Warren Wiersbe wrote of a pastor concerned about unsavory businesses that opened near a school. His protests led to a court case. The defense attorney tried to embarrass the minister. “Are you not a pastor?” the lawyer asked. “And doesn’t the word ‘pastor’ mean ‘shepherd’?” The pastor agreed. “Well, if you are a shepherd, why are you not out taking care of the sheep?” The pastor answered, “Because I’m here today fighting the wolves.”
Epaphras visited Paul, who was under house arrest in Rome. He reported about the church at Colossae. Paul thanked God when he heard of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all the saints. The report also raised concerns. There were wolves among the sheep. False teachers threatened the simple faith of these young Christians. Paul had never visited Colossae. Yet pastoral concern moved him to write to them. In our text, Paul cares for the sheep by fighting the wolves.
We do not know what specific error threatened the church. Scholars make educated guesses based on this letter’s content and the city’s culture. Colossae was a melting pot of Greek, Jewish, and pagan ideas. The “Colossian Heresy” was probably a compilation of legalism, asceticism, mysticism, Docetism, and early Gnosticism. None of these “isms” were put forward to replace Christ. They were presented as supplements,as if Christ was not enough. The false teachers had a deficient Christology. Their errors about the Personand Work of Christ put the saints’ faith at risk. You must know Christ to know who you are in Christ.
Colossians 2:6-7 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Salvation is more than making a professing of faith. When you receive Christ, you are to walk in him. Christian truth shapes Christian life. To walk in him, you must be rooted, built up, and established in the faith through sound teaching. Colossians 2:8-10 states the truth every Christian needs to know: Jesus is everything you need.
Colossians 2:8-10 gives two reasons to trust the sufficiency of Christ.
The Lies That Can Kidnap You.
Verse 8 is a warning. The words and tone are solemn. Paul sounds the alarm. “See to it” is a call to attention.” It means, “Beware!” The threat was a clear and present danger. Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive.” It is the picture of making prisoners of war. Paul describes false teachers with the language of spiritual warfare. The warning still stands.
The text does not imply you can lose your salvation. It confronts those who walk in a false presumption of salvation. It also warns true Christians to guard against false teaching that can kidnap you from your confidence in Christ.
The Substance of False Teaching. Verse 8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy.” This is the only place “Philosophy” occurs in the Bible. It means “love of wisdom.” In the ancient world, it described the pursuit of God, truth, or virtue. Philosophy seeks to answer life’s big questions:
- Who am I?
- How did I get here?
- Why am I here?
- Where am I going?
Paul uses the word negatively here. Philosophy cannot answer the questions it raises. The definite article precedes the term in Greek: “the philosophy.” The false teachers claimed their teachings were the way to freedom and fullness. Their speculations could not provide the right answers to questions about life, death, and eternity. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Philosophy is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that’s not there.
Paul describes philosophy as “empty deceit.” “Deceit” is a trap. A fish sees a worm and swims to it, looking for dinner. It bites the bate and becomes dinner. This is the deception of philosophy. It may sound good, wise, and deep. But it has no meaning, substance, or value. Ephesians 5:6 says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
The Source of False Teaching. Verse 8 describes the content of false teaching: “philosophy and empty deceit.” Then it describes the character of false teaching: “according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” How can you spot false teaching?
It is human: “according to human tradition.” “Tradition” is that which is handed down. The gospel is tradition. Jude 3 says, “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” But human tradition can also be the currency of false teachers.
- Some false teachers deceive through the new and novel.
- Other false teachers deceive through claims of tradition.
Beware of empty tradition. Mark 7:9 says, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.” Beware of tradition exalted over the authority of God’s word. Thomas Schaff said, “Tradition is the glue that keeps manmade religions together.” Do not let go of biblical traditions. Do not hold on to any tradition that does not come from God.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
It is worldly: “the elemental spirits of the world.” This phrase is difficult to interpret. The key term means “things in a row.” It referred to the alphabet. The NKJV translates it: “the basic principles of the world.” The false teachers were claiming to teach something profound. They were struggling with the ABCs of truth. “Elemental spirits” points to the ordering of the planets – spiritual realities revealed in the sun, moon, and stars. It suggests the false teachers taught astrology. You cannot believe the gospel and the horoscope.
Colossians 2:20-22 indicates the problem was legalism: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings?” The bottom line is that it is “of the world.” Do not be kidnapped by worldly teachings that do come from God.
It is non-Christian: “and not according to Christ.” This is the most direct rebuke of the Colossian Heresy. Colossians 2:3 says it is Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” There is ultimately no knowledge or wisdom without Christ.
- Christ is the source of truth.
- Christ is the subject of truth.
- Christ is the substance of truth.
Leaders of world religions point adherents to their teachings and away from themselves. Jesus makes everything about himself. John 14:6 says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ is the yardstick of truth. Matthew 16:13 asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The world has complimentary but incorrect answers to that question. Matthew 16:15 asks, “But who do you say that I am?” This is the question every person must answer.
J.B. Phillips paraphrases verse 8: “Be careful that nobody spoils your faith through intellectualism or high-sounding nonsense. Such stuff is at best founded on men’s ideas of the nature of the world, and disregards Christ.”
The Truth That Can Liberate You.
Verse 8 issues a warning to heed. Verses 9-10 justify the warning. Exposition is the basis of apologetics. You must know the truth to defend the truth. To identify a counterfeit, be familiar with the genuine article. Verses 9-10 declare the person and power of Christ.
The Person of Christ. It was believed God was a spirit that could not be defiled by touching physical matter. This belief challenged the incarnation. The explanation was that God related to the world through emanations. It was claimed that Jesus was one of many emanations of God. Verse 9 clarifies: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
This is the most definitive statement of the deity of Christ in the New Testament. Virtually every word in this verse is chock full of rich Christological truth. “For” introduces an explanation of the warning in verse 8. “In him” means “in him alone.” Jesus is one of a kind, not one of many. The “whole fullness” declares Christ to be the perfect revelation of God.
- Jesus is not the exclusive revelation of God.
- Jesus is the conclusive revelation of God.
John 14:9 says, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the father.” Our text is the only place in the New Testament where “deity” occurs. It refers to the essence of God. John Bengel noted: “Not the divine attributes, but the divine nature.” It is not enough to say Jesus is like God. Jesus is God.
Colossians 1:19 says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Colossians 2:9 says, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” The fullness of deity dwells in Jesus physically and eternally. They claimed he was a phantom deity that only appeared to be a man. Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
The Power of Christ. Verse 9 is Christ’s relationship to God. Verse 10 is Christ’s relationship to the Christian.
The Sufficiency of Christ. Verse 9 says, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Verse 10 says, “And you have been filled in him.” The verb “filled” in verse 10 is the noun “fullness” in verse 9. Christ, the fullness of God, fills every believer. John 1:16 says, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Go to the beach and fill a bucket with water. Your bucket has the fullness of the ocean. Yet your full bucket takes nothing away from the depths of the sea. This is the mystery of our union in Christ. You are complete in Christ. He is everything you need. Nothing is lacking from our salvation in Christ.
- We are forgiven.
- We are born again.
- We are redeemed from slavery.
- We are reconciled to God.
- We are declared righteous.
- We are adopted into God’s family.
- We are eternally secure.
What else do you need?
“You have been filled” is a completed act with continuing effects. You have been filled in Christ. You are filled in Christ. You will be forever filled in Christ. You do not need the ancestors, horoscopes, psychics, Ouija boards, or charismatic experiences to make you complete. I can state what you need in five words: Jesus only, and only Jesus. John 6:68-69 says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
The Sovereignty of Christ. Verse 10b reads: “Who is the head of all rule and authority.” Head implies source and authority. The emphasis is on authority. 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, “The head of every man is Christ.” Ephesians 5:23 says, “Christ is the head of the church.” Colossians 2:10 says Christ “is the head of all rule and authority.” “Rule and authority” refer to spiritual powers in the unseen spirit realm. It applies to Michael and his army of holy angels. It is also Satan and his army of fallen angels. Christ is the head of allrule and authority.
- Holy angels cannot help you without the authority of Christ.
- Fallen angels cannot harm you because of the authority of Christ.
1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Respect the power of Satan. Do not fear him!
Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” Christ triumphed over the rulers and authorities when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. His blood left them naked, humiliated, and defenseless. 2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
As a young pastor, I brought condiments to the pulpit when I preached this text. I had an empty glass to illustrate life without Christ. I filled the glass with water. Then I put salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce in the glass. The goopy mess was worse than when the glass was empty. The point was graphic: Be satisfied with the fullness of Christ and keep the goop out of your glass!