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. Colossians 2:3-4
Chapter 2. Christ, The Way to God
Fullness; 2:1-7. Paul again affirms that the “full riches of complete understanding” are contained in the simple gospel, all ours now in Christ. All the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus. Paul here uses the language of the Gnostics, challenging their empty promises of “complete understanding” of “mystery” and of “hidden treasures of knowledge.” Every fine-sounding argument of these false teachers is empty and deceitful. The reality is Christ, and Christ has come to dwell within us.
Paul expresses confidence in the firm faith of the Colossians. He urges them to continue live in Christ, “strengthened in the faith as you were taught.” In the next chapter Paul will review his teaching on how to live in Christ. But now he evaluates the principles that underlie the two contrasting ways offered by Christianity and by Gnosticism (the thought and practice especially of various cults of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis (esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation)).
1 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. 2 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 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.
Spiritual Fullness in Christ
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
In Christ; 2:8-15. The gnostic concepts are an amalgam of “hollow and deceptive philosophy” which rests on “human tradition and basic principles of this world.” In fact, every element of the gnostic system can be traced to pagan philosophers and religions.
In contrast, Christ himself, “the fullness of the deity in bodily form” is the one on whom all experience of Christian faith rests. The phrase “in Christ” has been called the “mystical dative.” This grammatical construction was never used by the Greeks prior to the NT. It indicates a unique personal relationship, so close that it involves full union with Jesus. Jesus is the fullness of God: through our new relationship in Christ, we now possess all that God is! How tragic that some in Colossae turned away from the source of spiritual fulfillment, to seek God in the empty speculations of mere man.
What does union with Christ mean for us? Union offers no ritual relationship, symbolized by circumcising the flesh. Instead we are offered inner transformation: a putting off of the sinful nature, and lifting up to a new life won for us by Jesus’ resurrection.
The new life given us in Christ is the key to our experience of God, not the “written code, with its regulations” on which some rely. All such things have been set aside by Jesus, for it was opposed to our search for God, not an aid. Now everything and everyone that claimed authority over humanity has been “disarmed.” Christ’s cross has shown all such things to be empty and powerless. It has thus made a “public spectacle” of them.
8 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.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 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, 12 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.
13 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, 14 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. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Emptiness; 2:16-23. Paul insists that life’s fullness is found through relationship with Jesus. Christians must permit no one to impose empty religious practices or restrictions, which will only distract them from the Lord. Some of the practices of early and later Gnosticism are listed here. They include special diets and days of religious observance and the worship of angels, who wee supposed to serve as intermediaries between man and God. Such things may seem to express humanity by suggesting one is not worthy of approaching God directly. But in fact this denies our connection with Christ. We are already linked to him as members of his body, and he is the one who supports and guides our growth.
Paul looks over the regulations suggested by the early Gnostics for spiritual discipline. Most demand asceticism, or self-denial. But those are totally worthless. God never asked for ascetic restrictions. They are based on human commands and teachings. Despite any appearance of wisdom such things may convey, “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” This is surprising only if “sensual indulgence” is taken to be gross acts of sin. As soon as a biblical perspective is adopted, and “lust, evil desires and greed” along with “rage and malice” are understood to belong to the earthly nature, we can see how a person who is rigidly ascetic may still rage with uncontrolled desires. It is not the appearance of holiness that God promises us in Christ. It is holiness itself, as our personalities are transformed by his presence.
16 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 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. 19 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.
20 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: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 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.