Devotional Thoughts from the Chapter
I want you to know how hard I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal 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 whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul says he is “struggling” (see 1:29) for the church, toward a purpose (see 1:28-29) that they be 1) encouraged in heart, 2) united in love, so that 3) they may have the riches of full understanding, in order that 4) they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The logic of all these “so thats” and “in orders” eludes me a bit… but it seems that the real objective is to know the mystery, to have access to the treasure.
“He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” – John 16:14
What is yours, O Lord, is the treasure chest of wisdom and knowledge, that which we are encouraged to spend everything to get (Proverbs 4:7), the treasure to which the fear of the Lord is the key (Isaiah 33:6). I thank you for the treasures that you have made known to me by your Spirit over the past few years. May I be diligent to share these with your people, not for my own benefit or glory (I want to lose my glory!) but for the sake of your church. If I am to write, or to preach, or to serve some other way, may I take the attitude of Paul and go at it as a “struggle,” in your energy.
I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
The world is full of “fine-sounding arguments.” The disciple who avoids conflict as a natural tendency will unfortunately acquiesce to such arguments. Especially in out time, when people’s minds are bombarded with information and the clamor of many voices, people who follow Christ are often unable to perceive contradictory beliefs that they are holding. If one’s mind is sufficiently compartmentalized, one can keep these opposing notions separate, like matter and antimatter, so that there is no danger of mutual annihilation in a painful explosion.
But you, O Lord, transform my thinking day by day. You desire the inner peace of a single, integrated mind: “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace,” Romans 8:6; “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast,” Isaiah 26:3. The settled, peaceful mind that you seek to produce in your people is not susceptible to “fine-sounding arguments” —
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
As a result (v.5), there is order, and there is a firmness (solidity) of faith that is not easily shaken.
Lord, I pray, set me in a ministry, in a place where these truths can be expounded, explained, and expressed. I am listening and ready for your direction.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
You teach me here, O Lord, to depend on you with the same kin of childlike trust that O has at the moment I received you as Lord. My walk ought to be lived out in that isolated reality where you alone matter, you alone are the Light. May I be both “rooted” (organically connected to the life-giving nourishment: John 15:5, Psalm 1:3, Jeremiah 17:8) and “built up” (edified, as part of your construction project: Ephesians 2:21-22, 1 Peter 2:5), having a strengthened faith (that is, the “faith” of the revealed truth, the apostles’ teaching). The outcome of all this is that I would be overflowing with thankfulness – recognizing that all goodness comes from you (Psalm 84:10, James 1:17, Matthew 7:9-11) and all thanks and praise therefore belong to you.
Teach me how to know you, how to relate to you and not in the corrupted way of the world, favor-for-favor. Show me how to lean on your abundant generosity and beneficence, as much as it may challenge my pride. Restore to me the joy of my salvation – “just as I received Christ as Lord”!
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.
The Greek word rendered “take captive” is synagogon, the identical word used for the Jewish congregational gathering. The meaning here is that philosophy and empty deception (kenos apates) can ensnare or gather up, like a lasso or a fisherman’s net, a group of unwary believers – like those who grow up quickly but are soon entangled in the world (Matthew 13:18-23).
The basis, the root of this this empty philosophy is the stoicheia, the “basic principles of this world,” also alluded to in 2:20, where they are clearly described as legalistic rules of behavior. Controlling behavior is the outworking of the fundamental principle that sees people as fundamentally untransformed and untransformable – it denies the inward-working miracle, the ‘Christ-in-you’ (1:27), the rich mystery.
To join the synagogue of empty philosophy is to turn away from the inward miracle. It is to deny Christ. May I, O Lord, instead embrace that transformative miracle. May I no longer allow the world and its foolish attitudes to dictate my behavior. May I be unconcerned with my lapse of membership in the synagogue of philosophers whose teachings have nothing to offer. Their thinking has controlled me too long.
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.
“Pan to pleroma” – all of the fullness of the Deity (theotetos) lives in Christ in bodily form – AND that fullness is in me because Christ is in me – AND because of that authority residing in me I have (“yet not I, but Christ who lives in me,” Galatians 2:20) authority over the spiritual realms that pretend to own this world and its people. In the name of Christ, by faith (not by mere invocation or gesture, see Acts 19:13-16), I have all the fullness (pan to pleroma) to exert the authority, the exousia of Jesus.
Why do I neglect this power? Do I fear the devil? Scripture is loaded with “do not fear” admonitions regarding any power outside of God. Do I think too much of my own ability? I like to rely on my cleverness first, and then God after things get too difficult. This is a worldly, fleshly attitude that must be stopped.
Open my eyes, then, to the exousia that you have put in me, O Lord, and teach me to access that authority at all times.
In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
These metaphors are here to illustrate the new life in which I walk, by your grace, O Lord.
- The Circumcision Metaphor. I have been circumcised with Christ; my sinful flesh has been put off; I am freed from the patterns and habits that it carries. I am dead to those things. When a person is circumcised, that piece of flesh is discarded. It is now separate from the life of the person; it has no life of its own. So too is the “body of sin” for me – it is useless, dead flesh which I foolishly sometimes try to re-animate. Paul uses the Greek word katargeo – elsewhere translated as “idle” or “unemployed” – to describe the “body of sin” in Romans 6:6 — “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless (katargeo), that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
- The Burial Metaphor. My old self has been crucified with Christ and is buried, via the figure of baptism (cf. Romans 6:3). Your burial , O Jesus, was followed by a resurrection to a new life, a life full of energy and power and freshness and light. And I have been raised with you (Colossians 3:1 – “you have been raised with Christ”), and so my new life should shine forth according to your “powerful working” that is within me (1:28-29).
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness [or “written code”], which stood against us and condemned us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
It is all your initiative, O Lord. I did not effect, or earn, or actualize my own redemption. I was dead (Ephesians 2:5, Romans 5:6-8) and I do remember my feelings during that time; I was hostile (or at best, indifferent) to your truth; I was content in my deadness, happy to go along in my uncircumcised nature, sinning and rejecting you continually. But you did not allow me to persist in that dead state; you awakened my conscience so that my sin was apparent to me; not only that, you canceled the debt that was owed to you. You nailed the charges against me to the cross. You did this before I asked!
Since you did all this without my help or involvement (except that my will and my mouth acknowledged the irresistible work you began in me), what is my message to others? Convincing them of their need for you is not adequate; it’s not the gospel. It’s not “see how bad you are; you need a savior,” but rather “you must be born again”! I had a “fresh start” because of your work in me, a clean slate and a new source of power. This is the gospel message, the call of Christ. May I proclaim it faithfully.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Two events: 1) You disarmed the powers and authorities, and 2) you triumphed over them in a visible way (a “public spectacle” – Greek “exposure, shame, disgrace”).
You disarmed them by removing the ground of their accusation. By abolishing the law with its commandments and regulations in the death of Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:15), you neutralized the devil’s power to accuse me.
And then you vanquished them. These “powers and authorities” did not want you as their king. They did not want the humiliation of being defeated, demoted, removed from power. You have begun your reign, and the work of scrubbing your kingdom proceeds, until every last enemy is removed. As your cleanup proceeds, they jealously cling to whatever shreds of pretended authority they still claim to have.
A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.
But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, “We don’t want this man to be our king.” He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he said, “Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me.”
Luke 19:12, 14-15, 27
Self-proclaimed “spiritual” people (spiritists, really) loudly claim that there is no conflict, no “sides in the universe,” that we are all part of one single harmonious All. But your Word, O Lord, tells us that there has been a cosmic coup, a revolutionary act, a total regime change at the time of your Ascension. You have been installed as Lord and Master (“…this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.,” Acts 2:36) and all those so-called “powers” (the spirit realm, a real dimension of existence) are now in reluctant submission to you (1 Peter 3:22). Eventually they will be dispatched, as the parable says.
Therefore I do not fear. Barking dogs with no bite. Noise. As Luther wrote:
Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär,
Und wollt’n uns gar verschlingen,
So fürchten wir uns nicht so sehr,
Es soll uns doch gelingen,
Der Fürst dieser Welt, wie saur er sich stellt,
Tut er uns doch nicht, das macht, er ist gericht’;
Ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen.
And though the world be full of devils, and would even devour us,
We do not fear so much, we are to succeed anyway,
The prince of this world, how bad-tempered [sour] he is,
He does nothing to us; as a result, he is judged,
One little word can fell him.
Teach me, O Lord, to walk towards you without distraction, without fright. May I run with perseverance the race marked out for me.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Suddenly we have jumped from theology and the spiritual history of the universe into a very practical teaching – and a unique one. Here you do not prescribe for us a way of worship or Christian practice, and you are not forbidding some form of common practice that is in error. “Do not let anyone judge you” is an unusual formula in Scripture. It suggests that there existed in the church at Colossae a particular group whose “ministry” was criticism and judgmentalism. Paul’s instructions, however, are not directed at them. He instead seeks to come alongside the victims of that abusive “ministry,” the ones who would be judged. This epistle identifies with the believers of the church at Colossae, who need comfort and encouragement. Their celebrations (or lack of them), were not sinful. They were doing nothing wrong. Yet they were receiving judgment from those who felt otherwise – most likely, those who would bring the Law of Moses into the ceremonial life of the New Testament church. The command from the Apostle is “do not let anyone judge you.” He says, in effect, “I stand with you. On my authority, be free.” What a wonderful message to give to a church! “Watch out for those dogs!” (Philippians 3:2)
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Your description is of a person unconnected to the Head (that is, Christ; cf. Ephesians 4:15), whose mind if “puffed up with idle notions,” which are “fleshly” notions – thoughts rooted in the earth and ignorant of the spiritual life that is coming from you.
Am I susceptible to such thoughts? When do I fall into unspiritual, fleshly, puffed-up thinking? Whenever I am disconnected from you, not lifting my soul up to you (Psalm 25:1-5) in prayer, to be guided and taught in your truth. Whenever my heart is proud and my eyes are haughty (Psalm 131) and I concern myself with things too wonderful for me. Whenever I neglect to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) to make it obedient to Christ; failing this, my thoughts are earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6). May I set my mind on what the Spirit desires, on things above (Colossians 3:2), not on earthly things, so that I might avoid the trap of puffed-up, fleshly thinking.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
You ask why, since I have died with Christ to the elements (stoicheia) of this world, would I live by its teaching, its dogma, its tao: the simple rules and regulations that govern religious practice? Paul calls it “slavery” in Galatians 4:3 – slavery to these stoicheia, these rules. “By dying to what once bound us,” (Romans 7:6), he says, “we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
I do not belong to that world. Paul is writing to Gentiles, who grew up apart from the Law, yet had religious traditions to shed – the default religion of Man, that desire to earn favor with God through human works. I do not belong to that world! I serve in the “new way of the Spirit”! I must reject those teachings that come from the stoicheia of this fallen, hopeless world. I must assert my liberty in Christ “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Where the world offers rules and rituals and ceremony and canon law and strictures on behavior and practice, you offer only freedom, in the Spirit. No one should judge me – that is, I should not allow myself to be judged, because I have dies with Christ to those things.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
Such rules are destined to perish with use, because they are based on mere human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
“An appearance of wisdom” – may I rise above this mere appearance, with the sort of public displays of piety that you warned about:
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
You see what is done in secret. You look upon the heart and not the outward things. (I Samuel 16:7, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”)
I am susceptible, I know, to sham religion, to sham anything because of my weakness for human attention and praise. It is like a sweet tooth: it tastes good to me on the way in, so my shallow instincts tend to crave it. But it lacks nutritional value; it rots my insides and weakens me.
Show me, O Lord, where I continue to fall victim to wrong thinking in this area, and lead me into true wisdom, true religion, true holiness – led by the indwelling Holy Spirit.