And I want you to know the intensity of the struggle I have taken on for you and for those in Laodicea, and for as many as have never even seen my face. I endure it so that their hearts might be built up from having been joined together in love, having been strengthened according to all the wealth of the full assurance that all runs together1 to the acknowledgement of God’s mystery: Christ — for in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. I tell you this because I do not want anyone to pull you into the kind of reasoning that comes from engaging in persuasive arguments. For even though I am not there with you in person, I am nevertheless with you in spirit. And it gives me cause to rejoice because I see you standing together in faith as a body unified2 under Christ, your one true head. And so everything I have said3 establishes this one simple reality: as Christ Jesus is the one you took as your undisputed leader,4 it is Christ Jesus in whom you continue. For in him you have been firmly rooted, and in Him you are being built up and established in your faith. For this is what you received in the message as I preached it, and this is what caused your hearts to be overflowing with gratitude.
And this is why I warn you against the trickery of those who think of you as nothing more than a prize to be won in a contest. Don’t let them blindside you with their facade of spiritual wisdom and their empty deception, for it is built upon the same old regurgitated wisdom of man that has been passed down for centuries. Although it may sound lofty and spiritual, their philosophy is bound by the same elementary principles you learned in the world. Their logic may come across as having been built upon the foundation of Christ as I have preached it, but it has nothing to do with Christ. Not even a little bit.5 For they reject the truth that in Christ everything that God is lives fully and completely in bodily form. You see, for them, that would mean that you who make up his body are completely filled with all the fullness of God,6 and that would destroy the basis upon which they seek to manipulate you. Everything these men try to persuade you to do through their spiritual-sounding logic denies Christ as being the one and only head over all rule and authority. After all, the earth-bound principles and figures these men really hold to as their divine authorities have no jurisdiction if Christ has it all.
It is not according to Christ by which they encourage their students to abuse their bodies in an attempt to curb their fleshly appetites,7 because in Christ the offending flesh has already been cut away with a surgical procedure that is not carried out by man. For the body of the flesh has been removed by the surgery of Christ, which has been accomplished by you having been buried with him through becoming immersed in him, in which you were also raised up with him through the faith of the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Do you not remember how God made you alive together with Christ while you were still stumbling around in deadness? And that’s not all. God raised you up in spite of the fact that you still had the foreskins these philosophers find so offensive. But God is not offended, for he has forgiven us all our fleshly indulgences, as well as having canceled out every entry in the record book that could possibly be held against us. All cause for hostility has been taken out of the way, for it was nailed to the cross. And when Christ had displaced the ones who set themselves up in first place and had divested the authorities of their imagined power, he confidently declared his victory over them through himself.
This means that the authority has been stripped from any who would judge you regarding what you eat or drink, or even whether or not you participate in the sacred feasts8 or a new moon celebration or any day of rest. Such things were never an end in themselves but, rather, were merely a shadow of the actual substance they had been waiting for. Christ may have been out of view, but his was the body that had been casting the shadow.
Why, then, would you let those who still judge everything according to the shadow decide how you should live the life they know nothing about? Don’t let them lure you in by their pretenses of humility nor by their religious devotion to heavenly messengers. For such men take their stand upon things they’ve seen, and it causes their fleshly minds to become puffed up for no reason. Despite your naive assumptions, they do not hold to the head from whom the entire body is nourished and held together by the joints and bonds of unity —for the body grows with a growth from God.
And if you have really died with Christ to everything this world is built upon — that is, to the very structure by which earthly citizens must be kept in line by rules — why do you let these men pull you back in as if you were still bound to it? Are you really so clueless? Do you not understand how submitting yourself to their earth-bound regulations has affected you? You’ve been listening to their reasoning, so I ask you to reason with me. The things they tell you not to handle, not to taste, not to even lay a finger upon, don’t all these things break down and rot as they are consumed? It all returns to the ground from which it came. Can’t you see that the commands they impose are based solely upon the futile reasonings of earthly-minded men who keep trying in vain to control the behavior of others when they cannot even control themselves? You’ve been lured in by their ideals. Now, I’m not suggesting they don’t project a rather convincing appearance of spirituality, because they most certainly do — especially when their intense devotion leads them to neglect their physical well-being for the sake of what they call godliness. The truth is that their brand of humility and wisdom is nothing more than pretense and fleshly will-power, and none of it has any effect upon curbing fleshly indulgence.
- 1. the Greek word usually translated as understanding is sunesis, and it literally means a running together or a flowing together. Homer is cited as having used the word sunesis in his famous Odyssey to describe the flowing together of two rivers. According to Strong’s Concordance, understanding is the “short definition.” So while understanding may be a great word choice, I’m thinking that the longer meaning might have something more to say since Paul was describing that which is far beyond any intellectual understanding. It’s like great rivers of God’s wisdom and riches being joined together to reveal God’s mystery to the Gentiles, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
- 2. I’ve already mentioned this in a footnote in chapter 1, but let me bring it out again here where it is directly connected. There is a Greek word taxis that seems to baffle some or to provide a springboard into something other than the context in which it is found. The basic translation of the word is order. Now it helps to know the historical meaning and usage of the word, but even an accurate understanding doesn’t necessarily bring a true realization as to why Paul would have used it in that place. Historically, the word referred to a military unit, but doggoned if our Bible scholars don’t just use it to springboard into a message about Christian Discipline, a message that is truly out of place in the context of the letter. Out of all the translations I’ve looked at, only one offers something other than the usual pathetic reading.
Here’s the GNB (Good News Bible): “For even though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I am glad as I see the resolute firmness with which you stand together in your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). When I read that, I was really excited to see the translators not falling prey to the typical approach of merely stuffing the word “order” in there. You see, maybe others might concentrate on the discipline aspect of a military unit, but there is only one aspect Paul would have been highlighting, and that is the connection between the unit and the leader. Everything else comes from that. I’m telling you, Paul would have been going into a totally different direction had he meant to focus upon the actions of the soldiers in the unit rather than upon the unity or “resolute firmness” by which they stood under one head, one leader: Christ.
- 3. The word “therefore” is a great word, but I am using a different phrasing because I suspect that many people have learned to ignore it out of familiarity.
- 4. Once again, I think we’ve gotten so used to a phrase like “Christ Jesus the Lord” that we might only see a Biblical title without a real connection as to why Paul would have stated it the way he did in his amazing build up to this passage. At that time, how Christ fit in was being subtly reestablished in the Colossians’ perceptions by the deceivers, which is what Paul is now confronting at this point. The actual issues that were being philosophized over were designed by the false teachers to lure the Colossians into viewing Christ as the way they got their start but not necessarily as the one they continued in. And no, I doubt that it came across as blatantly as that might seem, but rather that they were cleverly suggesting other options as to how they were to continue in the faith. Some might blow this off as being far-fetched, but the truth is that Christianity as a whole has already considered and fallen for one or more of a vast array of options of Christian living that have less to do with Christ and more to do with something that merely has a sense of being related to Christ. Paul’s whole letter was built upon Christ as the everything of their new born-of-God being. So, the connection I see in Paul’s wording has nothing to do with making sure to properly address Christ by various Biblical titles, such as “Christ Jesus the Lord” but rather to bring the previously established headship of Christ among them into view.
- 5. Although the Colossians letter does not pose the teachings or objections of the philosophers Paul exposed in the verses as I am presenting it here, they need to be understood at every point. Why? Because the Colossians would have recognized the things he wrote about Christ as coming directly against their manipulative philosophizing.
- 6. I am certain that more than a few will object to the way I have reworded a very familiar verse with a very familiar phrase (“the Godhead bodily”) and tied it together with the truth of the “body of Christ.” I know we love to separate the truth of God from the truth of man, even “regenerated” man, but the truth of Christ is all about the joining of God and man in union in him. We have listened far too long to those who miss the amazing reality of what it is to have been brought into union with God through Christ!
- 7. I am introducing this thought from the end of the chapter at this point because I suspect too many have learned to view these verses without it.
- 8. The two words here are meros (meaning a part, share, portion) and heortē (a feast, a festival). The issue Paul was dealing with was not regarding the observance of pagan holidays but rather the official or sacred feasts of the Hebrews. Whoever these pseudo-spiritual teachers were, they incorporated the Jewish feasts, as well as the new moon observance and the Sabbath days. As Paul also mentioned circumcision, there’s a good bet they were men of the Jews. And from Paul’s descriptions in this passage, they lived an ascetic lifestyle (characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons). Regarding the observance of the feasts then, Paul wasn’t addressing a group of people who wanted some justification for observing a holiday that was considered wrong but, rather, a holiday presented as something expected, that is, the right thing to do. In other words, the authoritarian stance being pushed upon them was that if they wanted to be godly, they needed to be observing the traditional feasts proscribed by Moses in the Law. Many believers today are being confronted with the same kind of pseudo-spiritual intimidation through a growing movement called Messianic Christianity. And yes, it comes across as being so spiritual because it seems to have God’s stamp of approval upon it (that is, by the Torah).
Those who have not lived under such an influence may still experience the same kind of intimidation because it all revolves around the pressure brought on by the authorities of whatever religion you lived under. I have personally heard from believers who are wracked with guilt over missing a Sunday worship service, especially the major Christian holidays. After all, even those considered backsliders often make sure not to miss Christmas and Easter. One of the bigger struggles believers who are coming to understand the living reality of Christ has to do with whether or not it’s okay to not attend an official church on Sunday because they grew up under the superstition that Sunday is the Lord’s Day. So, in truth, the issue Paul addressed with the Colossians would apply to any teaching that pushes any particular day (especially Saturday or Sunday) as somehow necessary or expected for spiritual growth. The reason I used the phrase “sacred feasts” is to better express the sense of traditional and authoritative expectations the Colossians had experienced by the new philosophers in town.