There was a church in Laodicea also, about ten miles from Colossae. Paul mentions that church in this passage, and a lost letter to them is referred to later in this book (Col. 4:16). This church at Laodicea had fallen on hard times by the time the Lord Jesus addresses them directly in the book of Revelation, where He had nothing good to say of them as a church. Nevertheless, there were some there who could still hear His voice (Rev. 3:20). The door where Jesus is famously knocking is not the door of the heart, but rather the door of a church. The people in the church who can hear it should really answer the door.
“For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words . . .” (Col. 2:1-23).
Summary of the Text:
Paul had not met these believers, or those in Laodicea, and he wishes they knew the conflicts he had had on their behalf (v. 1). These conflicts were apparently instances of wrestling in prayer, where he expressed the desire that their hearts might be comforted, that they might be knit together in love, and into a full assurance (v. 2). As they were knit into this understanding of Christ, they find that in Him are all treasures of wisdom and understanding (v. 3). He wants this for them so that they would be immune to beguiling and enticing words (v. 4).
Paul was not there, but he was with them, rejoicing in the steadiness of their worship and faith (v. 5). They needed to walk like Christians; the 10,000th step should be just like the first one—taken by faith (v. 6). If we begin by faith we should finish the same way (Rom. 1:17). They are to be rooted in Christ, built up in Christ, in just the way they were taught, and they should be overflowing with gratitude (v. 7). The alternative to this progress in sanctification is to be spoiled through philosophy and vain deceit, to be susceptible to the lies men tell, and not according to Christ (v. 8).
Remember that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ (v. 9). This means that if we are in Him, that is sufficient (v. 10). In Christ we were all spiritually circumcised (v. 11), which corresponds to our baptism (v. 12). We used to be dead, but now we are alive (v. 13). The accusations of the law were against us, and so God removed them by nailing them to His cross (v. 14). When the terms of the law are raised from the dead they are not accusations at all, but rather expressions of love. This humiliated the principalities and powers, and this is how Christ triumphed over them (v. 15).
This is why and how we are liberated from the fastidious, and any regulations having to do with food or drink or calendar observance, new moons, or sabbaths (v. 16), which are all just shadow play (v. 17). Don’t let any man beguile you with this kind of stuff (v. 18), and remember that a certain kind of fleshly mind is attracted to this way of living. Such a one does not hold on to the Head, which is how the body is knit together (v. 19). If you are dead in Christ, then why act as though you were alive to the world and its fussiness (v. 20)? Listen to the worldlings . . . don’t don’t don’t (v. 21). These things are transient and temporal (v. 22). They have the look of wisdom, and they display well, but they don’t do any good whatever (v. 23). Asceticism does not check the flesh.
Do Not Be Beguiled:
Remember that when Eve was deceived by the serpent, her response was to say that the “serpent beguiled me” (Gen. 3:13). And remember also that Paul was worried about something similar happening to the Corinthians. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
He has the same kind of concern here. Paul is concerned that the Colossians might be susceptible to a particular kind of worldly wisdom. He warns them against vain deceit and philosophy (v. 8). He says that this kind of deception is deeply embedded in the way this world operates—the traditions of men and the rudiments of this world (vv. 8, 20). So when people veer off into vain nonsense, they are doing something that seems to fit somehow. They think they are finding themselves, or getting down to the bones of the world, but they are actually drifting away from Christ. Paul uses two different words that are rendered as beguiled by the KJV. One is in v. 4 and the other in v. 18. The latter has the sense of controlling or manipulating.
So this chapter is crammed with cautions, and while their particular first century pitfalls are not with us today, the rudiments of the world are most certainly still with us. Christians need to be cautioned and warned. Christians need to be waved off of things that seem innocent enough. Beware of the new age spirituality that is seeping into everything. So take care—beware of crystals, oils, depth psychology, feel-good affirmationism, the maxims of sports psychology, spelunking in the cavernous world of personality and identity, and the all-round Ophrafication of America. Beware of the spiritual-not-religious goo that is encroaching on us from every side.
Beholding Your Order:
We must be careful. The things just mentioned are dangerous because our fallen tendency is to want to have the levers that control our lives to be right in front of us. There are the pagan levers just mentioned, but we can do the same thing, make the same mistake, with biblical levers. God required sacrifice and burnt offering, and so why does the psalmist say sacrifices and burnt offerings you did not require, but a humble and contrite heart. This relates to the next issue that this passage raises.
So why do we worship the way we do? In verse 5, Paul refers to the blessing of how orderly the church at Colossae was in its worship. The word there is taxis, and originally it was a military term—much like how we might use the word regimentation. He was pleased about two things at Colossae that he had heard about. One was the steadfastness of their faith in Christ, and the other was the disciplined order of their worship services. For many reasons—most going back to the vaunted spontaneity of Rousseau—we moderns tend to think that structured worship is somehow necessarily insincere. We tend to think that a prayer that you actually thought through and prayed over as you wrote it is hypocritical. But why on earth would we think that? Why do we worship the way we do? We believe this kind of discipline and order is pleasing to God—provided we remain steadfast in our faith in Christ.
Circumcision and Baptism:
The Bible teaches that physical circumcision is a representation of spiritual circumcision (Deut. 10:16; Rom. 2:28-29). The physical represents the spiritual. The Scriptures also teach that physical baptism is a representation of spiritual baptism (Acts 10:47). The physical represents the spiritual. We are told here that spiritual circumcision (without hands) corresponds to spiritual baptism (vv. 11-12). So why on earth would we not be able to finish the fourth side of the square? Why doesn’t physical circumcision correspond to physical baptism? And if that is the case, then how or why would infants be excluded?
We saw earlier how God wants us to be knit together in love. This happens when we hold fast to the Head, that is, Christ. Our growth in the faith is Christocentric, and our love for one another, in order to be fervent, must be Christocentric also. If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
So love God, and love your brother, in that order. A lover of Christ is a lover of Christians. But if any finite being assumes the place of God in your life, and you love them more than anything else, it will not be long before you run out of gas and they will receive less love than they would if you had kept them at #2. If you make any other person your idol, what you are doing is preparing to shortchange that person. If you cling to Christ then you will be knit to one another. We see this in v. 2 and v. 19. Whoever loves father or mother, or wife or husband, or any other relative, more than Christ cannot be Christ’s disciple, this is true (Luke 14:26). But it is also true that whoever loves father or mother, or wife or husband, or any other relative, more than Christ, cannot really love father or mother, or wife or husband, or any other relative. Unless Christ is first, you are ripping your loved ones off.
Christ is the one principle of unity here. He is the only reason the knitting together works. We worship an infinite Christ, not an infinite series of little complicated christs.