewish origin, that joined itself to Christianity in order to make it’s teachings more palatable and easy to believe. Williams observes, how better to attract Jews and Gentiles to a new religion than to engraft into it some of the teachings of Judaism or of Aristotle or Plato?

Curtis Vaughn calls these false teachers “men-stealers.” The word translated “takes captive” is the Greek sylagogon, which is used of taking captives during war and leading them away as booty. this is a perfect description of false teachers: their goal is to entrap and steal members of the church and drag them into spiritual servitude.

How does this happen? Through a “philosophy” that is “hollow and deceptive.” This is the only time the word “philosophy” appears in the New Testament. Paul is not condemning philosophy in general, merely the destructive philosophy or teaching that is killing the church in Colosse. Paul describes this teaching in three ways:

  • It depends on human tradition. This teaching was taken from the apostles, nor did it belong to the mainstream teachings of Judaism. It was a mixture of Christianity, Judaism, Ceremonialism, Angelolatry, and Ascetism. In other words, man had taken bits and pieces of various religions and combined them with Christianity to come up with a dangerous and deceptive hybrid that so many found appealing.
  • It followed the basic principles of this world. The original term for “basic principles” is taken from the Greek stoicheia, referring to the “ABC’s,” or the elemental teachings of something, in this case, of the world. This passage is fraught with translation difficulties. The term stoicheia came to be used to of the elements of the physical world, things like stars and other heavenly bodies and of elemental spirits. The meaning of this phrase may be “basic principles of this world,” as the NIV reads, or as the RSV reads, “elemental spirits.” Regardless of Paul’s precise meaning, this philosophy is man’s substitute God’s truth as revealed in the Gospel.
  • [R]ather than on Christ. Literally the phrase is “not according to Christ.” If the previous phrase is unclear, this one is clear as crystal: what the heretics are teaching has nothing to do with the truth as revealed by Christ. Christ is the standard by which all doctrine is to be measured.

[b] Christ is the basis of truth because He is God, verse 9

As many commentators have noted, virtually every word in this verse is important, and along with verse 10, crowns Paul’s argument against the false teachers in his letter. Let’s consider the words and their impact:

  • For. This word links this verse and the verses that follow to verse 8, and it shows that Paul’s warning against the false teaching is founded on what he is about to write concerning Christ and His fullness.
  • In Christ. This phrase is placed in the emphatic position within the structure of the sentence which means that in Christ alone the fullness of God dwells. His fullness is not spread across anything or anybody else; it is shared with no angel or man or organization .
  • Lives. Literally the word means “dwells,” and it in the present tense, meaning “now.” This is a powerful thought, for when God the Father placed His fullness in His Son for the Incarnation, it remains in the Son to this day, even while the Son is in His glorified state. The word is katoikei and suggests permanence.
  • Fullness. All English versions translate pleroma that way. It was also used back in 1:19, but here tes theotetos is added to it, “fullness of the Deity.” This is the only time theotetos is used in the New Testament so it’s appearance is significant. It means “the very essence” of God is found in Christ; nothing is lacking. What God is, is found in Christ.

This exalts Christ while decimating the false teachers and their lies. Docetism said that Christ only appeared to be a man. Gnosticism taught that God’s essence was shared among many beings, of which Christ was one. But Paul is teaching that Jesus Christ is God incarnate; that in the Son are to be found all the attributes of God. The Godhead dwells entirely in Jesus Christ! True knowledge is in Christ and Christ is as superior to man as man is to the ants that swirl around a crumb.

Since all the fullness of God is found in Christ, there is no need to look elsewhere for help. So Paul adds immediately:

and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (verse 10).

The thought it is: In Christ, believers have reached the source of all blessing and wisdom and power. If we abide in Him, He abides in us. The fullness of God is within all believers, then. Calvin is helpful on this point:

Ye are made full does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there is in Him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing be wanting in us.

A relationship with Christ meets our every need so that we should never need to look to any man or organization to give us what we lack. Possessing Him, we possess all (Vaughn).

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