1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,
2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself,
3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul is tormented on the inner person because he is so caught up with the welfare of others, especially those who are young in Christ. He wishes to see them face to face, especially at Laodicea. From reading the account of the church at Laodicea a couple generations later (Revelation 3:14), it only makes sense that Paul was so burdened to ground the church in truth so they wouldn’t get led astray. Paul wanted the churches to be able to connect his writing with a person and a face. He wanted them to see the genuine care and love that he had for them. He wanted to experience the joy of fellowship that cannot happen over a phone, an e-mail, or a printed page. He understood that Christian ministry is as personal as possible, and he wanted to enjoy the blessing of fellowship. He wanted to encourage their hearts so that they could grow in their love for one another. Furthermore, he wanted them to attain to all the wealth that comes from a full assurance of understanding of God’s revelation through Christ and His Word. Paul is not saying that we should glorify doubt, uncertainty, and mystery. He is saying that we should have a true knowledge of the mystery. God keeps some things secret (Deuteronomy 29:29), but what we can know from His Word, we must not just know, but hold firmly with full conviction. God’s revelation of Himself in His Word is so that we can know Him through His Son. We cannot truly know our Savior, though we may trust in enough and know enough to be saved, unless we are fully assured in what we believe. We will not be fully assured unless we have faith, unless we grow in the knowledge of Christ and His Word, unless we let Christ transform us to love others, and unless we choose to walk in victory over sin by faith (i.e. abide in Christ and keep His commandments). What is true wealth, anyways? The wealth that man seeks after but doesn’t find except through Christ is only in Christ. It is all wisdom and all knowledge. Outside of Christ, there is no true knowledge and no true wisdom. Only when man by faith believes what his empirical and rational senses indicate about the world and universe (that Christ exists and is in and over all things) can he be on the road to wisdom. Only when he trusts Christ as His Savior and Lord can he partake of this wisdom. When discipling or mentoring, it is utterly important to choose to learn from those who are born again, for only in such people is true wisdom and knowledge. Only they have the Holy Spirit who can lead them into all truth. Only they have the ability to understand the Scripture. Yet all things must be weighed against the Scriptures. Even unbelievers sometimes get some elements of knowledge right by the grace of God, though they fail to acknowledge the truth, thereby missing the treasure trove of wisdom.
4I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.
Paul knows that unless young converts are trained in the knowledge of the Lord, they will easily be led astray into the vast array of misconceptions, lies, and false doctrines available. Some people are so persuasive and convincing when they sell us something. They seem so genuine and so right, but their arguments lead us astray. Paul knows that we can be deluded, especially if we are not fully mature in Christ. Maturity is not only having Bible knowledge, but being trained in discernment and learning contentment, among other things. Such things take time to develop. This is why new converts ought not to be thrust into positions of leadership and authority immediately. We need time to grow.
5For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
Paul says that he is with them in spirit, though not in person. His heart is for them and with them. He prays for them and rejoices with them. They are doing well so far, maintaining stability in their faith and not getting carried away by deceptive doctrines. They have disciplined their bodies and minds to do and think on the things of the Lord. Discipline is a matter of faith which impacts and energizes the will, mind, and actions. We can’t discipline ourselves by self-effort, for we can do nothing apart from Christ. Discipline, like self-control, is an outworking of the Spirit within us (Galatians 5:22-23). We must believe what is true about God giving us victory over sin, and we must then by grace through faith make the decision to live in a way honoring to God. The one who is the best at disciplining himself will be the one who doesn’t doubt, whose faith is strong, and who is stable in his belief about God and His Word.
6Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,
7having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
Just as we received Christ, which required a simple faith to receive the gift of grace and admit our inability, we are to live this life for Christ. Sanctification, just like salvation, is by grace through faith. Just as we were saved, so are we sanctified. We can do nothing of our own effort, but only by faith in Christ and His mighty power which works within us. Paul understood that the only way to be an effective minister of the gospel was for the mighty power of Christ to work within Him. It is the same for us. It is absolutely important that when we share the gospel, we share a true gospel. This should go without saying, but too often we modify it to make it more palatable to the hearer. There is no way that a person can be firmly rooted unless their belief about their eternity is anchored in full truth. We need people who are firmly rooted in their salvation experience because of a clear understanding and total faith in the work of Christ and in His call to repentance. Only if we are firmly rooted can we be then built up in Him and established (made firm) in our faith. There are many Christians today who soak up whatever the latest and greatest strategy or philosophy is, as long as it is published somewhere and somebody has successful results to prove its truth. We need to return to the essence of the gospel and study the theology of it and how it changes man. We need to preach such a gospel, and only upon such a foundation can we learn the truths that will by grace through faith enable us to become mature and not carried about by every wind of doctrine. The reason for this lack of maturity in the church is because of a lack of instruction. Unless the teachers have it right, the disciples and converts will not have it right. They believe what they are told, and they are either led to maturity and truth or to eternal infancy in Christ. What we preach in terms of the gospel and what we teach from the pulpit will dictate whether or not a person can grow to maturity in Christ. When a person truly encounters God through His Word and the Holy Spirit speaks to his heart about truth, he will be overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving. When we get weak messages week after week, we will leave having been entertained (if we are that fortunate), but we will not abound in gratitude because we have not encountered God. True joy springs from the presence of God and drawing near to Him, which only happens through the Holy Spirit working on our hearts via the Word of God.
8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
We are no longer captives of the devil, having been set free through Christ when we put our faith in Him. Yet we can be made captive again if we are deceived. We can always be freed through truth and through Christ, but if we are missing the truth because we are deceived we may stay in a place of doubt, defeat, and confusion for quite some time. The way to get deceived is by listening to crafty, clever argument and not trusting the Holy Spirit in our hearts. If we don’t know the Word of God and are not able to rightly handle it, we are prone to deception. People will wax eloquent and try to trap us in shallow, earthly thinking, often telling us that their way will give greater pleasure, blessing, and happiness. Deception is according to elementary principles of the world. The world seeks pleasure, happiness, success, popularity, and wealth, and false teaching always appeals to some lust, whether of the eyes or flesh or the pride of life. It draws our eyes away from the prize of heaven and fixes them upon getting all we can out of the world in the here and now. The tradition of men is faulty and repetitive. Man always moves farther and farther away from the truth into moral license, and he then destroys himself and his society. Some immorality is disguised as religious piety, which may be nothing but denying the work of Christ and exchanging it for the work of self. Any idolatry, whether of a man, of self, or of a god of one’s own making is wrong and not according to the ways of Christ.
9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
This verse is a clear statement of the deity of Christ. Christ is God; let there be no doubt or misunderstanding. Worldly philosophers want to deny God exists, and if they grant that Jesus exists, they will deny His Deity. The way to discern truth from error is to look at whether or not a person or group believes that Jesus is God. The interesting thing is that Jesus still is in bodily form, albeit immortal. Prior to the incarnation, Christ was a spiritual being with no physical expression. Yet His humility is continually manifested in the fact that He is God clothed in a human body. What love to do this for us. In Him, we are made complete. We are fully righteous, not needing to earn our way or continue in self-effort. We have all we need in Christ, not being dependent upon any peddlers of earthly philosophies and wisdom. All truth that we need for life is in the Bible. We don’t need some “prophet” to give us added insight. Christ is the sole authority figure in the universe. All authority has been given to Him, and He will subject all things under the feet of the Father. As such, we don’t need to listen to other voices that tell us things contradictory to what Christ has told us through His Word. Christ is sufficient and His Word is sufficient.
11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
We were spiritually marked out as the people of God not because of a physical circumcision like the Jews but through a removing of the body of sin and death which was our old man. Our old self was fully corrupted and full of sinful, fleshly desires. Yet Christ took that away when we received Him in faith. It was cut away and disposed of. It is now dead and a mere memory. We were buried with Him through baptism into death. When He died, our old selves died with Him. Yet when God raised Christ to new life, He raised us with Him, giving us a new heart and new self.
13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
The state of the old man is one of helplessness. He is mired and dead in sin, unable to be made alive. God made us alive together with Christ, forgiving us of all of our sins and destroying the old self. He wiped away our debts that could never be paid because no amount of righteousness undoes the unrighteousness. God’s Law could testify to our guilt and lawlessness. We would be guilty before God undoubtedly. The Law was hostile toward us as was God because of our sin. Yet through Christ, this has been taken away in that it has been nailed with Christ to the cross. Our sin was put on the innocent Lamb of God when He was given as a sacrifice to God. Though innocent and free from sin, He bore the penalty of our sin, as God nailed both His one and only Son and our sins to the cross in a demonstration of love that our brains can barely comprehend. It is too wonderful; it almost goes right over our heads. Yet God sacrificed His own Son so that man could go free.
15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
Satan and his demons were disarmed (their destruction will come later), having no power over the person who is now in Christ. He can tempt and deceive, but he cannot hold them or make them sin. He can viciously attack them and oppress them, but he cannot harm them anymore than God ordains. He cannot harm their soul in anyway, though he may attack their bodies. God disarmed the rulers of darkness through making a mockery of Satan’s power by showing that He could raise His own Son from the dead. God was in a game of spiritual chess with Satan, and it is as if he was toying with Satan for a time. But when God raised Christ up from the grave, it was checkmate for Satan, showing to him that his best wit and schemes were turned on their heads by God. What he thought was his greatest victory in killing God’s Son quickly became his greatest defeat and certificate of doom. Now all the world knows that Satan is weak and beatable. During the Cold War, the whole world thought the Soviet Union was this empire and superpower, but when the walls came down, it was revealed that they were struggling, dying, and weak. Like the Soviet Union, Satan has been exposed. His walls are down, and all the world knows his weakness and Who is the Master of the Universe. Through Christ, God has disarmed Satan. Thus Christ has been given all authority, and thus it is through Him that we can have victory.
16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--
17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
Christ is the centerpiece, the main event, and the core issue. Our sins are gone, and our identity is in Him. We know how the battle will end, and we do not have to live in enslavement to the devil. Yet some people were trying to make the Colossians live in slavery to issues of self-effort and self-made righteousness. They were judging one another for keeping the Sabbath, the festivals and feasts, and over food sacrificed to idols, among other things. Yet these things of the Old Testament were merely shadows of what was to come. What was to come has come in the Person of Christ. Thus, rejoicing in His finished work and in faith is to be our calling, not making sure everybody does all of the Old Testament rituals. There is nothing wrong with them; however, they were there to point to Christ. They gave us rest, but now our rest is in Him. They guided us away from sin, but now Christ does that. We are not to judge on another over the Law, but we are to each follow Christ.
18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,
19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
In Christ, we have a great prize in that we are made new creations. The work of becoming righteous is finished. Yet some wanted to enslave the Colossians into thinking that through beating themselves and through matters of self-harm that they could become more holy and honor God. Some advocated that angels be worshipped, but such Paul says is not from a vision from God but from an arrogant heart and mind operating in the flesh. Some people love to say that they have seen visions because it makes them seem more spiritual. After all, how can we counter what they say if they say it is from God? Yet Paul is saying to look to the truth already given through the work of Christ and the written Word through the apostles and prophets. We don’t have to do anything to add to our salvation to make us more righteous. We certainly don’t need to harm ourselves. Christ took all the wrath of God, and only He deserves our worship, not anything of the creation. He is the fullness, He is Deity, and He is the One who is preeminent. A person who invents wild errors of doctrine is not holding fast to Christ, if they even are in Christ to begin with. The entire body draws its strength from the head, which is Christ. We look to the head to give us value, power, and direction. We cannot grow apart from our head.
20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,
21"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!"
22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?
Some were advocating ascetisism, which really amounts to a form of self-righteousness and legalism, trying to discipline the body in ways that Christ never said to do. It has the appearance of righteousness, but it is worldly religion. It glorifies man rather than God and rejects the sufficient sacrifice of God in His Son. We have died with Christ to these base things of the world, no longer believing that we can earn our salvation and the approval of God. We ought rather to listen to His voice, rather than to the voices of the devil in the world.
23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
The problem is that no amount of leaning upon our own human strength and intellect can keep us from indulging the flesh. As unbelievers, we will walk after the flesh because we are of flesh. Thus, no amount of bodily discipline will cure the problem which is an issue of the heart. As believers, sometimes we think we are drawing closer to God just because we don’t do what some other Christians do (e.g. we watch only G rated movies and listen to Christian radio). If we develop standards for the sake of keeping our flesh in line, and we are not following the voice of God in the matter, we are leaning on our flesh and will likely be those who judge others for not taking the same religious stands that we have. The only thing that is valuable against the flesh is faith in Christ who is our all in all. He has given us new hearts and the ability to reign in life through Him. True religion is that which is from a changed heart through Christ and that which lives by faith, following the leading of the Holy Spirit. It has nothing to do with setting extrabiblical standards. No amount of alienation from the things of the world can make a person holy. Even the monks could lust in their heart and mind. Martin Luther was honest enough to admit it, and thus was transformed when he read that the just are those who live by faith. Faith is the victory, and through faith in Christ we can overcome the flesh in our day to day living.