“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2: 1-3).
I have spent the past thirty minutes looking at these three verses. I have probably read them at least seventeen times now and have come back to the same thought. When Paul first began his ministry to the Gentiles, I wonder if he thought the Gospel would spread so far and become so widely known as it became. It had reached as far as Colossae though. News of their continual growth and faithfulness to the Gospel perhaps was a second-generation conversion. Perhaps an individual who had been with Paul and was influenced by his work went back to his hometown. From that one person (or perhaps a couple of people), the Gospel was alive in a new area. What greater joy can anyone have than to realize that what you have planted has multiplied in other places of the world? Paul can only look back and encourage these new believers in the Lord through a personal letter expressing his sincere joy and love for the body of Christ.
Since Paul had never met these new believers, he wanted to encourage them to continue in their faith and to not allow other people to try and steal their new freedom in Christ. Paul wrote, “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2: 5). We cannot always be present. We are called to rejoice with the body of Christ though. Through our encouragement, we can continue to strive in our faith.
If our faith is not rooted in Christ alone, it is a false faith that is unable to support us in our times of trials. Paul knew what kind of challenges these new believers would go through. Challenges of ‘philosophy and empty deceit’ would present themselves as new and exciting ventures to these new believers and Paul wanted to make it clear that anything outside of Christ provide false hope. As I consider all of the philosophies and human traditions that have been presented to me as an alternative to my faith, I can truly understand what kind of draw they have. There is one thing for sure though: Christ has never let me down and His Word has remained faithful.
Paul then exhorts these new believers as a new creation in Christ. He uses two pictures in which represent their new life in Jesus; one being circumcision and the other being the sacrament of baptism. Paul writes, “In Him, you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11). Our distinctiveness as believers in Christ did not come from the act of circumcision but simply through Christ and His act of death and resurrection from the dead. It is that act of Christ that separates us from the world. It is totally amazing.
The other picture that is given is the sacrament of baptism and its importance to us as believers in Christ. Paul writes, “… having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 12, 13b-14). In the sacrament of baptism, we publicly announce our faith in Christ and symbolize what Christ has done inside of us through the act of baptism. The significance of being immersed in the water symbolizes our death of the flesh and when we are lifted out of the water, we are alive with Christ. The act itself is not mystifying or magical. We recognize rather that because of Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead, in which we symbolize through the act of baptism, that Christ alone has paid our debt. This is why the death of Christ on the cross is so significant. I cannot overstate that the act of baptism does not save anyone. Only a true relationship with Jesus Christ and the transforming power of His Spirit in us assures us we are His. Baptism once again is a symbolic statement that is done publicly as a witness of what Christ has done in us. That alone is the purpose of baptism.
In the last seven verses of this chapter, Paul climaxes all in which he has written to encourage these new believers to not return to the elementary spirits of the Law. As was the case within the Galatian church, the church in Colossae had to deal with the religious Jews. Unlike the issue of circumcision that faced the Galatian church, the church of Colossae had to deal with kosher laws and the observance of human traditions. It seems to me that perhaps the person (or people) who had been with Paul and was influenced by his ministry was apart of the disputes of the Galatian church. The only reason I suggest this is because the issue of circumcision is not the main thrust of Paul’s exhortation to this church. To me, this suggests that perhaps the religious Jews confronted the church of Colossae. Realizing that perhaps the individual or individuals who had started the ministry in this town were apart of the confrontations in Galatians, the religious Jews needed another way in order to push the Law upon them. This of course is only an assumption and is not scriptural.
To me, being it true or not, I have come to realize that if those who are religious are unable to push their ‘Law’ upon a group of people through one avenue (as with the church of Galatians concerning circumcision), they would have to try a different tactic (as with the church of Colossae concerning kosher laws and human tradition and observance). No matter what the tactic, we must remain strong in our freedom. Paul even writes, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2: 23). Being more religious does not make us better people and it does not prevent the flesh from doing what it wants to do. The only thing that prevents the flesh from acting out is combating the flesh with the Spirit of God that lives in us. We must continually make a decision each and everyday to live in accordance to the Spirit of God and not according to the works of the flesh. Through the Word of God and through our worship, we are able to suppress the flesh and allow the Spirit of God to be visible. This is ultimately what we long and desire for; this is what we grasp for as believers in Christ. That is our challenge and our goal. Only in Christ are we able to accomplish this goal. It is definitely a goal worth striving for. Let’s get busy.