Colossians 2

Colossians 2  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Not only did Paul labor in teaching this great truth, but he labored also in prayer, and this the more now that he was restrained from his former activity by prison walls. His prayers were so intense that he describes them as conflict. In this conflict he was led out especially on behalf of those he had never met face to face, such as the Colossians, the Laodiceans and others. He wanted them to come to a full knowledge of this secret and to have their hearts knit together in the process, for in this full knowledge lay the full assurance of understanding.
In Heb. 10 we read of “the full assurance of faith,” the faith that simply takes God at His word. That is something with which we are entitled to begin our career as believers. Full assurance of understanding marks maturity of spiritual intelligence. Entering into the understanding of the mystery, the last segment of the circle of truth falls into its place, the whole becomes intelligible and luminous, the vastness and wonder of the whole divine scheme begins to dawn upon us, and a very wonderful assurance takes possession of our hearts.
We must not leave verse 2 without noticing that word, “their hearts... knit together in love” (ch. 2:2). In the mystery of God all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid, and by a full knowledge of it the full assurance of understanding is obtained, but it is when divine love reigns amongst the saints that the full knowledge of the mystery becomes a simple thing. A believer isolated from all Christian companionship might so study his Bible in dependence on the Spirit’s teaching as to gain a very good mental grasp of it, but he could not grasp it experimentally. We never understand it fully until we have some experience of what it means.
Here lies the reason, without a doubt, why the mystery is so little understood today. The true church of God is so sadly divided that there is very little knitting together in love. We cannot remedy the divided state of the church, but we can walk in love towards our fellow-saints as far as we know them; and as far as we do this, so far shall we have our hearts expanded to embrace this truth—so far shall we enter into our place in the body of Christ, instead of thinking, as so many do almost exclusively, of a place in some body of Christians, or some denominational organization.
In the first century they had not to face difficulties springing from the divided state of the church, but there were difficulties nevertheless as verse 4 indicates. Already men were going about beguiling believers. Let us take especial note that they were doing so “with enticing words” (ch. 2:4). Smooth, elegant, persuasive speech is the chief stock-in-trade of deceivers. How often have simple and unsuspecting folk said of some propagandist, “Oh, but he must be all right: he spoke so beautifully!”—when a little subsequent investigation showed that he was as far from being “all right” as could be.
The Apostle proceeds to warn them more in detail as to these deceivers whose teachings would altogether turn them aside from any understanding of the mystery. Before doing so, however, he joyfully acknowledges the good that marked the Colossians, and he exhorts them to further progress in the right direction.
The good that characterized them we have in verse 5. In the first place they were orderly. In this they contrasted happily with the Corinthians, who were in a very disorderly state. Evidently both in their assembly life and in their private lives they had been subject to the apostolic instructions. In the second place there was a steadfastness about their faith. They were like soldiers who had firmly withstood the shock of battle. Every attack upon their faith had failed. Verses 6 and 7 indicate that the best preventive against evil is progress in the right direction. Having received Christ as their Lord, they were to “walk in Him,” that is, to put into practice what they knew of Him and of His will. Having been rooted in Him, they were to be built up in Him, and thus established so firmly in the true faith that they were like vessels filled up to the brim with it, and overflowing with praise and thanksgiving. Let us all take note that it is when our knowledge of the truth comes out in our practice on the one hand and in our praise on the other that we are really established in it.
But when a frontal attack fails, the enemy will try an assault upon the flank. What cannot be accomplished by open and bold denials may perhaps be achieved by subtle insinuations, by sly subtractions, or even better still, by apparently harmless additions to the faith of Christ—additions which nevertheless do nullify much that is vital. Such has ever been the plan of the devil, and Paul’s watchful eye saw signs of danger for the Colossians in this way. Consequently the rest of the chapter is taken up with earnest and loving warnings, together with unfoldings of truth calculated to fortify them against the dangers.
The Apostle’s warnings seem to fall under three heads. This may be seen by looking at verses 8, 16 and 18, each of which opens with a word of caution as to the activities of men. The activities run in different directions, but all are antagonistic to the truth. In the first case the danger comes from philosophy. In the second from Judaism. In the third from superstition. All three dangers are tremendously alive and energetic today, particularly the first and third.
The word “spoil” in verse 8 does not mean to mar, but rather, to capture as spoil, or to make a prey of you. It describes the kind of thing that will happen to you if instead of progressing in the faith of Christ you submit to the teachings of philosophers. It is a strong way of putting it, but not one whit too strong. In the ancient world, the Greeks were the great philosophers. They had no knowledge of any revelation from God, and in its absence set their minds to work on the problems presented by man and the universe. In result, their teachings were but empty deceit, all of them framed according to man and his little world.
Even in Paul’s day some were found who wished to accommodate Christian teaching to Grecian philosophy, and this meant the virtual destruction of faith. In our day the same kind of thing has taken place. The philosophy of today differs in many ways from that of the ancient world. Two terrible features characterize it: firstly, it pursues its investigations and theorizings not in ignorance of any revelation from God at all, but in rejection of the revelation that has been brought to their notice; secondly, it all too frequently has seized upon the terms used in God’s revelation, the Bible, and then, having emptied them of their Scriptural meaning, has filled them with another meaning suited to their own purposes. A very deceitful process, this! When the Apostle coupled together philosophy and vain deceit, he wrote as a prophet indeed!
Philosophic teachings, whether ancient or modern, are brought in professedly to supplement the simple teachings of the Gospel and lead us on to more perfect knowledge. In reality they destroy the Gospel. Christ is the test of all teaching. Is it according to Christ? That is the test. And why is Christ the test? Because the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him, and we ourselves are “complete” or “filled full” in Him. We need go outside Him for nothing.
There is a strong likeness between verse 19 of chapter 1 and verse 9 of our chapter; only there it refers to that which was true of Him in the days of His sojourn on earth, whilst here it is stated as being true of Him today. It is hardly possible to imagine a stronger statement of His deity, and yet it plainly infers that He still is Man in saying “bodily.” If, then, we are rooted and built up and filled full in such an One as He, it would be manifestly very foolish to turn aside to the philosophizings of poor little human brains that ere long will be eaten of worms.
Verse 11 adds another important consideration. We are circumcised in Him as well as complete in Him. Now circumcision is a thorough cutting off. The circumcision of Christ was His cutting off by death. In His death He put off all connection with the old order of things; He died to sin, and lives to God, as Rom. 6:1010For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Romans 6:10) puts it. A spiritual circumcision, “made without hands” (ch. 2:11), has reached us by means of His death, which to us has been “the putting off the body of the flesh” (ch. 2:11)—the words “of the sins” should not be included in the text. Death has come in between us and the flesh, and consequently we are cut off from the teachings of man and his world.
If verse 11 speaks of death, verse 12 brings before us burial and resurrection. Burial is the completion and ratification of death. That which goes to corruption must be put out of sight. We are buried, be it noted, in baptism. In submitting to that ordinance we go to our own funeral. But we go into burial in view of resurrection, for we are risen with Christ through the faith of that which God did, in raising Him from the dead. In these two verses we are instructed in the true force of the death and resurrection of Christ and also of our baptism—what God sees in them. And we are entitled to see in them what He does. The application of all this comes later in the epistle.
As we commence verse 13, we pass from that which has been accomplished in Christ to something accomplished in us. As to our spiritual state, we were dead: dead in our sins—what we had done; dead in the uncircumcision of our flesh—what we were. But now we have been quickened—made to live—together with Christ, our new life being of the same order as His.
Resurrection puts us in a new world, and quickening endows us with a new life. Neither the one nor the other, however, brings us release from the guilt of our sins. We are released, however. All our offenses are forgiven. But that brings us back to the cross.
The cross blotted out our sins truly, but it did more than this: it blotted out also the whole system of legal ordinances which had been against us. The law was not blotted out: far from it, for it was vindicated and magnified in the death of Christ. On the other hand, we died from under the law in His death, and we are now under grace, with all the old legal ordinances—samples of which are found in verse 16—set aside. The language of verse 14 may need a word of explanation. The word translated “blotted out” is one “used for annulling a decree of law.” The idea of “handwriting” is that of “obligation to which a man is subject by his signature.” Paul used a very graphic figure. We had bound ourselves by our signature to Jewish ordinances, but the document has been nullified in the death of Christ. As far as we are concerned, it was nailed to the cross when He was nailed to the cross. In these words, of course, Paul particularly had Jews in view.
The cross is viewed in still another light in verse 15, so that we have it here presented in three connections. We may summarize them thus:
v. 11. The cross in relation to ourselves, and in particular the flesh.
v. 14. The cross in relation to legal ordinances.
v. 15. The cross in relation to the spiritual forces of evil.
Whatever these spiritual powers may be, from Satan downwards, in the cross the divine triumph has been manifested. On the surface it looked like being the triumph of the powers of evil. Really it was their undoing. This being so, we can see that when verse 10 spoke of the Lord Jesus as “the Head of all principality and power” (ch. 2:10), it was stating something which is true not only upon the ground of creation, but also on the ground of what He accomplished at the cross.
The truth of the cross as unfolded in verse 11 had special reference to what had preceded, that is, the warning as to the snare of philosophy. Today we should speak of it not only as philosophy but as rationalism also—the worshipping of human intellect and human reasonings. Immediately we discern in the cross our circumcision—our cutting off—a clean sweep is made of rationalism, as to any authority it possessed over us. It influences us no more.
The cross as presented in verse 14 is the basis of the warning uttered in verse 16, as indicated by the word “therefore.” There were plenty of Judaizing enthusiasts who would take them to task as to their observance or non-observance of ordinances, but they were not to be moved, nor to pay attention to them. Five classes of ordinances are specified, those relating to meat, drink, feasts, new moons, sabbaths. These things are all shadows of things to come, as we are told also in the epistle to the Hebrews, but the body—that is, the substance—is of Christ.
If any are disposed to ask in what way these things have to say to us today, inasmuch as there is no active Judaizing party at work in the church at present, the answer is that they are still very much to the point. The reason why there is not much active Judaizing is that the professing church has been for many centuries so largely Judaized. But have you never met the Seventh-Day Adventists? If so, you may thank God. But if you have, take special note of the way in which this Scripture negatives their propaganda, the spearhead of which is their insistence on the Jewish sabbath. They will judge you as to the sabbath, if you will let them. The word here is not exactly “sabbath days,” but rather, “sabbaths,” as covering sabbaths of all kinds, whether of days or years.
The sabbath as a legal and Jewish ordinance is set aside, but that, of course, does not touch the fact of one day in seven being set apart by God from the creation as a day of rest. This is a mercy from God which we do well to esteem very highly.
We come in verse 18 to what we may call the ritualistic snare. We shall easily see that it is a snare if we revert to the truth of the cross as it was presented to us in verse 15. The only angels that desire to have our homage are evil ones. The holy angels always refuse human worship, ascribing all worship to God. See, for instance, Rev. 19:1010And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:10) and 22:9. Now the unholy angels have been despoiled and vanquished at the cross. Who then would wish to worship them? Oh, what light does the cross shed! What deliverance it effects!
There is another very powerful consideration. We are entitled as members of the body, each one of us, to be “holding the Head” (ch. 2:19). Thereby we maintain an intimate and worshipful contact with Him. The figure of the human body is evidently before the mind of the Spirit, and the head is considered as the seat of all supply for the body. The supply and the increase may reach us through the “joints and bands” (ch. 2:19), yet it all comes from the head.
It is of the utmost importance that we should take up our privilege and learn what it means to hold the Head. Once we have learned that, we shall be rendered proof against the seductions of ritualism. If I am accorded the right of access to the presence of a real potentate, and privileged to hold intercourse with him, you will not find me presenting my requests to, or expecting to receive from, one of his footmen. The footman may be a very fine fellow, and very gorgeous to look at in his golden-braided uniform, but you will not catch me doing my obeisance to him.
Someone may wish to observe that by doing homage to the footman, we should at least be showing what very humble people we are. But is this the procedure laid down? It is not! Then, after all, we are only doing our own will, and this is self-will, the exact opposite of humility. This may serve as an illustration of what is said in verse 18.
Angels have been purposely hidden from our eyes lest we should give them the place that belongs to God. They are amongst the things not seen. Their would-be worshippers are puffed up by the mind of their flesh. The opening of the verse has been translated, “Let no one fraudulently deprive you of your prize, doing his own will in humility and worship of angels” (ch. 2:18). This makes the whole position very clear. The procedure all looks very humble. It is really self-will, a thing very hateful to God. And those who fall a prey to it may indeed be true believers, but, being fraudulently diverted from Christ, they lose their prize.
The fact of the believer’s identification with Christ in His death and resurrection has already been before us in verses 11-12. We have now to see that it is not a mere doctrinal notion, something existing only in the region of theory. It is a FACT, and intended to exert a very potent influence upon our lives.
In verse 20 we get the words, “dead with Christ” (ch. 2:20); in verse 1 of chapter 3, the words, “risen with Christ” (ch. 3:1). So complete was the identification that His death was our death, His resurrection was our resurrection. It may be remarked, however, that in both cases there is an “if.” Yes, but not as expressing doubt, but rather as furnishing the basis of an argument. If this, then that. It really has the force of “since.” Certain things are incumbent upon us since we have died with Christ, and again certain other things should mark us since we have been raised with Christ.
Since we have died with Christ our true interests lie clean outside the world and its rudiments, or, elements. Having died out of the world system, we cannot proceed as though we are alive in it. That is the argument of verse 20. The world, and particularly the religious world, has its many ordinances concerning the using or not using of perishable, material things. According to these ordinances, we should not handle or taste or touch this or that. But if we really understand our identification with Christ in His death, we find ourselves outside the world where ordinances have their sway, and that, of course, settles all such questions for us in a very decisive way. There were many ordinances connected with the law of Moses, which was given to curb men in the flesh. They have no validity as regards men who are dead with Christ.
But the point here is not so much as regards Jewish ordinances, but rather those that are “after the commandments and doctrines of men” (ch. 2:22), ordinances which never did have any divine sanction at all. Such are the ordinances which ritualism enforces upon its votaries today.
In our Bibles verse 21 and the first part of verse 22 are printed in brackets. In the New Translation all of verse 23 save the last six words is printed in brackets also. This makes the sense of that verse clearer. The words in the first bracket give us samples of the ordinances which the Apostle had in mind. The words in the second bracket tell us certain things which characterize these ordinances. They have an appearance of wisdom, being marked by “will worship” (i.e., voluntary worship) and humility and the neglecting of the body instead of giving it the honor which is due. And then the words not enclosed in brackets read, “subject to ordinances  ... after the commandments and doctrines of men  ... to the satisfying of the flesh.”
What a searching condemnation of ritualism it is! All these elaborate ordinances may look like the voluntary rendering of homage in great humility. The asceticism connected with it looks very lowly. The dress, the girdle of rope, the poor food and the fastings and neglect of the body may appear to be very holy and very wonderful, but, in point of fact, it is all according to purely human teachings and all ministers to the satisfaction of the flesh. In true Christianity, the flesh is disowned and refused. In ritualism, it is fostered and gratified. That is the condemnation of ritualism.