Paul when he writes to the Church at Colossae is concerned to show the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the Colossians were tempted to follow some very clever sounding teachers who would lead them away from Christ. The temptation is to see heavenly intermediaries between God and man and these can be accessed if you have true knowledge which is obtained through initiation into the mysteries. Paul sees all this as a distraction from the true fullness of Christ and he wants the Church at Colossae to be healthy and vibrant in their mature walk with the Lord. We confront the same problem today when spiritual techniques are used which take away from the centrality of Christ. Our culture is an entertainment culture which wants instant gratification and sadly these attitudes soon come into the church. One hears of techniques by which one can get rich and live a long life full of blessing and free from sickness. Many believers are finding that the promises that were made to them at conferences are hollow. But we must make sure that we do not as a result turn our faith into something that is just intellectual, we run scared of any experience because some have exploited us. Paul sees the nature of faith to be Christ-centered and therefore he emphasises the relationship we have with the living God. Paul wants believers to grow in understanding so that they mature in their faith and their relationship with God and one another is deepened.
Paul had this to say to the Church at Colossae
I want you to know how hard I am contending 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. 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 New International Version. (2011). (Col 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)
Paul wants believers to be encouraged in heart and united in love and he realises that this is the path to spiritual growth and understanding, He wants them to have knowledge, he wants them to realise the greatness of their salvation and the amazing riches of that salvation but that can only be achieved by fellowship in the Church and a united seeking of Christ together. Christ is at the centre of the Christian life and he should be at the centre of the Church. If we want to know more of the reality of our Christian faith we need to be united in love and encouraged in heart
Paul goes on to show the true knowledge of God and spiritual reality are to be found in Christ alone, it is in him that we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Notice that although Paul speaks out against false teaching, he is very much in favour of Christ-centered teaching but notice this that Paul never divorces our knowledge from our relationship with Christ. Too many people have got taken up with trying to work out theological problems without a humble dependence upon the Lord.
Paul warns the Colossians about false teachers and teaching in this letter many times and he does so very clearly in this next section,
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
The New International Version. (2011). (Col 2:8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Paul here is attacking false ways of thinking which depend on human tradition and the forces of evil, he certainly is not opposed to a philosophy that is based on the word of God. Down the centuries the Church has been well served by many who have exposed false philosophy and replaced it with solid biblical teaching, for example Irenaeus, Augustine, Calvin,Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and Schaeffer. Once more Paul is telling us to base all of our thinking on the revelation of God in Christ. This will mean that like Jesus we will honour the word of God in Scripture, we need to be people of the book because here we hear the voice of God speaking to us. he goes on to spell out the importance of a Christ-centered faith in the following verses.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 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.
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, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
The New International Version. (2011). (Col 2:9–15). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Notice that it is in Christ all the fulness of the Deity dwells, here is a profound truth which is also a great mystery here we see the risen Christ and indeed the incarnate Christ as one who is truly God and truly man. And it is in Christ alone that we find fulness, notice that Paul emphasise the power and authority of Christ. Paul emphasises these things so that we might realise how great our salvation is. Faith in Christ brings about newness of life in the believer, we are raised from spiritual death by the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Once again we are reminded of the centrality of the cross because it is here that we find forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus has disarmed those powers that are against us and he has done so through the triumph of the cross.
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. 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.
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces 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!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely 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.
The New International Version. (2011). (Col 2:16–23). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Paul then warns against falling into legalistic practices and teachings, we are not bound by man-made traditions but rather we find all we need in God’s revelation to us in Christ Jesus and through him in the Holy Scriptures. Having been raised in a legalistic tradition I know what a hindrance man-made laws can be and how hard it can be to rid ourselves of them. It is therefore good to reject legalism before it enslaves us and takes our eyes from looking to Christ.