One of the best-known passages from the New Testament book of Hebrews is found in chapter four, verse twelve: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (ESV). Colossians chapter two serves to illustrate the living and active nature of God’s Word with twenty-three verses that are just as applicable today as they were when they were originally written almost twenty centuries ago.
As mentioned earlier in our look at Colossians chapter one, a group of heretical teachers had apparently worked their way into the first-century Colossian church. Today, we collectively refer to these teachers as the Gnostics. Judging from the content of this epistle, we can say that a key component of their teaching included the belief that faith in Christ was important, but insufficient for true spiritual enlightenment.
One scholar offers some additional insight into the Gnostics and their message…
“There were two types of Gnostic false teachers: (1) salvation is through secret knowledge and, therefore, it does not matter how you live (antinomian libertines) and (2) salvation through secret knowledge plus a very restricted lifestyle (legalists).” (1)
So while there were different varieties of Gnostic teachings, each group was united by the common belief that Jesus could not provide everything necessary for salvation and spiritual enlightenment. This was the environment that served as the backdrop for Paul the Apostle’s Epistle to the Colossians. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul sought to refute these heretical ideas with an important warning that will appear later in this chapter…
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:8-10).
As we begin our study of Colossians chapter two, it’s crucial to recognize that these teachings (and those like them) did not die out in the New Testament era. On the contrary, these doctrines still exist today in various forms. This illustrates the need to carefully study Colossians chapter two and the remaining chapters of this important Biblical letter in order to identify and guard against the modern-day variants of these first-century false teachings.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, Free Bible Commentary, Colossians 2 [2:16-23] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL08/VOL08A_02.html
“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh” (Colossians 2:1).
A person in the midst of a conflict is usually someone who is facing a difficult choice between two or more alternatives. However, Paul the Apostle’s conflict regarding the first-century churches in Colossae and Laodicea went far beyond a struggle to choose between two viable options.
You see, Paul described his feelings towards these churches with the word agon in the original language of this verse. This word was used to identify a stadium or arena and came to describe a struggle or contest by extension. It was also employed as a military term to depict a battle or used in a legal sense to define a trial. (1) These word-pictures offer some insight into the internal conflict Paul faced in praying and working for two groups of people he had never met.
The city of Laodicea was located about 10 miles (16 km) from Colossae and had a reputation as an important financial center within that region. It was also known for its textile production, including a black colored wool that was produced from specially bred sheep. In addition, Laodicea was recognized for producing an ointment that was used to treat certain eye conditions as well as other medications.
Near the end of this letter to the Colossians, Paul will go on to offer the following directive regarding the church at Laodicea: “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). This tells us that the false teachings that had infiltrated the church at Colossae had likely spread to the Laodicean church as well.
Unfortunately, Jesus would later issue a critical message to the church at Laodicea in the final book of the New Testament…
“I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other. But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16 NIV).
Judging from Jesus’ message to the Laodiceans in the book of Revelation, it seems that Paul’s letters did not have much of a long-term impact. This serves as important reminder for modern-day readers: if we do not make the right spiritual corrections today, it may lead to larger issues tomorrow.
“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” (Colossians 2:2).
The false teachers among the Colossians were advocating a message that probably sounded much like this: “You are not complete in Christ. We can help you advance to a higher spiritual plane.” Paul the Apostle countered that message by revealing his ultimate goal for the churches at Colossae and Laodicea: “My purpose is that they… may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (NIV).
This serves to remind us of something Paul established earlier in this letter to the Colossians: Jesus is the termination point for everything that concerns humanity. As we read earlier in Colossians 1:16: “all things were created by (Jesus) and for (Jesus).” Since everything was created by Him and for Him, this means that every human quest for salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and purpose will find its consummation in Christ.
We should also take note of the word “heart” as found here in Colossian 2:3. This word is translated from the word kardia in the original language of this verse. As you might suspect, this word forms the basis for the modern-day word “cardiac.” When used in this context, the heart refers to someone’s innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense.
With these things in mind, we can say that this verse is not speaking of a limited or shallow degree of encouragement but something that extends to our innermost beings. This depth of encouragement is reminiscent of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 where Paul broke out in an expression of praise for “…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…”
Paul also affirmed his desire for the Colossians to experience “…the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings” (GNB). This kind of assurance is reflective of a person who is willing to place his or her trust in God even when the circumstances may not seem to warrant it. This is not “blind faith” or a faith that has no basis in reality. Instead, genuine Biblical faith involves trust in a God who has already proven Himself within the pages of the Scripture and in the lives of those who have placed their confidence in Him.
“in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
We can find one of the most concise and helpful definitions of wisdom and knowledge in an observation from the following commentary…
“Knowledge is the apprehension of truth; wisdom is its application to life. Knowledge is prudent judgment and wisdom is prudent action. Both are found in Christ (cf. Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 12:8)…” (1)
Another commentator applies these concepts in the context of this passage…
“The force of this passage then is this: all, and not merely some of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are contained in Christ; therefore the search for them outside of Him is doomed to failure. But not only are they in Christ, but they are contained in a hidden way. Therefore they do not lie on the surface, but must be sought for earnestly, as men seek for hidden treasure. They are not matters of external observances, such as the false teachers enjoined, but to be apprehended by deep and serious meditation.” (2)
This insight provides us with an opportunity to examine the differences between the Biblical definition of meditation and the type of meditation that is associated with various “new age” or eastern religions. For instance, the Biblical concept of meditation involves reflecting upon the subject of God and His Word. This kind of meditation involves learning about God through the Biblical Scriptures and thinking about how that knowledge should impact our lives.
The Old Testament book of Joshua encourages this type of meditation with the following exhortation…
“Always remember what is written in the Book of the Teachings. Study it day and night to be sure to obey everything that is written there. If you do this, you will be wise and successful in everything” (Joshua 1:8 NCV).
On the other hand, many alternative types of meditation often involve “emptying” one’s mind to achieve some type of physical response or altered state of consciousness. This kind of meditation may involve the use of mantras (a word or syllable that is chanted or sung as a prayer or as an aid in concentration), breathing exercises, or specific body postures to help achieve a feeling of spiritual enlightenment.
Since this approach does not have its origin in the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” it can never lead to genuine spiritual enlightenment.
This serves to illustrate the importance of defining a term like “meditation.” One type of meditation acknowledges and honors God while the other does not.
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [note on Colossians 2:2-3]
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Colossians 2:2-3] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (Colossians 2:4).
Its often been said that salesmanship is much like the age-old practice of fishing. The difference is that one type of fishing involves an aquatic creature while the other involves a potential customer.
For instance, the fisherman and the salesperson must each begin with an idea of what they want to catch. Each must then find the right kind of lure and finish by reeling in what they have caught. For the fisherman, this means separating the catch from its watery environment. For the salesperson, this means separating the catch from his or her money.
This analogy also holds true spiritually as well- and much like the illustration given above, we can look at this comparison in a positive or negative way. Consider one of Jesus’ first recorded interactions with His disciples…
“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:16-18 NIV).
The ultimate intent behind Jesus’ invitation involved separating human beings from death and giving them eternal life. On the other hand, the false teachers of first-century Colossae sought to lure the members of the church “back into the water” with some persuasive bait: “…ideas that seem good, but are false” (ERV).
This helps explain why Paul the Apostle has devoted much of this letter to the subject of Jesus’ deity. Paul sought to protect the Colossians from the “…persuasive [but thoroughly deceptive] arguments” (AMP) offered by the false teachers of his day. Much like the shiny lure on the end of a fisherman’s hook, these arguments seemed to offer something good but were harmful and destructive in reality.
One source takes the opportunity of this passage to issue an important warning to modern-day readers…
“Because all wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, Christians should not be deluded with the persuasive words of false cultists. If a man does not have the truth, then he must seek to attract a following through the clever presentation of his message. That is exactly what heretics always do. They argue from probabilities and build a system of teaching on deductions. On the other hand, if a man is preaching the truth of God, then he does not need to depend on such things as eloquence or clever arguments. The truth is its own best argument and, like a lion, will defend itself” (1)
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2001) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
“I tell you, then, do not let anyone deceive you with false arguments, no matter how good they seem to be” (Colossians 2:4 GNT).
We can find one of the best known examples of a false argument in the form of the following question: “Can God make a rock so big that He can’t move it?” This question appears to present an insurmountable dilemma for those who seek to answer it. For instance…
- If God can make a rock so big that He can’t move it, then He is not all-powerful.
- If God can’t make a rock so big that He can’t move it, then He is not all-powerful.
Either way, the question seems to eliminate the possibility of an omnipotent Being and thus precludes the existence of an all-powerful God. But even though this may seem to be a reasonable question, a fatal flaw emerges when we stop to consider it more closely.
For example, how big a rock would be necessary in order to prevent God from moving it? Well, a rock of that magnitude would have to surpass the infinite power of God. So in essence, the questioner is asking if God can create a rock that is greater than His infinite ability to lift it.
Do you see the issue? This question establishes a scenario in which the following conditions exist…
- A Being who holds absolute power in every respect (God).
- An object that is greater in at least one respect (a rock).
In other words, this question embodies a logical impossibility- a situation where God holds the most power but does not hold the most power at the same time. This basic idea is sometimes rephrased in the following way: “Can God move an immovable object?” The problem is that the ability of an immovable object to remain stationary must exceed God’s infinite power to move it. Since nothing can exceed infinite power, the question is inherently self-defeating.
A related question is this: “Can God make a square circle?” The issue with this question is that it is internally self-destructive. You see, once we attempt to place a corner on a circle in order to make it a square, the circle immediately ceases to be a circle. Because of this, the question logically precludes any possibility of an answer.
Therefore, a person who offers these inquiries in attempting to eliminate the possibility of an omnipotent God should be asked to return with a different question- one that actually makes sense.
“For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:5-7).
As mentioned earlier, the Epistle to the Colossians is part of a small contingent of “prison epistles” that includes the New Testament letters of Philippians, Ephesians, and Philemon. These prison epistles are so-named because they are thought to have been written by the Apostle Paul while he was under house arrest in the city of Rome.
Although Paul’s imprisonment may have prevented him from visiting the church at Colossae, that did not temper his love and concern for them. Therefore, it should not be surprising to learn that the report of their “resolute firmness” (GNT) and “strong faith in Christ” (TLB) served as a source of encouragement to him.
This reference to the Colossians’ orderly conduct is also reminiscent of Paul’s counsel to the church at Corinth: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). This reminds us that an orderly worship service should be a feature of a church that follows the good example set by the members of the Colossian fellowship.
If we drill a little further into this concept of “good order” we find that it refers to anything that marks an orderly condition in character, fashion, quality, or style. (1) Paul was someone led by example in this area as reflected in this comment to the church at Thessalonica…
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).
So, much like a healthy plant that is sustained through a good root system, these qualities were certain to lead to a number of positive results…
“Paul uses the illustration of our being rooted in Christ. Just as plants draw nourishment from the soil through their roots, so we draw our life-giving strength from Christ. The more we draw our strength from him, the less we will be fooled by those who falsely claim to have life’s answers. If Christ is our strength, we will be free from human regulations.”
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV Colossians 2:7 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
While the word “philosophy” may summon up any number of mental images, this word simply refers to a love of wisdom or “a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.” (1)
You see, everyone has philosophies about life. In other words, everyone has a set of principles that guide their decisions even if they are not consciously aware of them. The problem is that any philosophy can be good or bad depending on its underlying wisdom or worldview. For example, Colossians 2:8 tells us that there are certain philosophies that are not only empty but deceptive.
We can illustrate this idea with a look at a few of the more common philosophies that “…conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ” (CEB)…
- You only live once.
- The ends always justify the means.
- If it feels good, do it.
- Follow your heart.
- If it feels right, it can’t be wrong.
The problem is that each of these philosophies begins with a faulty premise. For instance, some implicitly dismiss the existence of a Creator or equate the idea of “good” or “right” with nothing more than human preference. Others grow out of a kind of “wisdom” that presumes that people will never have to give an account for their choices in life. These are the kinds of philosophies that are certain to lead to eventual trouble.
So how can we decide what represents an empty and deceptive philosophy and what doesn’t? Well, a good standard for for separating the two can be found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs: “For the reverence and fear of God are basic to all wisdom. Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding” (Proverbs 9:10 TLB).
This tells us that our search for wisdom and knowledge should begin with an attitude of acknowledgement and respect for our Creator. Any quest for wisdom that begins with the presumption that God does not exist is one that neglects the warning given to us earlier in Colossians 2:4… “I am telling you this so that no one will be able to deceive you with persuasive arguments” (NLT).
The next portion of this three-part study on Colossians 2:8 will continue with a look at the differences between those philosophies that are Biblically valid and those that are not.
(1) Philosophy. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/philosophy (accessed: October 14, 2015).
“See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ” (Colossians 2:8 CSB).
We can unlock the meaning and application of this important passage with the aid of three commentators. Our first commentator underscores the general validity of philosophical thought…
“…Paul himself was well trained in the philosophies of his day, even quoting them from time to time (cf. Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). Paul successfully ‘reasoned’ with the philosophers on Mars Hill, even winning some to Christ (Acts 17:17, 34). Elsewhere he said a bishop should be able ‘to exhort and convict those who contradict’ (Titus 1:9) and that he was ‘appointed for defense of the Gospel’ (Phil. 1:17). Peter exhorted believers to ‘always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, Jesus said the great command is to love the Lord ‘with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37).” (1)
So if philosophy is a valid discipline, what are we to make of Colossians 2:8? Well, our next expositor offers some valuable insight on this question…
“This verse has been used at times to teach that Christians should not study or read philosophy. This is not Paul’s meaning. Paul himself was adept at philosophy, evidenced by his interaction with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:1–34). Paul was warning the believers not to be taken in by any philosophy that does not conform to a proper knowledge of Christ.
The false teachers at Colosse had combined worldly philosophies with the gospel. These philosophies are spoken of by Paul as the basic principles of the world, which some have interpreted as ‘spirits’ or ‘angels’ who supposedly control a person’s life (Gal. 4:3, 9). It seems more likely that the term principles refers to the elementary rules and regulations that certain teachers were seeking to impose on believers according to the dictates of human philosophies. Paul’s strongest indictment against the heretics was that their teaching was not according to Christ, and thus they were not walking with Christ (vv. 6, 7).” (2)
Our final source helps us separate the good from the bad when it comes to the subject of philosophy…
“Paul writes against any philosophy of life based only on human ideas and experiences. Paul himself was a gifted philosopher, so he is not condemning philosophy. He is condemning teaching that credits humanity, not Christ, with being the answer to life’s problems. That approach becomes a false religion. There are many man-made approaches to life’s problems that totally disregard God. To resist heresy you must use your mind, keep your eyes on Christ, and study God’s Word.” (3)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 487–488). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
(2) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1565). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
(3) Life Application Study Bible NKJV Colossians 2:8 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8 NET).
We can define the “…elementary principles originating in this world” (Voice) with a look at the identifying characteristics embedded within the passage quoted above.
The first defining feature involves a lack of substance. Biblical translators have used phrases like worthless (GNT), senseless (CEV), or wrong and shallow (TLB) to express the meaning of this idea. Any principle or philosophy that is empty, vain, hollow, or devoid of truth would fall into this category.
The next characteristic is deceit. In the original language of this passage, “deceit” involves “that which gives a false impression, whether by appearance, statement or influence” (1) The Amplified Bible inserts the phrase “pseudo-intellectual babble” to help communicate the meaning of this idea for the benefit of 21st century audiences.
This is followed by a reference to “elemental spirits” (NET), “men’s ideas of the nature of the world” (Phillips), or “human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ” (CEB). This concept is linked to the philosophies, opinions, values, worldviews, societal attitudes, and belief systems that characterize the world as it is and reject the God of the Scriptures. This cautionary message is so important that a similar warning will reappear later in verse twenty.
Finally, such teachings and beliefs are “not according to Christ.” One scholar associates this phrase with someone who bases his or her decisions purely upon human reasoning, experience, or speculation. (2) Another commentary adds, “Philosophy is the love of wisdom, but if one loves wisdom that is not Christ (the Sum of all wisdom, Col_2:3), he loves an empty idol. Such a one will be ‘always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth’ (2Ti_3:7).” (3)
Since our beliefs serve as the foundation for the decisions we make, its important to examine them for the underlying presence of these negative characteristics. For example, if human beings represent the ultimate moral authority in the universe, then concepts like justice, legality, and fair treatment are solely defined by the group or individual. On the other hand, those precepts find their source and authority in the God of the Scriptures if He truly exists.
Therefore as Colossians 2:8 cautions us, “Don’t let anyone fool you by using senseless arguments. These arguments may sound wise, but they are only human teachings. They come from the powers of this world and not from Christ” (CEV).
(1) G539 apate deceit
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Colossians 2:8-15 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL08/VOL08A_02.html
(3) Bible Knowledge Commentary, note on Colossians 2:8, pg. 677
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
There are some who consider Jesus to be a notable person in human history but nothing more. But that is not the description of Christ given to us here in Colossians 2:9. One translation of this verse conveys the richness and depth of this passage in identifying Jesus for who He really is: “…in (Christ) there is continuously and permanently at home all the fullness of absolute deity in bodily fashion” (Wuest).
Colossians 2:9 also serves to refute the assertions of those who believe that Jesus was simply one person in a long line of others who attained a higher transcendental state or so-called “christ consciousness.” One source dedicated to the advancement of eastern spirituality defines this vague (but unbiblical) concept…
“Christ Consciousness is a term which can be interpreted in a number of ways. Many people use it to describe a state of consciousness where a person has found Self-realization and, as such, has realized their unity with God, or Christ. It may also be used by some as a synonym for the yogic and Hindu concept of reaching samadhi, or deep spiritual bliss…
It is said that finding Christ Consciousness is open to anyone, of any religion on any spiritual path. For those who follow this path, it is associated with being open to love and truth, practicing devotion as a means to seek enlightenment and bliss. It means recognizing one’s birthright as a child of God, just as Christ was said to be. The reason Jesus is seen as an example to all who follow this path is because he embodies the wholeness of every individual. It is said that this Christ ‘pattern’ is in every being on Earth…”
To its credit, this source also adds an important disclaimer…
“Christ Consciousness is considered a controversial term to some because it combines Christian language and ideas with Eastern religions and/or mysticism. For some Christians, this is incongruous and a misuse of the name of Christ… Some Christians disagree with this concept, seeing it as simply an excuse for self-worship.” (1)
While that clarification is admirable, it represents an understatement of monumental proportions in light of what we read here in Colossians 2:9. One Biblical commentator offers a far more accurate assessment of the Person and nature of Christ based on this passage…
“The Greek word theotetos for Godhead is used only here in the NT and designates the totality of God’s nature and person. All the fullness of the Godhead “dwells” or ‘permanently resides’ in the body of Jesus, the God-man.” (2)
(1) Yogapedia, Definition – What does Christ Consciousness mean? Retrieved 05 August 2019 from https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/5806/christ-consciousness
(2) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1564). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10).
Much like a modern-day superhighway, there are three “lanes” of thought featured in the passage quoted above. The first lane involves an affirmation of Jesus’ deity. The second lane speaks of our completion in Christ while our third and final lane concerns Jesus’ supremacy over “…every ruler and authority” (NLT).
As we merge into the first lane of our journey through this passage, its important to note that Jesus did not surrender His deity at His incarnation nor did He surrender His humanity at His resurrection. (1) Jesus was and is the God-man, fully God and fully human. Those who are in Christ are complete in Him- and no other person, belief, philosophy, material possession, or spiritual being can provide us with anything more than we already have in Jesus.
Our final lane of thought is this: Jesus “…is the authority over all authorities, and the supreme power over all powers” (Phillips). This sweeping acknowledgement of Jesus’ sovereignty thus invalidates the need for any spiritual intermediary other than Christ. This declaration is reminiscent of Paul the Apostle’s directive to a young first-century pastor named Timothy…
“As I said when I left for Macedonia, please stay there in Ephesus and try to stop the men who are teaching such wrong doctrine. Put an end to their myths and fables, and their idea of being saved by finding favor with an endless chain of angels leading up to God—wild ideas that stir up questions and arguments instead of helping people accept God’s plan of faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4 TLB).
Instead of seeking guidance or favor with God through a different intercessor, we should instead approach Him through the mediator He has already established. That mediator’s identity is also given to us in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy: “…there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 CSB).
Since every “principality and power” is subject to Christ, we would be ill-advised to seek spiritual favor with anyone other than Him. We’ll talk more about this idea when we reach the eighteenth verse of this chapter but for now, we’ll close this portion of our study with a message from Jesus Himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
(1) Gromacki, Robert G. Stand Perfect in Wisdom. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984, pg. 104, quoted in Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable (2:9-10a), https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm#_ftn189
Image Credit: MassDOT [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11).
The things we believe are certain to impact the choices we make- and this is especially true of our spiritual beliefs. For instance, those who subscribe to an erroneous spiritual teaching are certain to fall into any number of practical errors. That unfortunate reality will occupy the focus of much of the remainder of Colossians chapter two.
The act of circumcision mentioned here in Colossians 2:11 represented a prominent and controversial topic within the early church. Therefore, it served as a good foundation for Paul the Apostle to use in building a proper view of this practice. We find the origin of this custom in God’s directive to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham…
“This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11 NLT).
Judging from the content of this letter to the Colossian church, it appears there were some who sought to encourage the non-Jewish Christians of Colossae to submit to this practice. Since Paul had been brought up in strict adherence to the Old Testament Law, he was well qualified to address those who embraced that idea and use it to illustrate the new relationship we enjoy with God through faith in Christ.
The physical act of circumcision was designed to serve as a mark of separation and dedication to God. However, the New Testament expression of this idea differs in one important respect. Unlike the external act of circumcision, the type of circumcision mentioned here in Colossians 2:11 involves “cutting away” the sinful nature of those who seek acceptance with God through faith in Christ. Thus, it is a circumcision made “without hands” so to speak.
Its also important to recognize that circumcision did not make Abraham right with God- it was faith that made him right with God. We can say this with confidence in light of what we read in Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Therefore, the message of Colossians 2:11 applies to anyone who is saved through faith in Jesus: “When you came to Christ, you were ‘circumcised,’ but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature” (NLT).
“buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
While there are several different viewpoints related to the act of baptism, it is perhaps best seen as an external indicator of the inner work that Jesus performs in our life. You see, baptism serves as a public association with Christ and an affirmation of the change that has taken place in the lives of those who have accepted Him as Savior.
One translation of Colossians 2:12 expresses this idea in vivid terms: “…you were placed in the tomb with Christ through baptism. In baptism you were also brought back to life with Christ through faith in the power of God, who brought him back to life” (GW). In this respect, the act of baptism also symbolizes the death and burial of our former lives and our “resurrection” to new life in Christ.
The Apostle Peter also expanded on this idea in the New Testament book of 1 Peter: “…Baptism does not mean we wash our bodies clean. It means we are saved from the punishment of sin and go to God in prayer with a heart that says we are right. This can be done because Christ was raised from the dead” (1 Peter 2:21 NLV)
Baptism represents a natural progression for those who are truly serious about following Jesus. The first step in that progression normally begins with our acceptance of Christ as Savior. It is then followed by the act of baptism which serves to identify us with Jesus and His death, burial, and resurrection. The end of that progression corresponds with the lifelong path of spiritual growth given to us in Acts 2:42: prayer, Bible study, communion, and regular church attendance.
Before we leave the subject of baptism, we should also take a moment to address the following question: is baptism necessary for salvation? To answer that question, we should recognize that baptism signifies union with Christ; it is not a mechanism that triggers salvation. For instance, if we were to say that baptism is a requirement for salvation, then it would mean that Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross was left unfinished. In other words, it would mean that Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to provide for our salvation and that something further (namely baptism) is necessary.
If that is the case, then Jesus was incorrect when He said from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Therefore, it is better to view baptism as an external confirmation of the inner reality of Jesus’ work in our lives.
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).
Colossians 2:13 and its reference to “…you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (ESV) is undoubtedly difficult for many to accept. In fact, this assertion may be shocking and offensive to anyone who is accustomed to the belief that human beings are naturally good, However, this passage actually represents an astonishing demonstration of God’s grace if we stop to consider it.
For instance, it is easy to recognize the heroism of those who are willing to sacrifice their lives for someone important. Much like a government agent who is tasked with the obligation to give his or her life in the service of a national leader, there are many who will sacrifice their lives for an important person like a head of state. We should also acknowledge the courage of those firefighters, law enforcement officers, military service members, first responders, and others in related occupations who may be asked to make similar sacrifices in the line of duty.
Then there are those who might be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for others in certain instances. Romans 5:7 acknowledges this reality when it says, “…most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good” (NLT).
However, Colossians 2:13 tells us that Jesus willingly sacrificed His life for those who didn’t fit these descriptions. For example, Colossians 2:13 employs the illuminating phrase “…you, who were dead in trespasses” (RSV) to describe our lives prior to Christ. The idea behind “trespasses” involves an act of willful disobedience, as anyone who has knowingly disregarded a “no trespassing sign” can attest.
There is nothing inherently appealing about human beings who are willfully disobedient. However, the depth of God’s love is such that Jesus sacrificed His life for those who had nothing to offer Him. The following passage from the New Testament book of Ephesians explains why…
“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 NIV).
“Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross” (Colossians 2:14 Phillips).
When someone is detained in the investigation of a crime, law enforcement officials will often request a report known as a “rap sheet.” In this context, “rap” stands for Record Of Arrests And Prosecutions and it details the criminal history of the person in question. Colossians 2:14 describes something like an ancient version of that report in referring to “…the handwriting of ordinances that was against us” (KJV). We can associate those ordinances with a personal record of every wrong we’ve ever committed.
We might also consider these ordinances from a different perspective and view them as something like an IOU. An “IOU” (or “I owe you“) is a note that carries an obligation to pay. In this sense, every sin is like a debt incurred against a morally perfect Creator- and like any financial obligation, there is a time when the payment comes due. That due-date is given to us in the New Testament book of James: “…sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15 NIV).
However, Colossians 2:14 tells us that Jesus eliminated our record of indebtedness by nailing it to the cross. You see, a record of the charges against a crucified criminal was often secured to the cross of the condemned. Those who were sentenced to death by crucifixion paid for those charges with their lives. In Jesus’ case, He paid for the charges against us with His life.
One commentator offers some additional insight on the ancient imagery within this verse…
“The substance on which ancient documents were written was either papyrus, a kind of paper made of the pith of the bulrush, or vellum, a substance made of the skins of animals. Both were fairly expensive and certainly could not be wasted. Ancient ink had no acid in it; it lay on the surface of the paper and did not, as modern ink usually does, bite into it.
Sometimes a scribe, to save paper, used papyrus or vellum that had already been written upon. When he did that, he took a sponge and wiped the writing out. Because it was only on the surface of the paper, the ink could be wiped out as if it had never been. God, in his amazing mercy, banished the record of our sins so completely that it was as if it had never been; not a trace remained.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 1”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-2.html 1956-1959.
“Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).
While the exact meaning of “principalities and powers” is open to debate, this phrase suggests that an organizational hierarchy exists within the angelic realm. For instance, Ephesians 6:12 identifies a similar type of organizational structure when it says, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Later on, the New Testament book of Jude will reference angelic beings “…who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home — these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 1:6 NIV). The use of words such as “rulers” and “principalities” suggests the existence of a chain of command, one that is populated by spiritual entities who possess various levels of stature, power, and authority.
Nevertheless, Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus disarmed these “spiritual hosts of wickedness” through His death on the cross. In bearing the sin that that separates human beings from their Creator, Jesus eliminated the single greatest weapon they possessed. Thus, the image presented in this passage is one of Jesus as a victorious military commander leading a triumphant procession.
A citizen of the ancient Roman Empire would have been familiar with this imagery for it depicted a conquering Roman general who had received the honor of leading a great procession following his return from the battlefield. As part of that procession, the victorious leader and his conquering army were first to march on display. Next came the spoils of war that had been collected from the battle. Finally, there came an appearance of the opposition forces, now defeated and weaponless, and other enemy personnel who were condemned to die.
Such processions represented a great honor for the triumphant and a shameful humiliation for the vanquished. One commentary expands on this idea with the following observation…
“What Christ ‘disarmed’ on the cross was any embodiment of rebellion in the world—whether that be Satan and his demons, false idols of pagan religious, evil world governments, or even God’s good angels when they become objects of worship (as in the Colossian heresy). This ‘disarming’ occurred when Jesus died on the cross, like stripping a defeated enemy of armor on the battlefield. Evil no longer has any power over believers because Christ has disarmed it.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible, Colossians 2:15 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
The first five books of the Bible are also known as the books of the Old Testament Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers. For the purpose of our discussion here in Colossians chapter two, there are three general aspects to the Old Testament law: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The civil law defined lawful and unlawful activities and various types of contractual agreements for the people of Old Testament Israel. The ceremonial law prescribed the appropriate way to approach God under the Old Covenant sacrificial system. The moral law explained the difference between right and wrong.
In addition to what we read in the passage quoted above, the New Testament books of Romans, Galatians, and Philippians tell us that the civil and ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament law were fulfilled in Christ….
“For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes is put right with God” (Romans 10:4 GNT).
“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:24-25).
“…In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith” (Philippians 3:9 CEB).
We also have Jesus’ word in this regard…
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 NET).
Although we are no longer under the civil and ceremonial requirements of the Old Testament Law, we still maintain a moral obligation to honor God in our personal behavior. Since the Law provides us with the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20), the moral principles we find there are just as valid today as they were when they were originally written.
One source offers an important reminder regarding the Old Testament Law in the context of Colossians 2:16-17…
“A shadow is not the real thing. There is a difference between the shadow and the substance… Why look at the shadow when we can look to Christ, the Author and the Finisher of our faith? These ceremonies are shadows, superseded, and should be abandoned. Since Christ has come, we no longer need the symbols (Heb 8:13; 10:1).” (1)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2462). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind” (Colossians 2:18 NIV).
Although the word “false” is not found in the original language of this verse, the context of this passage clearly references a type of humility that is less than genuine. The hypocritical and dishonest nature of this kind of “humility” is reflected in two penetrating questions attributed to John Wesley, the 18th century minister and Methodist leader…
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
With this in mind, we can say that false humility is a characteristic of those who seek to promote a seemingly modest appearance as a way of eliciting praise from others. Consider the following cautionary message from Jesus to His followers…
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6 NIV).
To quote another famous 18th century commentator, “It looked like humility to apply to angels, as if men were conscious of their unworthiness to speak directly to God. But it is not warrantable; it is taking that honour which is due to Christ only, and giving it to a creature. There really was pride in this seeming humility.” (1)
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/Matthew-Henry/Col/Against-Worshipping-Angels
“Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18).
There is an old maxim that states, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The passage quoted above illustrates the ageless nature of that expression in referencing those who delight “…in false humility and the worship of angels…” (NIV). In addition to the angelic worship mentioned here, we might expand this reference to include modern-day interactions with so-called “spiritual advocates” such as guardian angels, ancestral spirits, patron saints, spirit guides, and the like.
This passage tells us that those who promote such ideas defraud those who follow their teachings. In the words of Romans 1:25, those who pursue or advocate these practices “…have exchanged the truth of God for falsehood, by worshipping and serving created things, rather than the Creator…” (CJB). Here in Colossians 2:18, that specific form of exchange involved the worship of angelic beings as a substitute for the God who created them.
We can find a similar example in the teachings of others who suggest that we must first approach a spiritual intermediary in order to find favor with God. Much like the list of spiritual entities given above, there are some who affirm the need to ave an angelic being, an ancestor, a designated saint, or other spiritual entity act on our behalf in interceding for us before God. In our first example, these spiritual entities served as objects of human worship. In the second instance, they form the pathway that supposedly leads to approval with God.
However, Paul the Apostle identified the only mediator needed to approach God in a well-known passage from the New Testament book of 1 Timothy: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV). A “mediator” is someone who arbitrates, reconciles, and works out the differences between two parties. Through His sacrificial death, Jesus paid the charges held against us (Colossians 2:14) and mediated the way through which we may approach God and have a relationship with Him.
If we seek to be accepted by God, then it is essential to know how we must approach Him- and as as Jesus Himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“Don’t let anyone who wants to practice harsh self-denial and worship angels rob you of the prize. They go into detail about what they have seen in visions and have become unjustifiably arrogant by their selfish way of thinking. They don’t stay connected to the head. The head nourishes and supports the whole body through the joints and ligaments, so the body grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:18-19 CEB).
These verses remind us that there are only two kinds of spiritual beliefs: true and false. For instance, a person who is connected to Christ and looks to Him for guidance and direction through His Word is someone who is most likely to enjoy true spiritual health. But those who disengage from Jesus are vulnerable to any number of spiritual fallacies.
The New Testament epistle of 2 John echoes a similar theme in a very direct and forthright manner…
“Anyone who goes beyond Christ’s teaching and does not continue to follow only his teaching does not have God. But whoever continues to follow the teaching of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NCV).
These Scriptural admonitions warn us to avoid those who maintain a veneer of Christianity in relating their “visionary experiences” but are detached from Christ in reality. Consider the following observation from one commentator: “Like virtually all cults and false religions, the Colossian false teachers based their teaching on visions and revelations they had supposedly received. Their claims were false, since Jesus Christ is God’s final and complete… revelation to mankind (Heb 1:1, 2)” (1)
Much like a motor vehicle that takes the wrong exit, it is possible to leave the road of genuine Christianity in favor of a belief or teaching that carries little or no Scriptural support. However, if we stay within the boundaries of clear Biblical teaching, we can minimize the potential for spiritual deception. With this in mind, we can ask three important questions in seeking to determine if a spiritual belief or practice is Biblically valid…
- Did Jesus teach about this belief or practice in the Gospels?
- Did the church act upon this belief or practice in the Biblical book of Acts?
- Did the Biblical authors discuss this belief or practice in the New Testament epistles?
If the answers to those questions are “no,” then we would be well-advised to exercise caution. Otherwise, we might find ourselves engaged with those who are “…inflated by empty notions of their unspiritual mind” (CSB).
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Col 2:18). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:18-19 NET).
One of the great dangers facing anyone who fails to hold fast to “…Christ, who is the head of the body” (GNT) is that he or she may begin to read things into the Bible that aren’t really there.
You see, it is one thing to take a Biblical principle or idea and apply it to various situations. We saw an example of this earlier in our look at Colossians 2:18 as we discussed the Biblical reference to “…the worship of angels…” (NIV). We applied that passage to similar interactions with other “spiritual advocates” such as ancestral spirits, patron saints, spirit guides, and the like.
However, it is quite different to read something into a Biblical text that isn’t there. Theologians refer to this practice as eisegesis, a word that describes the act of reading an opinion or personal bias into a Biblical text that is not supported by the text or context.
The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis, a word that defines an effort to extract the meaning of the Scriptures. For instance, we might exegete a text through the use of word studies, commentaries, historical research, contextual examination, and other resources to draw out the meaning of a passage and obtain a fuller, richer understanding of God’s Word.
These distinctions are important for they shape the way we approach the Bible. For instance, we can impose a subjective interpretation from the outside in (eisegesis) or we can work from the inside out in attempting to extract the objective meaning from the text (exegesis). Each approach will greatly influence the way we apply the Scriptures for better or worse
Unfortunately, a person who is disengaged from a genuine relationship with Christ is likely to impose an external bias upon God’s Word since the Author is unavailable to guide his or her understanding of the text. One source draws our attention to this danger…
“The fundamental problem with the false teachers was that they were not connected to Christ, the head of the body of believers. If they had been joined to him, they could not have taught false doctrine or lived immorally. Anyone who teaches about God without being connected to him by faith should not be trusted.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible, Colossians 2:19 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—’Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ (Colossians 2:20-21).
While the passing of a loved one is undoubtedly traumatic and difficult, we can often take comfort in the fact that he or she is no longer subject to the difficulties, responsibilities, and obligations associated with this life. You see, death releases us from the commitments and obligations of the world we leave behind. In a similar manner, Colossians 2:20 tells us that those who are in Christ have died to the basic principles of this world and have no further commitment or obligation to them.
While we often speak of “the world” in terms of the physical environment in which we live, the “elements” (WYC), referenced in this passage have nothing to do with the ecology of our planet. As mentioned earlier in our look at Colossians 2:8, those elements are linked to the philosophies, opinions, values, worldviews, societal attitudes, and belief systems that characterize the world as it is and reject the God who is revealed within the pages of the Bible.
This aspect of the world is identified in the New Testament book of 1 John and bears repeating…
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17 NET).
When a concept like this is reiterated twice within a few short verses (as we see here in Colossians 2:8 and 2:20), we would do well to pay close attention. Much like those who have passed from this physical life, those who are in Christ are dead to the principles of this world but alive to God in Him (Romans 6:11). The New Testament book of Galatians builds upon this idea with the following insight…
“I have been crucified with Christ [that is, in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith [by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting] in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20 AMP).
“‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Colossians 2:21-22).
Asceticism is the term we use to describe a lifestyle of self denial, austerity, and abstention from various pleasures or indulgences. This concept has come to be identified with those who forsake various physical or psychological desires in attempting to reach a spiritual ideal or goal. (1)
Ascetics are often defined by the characteristics given to us here in Colossians 2:21-22. For instance, we find the practices of self denial, austerity, and abstention reflected in these references to “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” Nevertheless, it’s important to draw a distinction between the passage quoted above and other Scriptural admonitions such as these…
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me’” (Matthew 16:24).
“Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life’” (Mark 10:29-30).
These passages from Matthew and Mark identify the characteristics of those who place Jesus first in every aspect of life. On the other hand, the asceticism of Colossians chapter two finds its origin in the attitude of self-gratification and false humility mentioned earlier in Colossians 2:18. One commentary offers a few additional suggestions we can use to separate genuine Biblical self-denial from it’s counterfeit, man-made equivalent…
“We can guard against man-made religions by asking these questions about any religious group:
(1) Does it stress man-made rules and taboos rather than God’s grace?
(2) Does it foster a critical spirit toward others, or does it exercise discipline discreetly and lovingly?
(3) Does it stress formulas, secret knowledge, or special visions more than the Word of God?
(4) Does it elevate self-righteousness, honoring those who keep the rules, rather than elevating Christ?
(5) Does it neglect Christ’s universal church, claiming to be an elite group?
(6) Does it teach humiliation of the body as a means to spiritual growth rather than focus on the growth of the whole person?
(7) Does it disregard the family rather than hold it in high regard as the Bible does? (2)
(1) See Asceticism, The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, June 20, 2013, https://www.britannica.com/topic/asceticism Accessed August 20, 2019
(2) Life Application Study Bible, Colossians 2:22,23 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings” (Colossians 2:22 NET).
Some religious organizations insist that it is impossible to understand the Scriptures without the use of their study materials. Others claim to possess exclusive insights into the future based on their unique view of Biblical symbolism. Then there are those who promote “faith” as a means to obtain whatever we wish.
When evaluating such beliefs (and others like them), its critical to ask this question: “Does this doctrine have its origin in the Scriptures or does it originate in someone’s interpretation of the Scriptures?” This is important because a doctrine that originates in someone’s idea of what the Bible says may be founded on nothing more than a human command or teaching.
For instance, Jesus once offered a sharp rebuke to a group of spiritual leaders who had replaced God’s commands with their personal views and opinions…
“Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human words.’
You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you… In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that” (Mark 7:6-8, 13 CEB).
To help identify those who do away with God’s Word in favor of human regulations, the following source alerts us to four harmful teachings adapted from this letter to the Colossian church…
“The first harmful teaching is ‘higher’ knowledge (Gnosticism). Some examples are: so called scientific, archaeological, or paleontological ‘facts’ that contradict Scripture, so called revelations that claim to be on a par with Scripture, and teaching that directly contradicts biblical revelation.
The second harmful teaching is the observance of laws to win God’s love (legalism). Some examples are: salvation by works, teaching that puts Christians under the Mosaic Law, and teaching that says sanctification comes by keeping man-made rules.
The third harmful teaching is the belief that beings other than Christ must mediate between people and God (mysticism). Some examples are: teachings that certain beings (e.g., angels, ‘saints,’ ancestors) or experiences (e.g., glossolalia, hearing voices) can improve our relationship with God.
The fourth harmful teaching is the practice of abstaining from things to earn merit with God (asceticism). Some examples are: fasting to force God’s hand, living in isolation to avoid temptation, and self-mutilation to mortify the flesh.” (1)
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. “Commentary on 2:20-23”. “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable”. https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm.
“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).
One spiritual danger mentioned in the final verse of Colossians chapter two is false humility, a characteristic that was touched upon earlier in Colossians 2:18. This subtle, but destructive attribute is reflective of a person who seems to be humble on the outside but is something quite different in reality. A person who engages in this type of behavior is someone who presents an appearance of humility in an effort to elicit praise from others.
Jesus drew our attention to the inappropriate nature of such conduct in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew…
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his followers, ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees have the authority to tell you what the law of Moses says. So you should obey and follow whatever they tell you, but their lives are not good examples for you to follow. They tell you to do things, but they themselves don’t do them. They make strict rules and try to force people to obey them, but they are unwilling to help those who struggle under the weight of their rules.
They do good things so that other people will see them. They enlarge the little boxes holding Scriptures that they wear, and they make their special prayer clothes very long. Those Pharisees and teachers of the law love to have the most important seats at feasts and in the synagogues. They love people to greet them with respect in the marketplaces, and they love to have people call them ‘Teacher’” (Matthew 23:1-7 NCV).
If pressed, these religious leaders surely would have denied such charges. Yet Jesus’ assessment of their conduct was undeniably true even if they chose to reject it. Nevertheless, we should also note that Jesus did not reserve such criticisms exclusively for those who were opposed to Him. Much like His candid appraisal of the Christians who attended seven first century churches in the book of Revelation, Jesus sees us for who we are and not how we are perceived to be. Perhaps even more sobering is the fact that our own hidden motives will eventually be known to everyone else as well.
A person who is secure in Christ has no need to present an appearance of humility in an effort to reap the praise of others. In the words of Colossians 2:10, we are “…complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
“These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires” (Colossians 2:23 NLT).
The question of motive plays a large role in determining whether an action is “good” or “bad.” For instance, devotion can a positive characteristic as long as we are devoted to the right things. In a similar manner, the qualities of self-denial and self-discipline are admirable practices unless we employ them in the service of a man-made religion.
When it comes to true spirituality, these qualities are worthless at best (and harmful at worst) if they do not grow out of a genuine relationship with Christ. For example, Paul the Apostle will spend much of the next chapter exhorting his readers to “put off” a long list of negative behaviors and replace them with others that honor God. A person who is devoted to seeking God’s empowerment to “put on” these Godly characteristics is someone who exercises true wisdom.
On the other hand, the “…fabricated religion, self-humiliation, and bodily abuse” (Voice) that originates in a human-oriented approach to God does nothing to address the issues that motivate us to engage in such practices. One source defines this kind of man-made religion as a type of worship “…which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which ought to be directed to Christ.” (1)
While this approach maintains an appearance of spirituality and gratifies our desire for meaning and purpose in life, it ultimately rejects the God-ordained path of salvation in favor of a something “better” that promotes religion on our terms. In the words of one Biblical paraphrase, “These rules may seem good, for rules of this kind require strong devotion and are humiliating and hard on the body, but they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires. They only make him proud” (TLB).
We’ll close this portion of our study in Colossians with a timely reminder…
“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence. When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward. Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like. We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ. In all things, He must have the preeminence!” (2)
(1) G1479 ethelothreskeia Thayer’s Greek Definitions http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=1479
(2) Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary [2:104] quoted in Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable [2:20-23], https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm#_ftn231