6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. i
The congregation of Colossae might be the smallest church to whom the great apostle Paul ever took the time to write a letter. That’s why our study of Colossians is entitled, “Little Church, Big Lie.” Colossae was not an important city by the time this church was planted. Yet Paul hears of their love for Christ and for one another from his friend Epaphras; so, he fires off this letter of encouragement and warning.
Paul’s concern is that spiritual snake oil salesmen are preying on the congregation by selling them self-focused programs promising deeper, fuller spiritual experiences. His remedy is to remind the Colossians of the fullness of Christ and the fullness of their union with Christ. But the believers of Colossae, like you and I, live in a very practical world. They were looking for practical advice.
We are about one-third of the way through this wonderful letter and Paul hasn’t yet told us directly one practical thing we need to do (until today). He’s going to tell us things to do that are WAY beyond the capacity of human effort. But if we don’t hear what Paul is saying in these first five lessons, we are in danger of turning the gospel upside down. Unless we catch a sense of Christ’s greatness and eternal divine power, we will be totally incapable of responding to Paul’s specific commands in the latter part of the letter. ii
All the scriptures and Paul’s letters have a certain order to them. Commands to respond to God’s message (imperatives) are always rooted in the exposition of who God is and what God has done for us (indicative). Grammarians would say that the indicative precedes the imperatives. If we don’t understand this is how the gospel works, then we will turn God’s message into one more human philosophy, what Paul calls elementary principles of the world (2:8). God’s message heard out of order becomes one more burden, one more struggle as though God’s love were a reward for our human performance.iii
Notice how this grammar works in 2:6, “6 Therefore, as you accepted (teaching about) Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to be walking in him….”iv Note “The chiastic or criss-cross [sic.] structure of this sentence—with the verbs accepted and continue to live respectively at beginning and end; and the references to Christ, namely, Christ Jesus the Lord and in him, in the center (note forward position of “in him”)—shows that all the emphasis falls on the necessity of clinging to Christ Jesus the Lord (cf. Eph. 3:11; Phil. 2:11), as the all-sufficient One….”v Accepting and continuing entirely to depend upon Jesus.
Paul wants us to see the intimate connection between what we know about the glorious Lord Jesus (indicative) and how that knowledge transforms our lives (imperatives). You live according to what you trust. If your trust is fundamentally IN yourself, you will live primarily FOR yourself and what pleases you personally. That’s the message of the Phrygian gurus – the way to achieving your fullness is by performing certain tasks and rituals that bring you a sense of completeness and fulfillment.
Paul gives a series of four participles to demonstrate what vital union with Christ means: “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” vi As you learn more and more of who Christ is and who you are in him, you become more thankful for God’s grace. Gratitude completes the circle; as Christ’s blessings drip down into our lives, they result in more love of God and neighbor. Paul loves this word overflow or abound, using over 30 times in his letters (Rom. 3:7; 5:15; 15:13; 1 Cor. 8:8; 14:12; 15:58; ten times in II Cor.; Phil. 1:9, 26; 4:12, 18; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:1, 10).vii
FULLNESS OF CHRIST (2:6-9)
The apostle warns, “8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ….”viii The Colossians are to measure any teaching they hear by one standard: It that teaching according to/related to Christ in all his fulness? Does it make me see and trust and love more of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Paul sees any teaching that leads Jesus followers away from Jesus and more deeply into the thinking of the Old Adam as subversive to the Christian life. Another way to read this verse is: “‘Be on your guard lest there be any one who carries you off as spoil by means of his philosophy and empty deceit.’ Let not those who were rescued out of the domain of darkness and transplanted into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (see Col. 1:13) be carried off as so much booty and become enslaved once more….” ix
Paul pictures false teaching as an invading army that captures and enslaves believers. The weapons of their warfare are systems of thought or moral disciplines. The only true freedom for any human being is freedom in Christ. Everything else is slavery. So, Paul warns the Galatians who are attracted to a “Jesus + Mosaic Law-keeping” system, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).x
Unlike the Galatians, the congregation of Colossae hasn’t abandoned salvation by trust in Christ alone. But they’re attracted to systems they can use to enhance their feelings of spiritual maturity – fasting and feasting schedules, emotional highs through contemplating angels and the spiritual realm, anything that provides a spiritual buzz of enlightenment. These, says Paul, are according to the rudiments/elements of the world (Gal. 4:3, 9) – the principles of humans enslaved to sin and alienated from God.
He again reminds them, “9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”xi The fullness we seek is freely offered to everyone in [Christ]. Secondly, we have already received it from Christ (you have been filled). It’s all about Jesus from beginning to end. At the end of the day, he is the only one worth speaking about because he is the only one who transforms lives from slavery to the elemental principles of self-absorption, self-focus, and self-interest. He frees us from our slavery to “anythingness” and sets us free into the fullness of his “everythingness.”
Even as Paul turns his letter from what Christ has done to what believers ought to do, he never departs from the indicative, the principle that Jesus is everything because in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.xii As he wrote in 2:3, Jesus is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”xiii “O Colossians,” Paul is saying, “don’t settle for cheap imitations when you already have the real thing.”
I remember becoming the sports editor for my college paper my senior year. Before, I had to sit in the stands to watch football, enduring the stifling heat or the bitter cold. Back then, we didn’t have giant scoreboards to show replays in the stadiums. O, but the press box was climate-controlled. It had comfy office chairs to sit in. Servers came by to bring you food and beverages and the statistics and play-by-play sheets at the end of every quarter. There were TV sets showing the replays and others sets tuned to other games. Once I experienced that kind of football-watching, I never wanted to go back into the stands again.
Maybe you used to drive an old junk car, but then you bought the car of your dreams. The difference was like night and day. You would never want to go back to that old, uncomfortable, unreliable junker even though it was fine until you test-drove your dream car. Why would you want to go back to the old? The old has passed away. The new has come.
Paul is trying to explain to the Colossians that they have already received (and still have) the full experience. “Why would you want to go back to the cheap seats of life when you’re living in the luxury box already?” It makes no sense. But the flesh, the Old Adam, is completely irrational because sin is irrational. Only gospel sanity is rational. When Jesus Christ is fixed in the gaze of your faith, then you begin to realize you were deluded and captivated by the old and junky philosophies of elementary principles born out of a fallen world.xiv
A popular guru can give you lists of things to do to feel you have a full life. He or she can give you 500 things to do. Perhaps all 500 will be things that make you feel happy and purpose-driven and fulfilled for a time. But unless you know more and more of Jesus and the fullness of his perfect eternal love for you; unless the eyes of your hearts are opened to know that no matter how unsatisfied with your life you are HE is totally satisfied with you; if you do not gaze upon HIS kindness spoken to you in HIS Word, then you will settle for the old junk of life and never recognize it for what it is.
Can you see how it’s logically and theologically impossible to have a philosophy of “Jesus + anything”? Jesus + my meritorious works, Jesus + my worship preferences, Jesus + everyone doing what I demand they do, Jesus + my new diet, Jesus + my happy feelings, Jesus + my perfectly-performing spouse or children, Jesus + that beautiful and good tasting fruit hanging on the forbidden tree of unbelief are ALL IRRATIONAL because “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”xv
What or who is deluding you this morning? What are you pursuing that you have put above the sovereign will of the Lord Jesus Christ? What are the check marks on your “fuller life” list? Paul says:
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as [excrement], in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…. xvi
FULLNESS IN CHRIST (2:10-15)
Even Paul longed to be rid of the Old Adam’s quest for self-righteousness and self-fulfillment! But he was certain that he WAS full in Christ, even if he didn’t always feel like it. So, he promises the little congregation of Colossae, “10 and you have been filled [past, perfect] in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”xvii Your fullness is a done deal! Because Christ IS fullness, and you are in Christ, you have all the benefits of union with him. Out of his fullness, Jesus pours the riches of his grace and majesty and love into our lives.
By means of trust into Christ, I receive fullness in fellowship with Christ. Paul understood that the baby Jesus’ circumcision pointed forward to his real circumcision on the cross, his blood-shedding death on Calvary as he was cut-off out of the land of the living (Isa. 53:8). So too did the adult Jesus’ baptism point to that same death, burial, and resurrection (Mk. 10:38, 39). Fellowship with and in Jesus Christ means you have a share in all he accomplished in his death and resurrection.
Once enslaved to the elemental principles of spiritual death, “13 …you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him…”xviii Our Lord, on the cross, entered the dominion of death and sin; by his resurrection, he destroyed that elemental principle. The moment you came to trust into the Lord Jesus Christ, we were delivered from the kingdom of sin and death. You are not yet delivered from sin’s presence, but you have been delivered from its enslaving power.
In Christ, you have forgiveness. Christ has, “forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”xix
That means you can feel free to come to church and fall apart! What’s our vision here at Faith? Our vision is for this congregation be the very safest place you can feel free fall apart. It’s NOT a place to hide your sin; it’s a place to confess it and seek Jesus’ gracious healing. Whatever ministry you need our elders to do for you, Jesus has already equipped us in his fullness to do. Word and Sacrament assure us of forgiveness every week. You are already forgiven and guiltless in Christ.
Christ has forgiven my condition of sin so I am free to share the particulars of my sins He already has absolutely and permanently absolved. If you think you must hide your doubts, your failures, your struggles at this church then you haven’t truly heard the messages we preach. If you are in Christ, you are totally forgiven and completely guiltless. Come; be yourself; drop your mask; let us help you see Jesus more clearly because the record of ALL your sins has been canceled. It’s a done deal!
We have freedom through Christ. Because “15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” xx Our Lord Jesus Christ took on Satan on Satan’s turf and defeated him. For that reason, Christ able to break the demonic chains that bind us to our guilt, to our addictions to self and to sin.
Do you see what Paul has said? Your three greatest needs have been fully and eternally met in Christ Jesus. You need to be delivered out of slavery to sin; you cannot break those chains yourself because you don’t even know they exist. Jesus breaks those chains. You need to be forgiven for your sins because no matter how long you live you can never repay the debt you owe to the Perfect Creator God who demands perfection from his creatures. And you need to be delivered from dark and sinister powers that are constantly whispering in your ear that you aren’t good enough and that you should be ashamed of yourself.
Jesus cuts you off from the root of sin so that the fruit of sin begins to wither away and the brutes of sin (rulers and authorities) are stripped of their power.xxi Those are some of the great benefits of your union with Christ.
You can have your fill of religion and not be filled with Jesus. You can have you fill with all the experiences the world has to offer and become nauseated with how unsatisfying they ultimately are. Paul says to you this morning that as you received the gospel of Christ, find your fullness in Him who IS the fullness of all blessing and authority.
Who among us that truly understood these glorious facts would be anything else but “all in” for Jesus? Hear Paul’s prayer:
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. xxii
i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:6–15.
ii Sinclair Ferguson, Walk This Way. Col. 2:6-15. Accessed 11/8/16 at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=fpc-082706am
iv The Holy Bible, Col 2:6. Trans. mine.
v William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 107.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:7. Emphasis added.
vii Hendriksen and Kistemaker, 108.
viii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:8.
ix Hendriksen and Kistemaker, 109.
x The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ga 5:1.
xi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:9–10.
xii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:9.
xiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:3.
xiv Ferguson, op. cit.
xv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:9–10.
xvi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 3:8–11. Trans. partly mine.
xvii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:10.
xviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:13.
xix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:13–14.
xx The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:15.
xxi Ferguson, op. cit.
xxii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 1:17–23.