12. Jesus, head over all authorities

Meditations in Colossians 2: 12:  Jesus, head over all authorities

Col 2:9,10   For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

We have considered some of these things in our studies in chapter 1 but Paul, as a good teacher, repeats or expands on some of the things he has said previously, or simply says them in a different way. Here Paul is simply reminding us that Jesus, the Son of God, is the head over all spiritual realities. Now we may think this is an academic point, or simply a theological doctrine for spiritual people, but how we view Jesus affects the whole of our lives. If we do not see Jesus like this, then we will have fears and doubts hanging over parts of our lives.

We thought on these things (and they bear thinking about again) when we saw in 1:13, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” and we considered Jesus’ position and saw Jesus seated at the Father’s right hand (see Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2  1 Pet 3:22).  We also saw that he has been given all authority (see Heb 2:8 / 1 Cor. 15:25 / Isa 9:7  / Psa 110)  and that he reigns with a purpose (see 1 Cor 15:24,25).  This is the Scriptural background for this, and note in passing that this is not just one or two verses giving testimony to this.

Most of the time we don’t think about ‘powers and authorities’ but we see reference to them at various times in the Bible, possibly the best known in Eph 6:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

A ‘ruler’ is one who exercises sovereign influence over another.  In John 14:30 Satan is called “the ruler of this world” and in his first letter John says, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19). ‘Authorities’ are those who have been given the right to act in certain ways over others. ‘Powers’ may cover the previous two but emphasises their ability to influence, to impose on, or subject people to them – remember we have just seen John speak about the whole world (not Christians) being under the ‘control’ of Satan and, by implication, his followers, demons, fallen angels. ‘Spiritual forces’ emphasise the fact that he is speaking about the spiritual realm and of gathered forces of evil. It is no wonder that Paul says we are in a struggle in that Eph 6:12 verse, which is the word he has used back in chapter 1 about his own ministry.

That may lead us to question Jesus’ position (the fact that we have to struggle against the prevailing enemy who rules over the world) so we need to reassure ourselves with another set of verses: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:19-22) There Paul is speaking abut the same power of the Spirit who is now in us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Now let’s be very simple and obvious:  that power is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. God is the all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing one who is sovereign over all, i.e. He can do whatever He likes in respect of everything He has made and anything you can name apart from Him, He has made. Has He made evil then, I hear you wondering? No, evil is simply the absence of good. Evil is the expression of free beings who revolt against God. Well couldn’t God utterly destroy them, you then ask?  Well of course He could and He will at the end of time but in the meantime He has allowed them their freedom, as He has allowed us our freedom and will use them as He will for His own purposes. In an earlier study in chapter 1 I listed a whole range of ways that God uses Satan for His own purposes.

Always make sure you keep a right perspective about everything. Imagine all the oceans of the world as representing God. One little puddle would represent Satan. He is a fallen angel, a created being who exercised his free will to rebel but he is powerless before God. Read Job 1 & 2 and you see Satan appearing before God but he is allowed to only go as far as God allows him to go – and no further! Satan may have influence over the world and the rulers and authorities and powers in it, but he is still subject to God, still subject to Jesus who is seated at the Father’s right hand where God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything and then comes amazing words, “for the church” Wow!

Let’s do another ‘logic flow’. The church comprises all Christians. Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the power of God. The church is ‘above’ all those powers and principalities; all we have to do is stand and hold our position. We don’t have to fight for it, but we may have to fight to retain it. And the Good News? The head of the body, the church, is Christ, and he is over all these other rulers authorities, powers etc. No contest!

11. Fullness in Christ

CHAPTER 2: Part 7: Fullness in Christ: Dead and Raised

Meditations in Colossians 2: 11:  Fullness in Christ

Col 2:9,10   For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

Before I write another word, tell me, what does “fullness in Christ’ mean?  It’s another one of those phrases that crop up in Scripture that really needs thinking about if we are to understand it. But let’s start with verse 9: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” That is fairly straight forward because Paul has taken us down this path in chapter 1 when he said, “He is the image of the invisible Go the firstborn of creation.” (1:15) which we considered in studies 29 and 30 of chapter 1.

Now it may be that Paul is countering the growing Gnostic heresy which made Jesus less than that which the New Testament teaches. For the Gnostics, Jesus was first just a human being. The heavenly ruler descended on this human and deserted him at his Passion (in some sects this heavenly ruler or Christ descends again on the risen body after the resurrection and enables him to teach his disciples for a further eighteen months.) Both modern day Judaism and modern day Islam similarly reject claims to divinity in Jesus, but the apostle Paul with his revelation of Christ on the Damascus road is quite clear. Verse 9 could not be more explicit: in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

The JBP version is particularly good and helpful for this verse: it is in him that God gives a full and complete expression of himself (within the physical limits that he set himself in Christ). Moreover, your own completeness is only realised in him….”  Doesn’t it say it well! “In him (Christ) God gives a full and complete expression of himself” but then adds the rider, “(within the physical limits that he set himself in Christ).” In other words look at the person of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and you see God. Do you remember Jesus saying to Philip, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9) We have considered this before so we won’t go into it any more.

But we haven’t noted the context, to which the starting word ‘For’ alerts us. In verse 6 he had said, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,” and then in verse 8 he speaks of “deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” It is therefore important that we understand who Christ is if we are to “live in him” and depend on him.

Do you see the logic that follows in these verses, flowing on one from another? Christ is at the heart of all we are, all we experience, and all we know, and so now Paul gives us the reason why we can rely on this: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (v.9) This Jesus that we follow is God in the flesh. But it doesn’t end there. It is staggering enough just to say that, but Paul doesn’t finish there; he says something else which is equally staggering: “and you have been given fullness in Christ.”  Hence back to my starting question, what does that mean?

Well let’s think about the lead-in sentence again: “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  Perhaps another way of saying that might be, in Christ we see God completely, Jesus is completely God. So now we might take “and you have been given fullness in Christ,” and put it, “and you have been made complete in Christ in your union with God.” That is the wonder of our salvation, we have been made complete. There was always something missing in us before we came to Christ for, as some have put it, ‘there was a God’s shaped hole in us’ and it was empty while we were estranged from God by our Sin. But now He has come into us and that empty hole has been filled.

When Jesus was nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount he taught, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) That word ‘perfect’ means whole or complete, lacking nothing. That could not have been said of us before we came to Christ, but since He came into us, it is true. He has made us whole or complete, lacking nothing. The Living version puts it, “so you have everything when you have Christ, and you are filled with God through your union with Christ.”  When you have everything, you are complete, you are full up with all you ever need.

Do you realise this? With Him in you, you never need anything else; He is the complete or perfect resource, there is nothing He cannot give you. If you need physical strength, He can give it to you. If you need healing, He can give it to you. If you need wisdom He can give it to you. If you need revelation, insight, understanding, He can give it to you. Why? He has it all; He is God, He is without limit. (Why is it that we don’t get these things so often? Simply, so often we don’t believe it!)

This limitless resource we usually call His grace. When we see it like this, some of Paul’s sayings suddenly make sense. For example,I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13) Whatever He asks me to do, I can do, because I have been made complete in Christ, I have everything I need for the job! Or a little later in that same letter, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19)  i.e. My God will meet every need you have because you have Christ in you and Christ is God with unlimited resources – and they’re all available to you! Isn’t that incredible!

Again it makes sense of all the “all” words in 2 Cor 9:8 – “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  i.e. God can make all of His resources flow to you without limit, so that in any place and at any time you will always have absolutely everything you need to enable you to absolutely overflow in ever good thing you put your hand to that He leads you into. As we said before, incredible isn’t it!

Now if you are not absolutely certain of these things, please go back and reread this whole meditation again and again until you are, because in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ,  you are absolutely complete and lack nothing with him in you. Now, jump up and down and scream and shout at the wonder of that!

10. Think Properly

Meditations in Colossians 2: 10:  Think Properly

Col 2:8   See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

I have a feeling that many Christians skim over this verse and think, “Well, yes it is scripture but it doesn’t apply to me. Let’s move on,” which is complete error. Perhaps one of the biggest struggles that goes on in the spiritual world of the early twenty first century (and it has probably been so throughout the last two thousand years) is the battle for the mind, the battle for how we each think. In an age when God has allowed us to have so much in the material realm (and I believe we do have it because He has given it to us, and maybe He has much more yet to give us) the pressure is on the modern Christian to rely upon ‘things’ and ‘methods’ and ‘technology’ (to name but three) and NOT on God. Many young Christians, modern surveys tell me, only reads their Bible once a month. For the Christian this is like having a single slice of bread once a week.

You see we so often think that this “hollow and deceptive philosophy” that Paul talks about is all to do with academic philosophy and therefore is not something that need bother us. But all philosophy is, is a way of thinking about things. If you look back over history philosophy does have real practical outworkings, so on the one hand you had early Greek philosophers who separated material and spirit and said the material is bad, so we have Christians who are so spiritual as to be unbelievable and who relate in no way with life and have been marginalised by the world. There are a lot of evangelicals like that. On the other hand there are those who deny or denigrate the spiritual and focus on enjoying the material, hedonists who focus purely on pleasure or in post-modern terms, experience. Both of these are extremes and miss the truth that this is a spiritual world because God has made everything, and yes, it is there for our enjoyment, in moderation and with thanksgiving. (remember what we said about that in the previous meditation).

The danger with philosophy is that the body of knowledge created over the years is a body of human thinking. Pick up any philosophy book and it is a book of human thought. When I first started to study the history of philosophy, I soon became disillusioned with it because what happens is the one philosopher comes up with a series of ideas of how life and reality works, and the next philosopher picks holes in his thinking and comes up with his own different approach, and so it continues. No one can claim real answers, just ideas of how it all works. Thus we have what Paul calls, “human tradition and the basic principles of this world.” This is thinking with human origins and when it comes to faith again you find two extremes of off the rail false thinking.

On one side, in Paul’s day, there were the Gnostics starting to appear, who we referred to briefly in an earlier meditation, who, in part, taught that for salvation one needed to combine faith in Christ with secret knowledge, a special mystical knowledge obtained by only a few. On the other side, Paul had to contend with the religious Jews who, when they came to Christ combined faith in Christ with man-made regulations concerning such physical and external practices such as circumcision, eating and drinking, and observance of religious festivals. All of these approaches detract from the wonder of God’s grace. One side relies on special and limited revelation, the other on special behaviour (rites etc.) Each of these things work on “faith plus” and it is either faith plus special revelation or faith plus special works.

Both are error and both detract from faith in Christ – rather than on Christ – which  is what Paul has been teaching about throughout this letter, e.g. “of your faith in Christ Jesus,” (1:4), and “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (1:13,14) and in all that follows about Christ in 1:15-20, and so on. It is all about Christ, about the fact that he is God’s Son and he has died for our sins and risen again and ascended to the Father, and from that we have faith, we have life in him.

Thus the challenge from Paul is “See to it that no one takes you captive”  I have observed, more than a few times over the years, people who get locked in to a particular way of thinking; they almost become obsessed with a particular subject or theme or approach to faith and the Christian world and are rarely open to discussing it. They are locked in to it, captives to it. Spiritual blindness is a real outworking of deception. Whenever something ‘new’ appears in the Christian world, take a deep breath, slow up and start thinking: is this an add-on, a faith-plus thing, an over-emphasis on some particular facet of Christian knowledge. Be careful, be alert and do not get locked in to such things.

9. Continue in Christ

CHAPTER 2: Part 6: Exhortation: Stand strong and free

Meditations in Colossians 2: 9:  Continue in Christ

Col 2:6,7   So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

You will know that I like link words, so I like “So then …”  It’s a short way of say, “Very well because of what I’ve just said, this is what should follow.” i.e. you’ve heard me speak about the mystery of Christ and also warning against wrong thinking that leads astray, so as a means of capitalising on the one and working against the other, this is what you should be doing. There is a logic or flow in Paul’s thinking and this is the natural follow-on to what I’ve just said.

He starts, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,” and takes them back to the point of their conversion, of receiving their salvation.  There used to be a worry about new believers only receiving Christ as Saviour and not as Lord, and perhaps in some quarters that is still a valid concern. For Christ to be Saviour he HAS to be Lord as well. The ‘Saviour only’ approach focuses on the point of conversion but that is meaningless unless the life that follows is lived out under Christ’s direction for salvation isn’t just for a conversion moment, it is for being worked out in a lifetime. To get the fruits of salvation throughout the rest of your life, you have to let Christ lead you and be Lord. Christians live substandard lives and fail to appropriate all Christ has for them if they fail to let him be Lord of their life.  So when Paul says just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,” he is subtly reminding them of the fundamental approach to life they have adopted – letting Christ be Lord, and that is for every day they have left on this earth.

But he then spells out what that Lordship means: “continue to live in him,” When we speak of living ‘in Christ’ we are saying imagine you are one with Christ, because you are; you are part of his body, the Church, and his Holy Spirit indwells you. Be aware of him, be aware that he speaks to us – through his word, through his Spirit – and that he is here for our good, guiding and directing us, so be aware of him and focus on him when you pray, for instance. Remain Christ focused is how we may sum thus up.

And then he expands on that: “rooted and built up in him.” When a plant is rooted in soil, it relies upon that soil for its nutrients and for water; it gets its life from the soil, being fed by it and by being supported by it. This is how we are in Christ; he is our foundation, he is the one from whom our life comes, he is the one who supports us, and this is not merely words but practical reality. ‘In him’ we are also ‘built up’. His presence, his life, supports and energises us.  This may sound obvious but remember that Paul is laying down the basics for a young church, for new believers as well as, at the same time, providing resources to help counteract false teachings that may come and seduce these people away from their experience of Christ.

There are two more things to encourage them to do this. First, be “strengthened in the faith as you were taught,” which is a natural continuance from thinking about being strengthened in your experience of being ‘in Christ’. Be also strengthened as you hang on to the teaching you have received concerning your faith. It is not only experiential via the Holy Spirit, it is also sustained by the practical teaching imparted through the church.

Then he adds, “and overflowing with thankfulness.” Now you may not think that that instruction strengthens new believers and counteracts false teaching, but it does! If you maintain a prayer life filled with thankfulness, it means that you are continually reminding yourself of all the good things that we have been considered in these studies in these two chapters. And if you are being thankful you will be thanking someone, and that someone is God, and so you will be continually be turning back to Him, focusing on Him, giving to Him and receiving from Him. Thankfulness sounds so innocuous but it is a key to good spiritual health, to remaining focused on God, to holding firm to the truth of all that He is, all that He has done and all that He has made you. Being thankful is a major element of a healthy life.

So there he is, calling on these new believers to remain strong as they walk out their new faith, by remembering who they are – those ‘in ‘Christ’, and what that means – we are founded in Christ and he is our resource and support and Lord, the bringer of all good things into our lives. Holding firm to this and to the teaching we have received, and maintaining an attitude of thankfulness, will mean that these new believers will grow, will be strong and will be able to stand against the wiles of the enemy and resist false teaching that undermines and seduces away from Christ. This is powerful stuff!

8. United by Spirit

Meditations in Colossians 2: 8:  United by Spirit

Col 2:5   For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is

A number of times in this letter Paul has given reasons why he is writing to this church he has never visited. He had heard about them from Epaphras (1:7,8) and had heard about their faith and love (1:4) and from the moment he had heard about them he had been praying for them (1:9) with his apostolic heart yearning for them to built up in their knowledge of God’s will (1:9) so they can grow and be fruitful (1:10), and so he wants to extend to them his knowledge of the mystery of God (1:25-29) which he always wants to impart to the church, whether people he has met or not met (2:1) in order to encourage, strengthen unity and build greater understanding (2:2).  He may be away from them in the physical sense – “absent from you in body” – but his spirit is with them – “I am present with you in spirit” – and so rejoices in what he hears of them – “ and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is“ which, again, is why he writes.

We perhaps do not realise fully the wonder of the Holy Spirit within us and the unifying effect he has between us. A number of years ago I had the privilege of being able to teach in churches in Borneo, in East Malaysia. On one occasion I and my small team flew into a small landing strip somewhere deep in East Malaysia where, being the only Westerners on the plane, we were clearly recognised by some locals who signed to us to follow them. They took our luggage and again signed to us to follow them and we trekked a mile into the jungle until we came to a village where they deposited us in a large house on stilts. For the next few hours, while we waited for an interpreter to arrive, everything was carried out by sign language. We were given bedrooms, we were ushered into a room with a single long mat spread down the middle of it and were invited to eat from the many plates of food laid out. Now here is the thing: these men (and they were all men) were clearly Christians. Maybe it was their demeanour and the way they treated us but I realised for the first time – really realised – that we all had the Holy Spirit within us and He united us. It was a strange and, for us, a unique experience and I found myself bursting to want to communicate with these brothers in Christ because I was so aware of the unity there between us. It was the Holy Spirit.

Fellowship is a unique experience to Christians. It doesn’t happen between a Christian and an unbeliever and it doesn’t happen between two unbelievers. There may be a unity of thinking and so on but ‘fellowship’ is a coming together of two Spirit indwelt believers and it is the unity that is there because He indwells us both.

But there is another dimension to this fellowship and what Paul feels for these believers he has never seen; it is our past Christian experience. We are united by our common experience. We all know that we came to the end of ourselves, we surrendered to Him, we were forgiven our sins, we were adopted as God’s children and we received the indwelling Holy Spirit and were born again. This has not happened to my non-Christian neighbour.

But there is also our present Christian experience. Because we are each indwelt by His Holy Spirit we know His guidance, His teaching, His help, His enabling, His empowering. We enter into expressly Christian experiences – we pray we read His word and receive revelation and understanding and we worship. My unsaved neighbour does not do this.

But is it also about our future Christian experience. Our goals ‘in Christ’ are to grow in him and be available to serve him, until one day He takes us to be with Him in heaven. This is not the experience and hope of my unbelieving neighbour.

The apostle Paul indirectly referred to these different experiences when he taught the Corinthians, Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” (2 Cor 6:14-17) I always feel very sad when I see young Christians disregarding this warning and marrying an unbeliever. Yes, God in His grace does sometimes bring the unbelieving partner to the Lord but often I see Christians struggling with the anguish of their partner not having the unity we have been talking about in this study.

But look at these verses in the light of what we have been saying: we have unity as believers, a unity in light, a unity in Christ, we are each a temple of the Holy Spirit with the Lord living in us. No wonder Paul was able to speak about how they were present with him in spirit. Again when I have travelled I have been thousands of miles away from my wife and yet sense that unity in the Spirit. It doesn’t matter how may miles divide us, it doesn’t matter if language divides us, all these other things unite us, and especially the presence of His Holy Spirit in us. Isn’t that wonderful!

7. Beware Deception

Meditations in Colossians 2: 7:  Beware Deception

Col 2:4   I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments

In two previous meditations we have commented upon the struggle that Paul and other Christian leaders would have had against heresies in the first century. It is well to be aware of these although Paul never refers to them directly.

One of the primary heresies that arose in a variety of forms was that of Gnosticism. For the Gnostics, salvation came through gnosis, knowledge – a mystic knowledge revealed by the God of the New Testament (the good God, as against a bad God of the Old Testament) to the teacher of the sect. This is why Paul and other New Testament writers so often emphasise knowledge coming through Jesus, e.g. “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” (1:9,10) and “the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (2:2,3) and “since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (3:9,10)

When Paul starts this verse, “I tell you this,” the ‘this’ refers to the struggle he is involved in (2:1) to bring full understanding to the church of Christ who is the expression of God’s knowledge and wisdom in operation. (2:2) It isn’t some vague mystic knowledge that only comes through mystical experiences but it is publicly displayed for all to see – the plan of redemption through the Son of God, formulated from before the foundation of the world.

His warning is against those who “may deceive you“. Deception is one of the main weapons in the enemy’s armory. We see deception in the earliest pages of the Bible when the serpent deceived Eve and, yes, it was “by find sounding arguments”. Remember – “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) and “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4) Arguments that involved lies (you will not surely die) but sounded so right with partial truths (you will know good and evil).

A few verses on Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8). We’ll look at that more fully when we get to it, but the warning is again there to beware deception. As we noted in an earlier meditation, teaching in the church is essential to have right understanding and to counter the errors which come up again and again throughout history, the same old ones again and again. There is no such thing as a new heresy; it will always be found in the past.

Jesus himself brought the same warning: “Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (Mt 24:4,5) and, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.” (Mt 24:24)

Paul wrote to the Romans, I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Rom 16:17,18) To the Ephesians he wrote, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Eph 5:5,6)

See the means of deception in these verses:  hollow and deceptive philosophy – that which does not have its origin with God; claiming to be Christ – you’ll know him when he comes in the clouds (Rev 19); signs and wonders – not everything comes from the Holy Spirit; smooth talk and flattery – appealing to your pride; empty words – words that appear to convince but fall under scrutiny. In a whole variety of way we can be led astray, led away from the truth into error and once in error, into unrighteousness. The counter to all these things is twofold: first to hold firmly to the word, to read it and study it in God’s presence to come to the understanding that Paul talks about in this letter; second, to maintain a real relationship with the Lord through the Holy Spirit where we know His grace and His peace. When something lacks the grace of God, question it. When your peace goes, check with the Lord why.

We are in a battle as Paul told the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” (Eph 6:10-14)  The battle is to hold the ground of truth, the truth, the truth of the Gospel of grace. The enemy will use the strategies of fear and doubt, of temptation and of deception. Our role is simply to resist by being wide awake to the possibilities, and equipped with the word and the Spirit. May we stand strong in Him at all times, resisting anything that would seduce us away from Him and from what we know to be right.

6. Christ’s Treasures

Meditations in Colossians 2: 6:  Christ’s Treasures

Col 2:2,3   that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I worry sometimes (as you may have gathered if you have followed these studies through Colossians) that we Christians so skim read the Bible that we fail to ponder upon the amazing things that are being said there. It is not always easy; in fact without prayer and seeking God for wisdom and insight often we can be left floundering, wondering whatever it was that, say, the apostle Paul was saying. For instance, whatever does it mean when he speaks and says, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”?

Let’s take it in bits. In Christ there are hidden treasures. Fine so far. Perhaps we might say that about a person we know: “If you knew them, really got to know them well, you would come to see there is more in them than meets the eye, they have got so much, they are an amazing person really.” We come across an aged person who is gentle and gracious and we wonder about them. Someone else tells us, “They were in a death camp in the war and went through terrible things, but they have come out of it so gracious and humble and thankful. He (she) is such a beautiful person that you’d never guess what they had been through.” They contain such treasure, some of it (the memories) not good but others of it so wonderful.

And in Christ, Paul says are these treasures and they are wisdom and knowledge – and the way he says it suggests they are unlimited wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps there are two ways of seeing this. The first is to see in the person of Christ that we observe in the Gospels, hear about in the prophets, and who is now seated at the Father’s right hand to return at some future date, all the wisdom and knowledge that God has. While he was on earth in a single human form, it appears that he was limited to the revelation the Spirit in him released. Perhaps it was a case that he only became aware of the wisdom and knowledge as he needed it. For a human mind to cope with every bit of knowledge that exists (which God has) would be too mind blowing, so he was limited, purely to be able to cope in human form with human abilities as well as the divine flow. As the Son of God he had access to everything the Father knew and in the human body could draw on it through the Spirit as and when he needed to. Perhaps this is one meaning of Jesus containing “all the treasures of wisdom and understanding.”

But maybe there is a much bigger way that this applies, a much bigger meaning that in fact refers to the very fact of his existence. Does it mean that the very fact of the actual existence of a Son of God, to start with, is an example of all of God’s knowledge and wisdom coming together to bring him about. In a previous study in chapter one we considered the fact that Jesus was begotten (“formed out of”) and not created, so that he came out of the Father and was still one with the Father. Was there a moment in the existence of God when He was aware of all that He could create in the material realm (or was it even before that) when He decided that the wisest thing that He could do in the light of all He knew, was to bring forth ‘a Son’, a second identity that had unique personality but separate (while still one) existence?

My wife and I were talking about this and I speculated on God thinking as Spirit. One set of thoughts, but then He formed two sets of thoughts at the same moment (for He can do that as God) and the two sets of thought exist from then on as separate identities – “In the beginning was the word”. But as these two ‘Spirit thoughts’ pondered they saw all that could ever be that they could create in the material world, and they saw that if they made ‘human beings’ with free will, then they would use that free will to turn away from God’s perfect design for them and go their own way, causing mayhem and destruction of that material world. And seeing that they ‘saw’ that the only way for justice to be appeased, in order to bring this fallen mankind back, it would be necessary for ‘the Son’ to take human form and take all the punishment  due to humanity in order to put it back on a right footing able to stand before God without condemnation.

This plan before anything else, this thinking is based on having complete knowledge of everything within and without time, past, present and future, of possibilities and of realities. But more than that it is based on pure wisdom. Wisdom is the knowledge of how to act, what to say or do, and God, who sees everything, knows exactly what is the right thing, the perfect thing, the thing that cannot be improved upon, knows what should be- and it was all that we know of about Christ.

When we look at Christ we see in him are hidden all the outworkings of God’s knowledge and wisdom. How incredible!

5. To Know Christ

Meditations in Colossians 2: 5:  To know Christ

Col 2:2,3   My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,

We have considered the three aspects of Paul’s purpose together and now come to his end goal. These things that Paul works for – brining encouragement in heart, working for loving unity and understanding – all work towards one end – that each believer knows Christ. The encouragement we receive, the assurance that Paul brings are all grounded in Christ.  The love we experience is God’s love through Christ now administered by Jesus Spirit. The teaching he conveys to bring us into understanding about the faith, is all about Jesus. Jesus is at the heart of everything to do with our faith.

Now we cannot overstate this. We have seen previously how Paul referred to a mystery back in chapter 1, a mystery that has been kept hidden for ages,” (v.26) explained as, “this mystery, which is Christ in you.” (v.27) and we considered that in a previous meditation. Put most simply God’s plan, formulated from before the Creation, was hinted at through oblique references to a coming messiah figure, but only revealed in Christ. If it had been hidden from the Jewish scholars for all those centuries, it is no wonder that it is hidden from the unbelieving world today and that even many Christians have only a shallow understanding of it. But when Paul says above, “that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,” the emphasis or object of the knowing is not the mystery but Christ himself. All  Paul’s activity is directed towards this one goal, that we come to know Christ, for without him we have not salvation.

Now as we said in a much earlier meditation in chapter one about knowing God, and now with Christ, we can know about him (basic knowledge) and we can know him (experience).  The ‘knowing about’ leads us to God’s salvation so that through it we come to ‘know him’ in personal daily life.

Yes, the ‘knowing about’ needs to include understanding that he came from heaven as the pre-existing second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, that he lived on earth for some thirty three years, the last three in which he ministered his Father’s love in word and deed, was then put to death on a Cross, rose from the dead on the third day, remained and taught his followers for a number of weeks and then ascended to heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand administering the kingdom of God.  All of that is part of the riches of understanding the Paul has jut referred to and of which each one of us should be quite clear.  That is the ‘knowing about’.

But then there is the ‘knowing him’ which is about our daily experience where we encounter him through the means of his Holy Spirit (otherwise referred to as the Spirit of Jesus or the Spirit of Christ.)  Many Christians live out their lives as people of the law, they rely solely on the Bible to guide and direct them, and as important as this, it is the starting point for we are called to be Word AND Spirit people.

In the previous meditation we saw in an early Puritan catechism the declaration that in answer to Question 2, What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him?” the answer came,  The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him.” Later on in that same catechism we find, “We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit,” which was then followed by the question, “How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?” and the answer is given, “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and by it uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.” They understood that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, works out the reality of our salvation; this is “knowing Christ”.

Jesus, by his Spirit, convicts us of our sin (Jn 16:8), brings us to himself and teaches us (Jn 14:26), testifies about himself (15:26), and guides us into all truth (Jn 16:13). Yes, he does take the written word and bring it alive to us but he also speaks into our consciences and also speaks directly into our minds as he teaches and guides us. Sadly many Christians don’t realise that some of the thoughts they get come directly from him and thus fail to thank him for them. In our daily lives we can talk to him about anything, knowing he is there for us. We can share our joys, we can ask for help, we can ask for wisdom. This is all part of ‘knowing Christ’ who is the mystery of God, hidden through the ages but now revealed, the author of our salvation. This is what Paul works for, to bring each of us into a living, experiential knowledge of Christ; this is what all his activities work towards.  Hallelujah!

4. Complete Understanding

Meditations in Colossians 2: 4:  Complete Understanding

Col 2:2,3   My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,

In the previous two meditations of the verse above we said we have made bold the three aspects of Paul’s purpose together with his end goal, and we went on to consider the first two of these three aspects, that of being encouraged in heart and being united in love,” Now we move on to the third aspect of Paul’s purpose which is to bring complete understanding to the church.

What is sad about so much of modern day Christianity is that so many people are unsure of their faith or unsure of the basics of their faith. If this assertion is right then I suggest there are two reasons for that. First, the quality of a person’s new birth experience (if I may put it like that) appears so often shallow. A well founded believer is hungry for God’s word, hungry for God, and longs to learn what the Bible has to say. This lack may be because of the day in which we live where materialistic desires compete with spiritual desires. Second, this lack of assurance must be put at the door of church leaders who convey so little (ten minutes on a Sunday morning to impart the invaluable teaching of the New Testament – even twenty is inadequate!) of the truth in a systematic way that is anointed of God.

Paul, I suspect, would be shocked by the state of the modern church when compared to his own heart. When he thinks about the teaching we find in the New Testament, he speaks of it as ‘riches’ and he wants us to have ‘full riches’, not just a bit. These teachings, that he has already been referring to in chapter 1 and now continues in chapter 2, throw light on reality, throw light on who God is, what He is like, who Jesus is, what he is like, who we are and what we are like before and after conversion. Understanding these things establishes, strengthens and stabilizes the new believer. One modern version speaks of “so have the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings.”  That doesn’t bring out the wonder of the truth of what ‘riches’ brings but it does highlight the impact of these riches, that they bring a full wealth of experience.

Perhaps the most challenging word is ‘complete’. Not just partial understanding but complete understanding. Timothy admittedly was a leader and to him Paul said, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) The NKJV is stronger: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God.” Yes, it may be that he was a leader but if we are to apprehend the “full riches of complete understanding” isn’t the challenge for each of us to study His word?

In earlier centuries they used catechisms to teach and train new believers. As one famous Puritan catechism starts of,

Question 1: What is the chief end of man? Answer 1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1Co 10:31) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps 73:25,26)

 Question 2: What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him?  Answer 2: The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Eph 2:20 2Ti 3:16) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him. (1Jo 1:3)

Question 3: What do the Scriptures principally teach? Answer 3: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. (2Ti 1:13 Ec 12:13)”

Some of these catechisms had well over a hundred questions, and every new believer was required to learn them. A bit legalistic we might say, but they certainly had a broader understanding of the truth of God’s word than many today!

There is a small point we have not yet touched upon n this verse: “my purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.”  The implication of this translation is that understanding comes from encouragement and being part of the loving community of God’s people. Translators are unsure of the real intent of the joining words and so some simply say, “and they may have….” making the riches of understanding just another one of the things to be worked on. One can see that understanding the wonder of the New Testament teaching will come with the encouraging of heart brought in the context of the loving community.  When the community of God’s people expect these things then they are more readily brought about and creating that experience and understanding is the role and duty of the leaders of the church.

These things, we have noted before, bring about an end product and we will go on to consider that in the next meditation.

3. United in Love

Meditations in Colossians 2: 3:  United in Love

Col 2:2,3   My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,

In the previous meditation of the verse above we said we have made bold the three aspects of Paul’s purpose together with his end goal, and we went on to consider the first of these three aspects, that of being “encouraged in heart”. Now we move on to consider the second aspect, of being “united in love.” The problem, so often with Scripture, is that the writer was not seeking to go into great detail because, as in this case, it would make the letter incredibly long. So, when we come to this little phrase we are left to speculate on what he means.  A good approach often with Paul’s letters (because his trains of thought often go round in a circle or repeat themselves or pick out specific aspects again and again) is to look before and after the point in question to see if there are other references that might shine light on the present one.

Earlier in chapter 1 we find several references to their love: we have heard of ….. the love you have for all the saints,” (v.4) and, love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven,” (v.5) and “Epaphras…. also told us of your love in the Spirit,” (v.7,8) They know about love; it is strong in them that reveals itself in their love for all believers, and it is a love that naturally springs out of the Gospel of hope, and is a love empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This is interesting because he is saying, “My purpose is that they may be …. united in love,” but it would appear that they already have it, so why is he mentioning it now. The first answer (and these reflect what he said about his ministry having various aspects that we considered in the first of these meditations in chapter two) has got to be that working to bring about a church united in love is part of his ministry of bringing the Gospel to people and then seeing them built up in it.

When you think about it, the Gospel is about love and should always be presented in love. The end product is a new believer who is newly aware of God’s love, filled with that love, and aware that they have a life ahead of them founded on and characterized by love. They were thus newly birthed by love and live lives founded and built in love, and now they find themselves alongside lots of other believers who have experienced the same things, all of them rejoicing in love.

What more could you ask for to produce a church “united in love”?  If your local church fails to experience this love as an ongoing daily and weekly experience together, it is probable that love has not been emphasised in sharing the Gospel, and has not been majored on in building up and establishing the church, and so we fail to realise or remember the wonder of this love. If the Holy Spirit is within us (and He is!) and He is love (and He is!) and we are open to Him (are we?), then love will flow between us and we will be united in love in more than words.

Remember Jesus’ words in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (although they would not be written down by John for several decades yet possibly): “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) There Jesus prayed for a complete unity based on the wonder of lives loved by God and revealing that love in word and deed to the rest of the world. Paul may not have known about these words yet, but the Holy Spirit who inspired him was the same as the Spirit in Jesus and he would thus know that this was the intent of the Father’s heart and the heart of Jesus. Unity based upon love is thus a critical requirement for the Church to impact the world and glorify the Father.

But when we considered the reasons for Paul’s struggling for new believers we also said that part of the struggle was to counter the heresies and false teachings that abounded in those early centuries, used by the enemy to counter the Gospel. So perhaps another more subtle reason for Paul saying this is to do with those heresies that cause division and upset. Don’t let such divisions spoil the loving unity you have, is perhaps the message in his thinking at this point, and that is a very real and valid reason to present, not merely that such heresies are wrong, but they do damage to the love and unity of the church. One of the reasons for good, steady and consistent teaching within the Church is to avoid such heresies and thus avoid the splits and divisions that accompany heretical and wrong teaching.

Thus this little phrase is based upon what has happened to these believers, and is the Father’s heart for them, and is to be something to be guarded and protected from the wiles of the enemy. Never take this loving unity for granted, and if it is absent in reality in your local church, then work to restore and establish it. Amen? Amen!