Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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;II. COMPLETE IN HIM, IN WHOM ALL THE FULLNESS DWELLS
In view of the last verses of the preceding chapter we can understand his anxiety and the great conflict he had for the Colossians and for those living in nearby Laodicea, and for as many who had not seen his face in the flesh. He was deeply concerned about them after he heard of their danger of going into error. It was a spiritual conflict. He was greatly exercised in his thoughts and feelings. He knew the powers of evil so well; hence the burden for the Colossians, for the Laodiceans and for all others. In writing to them about his great conflict for them, and therefore his prayerful interest in them, he did so that their hearts might be comforted thereby and then, being knit together in love for this purpose: “unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the full knowledge of the mystery of God in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (The translation in the Authorized Version is not correct. The words “of the Father and of Christ” must be omitted. It is “The mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”) And what is this mystery of God in which the treasures, yea all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden? The mystery of God is Christ. But it is not Christ in incarnation, in His life on earth, His death on the cross and His resurrection. Nor is it Christ at the right hand of God, or Christ coming again to rule over the nations on earth and establish His kingdom of glory. All these things are subjects of divine revelation in the Old Testament. They are not a mystery. It is Christ, the Head of the body and believers in union with the glorious Head, joined to Him by His Spirit, possessing His life, one with Him, destined to share His glory. This is the mystery of God in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And what treasures these are! How little His people know of all this mystery of God contains! It will take eternity to know and enjoy these treasures, the unsearchable riches. The Greek word for knowledge is “gnosis”; the false teachers called themselves, after this word, “gnostics,” boasting of superior knowledge and as if they possessed mysteries unknown to those who believed on Christ. We understand in this light the brief exhortation which follows: “And this I say, lest any man should delude you with enticing words.” Being in Christ they had all in Him and no human philosophy or science, falsely so called, could give a greater wisdom or knowledge, than that which God had made known by revelation. The enemy’s work is to keep God’s people back from fully enjoying their union with Christ and increasing in the knowledge of it. Satan does this work in the garb of an angel of light, through all kinds of theories and inventions. Before the apostle sounds a more definite warning, he expressed his joy in seeing their order and steadfastness of their faith in Christ. No doubt a part of the Colossian church stood unwavering for the faith, while others had given ear to the delusive teachings. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” This was their danger, as it is still more in these days of declension and delusion, our danger, not to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him. They were not satisfied with Christ only. They did not realize that the secret of blessing and all a Christian needs, is to go on and know more and more of Christ. This they did not do but turned instead to other sources and listened to that which was not after Christ. “When we have received Christ, all the rest is but a development of that which He is, and of the glory which the counsels of God have connected with His person. Knowledge, or pretended knowledge, outside this, does but turn us away from Him, withdraw our hearts from the influence of His glory, throw us into that which is false, and lead our souls into connection with the creation apart from God, and without possessing the key to His purposes. Thus, since man is incapable of fathoming that which exists, and of explaining it to himself, his efforts to do so cause him to invent a mass of ideas that have no foundation, and to endeavor to fill up the void that is found in his knowledge through his ignorance of God by speculations, in which (because he is at a distance from God) Satan plays the chief part without man’s suspecting it” (Synopsis of the Bible). Then follows a stronger and important warning. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” It is a warning against the natural man’s philosophy, and the religious man’s traditions; both are not after Christ, but aim at the person, the work and the glory of Christ. Rationalism and ritualism are still the pronounced enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ, as they were when He walked on the earth. (The Sadducees were the philosophers, the rationalists. The Pharisees, the most religious sect, the ritualists. Both combined in hatred of Christ.) Both may use His name, but deny His glory and reject the great truth of His headship. Philosophy is the wisdom of this world. Well has it been said: “Philosophy is an idol of man, a blind substitute for the knowledge of God.” It is false and ruinous whether it leaves Him out or tries to bring Him in, whether it denies the true God, or sets up a sham god. Atheism and pantheism are the ultimate goal and results of philosophy, and both set God and His revelation aside. This is especially true of the present day destructive Bible criticism, which claims to be “scientific” and “philosophical.” It is the most subtle deception the father of lies has produced. This destructive criticism, which denies with a show of learning the Word of God, denies with it God and His blessed Son; it is an antichrist, preparing the way for the final great delusion, the full manifestation of the mystery of iniquity, the man of sin. The evolution theory is another philosophy. Though proven to be untenable, preachers, and especially the teachers of the young, still adhere to it and thereby deny God’s revelation. The evolution-philosophy has no explanation for the sin and misery of the world, but makes it all a part of the nature of things which God could not avoid when He started the world evolving. It makes God the author of sin. And evolution offers no remedy for sin and its results. Evolutionists as found in all the prominent sects or denominations of Christendom teach that sin is only animalism left in man; and then they substitute for true conversion, regeneration, for reconciliation by the death of Christ and salvation by grace--they substitute for it a development for the better by civilization and culture. Evolution-philosophies are the enemies of revelation and the cross of Christ. “But obviously this evolutionary ‘salvation’ is largely or wholly a salvation of the race through the prospective future perfectibility of mankind as a whole; and it is childishly inadequate in dealing with the poor individual then and now who, under this hideous handicap fails in the sad conflict with his inherited animalism; and it has no gospel for these present moral failures (or those of the past), unless they can be reincarnated at a higher stage of the racial development, or have ‘another chance’ under some less hard conditions in the future while it goes without saying that, in the view of these theistic evolutionists, this racial culture of development can be accomplished without the intervention of a divine mediator and the help of a divine sacrifice” Professor Price. “Christian Science” also comes under the garb of a philosophy. This wicked system with its outrageous deceptions may be termed the masterpiece of Satan. Against its blasphemous inventions the Spirit of God bears a perfect witness in the first chapter of this Epistle. Christianity is not science. Science is knowledge gained by experience, by searching. Christianity is a revelation from God. It is a faith. The traditions of men and rudiments of the world are terms which apply to the religion of the flesh, by which we mean a religion which the natural man can lay hold of and which suits perfectly the natural, unregenerated man. This is ritualism, the Galatianized gospel which has the curse of God resting upon it. It brings in man’s works, law-keeping, ceremonies, holy days, saints’ days, the mass and other things. But it is not after Christ. Against these two currents, rationalism and ritualism, the Spirit of God warns. Any one who follows either must deny Christ and becomes spoiled and ruined. Colossians 2:9-10 introduce us to the heart of this great document. “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in Him ye are filled full, who is the head of all principality and power. How this blessed statement recalls our attention to the great truths of the first chapter we do not need to point out. While in the first chapter He is displayed as the Incarnate One, who walked on earth, in whom all the fullness was pleased to dwell; in this statement of the second chapter we see Him as the Risen One, who is in glory as the Glorified Man and in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Glorious truth that there is the Man, in glory, in a real human body, the Man, who made peace in the blood of His cross. The fullness of the Godhead dwelleth in Him and out of this fullness we receive grace upon grace, and that we might also be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). In Him believers are filled full. In Him we possess perfection and completeness before God and are not wanting anything whatever as to our position before God. Believers are in Him before God, not in what they do or according to their service, or anything else, but in perfection of what He is. Who could add to His fullness and who can add to the fullness and completeness the believer possesseth forever in Him! The child of God has no need of philosophy, ceremonies, asceticism, advanced thought, or any other thing. No need of the traditions of men as embodied in ritualism, a man-made priesthood which He hates (Revelation 2:15); or the mass with its terrible blasphemy, or the worship of angels! We have and are all in Christ. Our only concern must be to lay hold in a practical way of this fullness, to take more and more of Him and walk in the power of it. This is viewed next. The literal rendering of Colossians 2:11-12 is as follows: “In whom also ye have been circumcised with circumcision not done by hand, in the putting off of the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, in whom ye have been also raised together through faith in the operation of God, who raised Him from among the dead.” Circumcision done by hand is for the Jew, the sign of separation from the Gentiles. Believers are circumcised in the circumcision of Christ, that is, “the putting off of the body of flesh” (not “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”) separated from it, by being made partakers of the efficacy of His death. In the death of Christ the old man is put to death as more fully demonstrated in Romans 6:1-23; we are dead to sin, because we are in Christ, who is our life. And having now no more confidence in ourselves we are the true circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3). Baptism is the symbol of this “buried with Him in baptism.” And we are raised up with Him through faith in the operation of God who raised Him from among the dead. It is “through faith” this is accomplished and not in an ordinance; we are risen with Christ in possession of life. “It is thus that we are set free from the thought of deliverance by an ordinance, which so many hold today. We are ‘raised up through the faith of the operation of God who raised Him from among the dead.’ Here we see distinctly what is meant. Resurrection is the opposite of burial. In burial a dead man is put among the dead. In resurrection a now living man is given his place among the living; and it is seen that Christ, identified with us through grace in His death, has been raised up of God; that we might find, therefore, our own title and ability to take our place amongst those truly alive. But then all depends upon this identification of ourselves with Him. Our eyes are now, therefore, to be upon Christ. He is in this character our true self, and our confidence, therefore, is to be in Him. As we have had it in Galatians, we live, yet no more we, but Christ liveth in us. It is the One who is before God for us who is before us now in faith and whom we accept as now our true self, a self in whom we can have confidence, a self that we can contemplate with joy and satisfaction, and without the least tendency to such pride of heart as results naturally from what we call self-occupation. Here is One who will draw us away from self, who will, as a Heavenly Object draw us completely out of the world, and accomplish our deliverance in both senses at the same time” (Numerical Bible). The truth unfolded in the Ephesian Epistle (chapter 2) is also mentioned here by the apostle. “And you being dead in offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Blessed truth again! What follows has a meaning for both Jewish and Gentile believers. “Having blotted out the handwriting in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, He has taken it out Of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The Colossians were Gentiles, they had not been under the law and its ordinances, therefore he writes not which were “against you” but “against us.” All the ordinances were against them, for they were as Jews under obligation to keep them, as they had, so to speak, put their handwriting, their signature to it, when they said with one voice, “All the words which the Lord hath said we will do” (Exodus 24:3). And inasmuch as they did not keep these ordinances, they were against them. The work of Christ has taken it out of the way; all was nailed to the cross. Then the signature was erased and the debt paid. The ordinances are removed. This applies to Gentiles as well and also in another sense. The law and the ordinances were the middle wall of partition, which excluded the Gentiles. Christ “has broken down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandment in ordinances, for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace (Ephesians 2:14-15). At the same time He spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, leading them in triumph by it. This means the principalities and powers of Satan and the wicked spirits. They were against us, but He has vanquished them in His death on the cross and in it has triumphed over them. Trespasses are forgiven; ordinances blotted out, completely gone; principalities and powers triumphed over.
The chapter closes with warnings and exhortations. The first warning exhortation is against ritualistic legalism. “Let none therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in matter of an holy day, or new moon, or of the Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body of Christ.” All the ceremonies of the law were shadows; the substance has come and the shadows have ceased. Ritualistic Christendom has aped the shadows and by doing so practically denies by it the truth of the gospel. It is a turning away from the substance and moving after the shadow. A religion in ordinances, so-called sacraments with mysterious powers, with an imposing ritual for the eye and the ear, which gives the flesh something to do and to boast in, is an invention of Satan. True Christianity has no holy days and feast days, saints’ days, lenten days, etc.; nor does it need these “beggarly elements.” The Sabbath is also mentioned. Some keep the seventh day, Saturday, and claim that this is the day to be kept. But the church has no Sabbath to keep in the legal sense. The first day of the week, the Lord’s day, is the day of worship. The next warning is against the worship of angels and occultism. “Let no one fraudulently deprive you of your prize, doing his own will in humility and worship of angels, entering into things which he has not seen vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh, and not holding fast to the head from whom all the body ministered to and united together by the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.” Here the Romish idolatry comes into view. It began early in the church. Angels are ministering spirits who minister to the heirs of glory. Their presence with and ministry to God’s people may be believed, but never must they be worshipped. Putting them between Christians and Christ as a mediatorial agency is idolatrous, sinful and a denial of the headship of Christ. The worship of angels denies the union of the believer with the Head. The Head, Christ in glory, ministers to the body in spiritual things. All looked like humility when it was in reality self-will and pride. Intruding into unseen things points to such evil systems as spiritism, theosophy, Psychical research and other cults. Whoever follows these things proves thereby that Christ as the Head over all is not recognized but denied. He who knows Christ and is in conscious union with Him will never crave after any of these things. Asceticism is the concluding thing against which the Holy Spirit warns. “If ye have died with Christ from the elements of the world, why as if alive in the world do ye subject yourselves to ordinances?” Then he gives an illustration of these “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” (Strange it is that these words are generally misapplied, wrested from the context, twisted and contorted to furnish a text for the drink-evil and to advocate prohibition. It has nothing to do with that.) This and the concluding words reprove asceticism “the harsh treatment of the body” not keeping the body in a certain honor and all to the satisfaction of the flesh, as he writes: “According to the injunctions and teachings of men (which have indeed an appearance of wisdom in voluntary worship, and humility, and harsh treatment of the body, not in a certain honor), to the satisfaction of the flesh.” These errorists taught that matter is evil and the body is the source of sin and therefore they treated the body harshly. They denied honor to the body but it was for their own satisfaction of the flesh. “Asceticism is utterly powerless to effect the object aimed at: it does not, it cannot sanctify the flesh. It has a show of wisdom. It is extravagant in its pretensions and loud in its promises. But it never fulfills them. The apostle here declares that it has no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23). It, rather, stimulates the appetites and passions it is meant to extirpate. Asceticism has often proved to be a hotbed of vice. Some of the vilest men have been found among those who advocated the strictest austerities. They denounced the holiest of human associations, and branded as sensual the purest relations. Marriage was degraded, celibacy glorified, the family disparaged, domestic life despised. And some of these foes of truth have been canonized! “Asceticism does not touch the seat of sin. All its strength is exerted against the body. Sin is of the soul, has its seat in the soul. So long as the heart is corrupt, no bodily restraints will make the life holy. There is one remedy alone for human sin, one that reaches to its roots, that ultimately will totally destroy it, viz., the blood of Christ” (1John 1:7) (Professor W.A. Moorhead). And all these warnings are for our own times, for we live in the day when the tares the devil sowed in the field in the beginning of the age are ripening for the harvest. They are full grown. Legalism, ritualism, evolution, higher criticism, Christian Science, Russellism, demonism, spiritism, New Thought, New Religion, New Theology, theosophy, Unitarianism, Romanism, Mormonism, Seventh Dayism and other still more dangerous theories, because more subtle, are about us. Only a constant realization of our position in Christ and holding fast the head will keep His people in the days of apostasy. May God’s people today, the faithful remnant, never lose sight of the two vital truths of these two chapters: In Him dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily--and we are complete in Him.