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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Colossians 2

 

 


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Verses 1-3

Paul Reiterates His Great Concern for God’s People And Reminds Them Where True Wisdom Lies (Colossians 2:1-5)

‘For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be strengthened, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Paul wants them to know of his great concern for them and the efforts he makes on their behalf. He wants them to know that he is not just concerned for his own converts but for them also, and for all the people of God. And as he strives in prayer for them, his prayer is that their hearts may be strengthened, that they may love one another and that they may enjoy the full riches of assured understanding (sunesis - including the ability to discern truth from falsehood) in Christ, for all the treasures of wisdom (reasoned thought) and knowledge (apprehension of truth) are hidden in Him.

‘That their hearts may be strengthened.’ The word for strengthened is parakaleo, from which the noun Paraklete (Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit - John 14:16; John 14:26) comes. Paul clearly has the work of the Holy Spirit in mind here, being alongside them, helping them, guiding them, strengthening them, and where necessary consoling them and acting on their behalf (compare Colossians 1:9), probably also seeing it in terms of the indwelling of Christ Himself (Ephesians 3:17; Galatians 2:20) for He is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9) without Whom no one is a Christian.

‘Knit together in love.’ The binding of Christ’s people together by cords of love is everywhere assumed. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love to one another’ (John 13:35). None are to be excluded (thus exclusive inner circles are forbidden), and through it we will know more deeply the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17-19 - note the conjunction there also of the Spirit’s power and abounding love). For the meaning of ‘knit together’ see Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:16).

‘Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding.’ Colossians and Ephesians are full of the riches of God (Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:16). As Paul grew older he was more aware of the riches of what God provided. Here those riches consist of a full assurance of understanding. Full comprehension and certainty, resulting from the work of the Spirit and the responsiveness of God’s people to one another. And that understanding is in the mystery now revealed, even in Christ ‘in Whom are hid all the treasures (more riches) of wisdom and knowledge’.

‘The treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ The phrase ‘the treasures of wisdom’ is found in the Apocrypha, in Sirach 1:25, and ‘wisdom and knowledge’ are combined in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18; Ecclesiastes 2:21-26; Ecclesiastes 9:10 (LXX). ‘Wisdom’ suggests reasoned consideration with ‘knowledge’ referring to apprehension of truth. But in Ecclesiastes they are very practical wisdom and knowledge, whereas here they are more spiritually oriented and centred on Christ. Paul is probably intending more to contrast with the claims of other religions of the day to have ‘hidden wisdom’.

To Paul Christ is all. And all knowledge that matters and all wisdom that matters is found in Him and is concerning Him and His ways. Heisthe wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30) revealed in righteousness, reckoned to them and finally worked in them, sanctification whereby they are full set apart for God, and redemption whereby their price is paid and they are delivered from the penalty and power of sin. But there is even more than that, for all true wisdom in Heaven and earth is concerning the One of Whom Paul speaks, as he has demonstrated in Colossians 1:15-19.

Hidden wisdom was a feature of the ancient world. The ‘traditions of the elders’ were passed down among an inner group of Jewish teachers, and the ancient mystery religions had their own secret knowledge only revealed to initiates. All was hidden, enjoyed by the elite. But in Christ all is revealed to whoever will. For to know Him is to know all hidden wisdom.


Verse 4-5

‘I say this so that no one may (or ‘let no one’) delude you with persuasive speech, for though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in the spirit, full of joy and beholding your order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.’

His purpose in showing them the supremacy of Jesus Christ, and that all worthwhile wisdom and knowledge are found in Him, was in order to combat those who came among them with persuasive words. For although he cannot be with them in body, yet he is truly among them in spirit (compare the use in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5), genuinely concerned for them, full of joy at their ‘orderly behaviour’ (we could translate this as ‘closing of ranks’, another use of the Greek word, as they unite against those who would deceive them), their growth and the steadfastness of their faith in Christ. He wants them to know that although he has never himself been there, Epaphras has given him a full picture of what they are, so that his affection for them is genuine.

‘Flesh -- spirit’. A common contrast in Paul’s letters. But here ‘flesh’ is not used in its Pauline sense as signifying the part of us that drags us down. It signifies being human (as in John 1:14). And when the ‘spirit’ of a Christian is spoken of the Spirit is not far away. He may therefore mean, or include, the idea of ‘by the Spirit’ (compare Galatians 3:3 where the Spirit is contrasted with the flesh).

‘Order.’ This could mean orderly behaviour in the family (compare 1 Corinthians 14:40) or could refer to military order, closing ranks against the enemy.

‘Steadfastness.’ The word can mean a ‘barrier’. Thus he may be saying that they have closed ranks and set up a barrier against the foe, the barrier of faith (compare ‘the shield of faith’ - Ephesians 6:16). But the idea may be more generally of steadfastness of faith.

Christ Who Partakes In All The Fullness of God Has Saved, Transformed and Delivered Us (Colossians 2:6 - Colossians 2:15)


Verse 6-7

‘As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith (or ‘your faith’), even as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.’

Paul’s usual term for Jesus Christ in Colossians is ‘Christ’. In Colossians 1:1 he opened by calling Him ‘Christ Jesus’, followed by ‘Christ’ (Colossians 1:2), ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Colossians 1:3) and ‘Christ Jesus’ in Colossians 1:4. These have established identification and position. Then there are references to Him as ‘the Lord’ in Colossians 1:10 and ‘the Son’ in Colossians 1:13. But otherwise (until Colossians 3:17) He is ‘Christ’ (Colossians 1:2; Colossians 1:7; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 1:27-28; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 2:5; Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:11; Colossians 2:17; Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:1; Colossians 3:3-4; Colossians 3:11). This means that the change here to ‘the Christ, Jesus the Lord’ is intended to be significant. He is saying, “consider Who it is that you have received, it is THE CHRIST, JESUS, THE LORD, the One Whose glory is above the heavens and who is pre-eminent over all things”.

‘As -- you received.’ The word for ‘received’ is regularly used for the receiving of tradition and teaching (consider the reference to tradition in Colossians 3:8). Compare 1 Corinthians 15:1; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:9; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6. Thus he is stressing that rather than receiving a body of tradition they have received the living Lord along with all that He is (compare Ephesians 4:20 - ‘you did not so learn Christ’). He is ‘in them’ (Colossians 1:27), and in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Thus they are to ‘go on walking in Him’ (present imperative), concentrating their attention on Him, rooted in Him and built up in Him in accordance with what they have been taught. Let them look to Him with joyful thanksgiving. They need look nowhere else. They need no one else and nothing else. ‘Christ Jesus the Lord’ is totally sufficient.

‘The Christ, Jesus the Lord.’ Here ‘Christon’ has the article. Elsewhere in Colossians, apart from in Colossians 3:1-4 where every use has the article, Christos is used without the article except when in the genitive. In Colossians 3:1-4 the reference is to Christ as risen and exalted. It would seem then that the article is being used to further draw attention to His exalted state. (See on Colossians 1:3 a for the significance of the full name, but there Christos is without the article and not so prominent). With the article the title is unique in the New Testament apart from its use in Ephesians 3:11 with ‘our’, where it speaks of ‘the Christ Jesus our Lord’ when speaking of God’s eternal purpose in Him. The inclusion of the personal name Jesus (contrast Ephesians 4:24) stresses the true humanity of ‘the Christ, the Lord’.

‘Walk in Him.’ In their daily walk they are to be totally taken up with Him. He is to be the sphere in which they life their lives.

‘Rooted and being built up in Him.’ Compare Ephesians 3:17 ‘rooted and grounded in love’. There the emphasis is on the love of Christ which is the sphere in which the church flourishes. Here the emphasis is more on the person of Christ. The metaphors are mixed, ‘rooted’ referring to being firmly planted and growing strongly, ‘built up’ referring to the building of a firm structure. ‘Rooted’ is in the perfect tense, something done in the past the benefit of which continues, ‘built up’ is in the present, a continuing process.

‘Being established in your faith.’ Again in the present, a continuing process. The idea of the Greek word used is being ‘established, strengthened, confirmed’ in the faith that they have been taught. We could translate ‘in (or by) your faith’ referring to the strengthening of their personal faith (compare the use of the dative in Hebrews 13:9), but ‘even as you were taught suggests an emphasis on the taught faith.

‘Abounding in thanksgiving.’ Thanksgiving (eucharistia) is a theme of Colossians. See Colossians 1:12 ‘giving thanks’, Colossians 3:15 ‘be thankful’, Colossians 3:17 ‘giving thanks’, Colossians 4:2 ‘with thanksgiving’. Continual gratitude of heart towards God should be expressed in words, and should abound, for so we reveal our true attitude of heart and are built up and strengthened. Doctrine when rightly taught should be personalised and should produce worship.


Verse 8

‘Watch carefully lest there shall be anyone who carries you off captive through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.’

Positively they must ensure their roots in Christ are firm, and that they are built up in Him and established in the faith taught by Apostolic men. But they are also to watch carefully against being deceived by human wisdom, which is not really wisdom at all (compare 1 Corinthians 1:17 to 1 Corinthians 2:2). Their concentration must be on Christ alone, not on inferior beings, however seemingly exalted, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form and our fullness is in Him, the One Who is over all.

This warning applies to any who would come between us and Christ, whether Mary, the saints, the angels, or any spirit beings. Christ is superior to all and we are in direct contact with Him. We need no other as intermediaries, and to allow them to be seen as intermediaries is to come between us and Christ and to destroy what is most holy.

(Mary must be given due honour as the God-bearer’, the one chosen by God for that purpose, the one through whom, with all her failings, God brought His Son into the world. But as an intermediary between God and us, or Jesus Christ and us, she has no place, and she would have been horrified at even the thought of it. There is not a word in Scripture to support the idea. The words at the cross were personal, for Mary’s benefit, not theological (John 19:26-27).

‘Watch carefully.’ The Christian is not just to accept anything that seems ‘helpful’. He is to be constantly on his guard. Anything that takes his eyes off Christ is to be shunned, for in Him they have everything. The use of the indicative rather than the subjunctive stresses the very real danger. The need is not just a possibility but a certainty. It is an alert.

‘Lest any man carry you off captive through his philosophy or vain deceit.’ The picture is vivid. Later he will stress that it is the enemies of Christ who have been carried off captive (Colossians 2:15). Thus the Colossians must beware of the same fate from a different source. Those who seek to do it are their enemies, however wise they may seem. ‘Philosophy’ (love of wisdom) means any view of God or the world or human life generally. ‘Vain deceit’ puts it in context. Anything contrary to, or that purports to add to, the Gospel is vain deceit.

‘After the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ.’ The world of that day was faced with a vast array of teachings and philosophies with respect to divine things. Paul turns them away from all of them to Christ. Full truth is found in Him alone. All else must be discarded. The warning is just as necessary today. Primitive religions are taking new forms in naturism and new world philosophies. But the only answer, the only truth about such things, is found in Christ, and what He is, and what He is revealed to be in the Scriptures.

‘Tradition’ (paradosin). Compare 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6 for its use in a Christian sense. They are to beware of any traditions not firmly based in the Apostolic tradition presented to the early church in the first century. The latter are traditions received from God, all others (including later Christian traditions) are the traditions of men.

‘The elements (or elementary teaching) of the world’. Many sought to teach what they regarded as basic and foundation truths relating to intermediary supernatural beings. But they were opposed to the true world view which spoke of God in Christ as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe without intermediaries. Any reaching out to other supernatural beings or intermediaries, whether through mediums or religious means is wrong.

‘In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ The word for ‘dwells’ represents permanent dwelling, as opposed to temporary residence, demonstrating the permanence of the divine fullness in Christ. This is no passing thing but permanent enjoyment of the fullness of deity. The word for fullness (pleroma) refers to completeness and totality (see on Colossians 1:19). He partakes completely in the totality of the fullness of what God is.

‘The Godhead’ (theotes). Used by Paul only here. It refers to Godhead in the most exclusive sense of truly and fully divine. We can compare ‘theiotes’ used in Romans 1:20 which refers to a more general sense of divine power revealed. Creation reveals the footprint of God, the hand of God in creating, but Christ reveals Him in all the fullness of His being. In creation we perceive His hand, in Christ we see His face in all its glory (2 Corinthians 4:4 with Colossians 3:18).

‘Bodily’ may mean in one complete ‘body’, not divided up among intermediaries. Alternately it may mean in human bodily form, stressing the fullness of the Godhead as involved in the incarnation. ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).’ Both are true.

‘And you are made complete (full) in Him.’ He is all that we need to be made complete. Christ is everything. To think of going to lesser powers when we can personally know the all-powerful would be foolish in the extreme, for it is God’s purpose that we know Him and be made complete in Him, that is, be endued with all that it is possible for redeemed mankind to enjoy. ‘For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace’ (John 1:16).

‘Who is the head of all principality and power.’ He is the One Who is ‘far above all’ (Ephesians 1:21), to Whom all are subject. There is no power or rule in heaven or earth over which He is not the Head, and over which He does not have the full mastery and complete authority. Having Him what want we more?


Verse 11-12

‘In whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.’

In Christ all who are His are circumcised with a spiritual circumcision. They do not need to be circumcised physically, for they have experienced something far greater. Physical circumcision, and the shedding of blood it entailed, was but a picture, pointing ahead to that great ‘circumcision of Christ’ when His blood was shed and He was cast off, not just a small part of Him, but His whole body on the cross, a sacrifice for sin. We too, once we have come to Him in confident trust that He will work within us, have died with Him, have put off the body of flesh, have been buried with Him, and have also been raised through faith in the working of God Who raised Him from the dead (Romans 6:4-11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:1-10).

‘A circumcision not made with hands.’ This spiritual circumcision was already referred to in the Old Testament. It is found in Exodus 6:12; Exodus 6:30 where reference is made to uncircumcised lips which are thus unclean and unworthy; in Deuteronomy 10:16 where it refers to the heart being ‘circumcised’ resulting in humility and obedience (compare Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7; Ezekiel 44:9); in Deuteronomy 30:6 where it refers again to the circumcision of the heart which results in men loving God with their whole being; and in Jeremiah 6:10 where the uncircumcised heart is the one that does not listen to God (compare Jeremiah 31:33, where God will make His people hearers of His word by spiritual work within them). Thus this spiritual circumcision produces pure lips, responsive hearing, humility and obedience and a heart filled with love for God.

‘In the stripping right off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.’ This spiritual circumcision results from being united with Christ in His death. This results in our ‘stripping right off’ the body of flesh, that is, our fleshly attitude and behaviour with its consequent rebellion against God, even as Christ through His sacrificial death put off His body which was bearing our sins (1 Peter 2:24). This ‘body of flesh’ is elsewhere described as ‘the body of sin’ which is done away in Christ’s death (Romans 6:6); ‘this body of death’ because its behaviour results in death (Romans 7:24), and ‘the body of our humiliation’, referring to our sinful and unworthy condition (Philippians 3:21).

‘Through the circumcision of Christ.’ Not a participation in His earthly circumcision but in His greater, more extreme, circumcision through the cross, which ratified the new covenant as circumcision had the old. By participation with Him in His cross we become members of the new covenant. Alternately, but less likely, it may mean ‘through the spiritual circumcision that Christ wrought in us’.

‘Having been buried with Him in baptism, wherein also you were raised with Him.’ The primary baptism in mind here is the ‘spiritual baptism’ described in 1 Corinthians 12:13, where he says ‘by One Spirit we were all baptised into one body --- and were all made to drink of one Spirit’. This is describing the result of the work of the Spirit on the heart, which then results, for the convert, in physical baptism in water which symbolises it. As the circumcision described is spiritual and not physical so is the primary idea of ‘baptism’. The ‘baptism (drenching) in Holy Spirit’ refers to the coming work of the Spirit constantly described in the prophets in terms of drenching rain (see especially Isaiah 44:3-5), and that was what John the Baptiser’s baptism symbolised. He spoke always in terms of such fruitfulness of nature and never in terms of washing.

(It is quite remarkable how many in the church have sidelined the clear background to early baptism in fruitful cornfields and fruitful trees resulting from the rain, the basis of John the Baptiser’s teaching, and the drinking of water from springs fed by those rains which Jesus emphasised (John 4). See also John 7:37-38), where the fruitful rain and the drinking are in mind in context (it was at a rain ceremony). While His ‘born from above’ (John 3:6) clearly has the rains in mind. Both ideas were based on the prophetic references to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in terms of such rain (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3-5). This failure was because much of the later church was so taken up with religious ceremony that it looked for pure religious ceremony in it. So they seized on Old Testament washings for its background, in spite of the fact that such washings were never directly connected with cleansing from sin (except when sprinkled with sacrificial ashes). They did not in themselves cleanse - ‘shall not be clean until the evening’ is a constant refrain - and the New Testament never connects baptism with such ideas except to deny it - 1 Peter 3:21).

Paul may well have in mind here the idea of the water of baptism being like a grave into which a man goes to rise again, but it is not his own grave but the grave of Christ in which he is buried and it is His resurrection in which he partakes. And this too is agriculturally connected, for the corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies (John 12:24). So this follows the idea of a dead nature springing into new life with the re-commencement of the rains, and depicts what has already taken place in the convert’s life, sealed by his baptism outwardly because he has already received the seal of the Spirit inwardly.

(It should be noted that baptism is never specifically described as washing, it is a symbol of new life in the Spirit. It is ‘the word’ which is said to wash (Ephesians 5:26), and ritual washings were never said to ‘cleanse’ directly. They were regularly accompanied by the phrase ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. They were a mere preparation, a removing of physical defilement, for the waiting on a holy God for Him to cleanse).

The primary stress here therefore is on dying with Christ, being buried with Him and rising with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4-9), having been watered (baptizo - ‘drenched’) by the Spirit, being born anew, just as in hot countries the barren land springs into new life when the rains commence..

‘Through faith in the working of God Who raised Him from the dead.’ This all comes about through the responsive faith of the one who is so transformed, a faith which trusts in the powerful working of God in resurrection power (compare Ephesians 2:1-10). It is faith that saves (Ephesians 2:8-9) and results in the receiving of the Spirit (Galatians 3:2). Baptism bears witness to that faith and thereby seals the blessing for those who truly believe.

‘The working of God.’ The power of God revealed in the resurrection of Christ is made available to the believer through faith. This power is revealed to its fullest extent in Ephesians 1:19-23, where Christ is raised and enthroned ‘far above all’, and through this resurrection Jesus is declared to the powerful Son of God (Romans 1:4) by the Holy Spirit, Who communicates that power to believers. Thus the believer is aware that the greatest power in the universe is exercised on his behalf to ensure his final salvation.


Verse 13

‘And you being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.’

Paul now makes the significance of it all crystal clear. We were dead through our trespasses (compare Ephesians 2:1-3), dead to the Spirit and under sentence of final death. We were dead because our fleshly hearts were not spiritually circumcised with the resultant willingness to hear and obey and to love God with all our being. We were not alive to God. But God in His mercy has forgiven the trespasses of all who believe in Christ and has made them alive in Him.

‘Dead through your trespasses.’ This is amplified in Ephesians 2:1-3 where it is associated with being controlled by the world’s ideas and ways, and by Satan himself.. Thus are they dead to God and under sentence of final death.

‘And the uncircumcision of your flesh.’ This can hardly refer only to physical circumcision. Paul would not have seen that as a cause for being dead to God. He did not believe that circumcision made a man alive to God and he knew of far too many circumcised people who were dead to God as well. Indeed he regarded them as ‘uncircumcised’ (Romans 2:25). But he did seeuntransformedflesh as resulting in death (Romans 8:6). The point is that they had not experienced spiritual circumcision to their ‘flesh’, their fleshly hearts and minds, through the working of God, and were thus dead in sin and doomed (see on Romans 8:11).

‘He made you alive together with Him.’ It is Paul’s constant theme that by union with Him in His death and resurrection, that is in union with His own body and ‘in Him’, we are made alive with His life (Romans 8:12; Colossians 3:1; Romans 6:4-11; Romans 8:9-11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:5-6; Philippians 3:10 compare John 5:25; John 14:19; James 1:18; 2 Peter 1:3-4).

‘Having forgiven us all our trespasses.’ Note the change from ‘you’ to ‘our’. It is added on almost as a note because Paul is so aware of the unmerited love of God and the wonderful forgiveness that is his and ours through that love. So Paul identifies himself and his fellow-workers, and the whole Christian church, as in need of, and as enjoying, the assurance of, forgiveness. ‘Having forgiven’ (charizomai). The word means to give freely as a favour and then comes to refer to forgiveness given freely by grace. Compare its use in Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32 see also 2 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 2:10. Its use stresses the graciousness in forgiving. ‘Trespasses’, the taking of false steps and therefore the positive doing of wrong.


Verse 14-15

‘Having blotted out the written bond in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross, having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.’

The debts we owed to God are many, for we have broken His Laws and ignored His requirements. He provided us with a creation, and as His tenants (so Jesus often - Matthew 21:34-36; Matthew 25:14-19; Luke 19:13 see also Matthew 18:28-31; ) we have failed to fulfil our legal responsibilities and meet His demands. Thus there is a heavy certificate of indebtedness standing against us. But God/Jesus Christ has taken this, blotted it out and nailed it His cross, thus cancelling it fully, for there the debt was paid in full.

It would seem we are to see here the principalities and powers as crowding Him like a lynch mob and pointing an accusing finger at those debts and being defeated and humiliated for their efforts. For Jesus was there representing mankind, open to attack as He bore our sin in His own body on the tree (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:11; Hebrews 9:28).

‘Blotting out.’ When a debt was paid the bond was first blotted out and then cancelled.

‘The written bond in (or ‘by’ or even ‘with’) ordinances.’ The word for ‘written bond’ refers to a signed legal bond or certificate of indebtedness. The idea would seem to be that God’s ordinances as revealed in the Torah (God’s ‘instruction’ - the first five books of the Bible) so bind us and condemn us that they are seen as a certificate of debt. Indeed men were put under obligation to the Law when they were accepted (see Exodus 24:3), and therefore put under the curse of the Law (see Deuteronomy 27:14-26), for we were then liable to meet its demands in full. We are thus, in our unconverted state, failed debtors to God (Romans 8:12; Luke 16:5; Matthew 6:12). We could translate the words ‘the written binding legal demands which we had failed to meet’. Gentiles are included for they have the Law written in their hearts and consciences (Romans 2:14-15). Thus they consent to them in their consciences and are equally liable to obey them.

‘In ordinances.’ (Dogmasin). This means ‘decrees, ordinances’. Compare Luke 2:1; Acts 17:7 where it means the emperor’s decrees; Acts 16:4 where it means the decrees of the Church Meeting in Jerusalem. In Ephesians 2:15 it clearly means the Mosaic Law, and it is used in this way by Josephus and Philo. Thus it could mean the Law’s demands or the Creator’s demands or indeed all divine demands. It may therefore be that the ordinances are to be seen as including all moral demands.

An alternative rendering is to take ‘in ordinances’ with ‘against us’ - ‘the written bond which was against us with its ordinances’. But the position of ‘against us’ in the Greek is against this, and the meaning is the same in the end.

‘That was against us, which was contrary to us.’ The written bond was ‘against us’. The first phrase ‘that was against us’ is closely connected with the written bond showing that it was a condemning bond. It is literally ‘the against us written bond’. ‘Which was contrary to us’ stresses its effect. It reveals it as directly hostile in its intent.

‘He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.’ He (God/Jesus Christ) has removed it from any position where it could be effective in attacking us. Once it is on the cross it is in the place where its demands have been met on full. No one can cavil at its being rendered powerless to attack us, for it has been fulfilled. But that is only when we have been crucified with Christ on His cross by faith.


Verse 15

‘Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of the openly, triumphing over them in it.’

This action clearly refers to Jesus directly. Whether we take the ‘He’ of the previous verses as God or Jesus Christ matters little. It was God’s action in Christ. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

‘Having put off from Himself the principalities and powers.’ He had been fighting them all His life, from the time when Herod sought to destroy Him as a young child (Matthew 2:16), through His temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), then in His ‘battle’ with evil spirits when as the Stronger than Satan He constantly bound him and took his goods (Luke 11:22 and parallels), then when Peter tempted Him to avoid the way of suffering (Mark 8:33 and parallels), followed by Satan’s plans through Judas (John 13:2; John 13:27). So He knew His opponents well.

Jesus had no doubts about what He would face. ‘The prince of this world comes and has nothing on me’ (John 14:30), He said in the Upper Room, and then shortly afterwards, in the Garden, ‘this is your hour and the power of darkness’ (Luke 22:53 - compare ‘the power of darkness in opposition to Him and His kingdom in Colossians 1:13). And now we learn that in His final hours on the cross He ‘put off’ from Himself (an alternative translation is ‘He completely disarmed’) the principalities and powers, and then led them in chains in His march of victory in the resurrection. This suggests close confrontation and vicious assault as they pressed in upon Him, then the stripping of them off followed by His triumph. Redemption for mankind was obtained both by the payment of a ransom and by the ignominious defeat of the powers of evil.

‘Triumphing over them in it (or in Him).’ The pronoun can be translated either ‘it’ or ‘Him’, referring either to the cross or to Jesus Himself. If we take the latter the subject of the sentence would be God. But the context strongly favours that the triumph was directly through the cross where sin was annulled.

We Must Therefore Concentrate on Christ and Not Be Taken Up With Rites and Ceremonies (Colossians 2:16 to Colossians 3:4).


Verse 16

‘Therefore let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day, which are a shadow of the things to come. But the body is of Christ.’

Paul now stresses that because of the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross all ritual requirement has been done away. They were but shadows, pointing the way forward. Now that reality (the body) has come in Christ the shadows are no longer necessary. This might suggest that some teachers were trying to get the Colossians to observe Pharisaic washings, abstention from certain ‘unclean’ foods, and observance of feast days and the Sabbath. But it seems to extend wider than this for the Pharisees did not forbid any types of drink. Abstention from such was, however, looked on by the Jews as making men somehow more exclusively holy (compare the Nazarites - Numbers 6:2, also John the Baptiser - Luke 1:15). But many ancient religions encouraged asceticism, so that Paul is looking wider to all ascetic teaching. Paul’s point is not to condemn abstention but to condemn it as being seen as a ‘requirement’ or as making men somehow super-holy. If men wish to do it to honour the Lord, and find it helpful, it is up to them, as long as they do not pass judgment on others or deceive themselves by thinking that somehow it makes them superior.

This was a constant problem because there was, and is, always a tendency for the spiritually lazy to prefer to have to ‘do’ certain things rather than be tied down to spiritual requirements. If they can just ‘observe’ certain things and then be free to do what they like, they are content. Others too, fearful for their souls (especially as they get older), try to achieve forgiveness by ritual activity. They think that, if they but do enough of it, it will somehow merit salvation for them. Both overlook the fact that the new message was spiritual and free, that we can do nothing to merit God’s gracious activity or even to spur it on. It is given freely in response to faith, and to faith alone.

‘Let no man judge you.’ Either ‘take you to task’ or ‘pass judgment on you’. With regard to ceremonial regulations each must decide for himself what is right and no one has the right to judge another.

‘Let no man judge you in meat or in drink.’ Here the command is unequivocal. It has become a matter of principle. He could have added, ‘every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving’ (1 Timothy 4:4). The eating or not eating of certain foods is not to be accepted as incumbent on anyone and the Colossians should not therefore allow themselves to be told what they must, or must not, eat or drink. Such eating or drinking is a matter of personal choice (although drunkenness is always condemned, and ‘strong drink’ is discouraged because it clouds the judgment (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 31:4; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:22; Isaiah 28:7 see also Luke 1:15). ‘He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks. And he who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord, and gives God thanks’ (Romans 14:6). It is clear that Paul himself puts no restrictions on what we may or may not eat, and does not consider that it affects our spirituality one way or another as long as it is not made an ‘essential’.

But compare Romans 14:13 where the question is raised of concern for others who may be caused to stumble. He stresses that for the spiritual Christian , ‘the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17). In other words the concern of the Christian should be for spiritual response and behaviour, not for physical or ritual requirements. Indeed he stresses that nothing is unclean of itself (Romans 14:14 compare Mark 7:19), but then he does stress that the Christian must take into account the weakness of others (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33). If the eating and drinking of certain things will cause another to stumble then we should avoid them for their sake (1 Corinthians 10:21; 1 Corinthians 10:28; 1 Corinthians 10:32). And if we ourselves are in doubt about such things then we should not partake (1 Corinthians 10:23). While such abstentions must not be made a ‘necessary requirement’ or seen as increasing a man’s spirituality, they must also not be allowed to become a stumbingblock or a hindrance to ourselves or others. Compare the condemnation of those who gave wine to Nazarites with the intent to ease their own consciences (Amos 2:12).

‘Or in respect of a feast day --- or of a sabbath day.’ As he says elsewhere, ‘one man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He who regards the day regards it to the Lord’ (Romans 14:5-6). ‘He who does not regard the day does not regard it to the Lord’ is not said but can be read in because of the parallel with regard to eating. For each is living to the Lord. His responsibility is directly to Him. Thus Paul does not specifically at these points support the keeping of a special day to the Lord. Indeed he says that to judge another person for not keeping the Sabbath, or any other day, is contrary to Scripture.

However having said that many would see the observance of one day in seven especially for the Lord as, while not obligatory, good in principle. Compare Isaiah 58:13-14. Thus they may encourage such as being wise and good in the upbuilding of the spiritual life, because it is ensuring provision for time with God. But as Paul stresses, every day belongs to God and should be observed to Him, and the spiritual Christian will treat every day as the Sabbath, a day separated to God for the doing of His work.

So some find making such rules for themselves helpful, others find them unnecessary. But we must beware if we take the first view that we do not belittle those who take the second. And if we take the second view we must be sure that it is for the genuinely positive reason that we wish to be even more dedicated to God, and not as a get out for being spiritually lazy. Each will have to account to God (Romans 14:8-12). But the point of these passages is that, while a thing may be good in itself, it should not be made a ‘necessary requirement’. For Christians should not be looking to ‘necessary requirements’ but to the Lord, and nothing apart from faith in Christ must be made a condition of salvation.

‘Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body (or ‘the substance’) is of Christ.’ Requirements such as these had their purpose but they have now been done away (see Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 10:1). They are no longer binding. Now Christ is come shadows fade into the background. Concentration must be on the reality, on Him and on Him alone.


Verse 18

‘Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility or worshipping of the supernatural messengers, dwelling in the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’

The Christian life is here thought of as an athletic contest (compare 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1). In order to win the prize everything that could hinder, anything that could ‘slow us down’, must be laid aside. By fixing our eyes on anyone or anything other than Christ we will hinder our growth, for He is our Head, the Great Direct Supplier, and He alone can provide that which makes us ‘increase with the increase of God’. To look to intermediaries is to choke the line of contact and thus prevent maximum benefit. And this is true whether of priests, angels, saints or Mary.

‘Let no man rob you of your prize (or ‘give an unfavourable ruling against you’).’ Paul may have intended us to see Christ as ‘the prize’, God’s response to our faith. Or it may refer to our failing to achieve our future reward because false humility renders us useless. The verb (there is no separate word for ‘prize’) may, however simply mean, ‘give an unfavourable ruling against you’, but the consequence is the same.

‘A voluntary humility and worshipping of supernatural messengers.’ The word for supernatural messengers is ‘angelos’, usually translated ‘angels’. But we must not here think in terms of angels as we see them with our Christian interpretation. It refers to a whole host of supernatural beings, gods, demi-gods, principalities, powers and so on as believed on in the ancient world. The voluntary humility is an attitude of humility that makes a great show of being ‘nothing’ in comparison with these supernatural messengers. It ignores what God has said and debases itself to look to lesser things. They choose what they see as the ‘humble’ position not realising that this is to insult God.

The argument for intermediaries always seems right to the person who is aware of his sinfulness and yet has not come to an understanding of the wisdom of God revealed in Christ. ‘I am not worthy’, he says. But it is a sign of a darkened mind that has not ‘learned Christ’. It demonstrates that he does not understand the free grace of the Gospel. The Gospel is Christ in all His fullness, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27), offered to men. To accept anything less robs us of Christ and robs us of our prize. The intermediary will not bring us to Christ but will hide Christ from us.

‘Worshipping.’ The particular word denotes the external practise of religion, and is used regularly of false worship.

‘Dwelling in (taking delight in, devoting himself to) the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.’ The verb ‘dwelling’ is difficult to translate. It has been found in inscriptions as a technical term for certain types of ritual response in the mystery religions. It means ‘to set foot on, enter, visit, go into detail, come into possession of ’, thus leading on in context to the translations ‘taking delight in, devoting oneself to, dwelling in’. The idea is partly sarcastic. He takes delight in and is puffed up by what produces his voluntary ‘humility’, demonstrating that it is not genuine.

This probably in context refers to visions which so often result in giving prominence to intermediaries (‘angels’). But if those intermediaries seek honour and veneration for themselves then they are false and must be rejected (Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8-9). Any true vision from the other world would magnify Christ and turn attention from itself to Him. Those who dwell in visions inevitably go wrong, and lead others astray, for in their pride (often seen by themselves as humility) they magnify the subject of the vision rather than Christ Himself.

Visions are always a problem for the godly person. They do not like to denigrate them and recognise that, rarely, there have been genuine visions. Yet if they are wise they will recognise that visions regularly arise from wrong sources, and are often drug induced or arise from a chemical imbalance in the brain. They are the ‘easy way’ to ‘certainty’. There are some whose mental make up is such that they are susceptible to ‘visions’. They ‘see things’ that others do not see, especially when they indulge in asceticism (see Colossians 2:23), and are thus inevitably very sincere, but they are experiencing mental aberrations rather than contacting spiritual sources (it comes from their ‘fleshly mind’ - compare Romans 8:5-6 - it is the mind controlled by the flesh and pandering to the flesh as opposed to the spiritual mind). So we are right to be wary of them. The general principle must be, if at all in doubt reject them, although treating the visionary gently. In themselves they prove nothing for they can never be substantiated. Personal visions should be retained for personal use. They should never be the foundation for doctrine. That is why Jesus stressed that He referred to what He had actually seen (John 3:11; John 3:32; John 8:38).


Verse 19

‘And not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’

Because these people concentrate on intermediaries and visions they fail to hold fast to the One Who is Head over all. They fail to hold fast to Christ. Thus they do not receive that which is needed for an increase in their spiritual lives. Only He Who is the Head over all things can satisfactorily supply them with what is required for this purpose.

‘From Whom all the body.’ The remainder of the verse parallels 1 Corinthians 12 where the body is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12) as conjoined with His people. Thus the head/body contrast is not to be stressed for in 1 Corinthians 12 the head is specifically stated to be part of the whole body. They receive what they need from Him Who is Head over all things and Who is also Himself the body with which they are united, He is the foundation member and controlling influence within the Body (see Appendix). The ancients did not see the head as the controlling influence over the body as we do, they considered that lay more in the ‘heart’ and the ‘bowels’ and other similar parts of the body (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 3:5; Luke 24:32; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; 1 John 3:17). The idea of Headship is of authority.

The ‘knitting together of the body’ probably has mainly in mind the importance of loving one another, the love that unites, and the love supplied through Christ’s indwelling and the Spirit’s power (Ephesians 3:16-19). But may also include the fact that as each member contributes with their specific gifts they cement the unity of the body.

It is because they are members of His body, of which He is the foundation and controlling member, that they are supplied and united in Him through His indwelling (Colossians 1:27), with the ties that bind and the gifts ministered to them (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), and thus increase continually as God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). Thus the ‘increase’ results from looking directly to the Head.


Verses 20-23

‘If you died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourself to ordinances, “handle not, nor taste, nor touch”, (all which things are to perish with the using) after the precepts and doctrines of men?’. Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship and humility and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the excessive indulgence of the flesh.’

Paul here points out that asceticism, abstaining from certain food and drinks and such like, has no value in the fight against sin. These are earthly ideas, not heavenly ideas. But Christians no longer live in the world. They live with Christ in the spiritual realm, in what in Ephesians he calls ‘the heavenlies’. They are seated with Christ above (Colossians 3:1). Thus their minds should be fixed on heavenly things. That is how to defeat the flesh, not by fighting it with earthly weapons.

‘If you died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world do you subject yourself to ordinances?’ In His death Christ was freed from all the basic things of the world and all its basic principles. He was no longer bound by them because he was in Heaven. He now partakes of the things of Heaven, and is subject to the conditions of Heaven. So we too, having died with Christ, are dead to those basic things, those basic principles of earth, those ordinances of men. We too are bound by the requirements of Heaven. But to indulge in asceticism is precisely to be bound by the principles of the world. There is no asceticism in Heaven. Thus having died with Christ, and having risen with Him (Colossians 3:1) we are freed from such things. We can have no part in them.

It hardly needs to be stressed that this is not a licence for over-indulgence. Precisely because we live with Christ in the heavenlies we will live accordingly, touching earthly things lightly and concerned with heavenly things. We will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We are still to deny the flesh. But this is to be by being caught up in heavenly things, not by making use of weapons invented by men, such as asceticism (‘touch not, taste not, handle not’), which are themselves fleshly, and are thus actually not able to do anything about the flesh. Indeed they deal with earthly things, which, once used, perish (see 1 Corinthians 6:13). They have no permanent value. Nothing is really achieved by them.

‘Which things have indeed a show (literally ‘word’) of wisdom in will worship and humility and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.’ Asceticism is a show of earthly wisdom. It makes proclamation of wisdom and gives a great show of defeating the flesh. It demonstrates a powerful will and a great humility. But it is concentrating on the very thing it seeks to escape from. It is totally negative and worldly. It does not achieve anything spiritually. It is simply another way of indulging the flesh.

‘Will worship.’ The word is found nowhere else. It can mean ‘self-made religion’, ‘self imposed religious service’, a demonstration of the power of the will in achieving a religious position of denial and humility which is purely earthly. It is accompanied by an equally false humility. It wins the admiration of the world which sees it as achieving some kind of purity of soul. It seems to overcome the flesh by denying it. But it in fact indulges another aspect of the flesh, by making its adherent an object of admiration and stimulating a sense of self-achievement, resulting in false pride and self-satisfaction. And it is regularly accompanied by mistreatment of the body, which accomplishes nothing except the same.

‘Are not of any value against the excessive indulgence of the flesh.’ The problem is that these great efforts are useless in what they seek to achieve. Instead of releasing people from the grip of the flesh they tie them more closely into it, for they are simply indulging the ‘desires of the flesh’ in another way. There is only one way to break the grip of the flesh on the mind and that is by setting the mind on things above (Colossians 3:2), not by direct attack on the flesh. In the set of the mind on things above alone lies hope.

It should be noted that Paul’s words are not an attack on sensible self-discipline and self-control and self-denial. They are not arguing for indulging oneself. For that too indulges the flesh. Rather Paul is stressing the development of the mind of the Spirit, set on things above and refusing all fleshly indulgence, and thus concentrating totally on living a heavenly life. The Christian does abstain from fleshly indulgence. He may thus appear somewhat of an ascetic. He does hold this world’s goods lightly and not indulge himself. But this is because he is involved in Heaven’s affairs, and uses all earthly things solely for that purpose, not wanting to be gripped by them but wanting to use them with the greatest efficiency and usefulness in God’s service. He uses them to make friends for himself among those who will be in eternal habitations (Luke 16:9).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Colossians 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/colossians-2.html. 2013.

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Sunday, November 29th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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