16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. We have a 10:00 Bible study where Jamie Harrison is walking us through the book of Revelation. If you are at-risk, this Bible study would be perfect for you so you can spread out (and even dip out the side door before the 11:00 worship gathering begins).
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
I love the way that Paul’s letter to the Colossian church builds and builds and builds. Where we see sections or passages, there was just a letter from an apostle to a church that needed help. Paragraph by paragraph the help he offers them is pointing them to Jesus.
In chapter 1, we see Paul presenting Jesus in a beautiful hymn highlighting how Jesus, God incarnate, is preeminent over all and yet cares for them enough to deliver and redeem them (and us) “from the domain of darkness” to His Kingdom (ch 1:13-14). Chapter 2 saw Paul helping them to understand what it is to be alive in Christ and helped them understand that receiving Christ and walking in Him (ch 2:6-7) is necessary to combat the false teaching attacking their church.
And, as we begin chapter 3 where Paul lays out for the Colossian church – and again, the church today – what new life in Christ is and is not, the final verse from last week’s passage (ch 2:23) strikes me a bit stronger: “These (human precepts and teaching) have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
We looked at it in the context of last week’s passage, and we need to look at it as the hinge that opens the door between last week’s and ours today. The “human precepts and teaching” (ch 2:22) were spoken of in the context of the false teaching plaguing the Colossian church – that people were trying to tack on additional religious practices to the gospel and distract from it. But, as we are about to begin looking at precepts and teaching given by Paul, it is fitting that we clarify the difference between human precepts and those “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Sins are going to be listed – not Paul’s interpretation of a religion but speaking from God as He was “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). So, as we talk about what is taught in Colossians, we must be careful to focus on and look at what God is saying to the church – then and now – through Paul. We must be careful to recognize the authority of Scripture to teach us what to believe and correct us when we are wrong – to teach us how to live and correct us when we sin – to give us everything we need to live this new life in Him.
There is temptation to blunt what God makes sharp regarding sin – to call good what God called evil (Isaiah 5:20). There is also a temptation to take God’s Word and use it to hurt people rather than to point them to Him. Both are dangerous. Both are trying for “human precepts” instead of the divine. God’s Word says what it says, and it has power. But the former, the man-made or man-twisted have “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”. Thankfully, Paul’s answer to both – the answer that has been consistent throughout Colossians and will continue to be through the end is Jesus.
If You Have Been Raised (vv. 1, 3)
The first word of today’s passage is “if”. As a parent and a high school teacher, I understand that this word carries the utmost importance.
Daddy, can I go to __’s house Friday? Yes, if, you clean your room. Mr. Harris, if we all make __ or above on the assessment, you should buy us donuts. I sure will if you hold up your end of the bargain. When Friday comes or the assessment is over both sides play the parts of expert lawyer explaining how I am bound to do this or how I should change my mind because of how close they got to the agreement. Yet if leaves extraordinarily little wiggle room. If is conditional. Any agreement containing if means that its completion is contingent upon whatever in-the-event-that occurs.
In the case of today’s passage – “Ifthen you have been raised with Christ”, the condition is if someone is in Christ, whether or not they have been “raised with Christ”. One either is or is not. Think back to the way that Paul has presented this state of being in Christ throughout the letter: either in “the domain of darkness” or “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (ch 1:13), either reconciled to Him through “the blood of His cross” or “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (ch 1:20-21), either “dead in your trespasses” or “made alive together with Him” (ch 2:13). So, to say “If then you have been raised with Christ” is to say you are either dead in your sins or raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
It is important to the message Paul is communicating because the teachings are for those who have been “made alive…with Christ”, saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:5). These are not principles for a good or successful life. They are not suggestions or even a how-to manual for faith or practice. Look at the rest of that conditional statement: “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”. Basically, if you are in Christ, seek Him. Verse 3 clarifies it even further because, once one is saved, the former pre-salvation life is over and life is “hidden with Christ in God” – eternal life is contingent upon His life, His resurrection.
This is why the new life that comes from being in Christ is not simply a how-to manual or list of instructions – it is real and lasting transformation, life change that occurs when one goes from the “wages of sin”, which is death, to “the free gift of eternal life” (Romans 6:23). Seeking Christ is more than reading His Word or praying to Him as a religious exercise, it is seeking the One who rescued you and redeemed you – who saved you. If you have been raised with Christ, why would you not want to seek Him?
Set Your Minds (vv. 2, 4)
There is good news in the command to seek Jesus, namely that He will be found! Look at this beautiful passage in Isaiah 55:6-7:
Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
This is often viewed as an invitation – which it is – for those who do not know Christ but let us look at what it means for those who do know Him. If you have been raised with Christ, He will be found when sought and near when He is called upon. But also, if one’s wicked ways have been forsaken and unrighteous thoughts laid aside, one surely has sought the Lord and received His compassion and forgiveness – received His life – because human beings do not lay aside their wickedness of choice easily.
The command here moves from seeking Him, though, to setting one’s mind on Him. That word “set” means be mindful of, to be devoted to”. Think about it like we would set a thermostat or an alarm. A thermostat ensures that our house stays within the confines of temperatures that will keep us comfortable. An alarm ensures that appointments are kept and things that one really does not want to miss. As a resident of Mississippi in July, I am devoted to making sure my thermostat is set correctly as the humidity and heat would quickly overtake my home. Alarms are necessities for things I want to make sure I do not miss and things I must do and are set as needed – as often as needed, as often as I need to be mindful of a time or date. What about Jesus?
Paul tells the Colossian church to “set” their minds “on things that are above” – the same thing that he just commanded them to “seek”. The mind of the church, its members, should be set on Jesus “not on things that are on earth”. Set – like a thermostat – to keep one’s mind consistently where it needs to be, on Jesus. Set – like we would an alarm to remind us of where we need to be. Set.
Now, I have heard people say that there is a danger of being so heavenly minded that one is no earthly good, meaning that one can be so focused on “things that are above” that things below are forgotten about. They would have a sort of monastery view that would isolate them from the world.
I would argue that I am of no earthly good if my mind is not set on Christ. When we look at the rest of the larger section that today’s passage begins, what follows comes from setting one’s mind on Jesus. The sins that are crucified are because of focusing on Jesus and the life He gives. The behaviors that characterize the new life follow in the way that He lived – and lives!
This leads to the ultimate goal: meeting Jesus. If we look at verse 4, this is the goal – the expectation of seeking and setting one’s mind on Christ – “When Christ who is your life appears”.
This is the sort of expectant devotion that reminds me of my son. The first day I spend alone with my son, he was barely a month old. He screamed. He cried. He was upset. But everything changed when his mama called to see how everything went. As soon as he hit her arms when she got home, he was at rest. Now, I know it would be hard to say that as an infant he was thinking this or that. Yet last week while my wife – his mama – was chaperoning a youth mission trip for my daughter, every audible car noise from the street brought, “Are Mama and Keri home?” Every buzz on my phone brought questions whether it was his mama on the other end. And, as hard as he tried to play it cool when we picked them up at the church when they got back, everything was right in his world once his mama was home.
Expectantly setting one’s mind on Christ shows devotion. But, more than that, it is a connection between the one you confessed as Lord and the life you actually live. And when He appears – when He returns, He comes to take you with Him. And those who are His will be ready.
It is so easy to regiment our lives to fit everything that we want. We can schedule and plan. There are immovable commitments in our lives that will trump anything that comes up. I can be in the middle of something that has everything else in my schedule detouring around it and have it all upended with a single emergency call or text from my wife or kids. In that moment, everything else pales in comparison. The immovable becomes movable.
But how does God fit in my life? Is time with Him immovable in my schedule? I learned – and sadly later than I should have – that there are times that, if I do not schedule time with my wife I will run out of time – the same with my kids. I felt bad initially because it seems so impersonal to schedule things as important as time with my wife and kids. Then, I realized that it is better to schedule than miss something important and that was the reason I had a calendar in the first place – to ensure that important things do not get missed.
I must do the same with for my time with the Lord – in His Word and praying. It has become part of my daily routine (which I know also sounds impersonal). And, if I do not start my day in His Word and in prayer – if I do not set my mind on Him at the very beginning of my day, I will be off. I will be more like the old self than the new.
Important things are set. They are fixed.
And so, it must be for the minds of those who claim to be saved.
If you are reading this and find that you have no desire to set your mind on Christ or that you can make it through days or weeks or months or years without caring about spending time with Him in His Word or praying to Him, there is a problem. Remember that conditional if. If you are His, you will seek Him. If you are His, you will desire to spend time with Him. If you are His, there will have to come a time when you are set – fixed – on Him. It is conditional. Know I am praying for you. I am praying for you to have a desire to meet God in His Word and talk to Him. I am praying for His Spirit to help you set your mind on Him and seek Him while He may be found. And, if you come to realize that you are not in Him, know that I would love to talk with you and pray for you. I would love to introduce you to Jesus.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
I have started and restarted today’s Bible study in my head several times. Over the past few weeks, I have seen several examples of why today’s text is important, and I want to be careful to communicate exactly what it is saying and why it is so important in the life of a believer. It is extremely important to understand that the Bible serves as the guide for Christian practice and not outside sources or traditions.
Before we go any further, there are two passages that are important to form context for this passage. The first is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
We enter every conversation, every interaction with something called a presupposition – “basic beliefs that are essential for a particular type of study to be conducted” or assumptions we already hold that affect our thinking on a subject. For the Christian, it is imperative – vitally important – that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 be our presupposition; we need to have the belief that the Bible is God’s Word. What we believe about the Bible affects the way we interact with the Bible. Do we see it as important or merely a valuable influence? Does it contain absolute truth, or can it be of value to us as we form our own truth? That matters.
The second passage we need to help us with today’s passage is Ephesians 4:17-24:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
There are two statements Ephesians 4:20-21 that is vital to us, especially when it comes to passages like ours today: 1) “but that is not the way you learned Christ!”, and 2) “assuming that you heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus”. For the church in Ephesus – and the church today, Paul’s statements clarify that there is a difference between knowing Christ (learned Christ, were taught in Him) and not knowing Him. Furthermore, there is a difference in one’s way of life not knowing Christ and knowing Him.
This is an unpopular view, but the Bible means what it means. It had specific meaning for its original audiences and for us today. It is supposed to inform our beliefs and behaviors (part of that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 presupposition). Now, there is freedom within some of those beliefs for variety of action among the saints – grace to practice differently within the confines of Scripture. But there are some beliefs that are so fundamental to the faith that there is no wiggle room. For example, the Bible is clear on salvation and the message of the gospel – no wiggle room. There are, however, choices of personal conviction – or even conviction on the part of a local church – that do not contradict Scripture but take staunch stances on that every church does not have to take. For example, worship style or instrumentation.
For the Colossian church, there were added difficulties, and we have touched on them before. First, their pastor did the best he could with the limited knowledge he had. Second, false teachers saw that limited knowledge and lack of depth in discipleship as an invitation to bring wolves to attack the sheep. The Colossian church had learned Christ (see Ephesians 4:20-21) but there were gaps. And it is the false teaching shoved into those gaps that Paul has been correcting in our passages for the past two weeks. We have looked at what it means for doctrine to be “not according to Christ” (v. 8). We discussed how the false teachers were seeking to take the church “captive by philosophy and empty deceit” (v. 8). Today’s passage is going to get a bit more specific.
Due to the nature of today’s passage and my desire to be even more careful than usual in dealing with them, I want to streamline the way we break down today’s passage. I usually write out the Bible study like I would say it if I were teaching it or preaching it. Today, we are going to take it phrase-by-phrase or sentence-by-sentence through this passage and give brief clarification and application for each.
Phrase-by-Phrase/Sentence-by-Sentence Clarification and Application
Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (v. 16)
The “therefore” points back to verses 13 and 14 that explain what Jesus did for us in salvation and verse 15 that tells us the result of Jesus’ finished work on the cross and through the empty tomb on Satan and his forces. It is because of Jesus’ work that we do not have to allow people to be able to pass judgment on us – because He is the Judge – and His Word prescribes what needs to be prescribed.
The issues of eating and festivals falls into the way that some of the false teachers seemed to try to implement the Jewish dietary laws and Old Testament festivals and observances as necessary for salvation. The point here is not that believers are above judgment – again Jesus is judge and there are issues He has called His church to be watchful over their fellow believers; the issue is that we must be careful who we let prescribe practices to the church. That is part of that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 presupposition: God prescribes practices and gives mission to the church through His Word.
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (v. 17)
The Old Testament practices that the false teachers were trying to add to the Colossian church’s practice were not meant for them. Many things in the Old Testament were meant to point to Christ. They were shadows – opportunities to see glimpses of what would be when God’s promises would be fulfilled, but shadow is not tangible (Hebrews 8:1-5). Shadows have the shape of the substance but are not the thing they point to. Jesus is the substance. He is the embodiment – literally – of the Law, and all the Scriptures (OT and NT) point to Him (Luke 24:27).
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head…. (vv. 18-19a)
The most important phrase in these verses is “and not holding fast to the Head”. This begins Paul’s description of the Church as the body of Christ with Christ Himself being its head. So, before we look at the specific religious beliefs that people wanted to use to disqualify the Colossian church, understand this: they were religious beliefs not centered on Jesus. That needs to sink in, so you may need to hear it again: Jesus is at the center of Christianity. If there is no Christ, there is no Christianity – not Jesus+ but Jesus-centered.
The religious practices in these verses were common in people trying to exhibit their own worthiness and how superior their religious practice was over others around them. That is still common today with people wanting to be holier-than-thou in their practice. In ancient Colossae, these were the practices that the false teachers thought put them above everyone else and, from their perspective, put everyone else below them:
Asceticism is the “voluntary abstention from the satisfaction of bodily and social needs, including food, drink, sexual activity, sleep, clothes, wealth, and social interaction”. It was purposefully doing without to appear humble and more righteous or pious than those around them.
The worship of angels is meant to elevate them to seem like they have a closer connection to heaven. It is a lot like name-dropping in the present to elevate one’s status. It was a means to give the impression that there was a higher plane of religion than following Jesus.
When it says “going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind”, it is referring to people who claimed that they had a vision from Jesus that altered everything that had been proclaimed 1) by Him as contained in the gospels, and 2) by His apostles in the early church. This points to self-made religion created in the image of Christianity. Wicked men wanted to piggyback on the perceived success of Christianity and branch out on their own. It was the equivalent of selling time-shares and staged faith-healing but back in first century Colossae.
…not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (v. 19)
As I said earlier, there were people who noticed the growth and spread of Christianity who wanted to try to recreate it in their own ways. But Jesus is not a business model; He is God. He saves people and adopts them into His family. They become a part of His body – the church. Think of how vital a human head is in the operations of a body, all the things that we do not have to think about like breathing, walking, talking, swallowing, keeping our hearts beating, etc. that we take for granted because the brain just makes it happen and keeps it going. Jesus is that for the church.
This highlights the foolishness of the false teacher’s message. Would you rather be put on a ventilator so that you can free your brain up to work on different things? No, that would be a last resort in life-saving efforts. Jesus is the head. He is God and the originator of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). We need to follow Him.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? (vv. 20-22)
Think back to our previous passage (vv. 13-14a): “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” Paul clarifies that believers were formerly dead in their sin until Jesus made them alive “together with Him”. If you were dead and are now alive, why seek after the things and ways from your death?
Imagine being dead and being resurrected at your wake or funeral. There would be people who were scared, but there would be rejoicing. What if you told your loved ones that, as much as you were glad to see them, you would rather just go on and lay back down in your comfortable coffin, get them to shut the lid, and just carry on? That would be unheard of – you are alive, why take part in the rest of the funeral? If you are in Christ, your being raised to life with Him means that you have died to the old self and the old ways. Trying to go back to the old normal is the same as getting back in the coffin. Following the same old “human precepts and teaching” that did nothing to bring you life is dabbling with death.
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (v. 23)
All the practices a false teacher offers can seem to offer hope or seem to be of value. But eventually the false teacher is going to want what he or she was after. I compared the false teachers to people selling time shares earlier. Essentially, they want you to buy into their program and promise benefits, but they often take the money and run leaving the followers poor and dejected and alone. There are people who want to try to improve on Christianity, but how does one improve on resurrection? What is better than moving from life to death?
Religious practice can look really good and have attractive qualities, but without Jesus we are still dead in our sins (2 Timothy 3:5). He has value. He has the power. And it is Him alone we need.
We are quickly moving to a close in our study of Colossians. As we get into chapter 3 next week, you will see that, like today’s passage, things are moving from beliefs to practice. Things will move a bit more quickly than in chapters 1 and 2. But, before we do, I would like to offer you something different than the false teachers offered the Colossian church.
As we have seen, the false teachers saw the lack of knowledge of the Colossian church and the limitations of their pastor’s knowledge. I would like to offer a few practical applications that can help you not fall into the same traps:
You have access to the Bible. You have something that no one in the Bible had – the entirety of Scripture. You have access to everything than can be known about God, what He has done, and what He has called His church to do. You do not even have to read it because there are so many audio options available, many of which are free (YouVersion, ESV.org). If you claim to be in Christ, you need to be in His Word. Non-negotiable. No excuses. Know what it says or find yourself in danger of either falling prey to a false prophet or finding that you were never saved in the first place.
I am (probably) not your pastor. Unless you are a member of Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS, I am not your pastor. Even if you are a member of CCC, I am not the pastor but one of the pastors there. You need a pastor. The word pastor means shepherd. Pastors are just men – they fail and are not perfect, but their job is to protect their flocks from the wolves and to teach them what it is to be in Christ. If you are not part of a local church, you are in danger. If you are reading this and are currently rationalizing your position of technically being a member but never gathering with your flock, you are in danger. A lone sheep is an invitation for wolves. Or, as in the case of the Bible above, a lack of desire to gather puts you at greater risk of being swayed by outside sources or false teachers and may show you that you were never saved in the first place.
Do not neglect – or grieve – the Holy Spirit. He is better than a pastor because He is God dwelling in the hearts of His people. If you are in the Word and walking with Christ, His Spirit will prompt you when something is not right with someone’s teaching, preaching, or critiques of your faith. That is a good thing. Even better is that, since the Holy Spirit dwells in all believers, someone in your flock may be better situated in the Word to recognize danger before you do (which highlights another reason believers are meant to gather). Trust the Spirit to lead you away from danger. Follow His guidance. If He says run, it is best not to stay. If you have never felt His guidance, seek Him in His Word.
Remember that today’s passage fits in the context of our last two sections and leads to next week’s. If there is something in the discussion of today’s verses that is sticking with you, I urge you to test whether it is issue with the way it is presented, maybe a disagreement or issue, or possibly the Holy Spirit convicting you. Remember that the basis of today’s passage, again, is how it fits in this particular section of Colossians. There were false teachers distracting from following Jesus. Are you distracted by the world or dedicated to Him? Jesus is enough – in fact, He is everything. I love you and hope that this was helpful to you. As always, know I am praying for you. If you are not a part of a local church, I would love to help you connect with one!
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
I know that I have mentioned time and again how Colossians is one of my favorite books of the Bible and that my walk with Christ is seemingly married to this book. Today’s passage gets right to the heart of that. It also illustrates again one of the most beautiful aspects of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae: Jesus is at the heart of the issues they are facing, He is the solution to their troubles, and He is the hope they have for the future! Jesus – period!
This passage is sandwiched inside of Paul’s response to the false teaching infiltrating the Colossian church. Just prior to this was our passage from last week that told them (and us) what to watch out for that is seeking to capture the church – philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, elementary principles (v. 8). The issue was that those things were “not according to Christ” (v. 8) who is God (v. 9) and is above all things as “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10). This highlights something beautiful and important about this letter: every opportunity Paul gets, he makes much of Jesus. He could have offered them philosophies or traditions or strategies to try to fend off false teaching. No, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) stays at the forefront of his writing because that is the foundation of his worship. And what we worship is clearly seen in our lives – and in the solutions we seek ourselves and offer to others.
There is a temptation when looking at passages like this one to dismiss it because of words that seem foreign or that challenge our presuppositions or maybe even hurt our feelings. We need to remember that the Bible is not concerned with keeping our status quo. It is not meant to be twisted and contorted to fit human agendas or to support things contradictory to it. It is, however, meant to point us to its Author, and, in meeting with Him, there are going to be things that challenge us.
My prayer for today’s Bible study is that you find yourself willing to come face to face with Jesus, “the founder (or Author) and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and see what He has done for those who put their hope in Him. Knowing Jesus – not knowing information about Him or following in the footsteps of people who knew Him – is the only way to eternal life, the truth that transcends everything the world has to offer, and the only hope in the face of the wages of sin.
Let’s Start with Circumcision
I can promise you that this is one of the last subjects I wanted to write about today. It is awkward. It is a little weird to talk about in general. It comes off as very old-covenant, and many preachers and teachers just kind of loosely compare it to baptism and stay on the baptism side of the discussion. I have been one of those guys. But the older I get and the longer I walk with Christ – the more I grow into Him and find my mind renewed by His Spirit (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23-24), I want to hold onto and dig into every part of Scripture I get to study. So, study this we will.
Look at the way Paul brings up this subject. He is writing to the members of the Colossian church – to those who have been saved. He reminds them that not only have they been “filled in Him” (v. 10), but they were “also” circumcised “with a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). Circumcision was introduced in Genesis 17. God had already made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 to give him offspring that would number like the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), promised the trials of Egypt and the prosperity that would follow (Genesis 15:13-16), and now He continues that covenant calling for Abraham (at this point ninety-nine years old) and all of the males in his household to be circumcised as a sign of their covenant.
Covenants at this time in history were done in very bloody and threatening ways. Throughout the near and mid-East at that time, covenants were known as covenants of halves. If you go back and read Genesis 15, you can see why:
7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram….
The covenant of halves is illustrated in the way the animals – in this case a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon – were, well, halved. They were slaughtered and cut in half, leaving a bloody path between the halves. When two parties were going to make a covenant, they would both walk through the bloody halves before agreeing or promising to keep the covenant, giving the understanding that whichever party broke the covenant was forfeiting their life. The one who broke the covenant would share the same end as the animals.
It was a very bloody picture, but it was meant to hold both parties in a covenant to their word. I imagine it was quite a convincing scene! But think about man covenanting with God. Mankind is sinful and deceitful and prone to break covenants. God is the opposite. If God covenanted with mankind like men did with one another, He would have to pour out His wrath again like He had on the world in Noah’s time (Genesis 6-9) but with all mankind and no ark. There is an important difference in God’s covenant and the covenant of men, and it is through two easily overlooked details in Genesis 15:12 and 17: God put Abraham to sleep, and God alone (see the smoking fire pot and flaming torch – that’s Him!) walked through the halves!
God never intended on His covenant needing man to be faithful. He alone is faithful. He already knew that mankind would break the covenant, and He had already decided “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) everything that He would do in Jesus on behalf of the world. God Himself walked the bloody path between the halves. Thousands of years later, He would walk a path to a place called Golgotha to reconcile people to Himself and make peace “by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:19-20).
So, as far as circumcision went from Genesis 17 to the cross, it was a symbol of the bloody sacrifice God took upon Himself. Mankind could not keep the covenant nor would man’s death as a result of breaking the covenant do any good. Circumcision was a way to (forgive the pun) give man opportunity to have a little skin in the game – to have a reminder that there was cost involved. Understanding that circumcision does not equal salvation was important for Israel, but, for the church at Colossae, it was important because there were false teachers known as Judaizers who were proclaiming that they needed Jesus plus circumcision to be saved, which led to Jesus plus the Law and Jesus plus festivals and so on and so forth. Our passage today reminds us of the formulas we saw back at the beginning of this study:
Jesus + nothing = everything Jesus + anything = nothing
Circumcision pointed to the covenant God made with Abraham. But the blood pointed to Jesus. He alone is what the Colossian church and every sinner has ever needed for salvation. To add to Him, to add to His gospel is to give a different one (Galatians 1:6-9). There is no other Jesus (Titus 2:13). There is no other way (John 14:6).
The Importance of What Jesus Did
When we go back to today’s passage, it makes what Paul was saying clearer. The circumcision he is talking about in his letter to the Colossians is not the physical removal of the foreskin of males but “a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). It reflects the way God through Ezekiel talks about the new covenant that would be made through Jesus: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The idea was not cosmetic surgery; it was a transplant! God knew we could not keep His covenant, so he kept it for us. He knew the “wages of sin is death”, so he prepared a way – through Himself – to transplant people from death to eternal life!
As I mentioned earlier, circumcision and baptism are often talked about together, and the Bible clarifies how. They are both outward symbols of things that occur in the heart, but, more importantly, those activities are supposed ways to proclaim faith in Him. In the Old Testament, circumcision pointed to the way that God ratified His covenant with Father Abraham as we discussed above. But, now with baptism, we see a reflection of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the way He saves people (see picture below). When one repents of their sin and believes in Jesus, they are saved. That means that when it says that “having been buried with Him in baptism…you were also raised through faith in the powerful working of God” (v. 12), that means you were raised from being dead in your trespasses and sins (v. 13, Ephesians 2:1-2) to be “made alive” in Christ (v. 13, Ephesians 2:4-5)! Paul says it beautifully in Romans 6:4: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” That’s good news!
The rest of the picture shared in our passage today is good news, too! Our trespasses – times when we have strayed from the path of what is right and good by sinning – and uncircumcision – lack of faith/covenant in God – produced death in us, just as it did in all people since Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The emphasis Paul is making to the Colossian church is not that they are still dead and not that they have lost salvation when being led astray by false teachers. He is emphasizing to them that those who are “filled in” (v. 10) Christ have been “made alive” in Him (v. 13)!
This beautiful picture continues to unfold with layer upon layer of God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus! He who makes lost sinners found and the dead in sin alive has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (vv. 13-14). This is something we need to understand. If we are in Christ, it is because He has forgiven us – He has changed our standing – He has brought dead sinners to new life in Him! His forgiveness is important because it is God we have sinned against (Psalm 51:4). The “record of debt” and its “legal demands” are results of our sin – death (Romans 6:23). The righteous and holy God who declares what sin is must not shirk payment. It would not be just for Him to simply let people off the hook – payment has been demanded. Thankfully, He is not only just but also the one who justifies (Romans 3:26) those who have faith in Jesus! He paid with His life to cancel our “debt”, “nailing it to the cross” (v. 14, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 John 2:1-2).
Once one has put their faith in Christ and believed upon Him, they find themselves living in new territory: freedom. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. He was condemned in our place covering us with His righteousness in the exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21). No one on earth would – or even could – do that for us. And this changes our lives. Galatians 2:20 describes the change: our flesh is “crucified with Christ” that we may live since “Christ lives in [us]”; and the lives we live from that moment forward are lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]”. It changes everything.
Satan hates those changes. He hates what God has accomplished in Christ. I often hear people talking of something being final and they describe the circumstances by saying that the final nails have been driven into a coffin, sealing it. The nails on Jesus’ cross (v. 14) ring with that sort of finality for Satan, his demons, and his followers/false teachers. As the Roman hammer nailed Jesus – God in flesh – to the cross, Jesus was disarming “the rulers and authorities and put[ting] them to open shame” – the cross was not a loss for Jesus but triumph (v. 15)! When He arose from the tomb, He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10)! Once again, that is good news!
There are so many opportunities to argue and debate over what is and what is not true belief or true religion. I used to be very interested in the field of apologetics and giving a reasoned defense for what the Bible says versus what other religions or other worldviews believe. But I find myself more and more coming back and pleading for the gospel – the good news of Jesus – like Paul did here.
Now, I am not saying that there are not times to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); there are times and places for that. What I am saying is that there is immense value in sharing what Christ has done. I want to see people come to know Christ more than I want to win a debate. I hope that there would be opportunity for faith in Christ through these Bible studies more than refuting false belief. I specifically pray for this Bible study to be used to point people to Jesus.
But I recognize Paul’s context here. Wolves had entered the sheepfold. False teachers were attacking the Colossian church. The church needed – and needs today – to be protected. But the answer is still the same – the debate is only over one thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, I ask you, dear Sojourner, as I close today: do you believe in Christ – are you in Christ?
It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. It is easy to get side-tracked by focusing on so many distractions that we lose sight of the big things. False teachers are convincing, but our own deceitful hearts are even more convincing. Today is a good day to look at your life and assess where you are – or where you aren’t – with Christ. But, if He has granted you today, there is opportunity for salvation!
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.
If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
My heart is heavy after the evil events this past month in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY. I have tried to form words on this to write here, but have failed. Plain and simple, there is evil in this fallen world. We feel helpless and small in its wake. But I find myself clinging more and more to Jesus’ words and John’s response at the end of Revelation:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)
We need Him. Come, Lord Jesus!
In the week since TX and nearly month since NY, there can be seen a different sort of wickedness. Here in the United States, there is a lot of partisan finger pointing with both sides calling the other bad (and all sorts of other things), but this particular wickedness is one of the few bipartisan efforts in the US government today. It is opportunism.
Lives were lost, and one side says that this pain needs to be used to push through gun legislation. Senseless killing is seen as an opportunity to push policy. People made in the image of God were slaughtered, and the other side blames the first for the murderers to have opportunity to kill in the first place. We need to repent of such. In times when the evil seems to much and the words just do not come, it is okay to be quiet. But, when evil happens and you see opportunity for advancement – of yourself or your platform or agenda, it is time to assess what is going on in your own heart. When hearts should be rent in sadness and hurting for others, especially hearts professing to be “comforted by God” and by His Spirit comforting others (1 Corinthians 1:3-5), but take time to talk policy first, the worldliness of our own hearts can be seen, too.
I remember back in February 2019 in the aftermath of the Aurora, IL shooting. Similar opportunities arose – again from both sides. News took the stories and ran with them. It was the fault of gun legislation and the lack thereof. There should have been this and that. And, in the midst of that, there were reports of the plant manager texting his wife that he loved her as his last act before passing. People took that and ran with it, too.
That plant manager, Josh Pinkard, was my friend. He was my youth pastor while he was a student at Mississippi State University. To his wife, that text was more than a story. His children and parents did not see it as an opportunity to push legislation or deny it. Even as I wipe away tears and type this now, the opportunism stings. I imagine it does for some in Buffalo and Uvalde as well.
It stings for me because it reminds me of the original perpetrator of evil here on the earth: Satan. It is his MO to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He lives for the opportunity to devour and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for weaknesses to exploit. That’s what he did in the garden, too. He saw an opportunity to tempt Eve, and “her husband who was there with her” (Genesis 3:5) – to exploit on their curiosity and pride and point them toward sin, and the rest of us through that Fall (Romans 5:12). Satan even tried to tempt Jesus Himself when He was physically at His lowest and hungriest (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), but Jesus did what our original ancestors did not: He held to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9) and resisted the devil (James 4:7).
For the Colossian church, their lack of knowledge gave opportunity for Satan and his false teachers. Remember that this was not a church started by Paul. The churches he started were often accompanied by longer visits filled with teaching and discipleship. This church was started by Epaphras who was saved and brought the gospel back home with him. Now, there were false teachers on all sides prying at the edges of what the Colossian church knew about the gospel and seeking to tear it to shreds with their false gospel. Looking at their struggle and reading how Paul sought to help them can help protect us today. Satan is still on the prowl for such opportunities today. Let us look and see how the same message that Paul gave the Colossian church can help protect us and ours today.
See to It That No One Takes You Captive
That command seems too simple when reading it for the first time. If only it were that easy: do not get captured. We have already looked at how evil the world is today, would that command alone be enough to protect people? Absolutely not. I cannot imagine sending my daughter off with friends or on a church trip and saying, “Hey, you know I love you; don’t get kidnapped.” Negative. Her mother and I have talked and talked and taught and tried to train her to watch out for things – to be wary. We have actually given her a list (a very short list) of people that can be trusted – at the exclusion of every other person on the planet!
Paul does similarly with the Colossian church in today’s passage. He does give the command to guard themselves against capture, but, in doing so, he lists specific dangers – specific captors – who are prowling and wanting to abduct the church from the safety of the gospel and imprison them in damning false gospel. He even gives them a list of people that they can absolutely trust not to lead them astray with the gospel, but Paul’s list is even shorter than mine: Jesus. It is important to understand this before diving into the various false gospels. It is not as important to understand all of the facets of each area of false teaching; it is important to realize they are “not according to Christ” (v. 8). As we talked about in last week’s Bible study, one must know what the Bible teaches to protect against false teaching.
Paul has already gone to great lengths and, through the Holy Spirit, has given them that beautiful Christological hymn in 1:15-20, but now, again through the Holy Spirit, is going to help them see the danger that is already in their midst.
Philosophy and Empty Deceit
The word philosophy is a compound word in the original language: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom). There have always been people who love wisdom – really who love knowledge and facts and can talk/debate them all day long. The teachings of Plato and Aristotle had been around for nearly 500 years at that point, and their use of logic and discussions running parallel (or added to) religion were fairly widespread. There were people then, like today, who sought to supplement their religion with philosophy. And that sort of false teacher was trying to do that with the gospel among the believers at Colossae.
Think of opportunists who try to ask questions today that are reminiscent of Satan’s question in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say ___?” They allow logic and reasoning to allow them to take God’s Word and pick and choose what is correct. What they end up with is very little Bible and mostly what appeases their own intellects and desires. The false teachers appealed to human logic and reasoning to “delude…with plausible arguments” as Paul wrote about earlier in v. 4. Test teachers to see whether they proclaim Christ or argue against His Word (1 John 4:1-6). If you are not in the Word, you are in danger. See to it that you are not captured.
Then, there were those who Paul refers to simply as “empty deceit”, basically empty promises. This could be from a false god or simply promises that take advantage of the church’s lack of biblical knowledge to lead them astray. There are many forms of this today that picture how easy it would have been for the Colossian church, especially since they did not have the Bible like we do today and their lack of discipleship. Think of how many people are hoodwinked by faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers, wicked men and women who stage miracles and perform sleight-of-hand trickery to get rich at the expense of the unhealed and the poor. Think of the people who write books promising hope and health and prosperity under the guise of Christianity or being a preacher who produce disciples whom Hank Williams described in his song “Dust on the Bible”: “not one word of Bible verse, not a Scripture do [they] know”.
God’s Word is full of promises He has made. The Colossian church struggled to tell the difference between the false and empty with the genuine promises of God because they lacked a teacher and the Word. We have access to both today. See to it that you are not captured.
It is said that the seven words that can kill an organization are we’ve never done it like that before. In the case of the Colossian church, there was a deadlier phrase: we’ve always done it this way. Human tradition is powerful. But, more powerful than tradition is ignorance. How many of our traditions do not go back as far as you think? For example, there is a popular end-times theory that God plans on rapturing His church before the time of tribulation begins. I have heard several people in the last two weeks specifically reference this as what the church has believed for 2,000 years. Yet the earliest known teaching was by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830s.
This is going to sound like something an English teacher would say, and, since I am one, I will not argue against it: you need to check your sources. Where are you getting your information? Are your sources using the Bible – all of it and not a few proof-text verses – to get their biblical information, or are they presenting you with opinions. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17. They were eager to receive the gospel but not so eager as to take it immediately but were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Again, the Colossian church had limited means to check the sources of the false teachers, but there are so many ways to spend time in God’s Word today that we are without excuse. Often, we are led astray because we want to hear what false teachers are preaching. We would rather believe that God is going to snatch up His church before tribulation starts because that seems nice rather than recognizing that Jesus Himself promised the church that she would have tribulation (John 16:33) and that the Bible teaches that the church has experienced tribulation at the hands of Satan since it began (1 Peter 5:9). See to it that you are not captured.
Elemental Spirits of the World
The word translated “elemental spirits” is actually a word used in the original language to talk about the alphabet or, basically, “elementary principles”. I think John MacArthur gives a good illustration for this: “To abandon biblical truth for empty philosophy is like returning to kindergarten after earning a doctorate”. Basically, Paul is describing trading the gospel of Jesus Christ to childish beliefs or that a childlike mind could make up.
Paul asks a question regarding the elemental spirits later on in v. 20 that can help us see the issue here: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…?” Why trade Christ for lesser things?
Of course, the difficulty here is that the things of Christ are to be taken on faith. Faith is “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), while the “elemental spirits” can be observed and seen. It is definitely easier to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun than to understand that Jesus, the Son, “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) – that while creation reveals the Creator, one is seen and the other requires faith to see His handiwork. But once you have seen His fingerprints in creation, how can you go back. How can you trade the God who is Light Himself (Genesis 1:3, 1 John 1:5-7, Revelation 21:23-26) to worship the sun that could not exist without Him? Yet Satan exploits that opportunity – the desire to see and the difficulty of faith – to make fools out of men who think they are wise when they exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). See to it that you are not captured.
We will continue looking at the way that Paul talks about these false teachings over the next few weeks, and I hope that they help you in your walk with Christ. It is scary to think that there is evil in the world. It is scarier to me to see how we respond to the evil. My pastor reminded us last Thursday night that evil does not win and shared a verse with us, Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This is an important reminder and one that reflects Paul’s writings here in Colossians. He does not give more focus on the dangers than he does to Jesus. If you are “in Christ”, it serves you well to remember that Jesus is God – that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v. 9). If you are “in Christ”, you have been “filled in Him” (v. 10), that is, His Spirit is in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus is “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10) and is “greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
As we looked at in the beginning of today’s Bible study, there are those who would exploit evil situations to give opportunity for their own agendas. But there is opportunity for hope in Jesus Christ, even in the face of such evil and wickedness. There are two passages of Scripture that were referenced in our Bible study that highlighted the evil attacks of Satan and the trouble we have in this world. I want to close by looking at the fuller context of them to show the hope that can be found even in the midst of attack.
John 10:10-11: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Do you see why the context of the Word is so important? We are not left with death and tribulation because life is offered – hope is offered – by Him who has already overcome the world! He does not offer peace by way of legislation or empty promises, He has made “peace by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:20). And He offers that peace to all who would have faith in Him.
I am praying for you, dear Sojourner, that you can find the only peace in the tribulation of this world: Jesus Christ. I am praying that you are in His Word and spending time with Him in prayer. And I pray that you “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1-6) to see what is of God and what is not.
I am thankful for Jesus. And I again echo the cry of John in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus!
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
For me, this is a week of transitions. I am a public school teacher, so I have transitioned from the regular school year to summer. I will transition right back next week for summer school. I will also start my second trimester at William Carey next week.
This is also a good time to look at the transition Paul makes in the book of Colossians.
He spends so much time in the first chapter of Colossians sharing his love for them and the deep and beautiful Christological doctrines they need. I have tried to show how he moves out of those topics into why he was writing to them and the church at Laodicea in the first place: false teachers/false gospel had made its way into their churches. He has shown them Christ and shown them love because he was about to have to tell them some things that they needed to hear that they may not want to hear. Since this letter is also from the Holy Spirit to every believer from then on to Christ’s return, there are some things that we need that we may not want.
This did not get framed this way in my thinking until yesterday. Yesterday was supposed to be a quick and easy work day, wrapping up the 2021-22 school year and getting (just enough of a) head start on next year to dive into summer. I had met Jamie Harrison (he’s been the guy behind the guy as long as there has been a Just Keith Harris ministry) for coffee and to discuss the book we are reading together – Do You Believe? by Paul Tripp. Every teacher up and down the halls was laughing and jovial. There were just a few things on the agenda and the pace and atmosphere of the day reflected all of that. Until my phone starting ringing….
I had been discussing the last few things that needed to be done with our ELA specialist, so I silenced my phone. No sooner than I had hit the button, another teacher burst into my room: “Xander’s busted his head. He’s in Candice’s room. It’s bleeding pretty bad.”
I ran. My mind raced faster than my legs. There was a crowd around Candice’s door. Faces were pale – but, then again, seeing someone “bleeding pretty bad” will do that to you, especially with a head wound.
Candice had everything under control, of course. Xander, on the other hand, was in full blown freak-out. “Am I gonna have to go to the doctor?!?!” Our school nurse then arrived, checked him out, and, when we saw the wound, it was clear to everyone – we were headed to the doctor. We did our best to put our fear down and let just the mama- and daddy-ness show forth. With that, there had to be questions of what happened and how did it happen and how brother and sister had managed to produce such an emergency.
Long story short, what Candice and I had told both of them hundreds of times in their life – and Candice had literally just reiterated to them – was ignored. They were rough-housing. No one was angry (I am thankful that they do enjoy playing with each other), but the roughhousing ended with Xander’s hard head against a harder object with the skin of his forehead in between.
As I drove, faster than I liked – while Keri cried out of worry and Candice held a cloth and ice pack to his forehead – I could not help but ask the question that every parent (Lord knows my parents had to) asks: why didn’t they listen to us? I was not trying to assign blame or punish – it was an accident, after all, but I was scared myself. I could see Candice’s eyes in the rearview. She was scared. There were plenty of what-ifs. Our wonderfully precocious and hard-headed boy’s head is precious to us. That is why we tell him what not to do – and tell him again – and again – and will tell him some more once the wound is officially closed.
That is what God did for us in giving us his Word, what Paul was doing for the Colossian and Laodicean churches, and what God still actively does for His people through His Spirit when they read the Word or hear it preached. And that’s what we need to get today before we move on next week to Paul’s specific teachings regarding the false teachers in Colossae.
Context is Key
If you have been reading the Bible studies I send out or have begun and continue in them, you will notice that I talk about context often. I believe one of the most dangerous questions that a believer can ask is what a particular verse means to you. The Bible means what God meant. The original authors – inspired by His Spirit – meant what the context of the original writing meant. Jesus did not proclaim that He was a Truth or a Way to Life but the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). The Bible means what it means.
Today, that is a difficult concept for us. The idea of truth today is divided between two filters or lenses: moral relativism and post-modernism. Basically, moral relativism means that each individual gets to define their truth, and post-modernism denies the existence of truth outside of how an individual sees their truth. Yet the Bible defines itself outside of those filters. Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
That sentence, in the context of the letter of 2 Timothy and that particular section shows us not only what that sentence means but, by doing just that, clarifies the importance of Scripture and context. Just prior to that sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of the “sacred writings” – Old Testament Scriptures – that he had been taught from by his mother and grandmother; Scriptures that “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). This emphasizes how important the Word of God is for a person being saved, namely that it is a necessity (Romans 10:17). Immediately after Paul defined Scripture, he charged Timothy (and every other pastor after him) “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:1). Again, the context matters. Scripture is essential to salvation and it is clarified to be the only substance of preaching.
Look back at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 again. God “breathed out” Scripture. He produced it. Now, this is where a lot of people decide that this is too much for them. God’s Word – just like He does – must be understood in faith. If a person does not believe in Jesus, naturally they are going to deny any divine origin of Scripture. Likewise, if you deny God’s Word by ignoring it, not believing it, or simply refusing to let it interrupt your “best life” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help sticking that in), you probably don’t believe in Him. God “breathed out” His Word to be “profitable” in the lives of His people. It is profitable for “teaching” (teaching right belief), “reproof” (correcting wrong belief), “correction” (Holy Spirit conviction of behaviors and lifestyles contradictory to God’s standard), and “training in righteousness” (teaching us how the Creator meant for life to be lived). It contains everything that can be known about God. It is enough, through the empowering of God’s Spirit, to make every Christ-follower “complete, equipped for every good work”.
Consequently, the book that Jamie and I have been reading, put this in a more beautiful way than I have ever heard. I can give you thick, theological answers as to why Scripture is important. I can try to break it down as best I can (which is what I was trying to do above). But, Paul Tripp put it in a way that brings tears to my eyes and in a way that absolutely reflects the context we need to see for why Paul was writing to the Colossian church: “When you get the word of God, you also get the God of the word, and that is a beautiful thing.”
So, as we look at some key phrases in the verses that our last few Bible studies covered, we will be able to understand the context better. Hopefully, this will help us understand what God would teach us through this study.
Reteaching and Remediation of Colossians 1:24-2:10
There was a time when how I taught the Bible and how I teach English was more independent from each other. I tried to be what the school of Education at Ole Miss taught me to be in the classroom and what New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary taught me to be in the pulpit. Well, I just do not quite fit either mold. So, now, I just teach how I teach in hopes of helping whichever context learn what they need to learn. I say that because school-teacher-me is leaking over into our Bible study today.
I have standards that cover various facets of 10th grade English. Whenever I teach the standards (central idea, theme, POV, rhetoric, etc.), it is not about my lesson; it is about what the kiddos need and whether they got it. In some cases where they do not get something, I just teach it again and try to change up my methods a little. But there are times when teachers need to break everything back down to square one and try a different approach. I am bringing a little reteaching and remediation to our Colossians study because God has allowed me a part in your walk with Him and I want to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28)!
I have picked out nine phrases or sentences from our passage from the past few weeks (you can find them here, here, and here) and what we started with today to help us have the opportunity to see what God wants us to get and the context that helps us get it the way He meant it. I’ll list the phrase or sentence and break it down as clearly and briefly as I am capable.
…in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church…. (1:24) Our last two Bible studies looked at Paul’s sufferings. We need to understand that he was not being punished. He also was neither complaining about his sufferings nor bragging about his endurance. These people had never met him. He was an apostle – a specific office that only existed at the beginning of the early church (beginning in Acts and going until they died). He was given authority to teach them and help them have the necessary foundation. He was willing to suffer for the church – for them specifically, and they needed to know that.
I know that if Candice was to be in need and me not be available that I have folks who would do what needs to be done. My brothers, Kevin and Erin, have each dropped what they were doing and have come to her aid when it would take too long for me to get there. They would suffer for my kids. I have brothers at church who bear my burdens even when they have more on them than they should, yet they add mine without a thought. Knowing that impacted my relationship with them all. The Colossian church needed that with Paul – they needed to know that Christ would take care of His bride.
…to make the Word of God fully known…. (1:25) That is the point of the ministry of Paul as an apostle and Epaphras as their pastor. That is my goal in these weekly Bible studies. Full disclosure, if your pastor has a platform for ideals and not a pulpit for preaching the Word, you need to move on. The Word of God – all of it, not just the parts that make your heart flutter or your toes hurt – “fully known” is what is needed to be mature in Christ. You can have a PhD in the world issues, your preferred national platform, or the soapbox of your choice, yet being ignorant of the Word will matter more than any of them in the long run because there is no long run for any of them.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone, and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (1:28) Again, preaching and teaching the Word – and living it out through continual repentance and faith – is what is called for. If you want to grow closer to Christ, you need to be fed by His Word. If you do not want Him and His Word interfering with your life, that is a big deal – hence the “warning everyone” and “teaching everyone”. I hate being corrected. But I would hate it more to stand before Him and He tell me, “I never knew you; depart from me, you [worker] of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. (1:29) The ministry of the Word – discipling other believers and helping them grow to maturity in their faith in Christ – IS WORTH TOILING. It is work. It is hard. But the strength comes from Christ.
…to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…. (2:2) Preaching and teaching the Bible is not about knowledge. I mentioned earlier that I have things that my school kids need to learn. I help them get the knowledge they need, and that knowledge helps them on their way to the adult they are becoming. And I absolutely love teaching literature and writing. But the gospel is “riches”. I can take a Shakespearean sonnet and understand everything it has to offer. But reaching “all the riches of full assurance and understanding” is too lofty a goal for me to reach, yet it is so rich and valuable that I cannot help but pursue it and teach it and write about it.
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (2:4) There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people trying to “delude you”. False teaching will make sense. This is why spending time in the Word is so important. It is a lot like being able to tell the difference between scammers on the phone and legitimate callers. The difference is that false teachers do not want your social security number; they are after your soul. This is a good time to remediate something I said above: if you are letting “preachers” speak into your life about worldly things that, to an earthly extent do matter, at the expense of preaching the Word, you are victim of a false teacher – or at the very least a preacher who cares more for whatever he wants to talk about than the sheep in his care.
…as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…. (2:6) This reiterates the importance of the Word in the life of the Church. The church in America is currently being called out for not “so walk[ing] in Him”. Receiving Christ means living like He has taught in His Word. When Roe v. Wade is appealed, are you willing to foster or adopt (James 1:22, 26-27)? I am a Southern Baptist and just read the report of how too many in my denomination cared more about getting sued or earthly liability than in caring for people they could have protected and most definitely should have ministered to (James 2:13-17). Walking “in Him” means being hated as He was hated. It means loving like He loved. It means living like He lived. And it may mean dying like He died. If you have not “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, though – if you have not been saved, you will walk away.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (2:8) Next week, we will dive in specifically to this and the rest of the paragraph that follows. It is our responsibility to “see to it that no one takes [us] captive”. This is important. We need to be testing the spirit of those claiming to preach the Word (1 John 4:1-6). We needed to be testing whether the Spirit be in us, too (Philippians 2:12-13). Test what you read here as well!
I hope this helps you understand the importance of the Word. I am praying for you, dear Sojourner. More than anything, I am thankful that the God of the Word is sovereign and omnipotent and cares for folks like you and me. Hallelujah, and amen!
Suffering. Over the last few weeks of studying to write these Bible studies, I have found myself thinking about it again and again, and with it a question: is there anything in my life for which I would willingly suffer?
Of course, you can imagine the answers that would receive a willing yes – or at least ones that I would hope to say ‘yes’ to or that I at least should be willing to suffer for: Jesus, family and loved ones. But what is the likelihood that I – in the normal scope of circumstances and the trajectory of my life – would have to be willing to suffer. At most, the things in my life that approach suffering are mere shadows of it or discomforts.
Last week’s passage looked at how Paul suffered on behalf of the church and, more importantly, why he was willing to suffer. First, he found the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) to outweigh the discomfort of worldly suffering. But, second, he toiled and struggled to “present everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28-29) so that “no one may delude [them] with plausible arguments” (ch 2:4). He was willing to suffer so that the church would grow closer to Christ and be presented “mature” (ch 1:28) – that the church would have the life that the Bible talks about (and live it).
As a pastor and teacher of the Word – as a disciple of Christ who is supposed to be making disciples (Matthew 28:19), that is pretty much the goal: to reach people with the gospel of Christ and help them grow closer to Him. But that leaves me with more questions. I’ll offer them to you as well:
Is this a goal (making disciples and helping them mature in their faith) that would drive you to be willing to suffer, or is spiritual maturity something you care about at all?
Do the lives of those who profess Christ make everything that Christ has promised His people – the lifestyle and character traits as well as the blessings – seem right and true?
This would be an easy place to turn and bash the church. Bashing, or even just bad-mouthing, the church is a popular activity even among those who claim to be a part of it. I wish I could say that I have not done it, but I have come to realize that how I view – more importantly how I treat – the church, the Bride of Christ, says a lot about me. I cannot imagine someone coming to me to bad mouth Candice. Wrath would be readily available and grace in short supply. The church is to Christ what Candice is to me – and more.
The longer I walk with Christ and the more closely I am grafted into that body through my local church, I find that I have great hope for the church: His name is Jesus. And I pray that He sees fit to use me to help her – to make a difference through the ministry of the local church He’s called me to serve.
But that is never easy. Suffering may be involved. It is good that the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” is more and better than any bad suffering can bring.
I cannot think about people who love and care for the church and who would willingly suffer to see her members grow in maturity without my mind being drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pronounced BON-hoff-er). He was a pastor, a theologian, a teacher, a spy, and later a martyr under the Nazi regime in Germany. His story is now viewed as remarkable, but he would not have thought it so. He pastored and trained pastors, many of whom were imprisoned or martyred by the Nazis themselves. Much of his time and ministry was spent helping young ministers know and grow in Christ.
The aspect of his story that comes to mind here is when his compatriots convinced him to be smuggled to America so that he would be safe and be able to continue to serve God and be active in Kingdom work. When he got to America, things were so much more peaceful than in WWII Germany, but he had no peace. The only Kingdom work he could think about or focus on was back in Germany – back where nothing good awaited him. He fell under the conviction that he had left where God had called him to be. So, he repented. He got smuggled back into Germany where he would eventually be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in various places until he finally reached the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Bavaria.
That is the kind of hope that comes only from Christ. The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” makes every other thing of considerable value to be counted as “rubbish” or dung (Philippians 3:7-8). Knowing Him and seeking His Kingdom is like discovering a treasure worth more than everything you own – worth so much that you would cash it all in to possess it; it is realizing that you have found a relationship with the One whose value so outweighs your own and rejoicing that He loves you despite your unworthiness (Matthew 13:44; Romans 8:31-39).
That is the hope that made Paul willing to suffer and follow Christ’s example and sacrifice. Suffering paled in comparison to seeing others come to know Christ and follow Him. Suffering on earth is temporary, but God’s Kingdom has no end! And that is the hope that I want to help point us to today. If you have “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, you can “walk in Him” by being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”.
“received Christ Jesus the Lord”
There are so many ways that people describe what it means to be in Christ – saved, born again, Christ-follower, Christian, etc. Sometimes it can feel like people are speaking Christian-ese or some sort of church language. To a certain extent, those terms are simply biblical ways to describe what happens when people repent of their sins and believe in Jesus, but that also sounds Christian-ese. Then, there are some who use these terms to camouflage their disbelief and navigate the waters of church culture. Even Demas was able to serve alongside Paul, completing “Christian” work until he “in love with this present world” abandoned him to go to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).
There are many today who once claimed Christianity but have abandoned the religion – or deconstructed their faith to construct something different in its place. Where I live in the southeastern United States was formerly known as the Bible Belt. There was a church on every corner and everyone seemed to know (at least) about Jesus, but that is not the case anymore. In fact, the predominant worldview in America as of 2021 is “moralistic therapeutic deism” which helps people speak of God generically and hold to whatever beliefs make them feel most comfortable, even attending churches for community when believing none of the Bible’s teachings.
In a world where we sometimes casually speak about Christianity, especially in the church, I think it is helpful for us to look at what Paul means here when he says “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 6). Jesus did not die for community. I like the way Jesus Himself put it: He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He is “Jesus Christ the righteous…the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). He, “being rich in mercy”, came to make those who “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” to be “made…alive together with Christ”, saving them by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5)! He died – and raised from the dead – for more than shallow religion offers.
Surely Paul would not willingly suffer – much less Jesus die – for people to generically call on Him as a label for their community while denying Him as Savior and Lord. In fact, the Bible speaks to this specifically. Paul clarifies this as a spiritual matter in 1 Corinthians 12:3:
“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
Basically, one cannot decide to accept Christianity while rejecting – essentially saying “to Hell with” – the Christ of Christianity. He is the Lord of the saved and rejected by all others. Romans 10:9, the model for true belief and what it looks like to be in Christ, leaves no room for someone to claim Him without submitting to Him as Lord:
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Submitting to Him is the confession – not lengthy or difficult doctrines. Confessing to the world that He is your Lord – with your mouth and especially your life – and that you commit to believing what the Bible says about Him, namely His death and resurrection are the hallmarks of being saved. The language is important because it comes from the Bible. It is important because it teaches us how to be saved and, then, what it means to follow Him.
That word “receive” from our passage today is a good indicator of what it means to “be saved” and for Jesus to be one’s “Lord”. In the original language, that word meant “receive with or to oneself what is given, imparted, delivered over…to receive into the mind, be taught”; it meant that something of value had been offered or taught to be implanted and become part of the learner. The message of the gospel tells the truth about man, sin, and gives invitation and opportunity to repent of sin and believe in Jesus – to have faith and trust that He is who His Word proclaims He is and that He will do what He promised, namely bring lost sinners from death to eternal life. For those who get “saved”, they hear this message and respond to its call in repentance and faith, or they remain in their sins by rejecting the message and continuing on unchanged.
To reject the message means it is not received. This is clear. There are people who seek after many religions or philosophies. They would reject the idea that Jesus is who the Bible says He is. But, to “be saved” is to “receive Christ Jesus the Lord” – to believe what the Bible says about Him and live life the Life He gives following His example and commands. This is not a legalistic set of laws but a response of love to Him who loved us and thankfulness toward Him for all He has done and is doing on our behalf (v. 7).
This is a good opportunity, dear Sojourner, to assess whether or not you have received Him.
Jesus Himself speaks about this in His Sermon on the Mount:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
These words give me pause every time I read them. They do today. Salvation does not fall on me and my works, though. It lies solely on Him. Have I received Him – not just using His name and trying to work in His name? The Bible is clear that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13) – those that call out to Him to save them, submitting to Him and trusting in Him as Savior.
Paul talks about a difference between the lives of the world and in those who have received or learned Christ in Ephesians 4. He describes those who have not received Christ as walking “in the futility of their minds” rather than walking in Him (Ephesians 4:17). He says that those who have not received Christ are “callous” – hardened due to “sensuality” and practicing all manner of “impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). Then, he issues one of the most chilling litmus tests for believers:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is with Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Paul – really the Holy Spirit appealing to the church through Paul – does not leave room for one to have “learned Christ” while living like the world. When he talks about “assuming that you have heard about Him”, it chills up my spine as I examine my own life. This is not a question of my perfection or track record – but His!
So, I ask you to examine yourself. Have you “received” Him? If so, He has surely received, saved, loved, and adopted you as His! If not, I invite you to repent and believe!
“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught”
Until one has “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, there is no need to attain for maturity. Knowing Christ is not a class – although there are Bible teachers in churches who are meant to teach you what the Bible says for how to live your life. What I mean is that there is no program to progress through – no degree to attain. If one is not in Christ, he or she is dead. There is no maturity in death, only decay!
I find it interesting that Paul found presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28) as worthy of “struggling with all [Christ’s] energy” (ch 1:29) while all of our – honestly, I am speaking for me and the local church I serve – energy and focus goes elsewhere. We have to constantly be reminded that the Great Commission is about making disciples – not converts. Part of the reason is that making converts seems to be relatively easier – all we have to do is proclaim the gospel; Jesus does the saving!
Making disciples (discipleship) is difficult for us because it takes time. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can travel somewhere, preach the gospel, and let someone else disciple the converts. But, unfortunately, we have many who profess Christ who no one disciples. They are handed a Bible, often given a job or ministry in the church, and wished good luck on their efforts. No one really took a concerted effort to disciple me until I had already been in ministry for over a decade and had burned out. To think, I was a little offended when an interim pastor approached me in my thirties and asked if I was interested in being discipled and growing in my walk with Christ. I am thankful for the offense, and, now, I seek to offend others in the same way!
I never realized what all it took to disciple someone – to truly labor and desire for their maturity – until a few years ago when my daughter received Christ. I also never fully understood the difficulties. She sees more of my walk with Christ than most anyone else, definitely more than anyone but Christ Himself and Candice. She sees my failings. She sees when I need to repent and whether or not I do. She sees when I read the Word and whether I worship God at home. What I try to teach her from the Word cannot remotely hope to compare to what she sees me living out. It is terribly frustrating at times, but, ultimately, it is a great joy to get to struggle and strive. I cannot imagine being satisfied with my own comfort if she would not be found mature in Him.
Paul did not have a wife or children. He cared that way for the churches he was called to serve. He looked at the Colossian church the way I look at Keri. He did not plant the church there, but the gospel he preached at Ephesus birthed that. Now, as I grow closer to Christ myself and mature to see more of what He has called me to, I understand more of what Paul wanted for the churches – and why he wanted them to be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [they] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving”.
To be rooted in Christ lies in that foundation – “just as you were taught”. This reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9. Some of the seed was sown on the hard packed earth of a path and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on shallow soil over bedrock; there was not enough depth for roots to develop that would sustain growth. Similarly, some seeds feel among thorns and were choked out. But the seeds that were sown on the good soil developed healthy roots, received all of the nutrients the soil offered, received all of the light and water they needed, and grew into healthy plants that multipled “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).
Roots not only provide a means to gain sustenance but also support and strength. Think about how many times following a storm there are large trees whose roots snap off below the ground. The roots were enough to sustain the tree to grow large, but they never developed enough to withstand the pressure that comes with winds and storms. Yet there are very large and extremely old trees that line areas of the Gulf Coast in southern Mississippi. Their branches are gnarly as they have been whipped by hurricane after hurricane. Their branches bear the marks of the wind, but their roots have sustained them and held them safely in the ground.
So it is with Christ. To become mature, you must be rooted in Him. Like the branches of a grape vine have no hope of producing grapes without being attached to their vine, “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The same gospel that brings the invitation to receive Christ also sustains. A Christian will never outgrow the truth of the gospel but, rather, studying and knowing it more means that our roots are dug deep into its good soil. Continuing to study the Word and walk with Christ draws sustenance and leaves us firmly planted in Him.
In the coming weeks of this study, we will look at the winds of false teaching that were attacking the Colossian church. There are similar winds today. The only way to withstand is to be rooted in Christ.
Built Up in Him
What good is a foundation if no one builds on it? What good are roots if there is no tree?
We looked earlier at some of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4. Earlier in that chapter, he spoke to this:
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Disciples grow as they study God’s Word and put it into practice. That’s right: practice. Too many people have been allowed to profess Christ with their mouths on a single occasion and deny Him with their lives in every moment following it. (This typically cues a chorus of “Thou shalt not judge”.)
Paul illustrated being build up in Christ to the Ephesian church by talking about love being the catalyst. Jesus Himself said that all of the law could be summed up by loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:36-40). Love is an action. Love is a constant choice to remember what God did for us in Christ and to share that with others. Love requires effort. The church is not built with bricks and mortar but with those who have received Christ serving Him and sharing Him with others.
Established in the Faith
This word is more closely related to assurance – that one can know that they have received Christ. To be “established in the faith” is to have the Spirit of God in you, leading and guiding. Honestly, and I am trying not to generalize this too much, if any of the things written about in this Bible study (receiving Christ, being rooted, and being built up/growing in Him) are missing, there is reason for concern, especially receiving Him.
One of the greatest issues for people in the former Bible Belt is false assurance. If someone has been allowed to profess Christianity with no connection to Christ, no fruit for decades, there is little to convince them otherwise. Think back to that chilling warning from Jesus in Matthew 7; there will be people who have claimed Christ in name only who will not be welcomed into eternity with Him. This is why Paul was willing to suffer to see people presented as mature. They were faced either with assurance of faith in Christ or outed as frauds. Demas could only stay with him so long before his love for the world overrode his words.
It is an uncomfortable thing to be confronted with a harsh truth. The harsh reality that your life does not bear fruit of a relationship with Christ offers opportunity for repentance and faith – opportunity to receive Him. But it does no one any good to save their feelings on earth if only to allow them to die and go to Hell. One way is love; the other hate.
Maybe you do not feel as if you are “established in the faith”. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes our trees need pruning. Sometimes we need to be confronted with present sin and repent – to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). But, maybe, you have merely talked the talk. Maybe you learned enough Christian-ese to converse and fit in with the locals.
It is a good thing to be confronted with harsh truths. If you realize that you have never received Christ, it is not too late. The same words that showed us earlier what it means to believe show us how to receive Him now. Romans 10:9-10 says:
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
There is no better time for such a confession than right now. If you would like to talk, I would love to help you; feel free to reach out any time.
I have gone on longer than normal, but I definitely feel that this is important. Anything worth suffering over is worth our attention. And the state of our soul in the face of the holy and righteous God of the universe is worth attention.
I began by talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how his repentance led him back to Germany and, ultimately, to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. But I did not tell you what happened to him there.
This is usually the part of the story where something inspirational comes, and that definitely happens here. But nothing comes out of the wings to save Bonhoeffer from the fate one would expect at a concentration camp.
As WWII was drawing to a close – Hitler had already committed suicide and the Third Reich was preparing to surrender, the Nazis still harbored great hatred toward Bonhoeffer. They hated him so much, in fact, that one of their last official actions would be to have him executed rather than letting him go free after the surrender.
The morning of his death, he was not sad. He preached a sermon to people in the camp with a fellow prisoner, a British officer, standing watch and Nazi soldiers waiting to accompany him to his execution. When he finished preaching, he went with them willingly. In the moments before his hanging on the morning of April 9, 1945, he bowed his face to the ground, prayed to the Christ he would meet face-to-face minutes later, and uttered the words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”
From an earthly perspective, this seems like such a sad story. But, the longer I walk with Christ, it is a story of hope. How could a man not fight against his executioners? How could he proclaim the gospel truth to his killers on his way out of this world? Hope. Hope in Christ that comes from being “rooted and built up and established in the faith”. Hope that comes from receiving Christ Jesus the Lord.
I cannot boast of great courage like that in my future. I can boast only in Christ and the hope He gives me now.
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
I have wracked my brain to think of how to introduce this week’s Bible study in some creative and catchy way. But all I can think is that I wish this section was not in the Bible. I know that sounds terrible.
This passage highlights an area of struggle – of inadequacy – for me. Simply put: I do not want to suffer. I want to be comfortable. I want to be free of anxiety and depression and anger and difficulties and…well, discomfort in general. To a certain extent, this means that I am just like everyone else. But, for me, specifically, this is part of the “passions and desires” of my worldly self that need to be crucified (Galatians 5:24).
When I read and study the Bible, I try to follow James 1:22 and be a doer of the Word who hears the Word preached (or comprehends the Word while reading) and actually does it. Unfortunately, that is hard. And I fail at that. A lot. And there are parts that I come to, like today’s passage where I just simply do not want to do what it says or participate in what it talks about.
The idea of suffering in Scripture comes up more than most people realize. Many do not see it because the verses that we pick out to focus on allow us to ignore the sections that deal with it. There is a form of false teaching that is quite prevalent today known as the prosperity gospel. It basically proclaims that God has health and wealth for you should you simply remain faithful. If you give money or support certain ministers or speak positive things into existence, then there is a blessing (in the form of, again, health and wealth) waiting for you.
What about Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)? People talk about the wealth and prosperity they had in Babylon. They talk about the power to rule and govern that they received. What about when Nebuchadnezzar had the made eunuchs and stripped them of their God-honoring names for Babylonian idolatry? Were they not still slaves in Babylon, far from their home?
What about Jesus? He was poor and hated while on earth. Are we more than Him? No. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 15:18-21:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’”
That passage scares me. And it comforts me. I am frightened of suffering and persecution, but I long to be associated with my Savior. I do not invite suffering – and especially do not long for it – but am I willing to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Today’s passage specifically deals with suffering in a manner that continues in Jesus’ suffering during his time on earth (and for His Bride, the Church). We get to see Paul talk about why the suffering he is experiencing – remember, this is one of the prison epistles written prior to his martyrdom – are worth it because they help bring people to Christ and those who are in Christ to maturity.
Are we willing to suffer – or even be uncomfortable – for someone to know Christ? Is our desire for comfort greater than our desire for Christ?
I am asking myself these questions as I write and can assure you of one thing, I am not boasting of what I have or can accomplish in this week’s Bible study. If no one else needs to hear this, I write to myself.
To understand where Paul is coming from – his perspective on suffering, one must first understand his testimony. He was not born Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was born Saul of Tarsus, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). He was the cat’s pajamas – all that and a bag of chips – or, to quote one of my sophomores – good, like great.
When the apostles were preaching in Jerusalem following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the church was exploding. The church at the time was known as “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) because they were in consistently focused on preaching the gospel to everyone who listed and living it out in their lives. Thousands were being baptized and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being saved were ecstatic. The Pharisees and Saul were irate – and murderously so.
Peter and John were arrested for healing “a man lame from birth” (Acts 3:2) and proclaiming the gospel in Solomon’s Portico (Acts 3:11-26). The powers-that-were admonished them to cease preaching, leveeing every threat they could muster of suffering and death, and Peter infamously replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And speak they did.
From there, the church grew even more. It prayed for boldness (Acts 4:23-30), and God answered their prayer by granting that they “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The status quo in Jerusalem was in the rear view at that point. The church was thriving and ministering to each other and those around them. The Holy Spirit was moving. But the chief priests and Pharisees were not willing to budge a single inch. Instead, they called in Saul of Tarsus.
Saul enters the narrative of Acts at the end of the life of a man named Stephen who was described as “full of grace and power…doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Local synagogue members rose up against him trying to tear down his preaching, but “they could withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). They were not listening. They did not repent and believe at the gospel preached. They grabbed him and drug him before the council. Their anger was met with grace as Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). They leveed charges against him to the council, and he charged them all by preaching. They heard him and were “enraged” and “ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). They heard but would not repent. They “laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). They picked up heavy stones and threw them one by one to execute him.
I cannot imagine being in Stephen’s situation. I am afraid I would have faltered or given in or remained silent. Yet Stephen made two more statements: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). The Lord granted his request and let him sleep while his body was murdered. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. He responded as His Savior responded. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1).
Saul went to work against the church in Jerusalem. His task was described as a “great persecution” where he “ravaged the church” (Acts 8:1, 3). He viciously attacked Christ’s bride. Yet her work continued. The work of the church did not stop in suffering but instead spread, “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). It spread so that Saul got warrants for imprisonment and execution against the church in Damascus – that “if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1). His threat against the Bride grew until he came face to face with Christ on the Damascus road.
If someone had ravaged my wife and I found myself in a show down, there would be nothing but wrath and vengeance. I would do all I could to visit the terror she experienced back on the attacker and more. Jesus blinded him, humbled him, and introduced Himself to Saul. The Pharisee of Pharisees had to be led by the hand to Damascus. He sat there blind for three days.
Jesus spoke to a local believer named Ananias and gave instructions regarding Saul – that He had plans for him. Ananias, of course, was skeptical. Jesus was trustworthy, but Saul had a track record of evil against believers. And Jesus gives him a very odd response,
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)
What?! The King of kings and Lord of lords – the God who is rich in grace, mercy, and love sets out to make someone suffer for their sins?!
While Jesus was talking to Ananias, Saul was praying. He had been given a vision of Ananias coming to return his sight. Ananias was obedient. Saul’s sight was regained. The Holy Spirit filled Paul, and he was saved and baptized. That which sounded like a punishment – “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” – can it be a blessing? Can it be grace?
I think Paul (Saul made new) can speak best to whether this is grace or judgment. We looked earlier at Paul’s pedigree (“Hebrew of Hebrews”, etc.), now let us listen to the rest of the testimony:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)
Paul knew what Christ’s salvation meant. He felt like he was the “least of the apostles” because he had “persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). It is through Paul’s words that we know “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He even described himself as being the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He knew he deserved death and Hell. Yet Christ had saved him. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. And He was forever in awe of the love and mercy that Christ showed him – that Christ had forgiven the sins against His Bride and allowed Him to serve her and bring her members to maturity.
That’s good news.
What Does This Mean for Us – for the Church Today?
The example of a sinner as bad as Paul gives hope for a sinner as bad as me. I hear people often mention some wicked and wretched sinner in their area and tout that there is no hope for him or her – that God simply won’t fool with someone like them. Well, he saved Paul. He saved me. And, if He hasn’t yet, I pray that He saves you, too, despite your sins!
Usually, I give a better exposition and explanation of our passage, but I felt strongly about showing Paul’s history and example. I think that his example – and what he says here in this letter to the Colossian church shows us how we should be working for God’s Kingdom in our local church and the communities around it. So, we will break it down into some bite-sized chunks for us to consider.
(v. 1:24) Paul did not mind suffering for Christ because he got to follow after His example and care for His church.
(v. 1:25) Paul’s primary goal in his ministry was to be a good steward of what God had given him – the Word of God, and he intended to make it “fully known” to everyone he could.
(v. 1:26) The church now knows “the mystery” as God has revealed His full story. We have all the information we need. Everything that can be known about God is found in the Bible.
(v. 1:27) God’s people are no longer just Israel. He has made a way in Christ for all people to experience “the riches of the glory of this mystery” and have Christ, “the hope of glory”, in them – to be in Christ.
(v. 1:28) Spiritual maturity is a thing. Paul felt a sense of responsibility to help people grow in Christ. That is called discipleship, and it is the command of the Great Commission (“make disciples”, Matthew 28:19). Paul considered it worth suffering for, so maybe we need to repent of not discipling or not being discipled in the Word of God.
(v. 1:29) Paul spent his life and all his energy in this task. It was not enough. Nothing would be accomplished without the Spirit’s “energy that He powerfully work[ed] within [Paul]”. The same is true for us today. Our efforts are nothing without His strength (Philippians 4:13).
(vv. 2:1-3) Paul wants to make sure that all the churches he can are being discipled – not just the one’s he planted. There are three things that he desires for those who have not seen him “face to face”: 1) “that their hearts may be encouraged”, 2) that they be “knit together in love”, and 3) that they may “reach all the riches of full assurance and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Basically, he desires that they know Christ and make Him known. Such is the essence of Kingdom work.
(v. 2:4) There are those who are seeking to tear down the church. They may attack it with the same persecutions that Paul once did. In the case of Colossae, they are attacking it from the inside with cancerous false teachings. This highlights the necessity of discipleship. If one is not rooted and established in Christ, they will be blown over and hoodwinked by false teaching. We will hit on this more in the coming weeks.
(v. 2:5) Paul is able to rejoice for the Colossian church’s “firmness” of faith because he trusts that God is going to work in His church by His Spirit and through the ministry of the Word.
While I do wish that this was not part of the reality of walking with Christ, I am immensely thankful that he saved a sinner such as me. I do not want to suffer and am not going to seek it out, but I pray that God receive the glory for whatever He chooses to do with my life.
I find that it is not suffering that causes me to stumble. It is aggravation. It is the discomfort. It is not fitting in and being an outsider because of what He has done in me. I want the epitome of the American dream with heaven as a nice retirement plan. But the servant is not greater than the master. If the world hated Him yet loves me, am I His?
I do not deserve the second and third and sixty-seventh chances that He has given me. I do not deserve Him. But He loves me and has given Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). That matters. The fact that I know the magnitude of His love because of the depth of my depravity and sinfulness means that there should be nothing more valuable than that love. I was His enemy; He adopted me into His family. I deserved wrath; He gave love instead.
The servant is not greater than the master. The world hated Him, so it will hate me, too. But, praise be to God, He loves me despite that hatred. His care is greater than the suffering. And, when it inevitably comes, may we be found like the disciples, “rejoicing [to be] counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” (Acts 5:41).