Read the Passage: Colossians 2
Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Colossians 2
Paul’s Desire (2:1–5)
The first chapter of this epistle contains the expected greetings from Paul to the church, but Colossians 1 also records one of the greatest passages about Christ in all of the Bible. In Col. 1:9–18 Paul gives a soaring doxology about Jesus’ preeminence, and in the verses that follow Paul explains the effect of Christ’s atoning death on the cross—namely, the reconciliation of all things to God. In Col. 1:24–29 Paul wrote about his own sufferings, as well as about his ministry to the Gentiles. Although he had never been to Colossae, in Col. 2:1–3 Paul continued writing about his ministry and his great desire to fellowship with and to minister to the Colossian believers. Indeed, among other commonalities, all Christians’ hearts are “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2); thus, there ought to be a desire for mutual fellowship.
In Col. 2:3 Paul taught, “In Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The idea that wisdom is synonymous with or identical to Christ is a teaching that Paul had given earlier when writing to the Corinthian church (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24, 30) and it is rooted in the Old Testament (cf. Prov. 8:12–36). Paul writes that he gave this teaching to the church in Colossae “lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (Col. 2:4). Evidently, false teachers had infiltrated the church in Colossae and were espousing a type of Gnostic heresy which claims that secret wisdom and special knowledge are needed for salvation. The presence of these false teachers is one of the reasons why Paul opened this letter by ruminating on the preeminence of Christ. Indeed, focusing on Jesus is a sure-fire way to foster unity in the church and to combat heresy from the world. Observe that in Col. 2:5 Paul expresses his desire to be with the Colossian church.
Jesus’ Deity (2:6–10)
In Col. 2:6–10 Paul gives an exhortation and an admonition. His exhortation, which is recorded in Col. 2:6–7, is, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). Next, by way of describing the sanctification of believers that necessarily comes from justification, Paul gives five verbal phrases: rooted in Christ, built up in Him, established in the faith, taught by Christ, and abounding in thanksgiving. These verbal phrases describe the life of a maturing follower of Jesus Christ. Paul’s admonition, which is recorded in Col. 2:8–10, is to “beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit” (Col. 2:8). While Paul will give more details about the false teaching in Colossae over the following verses, from Paul’s statements here it is clear that this heresy was related to a form of so-called wisdom, it was similar to other then current false teachings, and it was argued logically.
Colossians’ Faith (2:11–23)
As was alluded to above, from Paul’s comments in Col. 2:3, 8 it seems that the false teaching in Colossae was a form of proto-Gnosticism. From Paul’s teaching in Col. 2:11–23 it is likely that the Colossian heresy also contained certain doctrines taught by the Judaizers. The commonality between these two false teachings (i.e., Gnosticism and the Judiazer’s teaching) is a works-based salvation scheme. In Col. 2:11–15 Paul writes about circumcision and baptism—two rituals that can be distorted or even misunderstood as being good works related to salvation. Yet, in this passage Paul is clear to teach his readers, “Christ has made [you] alive together with him” (Col. 2:13). Again, concerning mankind’s sin, Paul writes, “Christ has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). In light of Jesus’ atonement, then, there is no place for a works-based salvation, for as Jonah declared much earlier, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
In Col. 2:16–23 Paul discloses several more specific elements of the false teaching in Colossae, which seems to have had some ascetic tendencies. First, this heresy focused upon keeping the Jewish ceremonial laws (cf. Col. 2:16–17). Second, the false teaching in view here was marked by false humility that was tied to the worship of angels (cf. Col. 2:18). Third the Colossian error neglected to recognize the preeminence of Christ (cf. Col. 2:19). In Col. 2:20–23 Paul questions why the Colossian Christians were attracted to these errors. If, in fact, believers have “died with Christ from the basic principles of the world” (Col. 2:20), then false teaching that relies upon material, worldly, works-based acts ought not to be attractive to them. Yet, because these things “have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion” (Col. 2:23), even maturing Christians can sometimes be led astray.
- Have you experienced spiritual fellowship with believers from different contexts than your own, as well as witnessing family commonalities among Christians?
- What kinds of persuasive false teachings are present in the modern church? How does focusing on Christ combat heresy?
- What does Paul mean in writing that “in Jesus dwells all of fullness of the Godhead in bodily form” (Col. 2:9)?
- While you likely would not endorse a works-based salvation scheme, are you ever tempted to evaluate your standing before God based upon your performance?
- How can we distinguish between the false idea that good works will lead to salvation, and the true idea that saving faith will lead to good works?