James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;Colossians 2:1-23
THE POLEMIC PART
The Apostle spoke (Colossians 1:24; Colossians 1:28-29) about the suffering entailed by his ministry, and the labor endured to present “every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Of course, he means every Christian, and by “perfect in Christ Jesus,” so far as the present life is concerned, he means, not perfect in the sense of faultless or sinless, but perfectly justified, and sanctified, and perfectly made meet for glory in Him. The word “perfect” is here borrowed from the heathen mysteries and appropriated to the Gospel in condemnation of them. Perfection such as that of which he speaks is not found in them, but in Christ.
The word “every” used three times in Colossians 1:28, is important warning, teaching, presenting every man. It harmonizes with the word “all” before “wisdom” in the same verse, and strikes at the Gnostic exclusiveness to which reference has been made. In the wisdom of God in Christ there are no restrictions as to persons or subjects, the whole Christ is preached to every man, and every man has the same opportunity to possess “the riches of the glory.” The subject of the apostle’s suffering and toil is carried over into chapter 2, the first three verses of which really belong to chapter 1. The latter part of Colossians 2:2 reads in the Revised Version: “That they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are” etc. In other words, Christ Himself is the mystery of God, “as incarnating the fulness of the Godhead all the divine wisdom and knowledge for the redemption and reconciliation of man.” Now the reason of Paul’s conflict on behalf of these Colossian Christians is that they may not be enticed away from this precious truth by the false (Gnostic) teachers (Colossians 2:4-7), nor enslaved by their empty philosophy (Colossians 2:8-15), nor judged in their Christian liberty (Colossians 2:16-17), nor robbed of their reward (Colossians 2:18-23).
“LEST ANY MAN SHOULD BEGUILE YOU WITH ENTICING WORDS”
or beguile you by false reasoning in persuasive discourse. The only safeguard against this is stated in Colossians 2:6. They had “received Christ Jesus,” and now they are to “walk” in Him, to put forth all their energies as consciously in Him. And to encourage them to do this the apostle calls attention to the good that is among them for their comfort (Colossians 2:5).
“BEWARE LEST ANY MAN SPOIL YOU THROUGH PHILOSOPHY AND VAIN DECEIT”
i.e., enslave, lead you away as his prey. Paul does not characterize all philosophy in these terms but only the philosophy which is empty deceit, i.e., the philosophy of these Gnostics, somewhat like that of modern times standing under the names of Spinoza, Herbert Spencer and others. It is according to the tradition of men and has no support from revelation. Such teaching is after the world and not “after Christ.” In Christ we are “complete,” and need nothing more since Christ is God (Colossians 2:9-10). We are “complete” or “filled full” in Him in the sense that his merits, His righteousness, His preciousness, His life, His sonship, His heirship, His glory, have all been made over to us by Divine grace through faith (Romans 8:10-18; Romans 8:28-39). In detail, we are circumcised in Him (Colossians 2:11), i.e., in a spiritual sense, and need not the ritual circumcision as the false teachers claimed. Christians possess all that was symbolized by that rite, i.e., the putting off of our fallen and corrupt nature. This took place when we died in Christ and were “buried with Him in the baptism” (Colossians 2:12), i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:4). And having thus died and been buried with Him, we are risen again in Him, and are walking before God “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). What then do we require of man-made philosophies? Think what God does, in and through Christ, for the soul He saves: (1) He quickens, i.e., makes us alive in a spiritual sense; (2) He forgives all our transgressions; (3) He blots out “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us.” These “ordinances’’ are His decrees written on the tables of stone in the ceremonial law of Moses, and in our moral nature. In them we find our own handwriting that is “against us,” for we assent to the fact that the law is good, and that it is our obligation to obey it. Nevertheless, God blots this out, cancels the bond, erases the signature, pays the debt; and (4) He gets a victory for us over all our spiritual enemies (Colossians 2:15). The principalities and powers of darkness seized upon the human nature of Christ our substitute, as if to prevent Him from going to the cross and dying for our redemption. But He overcame them, “made a show of them openly,” by rising from the dead, and in His triumph we triumph.
“LET NO MAN THEREFORE JUDGE YOU”
The apostle is here striking at the practical error of the false teachers as expressed in their excessive ritualism and vigorous asceticism. Eating and drinking were referred to in the Mosaic law, but the Gnostic went far beyond that (Romans 14:2; 1 Timothy 4:2-3). “The Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16) is referred to from the Jewish point of view. “The rest of one day in seven as expressive of the law of creation, and as supplying the principle which underlies the fourth commandment, he does not here include.” He does not merely forbid the observance of these things but going further, forbids Christians to let any one “judge” them, or take them to task concerning them. These things are not a basis of judgment concerning our standing in Christ; on the contrary, so far as they are part of the levitical system, they are only the shadow cast in advance of the work of Christ. “The body” the substance, “is of Christ” (Hebrews 10:1). The ancient Jew took the shadow as foretelling the body, but the modern ritualist takes the shadow instead of the body.”
“LET NO MAN BEGUILE [ROB] YOU OF YOUR REWARD”
In Colossians 2:18-23 we have a description of one whose views of the truth are diametrically opposed to those taught by the apostle in verses 9-10:
1. He takes delight in “humility and worshipping of angels.” This is the mock humility such as we see in the Roman Catholic church, as though Christ were too high for these false teachers and they must have lower beings for mediators.
2. He “dwells” or takes his stand upon “those things which he hath seen” (Colossians 2:18 RV). In other words, he does not walk by faith but judges by his natural experiences. For instance, an uninfluential man cannot enter the presence of a human king except as some one introduces him, so Christ, although a Godman, is in the judgment of this false teacher, too high for human fellowship except through lower mediation. And yet there is a slightly different interpretation suggested by Sir William Ramsey. He thinks the force of “intruding into” is gotten only when regarded as a quoted word, and a sarcastic reference to an act by which, once upon a time, the false teacher had symbolically expressed his choice of a so-called “New Life” in the heathen “Mysteries.” These were the things he had “seen,” and he was not taking his stand upon them, urging them as needful in the Christian life. If the Christians at Colosse aspired to be “perfect” they must enter upon a higher course of asceticism, self-denial and humiliation after these heathen mysteries.
3. This false teacher is “vainly puffed up by his fleshy mind,” by the mind of his fallen and corrupt nature.
4. He does not hold the “Head,” i.e., he has no clear and definite views concerning Christ as the Head of the church which is His body. In other words, he may be a professing Christian, but he is not a member of the true church of Christ.
The practical inference or conclusion follows in Colossians 2:20-23, which it will be more convenient to deal with in the succeeding lesson.
1. Why is this lesson called the polemic part of the epistle?
2. What is the meaning of “perfect in Christ Jesus”?
3. In what sense is Christ “the mystery of God”?
4. What fourfold reason is given for Paul’s conflict?
5. How are we “complete” in Christ?
6. What was symbolized by circumcision?
7. If we are true Christians when was our fallen and corrupt nature put off?
8. Explain “blotting out the handwriting.”
9. Explain Colossians 2:15.
10. What is meant by “judge you” in Colossians 2:18?
11. How would you explain “intruding” in Colossians 2:19?
12. What is the practical conclusion in Colossians 2:20-23?
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.Colossians 2:23-4:18
THE HORTATORY PART
The Christian being “dead with Christ,” is dead “from the rudiments of the world”; in other words, worldly methods of obtaining “perfection” are something with which he has nothing to do. Why then should he act to the contrary, “after the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:20; Colossians 2:22)? Why should he ascribe salvation or any part of it, to things which “perish with the using”? Why should he come under a law which says “touch not, taste not, handle not,” as though it possessed sanctifying grace? As one who is saved, there are many things he will not touch, nor taste, nor handle, as the next chapter indicates, but this is different from attaching a meritorious value to such things, as these false teachers did. Such things have “a show of wisdom” in men’s eyes perhaps, but are of the nature of “will worship,” self-imposed ordinances, and nothing more. No neglect of the body, no asceticism of this kind can extirpate evil appetites or get rid of sin (Colossians 2:23).
On the other hand, the Christian having “risen with Christ” as we have seen, let him seek, i.e., set his mind on things above (Colossians 3:1-2). For these things, compare Matthew 6:33 and Php 3:20. To seek them means to inquire about and ask for them, as they are revealed in Holy Scripture. The encouragement to do this is found in Colossians 3:3-4 (compare 1 John 3:1-3).
The Christian who does this will soon be exhibiting the fruit of it in a life of real holiness as distinguished from the counterfeit recommended by the Gnostics. This holiness will show itself in two ways, by a putting off (Colossians 3:5-11) and a putting on (Colossians 3:12-17). The true Christian realizing his risen life with Christ will “mortify” put to death the members of his body, in the sense that he will eschew the things named in verses 5-9. He will do this through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within him, and by whom he is “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him.” Colossians 3:11 means that this “new man” is not depending on the distinctions therein indicted, all of which are obliterated in Christ. But the true believer will not only put to death the things named, but clothe himself with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness.
We have said that this would be done through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer, but the instrument He uses is the “Word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16), i.e., the Holy Scriptures. The believer in whose heart that dwells richly, will ever be acting on the principle of Colossians 3:17.
The apostle now applies all this to the three classes of the social order (Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1), as he did in Ephesians, to which lesson the student will turn.
The conclusion of the epistle is an appeal for prayer (Colossians 4:2-4); apostolic counsel in conduct toward the world (Colossians 4:5-6); personal matters including commendations of and salutations from fellow workers (Colossians 4:7-15); directions concerning the epistle (Colossians 4:16); a charge to one of the elders (Colossians 4:17), and the benediction (Colossians 4:18).
Note how aptly the subject of prayer is introduced, following as it does the opening up of the whole subject of practical holiness. How shall we obtain the power to practice such holiness without prayer for the Holy Spirit’s aid? Note that while the brotherhood of Christ is a world in itself, yet the Christian has responsibilities toward others (Colossians 4:5). To “walk in wisdom” with reference to the unconverted means Gospel knowledge applied in common sense. It means the “conscious blessedness of the life of the Christian as a visible fact,” but no “stage effects” no self-conceit and no more oddities. The Christian should evince a true sympathy with all genuine human interests while yet in earnest for the salvation of souls. He should “redeem the time,” or “buy up the opportunity,” in the sense of knowing just when and how to act in such cases with reference to the world around him. Speech “always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) means the right adaptation and point in our remarks in addressing the unsaved, as indicated in the last clause of the verse. The allusion to Laodicea (Colossians 4:13; Colossians 4:15-16) brings to mind that of Colossians 2:1, and gives occasion to say that it, and Hierapolis and Colosse lay very near each other. It is interesting to note that an epistle had been sent there as well as to Colosse, though we have no further record to it. Moreover, the circumstance that the epistles were to be interchanged is a hint as to the way in which the church of the first century determined the canon of the New Testament. There was in other words, a circulation of the inspired teachings, and a searching into them by all the Christians in every place.
1. Interpret in your own words Colossians 2:20-23.
2. In what two ways is true holiness exhibited?
3. What does Colossians 4:11 mean?
4. What connection in thought is there between verses 16 and 17?
5. What does “walk in wisdom” mean?
6. What is meant by speech “seasoned with salt”?
7. What hint have we here as to the determination of the canon of the New Testament?