Colossians 2:6-15

Jimmy JoColossians, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Read the passage here

Over the past couple of weeks, we gave a brief introduction to the epistle to the Colossians. We set this in the context of the new year – what does it mean to “succeed”?  Or, intentionally leaving behind worldly notions of acquisition and achievement, what does it mean to have a good year from, hopefully, a more biblical point of view?

In this regard, we noted Paul’s prayer for the Colossians: “…that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…” (1:10).  It’s also worth noting that this passage continues on, giving us some details as to what this worthy life might look like:

  • bearing fruit in every good work,
  • growing in the knowledge of God,
  • 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
  • 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Last week, we talked about the centrality of Christ.  We saw this in chap. 1:15-20, the Christological hymn in Colossians, and brought to focus in Paul’s exhortation in v. 28:

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

In the words of Dr. Douglas Moo:

Any teaching that questions the sufficiency of Christ—not only for “initial” salvation but also for spiritual growth and ultimate salvation from judgment—falls under the massive christological critique of Colossians.

Therefore, we find ourselves seeking to remain rooted and centered in all things in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone.

Now the reason for this exhortation and admonishment by Paul seems to be precisely this drifting away from Christ by the Colossian church. It’s to this issue that we turn today.  Paul writes to the Colossians:

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.

What exactly are these hollow and deceptive philosophies that Paul is addressing.  There’s a lot of speculation about this and it’s not definitive.  However, the next verses give us some insight into, perhaps, what Paul is specifically addressing:

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 s 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.

In these verses, as well as the passage that we will look at next week, we see some hint that at least part of the problem that Paul is dealing with is legalism.  Inasmuch as this is the actual issue (or at least, one of the issues), it’s something that Paul deals with quite often in his letters – the notion that salvation is something that we work towards rather than receive. That it’s something that we have to earn rather than something that we are given. Paul emphasizes again and again (i.e. in last week’s verses) that what Christ has done is sufficient. It’s only in Christ and completely in Christ that we find life.

Why do you suppose this is an issue that Paul deals with so frequently? Why is it something that Christians wrestle with repeatedly?  To answer this, I want to dig a little deeper into verse 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.

What I want to suggest, in line with some of what we’ve been talking about, is that the primary challenge for Christians is not so much what to think as it is how to think. Notice that, here, Paul’s warning is precisely not against specific actions or activities but ways of thinking.  Or to put it another way, how we think about our faith and therefore how we live out our faith, is greatly affected by the world’s philosophies (we might say “world-view”, “values”, or “cultural lens”, how we see things) – and we need to pay attention to what’s going on.

N.T. Wright’s book Creation, Power, and Truth: The Gospel in a World of Cultural Confusion is very helpful on our contemporary situation.  He notes some of the major challenges that Christians have to face are Post-Modernism, Imperialism, and Neo-Gnosticism.  In a general way, I’m following Wright but I want to talk in slightly simpler terms.

Now it’s important to note here that we are moving beyond the (biblical) text at this point. What follows are my thoughts, based on what Wright is talking about, on some of the philosophies and spiritual forces that are at work in our world – and though Paul might agree if he were writing today, I don’t claim that this is what he is saying in this text.

Post-Modernism:

This is a fairly familiar topic so we won’t go into this in detail. However, a couple of the challenges in our society are:

  • Relativism:

Most of us are familiar with this concept so there’s probably no need to talk about this in length. However, suffice it to say that one of the marks of contemporary western culture is the tendency to see all truth as relative.  We are inclined to live by or assert such clichés such as:  “whatever is true for you” or “live your own truth.”  In a nutshell, contemporary western society tends to doubt if not deny the possibility of objective truth.

  • Individualism:

Tied up with this is the tendency to locate reality in the individual. Therefore, we are not really saying that everyone is entitled to their own truths, we are really asserting that I am entitled to my truth.  Or in other words, don’t tell me that I’m wrong.  Individualism has to do with finding value fundamentally in “value for me.”

Imperialism:

  • Tribalism

This is one of the contemporary trends which concerns me (and many others). What we mean by that is the tendency to locate ourselves and identify ourselves by various tribes.  Now in its purest forms (i.e. seeking community) this isn’t inherently bad, but problems arise when we see our duty as promoting one tribe over another.  We typically do this by conquest.  We see our responsibility as “defeating the enemy.”  To this, I want to repeat what we’ve said before that the church is not in a war (against other people); we are on a rescue mission.

Furthermore, in this endeavour, what tends to happen is we become closed-minded. What I mean by that is that we identify and promote our beliefs and values, not because we believe or value them, but because that is what our tribe does.

The current political climate is a great example of this. Rather than choosing our political affiliation based on our values, we define our values based on which political tribe we belong to.

And of course we are not exempt from this in the church. This is where we run into things like, “I believe in x because I am a Presbyterian; or “I believe in y because I am an Episcopalian.”  This leads to positions or practices like, “As a Baptist, I believe such and such, therefore I am going to simply ignore the passages in the bible that are problematic.”  Or conversely, “I believe that the bible says such and such” not because we’ve necessarily studied and meditated on the topic but simply because that’s what Methodists believe.

In these, and many other cases, we believe what we believe not because we believe them but because that’s what our tribe believes.

Neo Gnosticism:

I won’t go into the terminology that Wright is using here. But in an over-simplified nutshell, Wright is speaking about a philosophy which separates the physical and the spiritual world and sees that spiritual world as the greater reality.  What we tend to see in this Neo-Gnosticism is:

  • Compartmentalization:

We separate our lives into various components that we deal with separately.  As such, we don’t see “spirituality” as integral to the whole of our lives but rather as something that we can deal with from time to time, as our mood and our schedules permit.

  • Experientialism:

By this, I mean that there is a tendency towards disparaging of the so-called “mundane.”  In other words, we tend to chase after the “spiritual highs” and count all other “Christian” experiences as of little or no worth.

Now I want to point out again that these are forces, philosophies, that Christians are not exempt from. It’s not as if these forces exist outside of our churches and we need to keep them outside of our churches.  They exist within our walls and our communities and oftentimes shape the way we do church.  We do all of these things within Christian contexts.

Whenever we allow these (and other) things to shape and form us instead of Jesus Christ, what He has done for us, and how He is leading us, we are subject to the admonitions that Paul is speaking to the Colossians.  We may wear the label (“Christian”), but are we truly becoming disciples?

So What Now…?

So what do we do about that – becoming disciples? How do we navigate our faith in the midst of these (and other) forces that we are constantly subject to?  Again, these are just suggestions – things that you can reflect on and might possibly be helpful.  As I make these suggestions, I want to remind you that there is not blueprint for spiritual maturity.  There is no comprehensive, decisive method.  Ultimately it’s about continuing to walk.  But here are a few ideas that might be helpful.

  • Learn how to be alone:

This may sound counter-intuitive because we speak frequently, and I believe vehemently, that the Christian life is done in community. And not only that it is done in community but that, in a real sense, it is community.

But learning how to be alone is an important part of being in community. What I mean is that learning how to be alone prevents us from turning other people into commodities – it prevents us from seeing other people as those from whom we can get something.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:

Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people … The person who comes to a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear.  He is really not seeking community at all, but only a distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time.  (Life Together, p. 76)

  • Learn how to disagree:

By “learn how to disagree”, I am assuming that ultimately we are called to community. Christians live and do life with one another.  Furthermore, Christians corporately exist in community.  We don’t (for the most part) live in closed off cloisters but in and among the world around us.

In part what I mean is to recognize that we are all fallen, broken, sinful human beings. None of us have a full grasp of the truth (which is why people – Christians – who purport to share the same revelation disagree so often).  But we need to be able to disagree in order to dialogue.  We need to understand that disagreement doesn’t have to devolve into a fight.  Once we start fighting, the goal becomes to win.  And in order to win, the other party has to lose.  We need to be able to disagree, avoiding the fight, so that we can have genuine dialogue.  Because it’s only in and through dialogue that we are able to honour the person and build relationship with that person.

  • Learn how to be bored:

This is closely tied to what I think spiritual formation actually (tends to) look like. And it’s also closely tied to what Wright has to say about Neo-Gnosticism.  Essentially, the concern that we tend to think of spiritual growth/spiritual formation as a series of mountaintops.  i.e. we ignore everything or we think that nothing is worthwhile except the mountaintop.  Because the mountaintop is great.  The mountaintop is magnificent, sweeping, the views are great, etc.

But all of the work, the whole of the journey, all of the growth happens between the mountaintops. This is actually where we live.

Now it may not be obvious what these things have to do with the forces, the philosophies of the world around us. And, while remembering again that none of this is comprehensive, there’s an extent to which I’m trusting us and encouraging you to make connections for yourselves and among ourselves (i.e. in community).  But the main thing that I want to encourage us to do is to create for ourselves an environment where we’re able to listen and, specifically, to create for ourselves an environment where we’re able to listen for the voice of Jesus.

The idea is that what we are trying to do is to allow our experience and expression of life, specifically the Christ-life, be formed by Christ and not the forces and powers of this world. And, once again, this means that we need to pay attention.  We need to prayerfully attend to what’s actually going on.  We need to prayerfully attend to what Christ is calling us to do and to be in the midst of what is going on.  And we need to allow Christ to continue to do His work in us.

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