Letters From Prison
Question: Have you ever felt like someone used a knowledge that they had about something to make you feel inadequate? Maybe they used words you were unfamiliar with or listed off a bunch of facts to try to trick you. Today we will look at what Paul has to say to the Colossians about people who try to fool us with what they think they know.
Right away we see that Paul is trying to help those reading this letter to have a deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ (vs 2). Even though Paul has not actually visited this community, he wants them to know the truth that can only come from Christ and those who know Him. According to verse four there were some who were trying to deceive the new believers with “fine-sounding arguments”. Paul contrasts these arguments by saying that true knowledge and wisdom come from Christ (vs 2). This is the basis for the entire chapter. Paul attempts to show how what Jesus offers us is the only way to true satisfaction while the ways of the world lead to further yearning.
Paul never actually says what it is that people are saying to the Colossians which could be deemed false teachings or heresy. This is one of the disadvantages of only having Paul’s response letter to the Colossians and not any other correspondences. However, verses 6-15 help us to piece together some of the things that may have been going on during that time.
- Ceremonialism. It held to strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and drink, religious festivals (2:16–17) and circumcision (2:11; 3:11).
- Asceticism (the practice of self denial). “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (2:21; cf. 2:23).
- Angel worship. See 2:18.
- Depreciation of Christ. This is implied in Paul’s emphasis on the supremacy of Christ (1:15–20; 2:2–3:9).
- Secret knowledge. The Gnostics boasted of this (see 2:18 and Paul’s emphasis in 2:2–3 on Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom”).
- Reliance on human wisdom and tradition. See 2:4,8.
Who’s to blame?
Another aspect that we as the reader have to piece together is who is it that Paul blames for these false teachings? There seems to be two groups that Paul points to.
-Gnosticism was a system of belief that was centered on knowledge as our salvation. Gnostics taught that the physical world was a trap and only when we achieved the highest level of knowledge would we be freed. Paul may be referencing this group when in verse 8 when he says, “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.”. This may also be why Paul emphasizes that Christ came in human form in order to show that the gnostic idea of creation and the physical world as being the enemy to our salvation is counter to Christian teachings.
2) Jewish groups
– In the previous section on heresy we saw that one of the possible false teachings that Paul is pointing towards was ceremonialism. In verse 16 Paul tells the Colossians not to “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”. This has led to the thought that specific jewish groups were telling the the Colossians that they were required to follow traditional dietary laws and celebrations. It is important to point out that Paul does not view all jews as a threat or wrong as he himself was a jew both ethnically and religiously. But Paul holds firm to the idea that the new covenant relieves gentiles of following Jewish customs which is an idea that he presents in other letters as well.
What’s the alternative?
So if these teachings are wrong, what is it that Paul wants the Colossians and us to know? Quite simply we are to not listen to them, AT ALL! For those who listen to these false teachings “have lost connection with the head” (vs 19). When we allow others to persuade us with false teachings that contradict the teachings of Christ, we actually separate ourselves from Christ himself. Like those that Paul is writing about, if we reach for our own satisfaction in practices of “knowledge”, we will forever be searching for something that we cannot attain. Rather, Paul proposes that we search for our satisfaction in the truth; the real truth that comes solely from Jesus and the Gospel. As Paul puts it “reality, however, is found in Christ” (17).
What does this mean for you?
Maybe there has been a time when you believed someone because they seemed to really know what they were talking about. They used fancy words and had their argument so thought out that you almost had no choice but to believe them. Maybe someone has used this tactic to try to get you to completely abandon your faith. They try to make you feel silly for believing in Jesus and the resurrection. This is exactly why Paul is trying to equip us with this chapter. Though it doesn’t help us with a response to these kinds of people, it may just give us the strength to know that the battle is nothing new. We as Christians find our faith, our hope, and our trust in Jesus Christ and as long as we keep our focus on Him we will know that we are on the right path.