The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 7
William Banks, Hamilton, Scotland
Warnings and answers, 2. 4-19
The clever deceiver, vv. 4-7 – beguiling ‘with enticing words’
This paragraph, and indeed this whole section to verse 19, begins with a connection to what has gone before. ‘And this I say’, v. 4, refers back to the necessary awareness of ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ resident in Christ, referred to in verse 3, and a true appreciation of the depths of this wisdom and knowledge ‘hid’ in His person. This will be a bulwark against the intrusion of false teachers and false teaching in the assembly.
The nature of the deceiver and the deception is indicated in the balance of verse 4. The deceiver is following the example of the serpent’s beguiling of Eve in the Garden of E den, 2 Cor. 11. 3. The deception is based on clever oratory, ‘enticing words’, manipulating the audience. This phrase is only found here in the New Testament. It is reminiscent of the persuasive language to be used by the coming world dictator to deceive the nations and ensure his universal acceptance by them. 1
Evidently, the apostle is deeply concerned about the possibility of the assembly succumbing to this deception and wants to give them a suitable antidote. He indicates that while he is absent ‘in the flesh’ yet he is with them ‘in the spirit’, just as he was at Corinth, 1 Cor. 5. 4. He is delighted to note the order of the assembly, no doubt communicated to him by Epaphras, v. 5. In fact, the word ‘order’ is better translated ‘dignity’ and this brings ‘joy’ to the apostle. A dignified assembly is a thrill to the believer and an excellent testimony to the world.
Their position ‘in Christ’/‘in him’, vv. 5-7
The true antidote to the clever deceiver is to have a vital and fundamental awareness of the superiority of Christ and their true position in Him. This truth is reiterated three times in these verses.
They are established in [eis] Christ v. 5. The word ‘stedfastness’, used only here in the New Testament, has the idea of being established based on their ‘faith in Christ’. They had not only begun well; their initial faith had brought their salvation, but they hadn’t stopped there. They had become established by the continuation of their faith. The preposition used is eis [into], indicative of a dynamic faith which not only serves them well initially, but ensures a life of devotion to Christ.
They have to walk ‘in him’ v. 6. The apostle can therefore appeal to them on the basis of the nature of their reception of Christ. The word ‘received’, v. 6, means to be ‘delivered by tradition’. 2 Their faith had not been exercised as a result of some spurious truth; it had been handed down by tradition, see also 2 Tim. 2. 2. They were to continue walking ‘in him’. As they had confessed ‘Christ Jesus the Lord’ at conversion, so they were to walk consistent with the name. The good tradition Paul speaks of here should be contrasted to the ‘tradition of men’ in verse 8.
They are rooted and built up ‘in him’, v. 7; the third reference to their link to Christ. The two metaphors are taken from agriculture and architecture, cp. Eph. 3. 17. In the first, the source of sustenance is indicated, ‘as ye have been taught’. In the other, security, ‘established in the faith’, by the teaching of the body of Christian doctrine appreciating the mystery, even Christ, v. 2. The resulting effect would be that they would be super-abounding in the truth, excelling therein with thanksgiving, v. 7.
|The caution||The character
of the intruder
|The method adopted||The answer – Christ is the answer in each case|
|vv. 4-7||‘Lest any man’||The clever deceiver||The clever deceiver||‘Christ Jesus the Lord’, v. 6
‘faith in Christ’, v. 5
‘walk ye in him’, v. 6
‘rooted and built up
in him’, v. 7
|vv. 8-15||‘Lest any man’||The vain philosopher||The vain philosopher||‘In him dwelleth all the fulness the Godhead
bodily’, v. 9
‘after Christ’, v. 8
‘in him’, vv. 9, 10
‘in whom’, v. 11
‘by . . . Christ’, v. 11
‘with him’, vv. 12 (twice), 13
|vv. 16, 17||‘Let no man’||The legal judge||The legal judge||‘The body is of Christ’, v. 17|
|vv. 18, 19||‘Let no man’||The idol worshipper||The idol worshipper||‘Holding the head’, v. 19|
The vain philosopher, vv. 8-15 – spoiling through ‘philosophy and vain deceit’
The second main warning is against the philosopher who engages in illusions, following the traditions of men and the world order, involving cosmic powers who control that world. Essentially, it is intellectualism with unhealthy motivation.
The basic problems are articulated in verse 8 as ‘philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world’. The latter two phrases indicate the source of the first. In this context, philosophy is essentially Jewish sophistry based on Judaistic teaching. It is combined with ‘vain deceit’ or empty illusion. It is fostered by the ‘tradition of men’ and ‘the rudiments of the world’. ‘Rudiments’ has in it the idea of elements or building blocks of the world, i.e., the elemental forces or cosmic powers which control the present world order in opposition to God. Before our conversion, ‘we were in bondage under the elements of the world’, Gal. 4. 3, which Paul further describes as ‘the weak and beggarly element’, v. 9, and is surprised that the Galatians desired to be in bondage to them again. 3
These philosophers wanted to ‘spoil’ the Colossian believers. The word ‘spoil’ means being taken as ‘booty’ or being ‘carried away captive’. Their freedom in Christ would be lost; essentially, they would be kidnapped by their oppressors. Christ would no longer be supreme in their thinking. The apostle calls upon them to ‘beware’, to perceive the problem at hand and to take the necessary steps to avoid it. These steps are given in the balance of the verses in this section.
The answer is again to be found in Christ. In this connection the apostle focuses their attention on three significant antidotes to the philosophical troublers: the supremacy of Christ, vv. 9, 10; the significance of their baptism, vv. 11, 12; and the total triumph of Christ at Calvary, vv. 13-15, spoiling the controlling powers behind the pagan philosophy and publicly shaming their empty illusions. The powers of evil are totally defeated.
The supremacy of Christ, v. 9 – greater than all cosmic powers in the world
Greek philosophy and the traditions of men, v. 8, are no match for Him. The only remedy for the Colossian believers, and for us, is to let Christ be the rule of our life, rather than the empty rhetoric used by the philosophers! The answer was to be ‘after Christ’, v. 8, not ‘after the traditions of men’ nor ‘after the rudiments of the world’.
The all-sufficiency of Christ is attested in verse 9, ‘in him dwelleth all the fullness [pleroma] of the Godhead bodily’. In contrast to a myriad of hierarchy between God and men as attested by the Colossian heretics, the plenitude of deity – among which can be mentioned omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and eternality – is embodied in Christ. He is utterly superior to them all. Worship is due alone to God – all other worship is idolatry.
Not surprisingly, these particular attributes are clearly attested in the Gospel of John. His omniscience was evident in His interview with Nathaniel, chapter 1. On the first public meeting between them our Lord Jesus asserted, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile’, v. 47! He knew the inner character of Nathaniel. No wonder he was surprised, ‘Whence knowest Thou me?’ Nathaniel worshipped, ‘Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel’, v. 49. What a challenge to us; He knows us too! 4
What a night it was for Nicodemus in John chapter 3. The Lord’s omniscience was seen in ‘answering’ Nicodemus before he asked a question! References to Ezekiel and Numbers didn’t seem to satisfy Nicodemus. The Lord was keen to assert His authority and credentials to the teacher of Israel. In an amazing verse He indicated to him His omnipresence, ‘And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven’, v. 13. Nicodemus must have been astounded that the One standing before him had come down from heaven and was in heaven at the one and the same time!
The omnipotence of Christ is seen in several of the miracles in John – turning the water into wine in John chapter 2, healing the nobleman’s son with a word at a distance in John chapter 4. No situation was too difficult. Similarly, a word of authority brought Lazarus from the dead!
The eternality of Christ is stated in verse 1 of the Gospel of John, ‘In the beginning was the Word’. Verse 2 appears to be simply repeating the doctrine affirmed in verse 1. However, a closer examination indicates that verse 2 not only affirms the eternality of Christ but indicates His independent eternality, which teaches the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus.
Many more examples could be given but the fact that the incarnate Christ embodies all of the attributes of deity is surely sufficient for the Colossian believers not to be duped by intellectualism and empty illusion. They must grasp the enormity of the majesty and greatness of the One in whom they have placed their faith,
The completeness of the believer, v. 10
Intimately linked with the ‘fullness [pleroma]’ of Christ is the completeness of the believer, ‘ye are complete [pleroo] in him’. This brings out the prospective realization of perfection in the believer. We are complete (pleero) in Him, ‘of His fullness [pleroma] have all we received’, John 1. 16. There is no lack, no need to turn to other sources.
In fact, as if to emphasize the absolute sufficiency of the resources we have, the apostle wants us to appreciate the headship of Christ in the realm of all principality and power, cp. 1. 18; 2. 19. He created them, 1. 16; hence, He has primacy over them – no need for Colossians to worship any other! Far from being only one of a system of graded powers, the Lord Jesus is their very head! This means that all their activity and movements, their energy and life are under His complete control and we are complete in Him!
1 As indicated in Dan. 7. 8, 20, 25.
2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Colossians, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1984.
3 The same word is also used elsewhere: Heb. 5. 12 and 2 Pet. 3. 10 and 12.
4 Other evidences of omniscience are seen, e.g., John 2. 25; 13. 1, 11 and many other references.