Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world…
Having laid down the truth about the Trinity as the great want of the race, Paul proceeds to warn the Colossians against the so called philosophers. "There are certain men," it has been well observed, "who, because they possess somewhat more learning than others, think, when they become converts to the gospel, that they are great acquisitions to the cause; they officiously extend the shield of their learning over their more unlearned brethren, and try to prove where others believe; but, while they think they promote the cause, they generally spoil what they touch." Against such philosophers God's people in all ages require to be warned.
I. THE PHILOSOPHY IS TO BE SUSPECTED WHICH LEADS MEN AWAY FROM CHRIST. (Ver. 8.) Paul warns the Colossians against a philosophy which led men back to rudimentary forms and ceremonies instead of forward to Christ. Now, every argument which leads to a ceremony for hope instead of to Christ has some flaw in it. It may be a subtle flaw, not easily detected, but we may be quite sure it is there. There is no better rule, then, than this. Christ is the embodied truth, and we have missed the road if we are not led to him (John 14:6).
II. As THE EMBODIMENT OF THE DIVINE FULNESS, HE IS THE FOUNTAIN HEAD OF ALL TRUTH AND PERFECTION. (Ver. 9.) In Jesus Christ Divinity has expressed itself in human form. We can see, hear, and handle the Divine Being in the person of Christ. The Incarnation gives to men the true philosophy they long after. Christ is all and in all. Hence we are resistlessly drawn to him for the solution of our doubts and difficulties as well as for the salvation of our souls. No wonder that an acute writer entitled one of his volumes 'The Knowledge of Jesus the Most Excellent of the Sciences.'
III. CHRIST AFFORDS US ALL PROVISION FOE OUR ACCEPTANCE. (Ver. 10.) The great question which man must ask is, "How can sinful man be accepted with God?" Philosophy replies, "By certain solemn ceremonies, by sacrifices, by circumcision, by baptism," etc. The gospel replies, "Acceptance is secured in Christ; we are complete in him," or, as the Revised Version has it, "In him are ye made full." Now, it has been insinuated that merit cannot in the nature of things pass from one person to another. The fact is, however, that we are constantly being kindly treated for the sake of others. Children, for example, receive consideration for the sake of respected parents: individuals receive consideration for the sake of respected friends; and the whole array' of letters of introduction, vicarious influence, and the like, is based upon the recognition of the fact that the merit of others can overshadow and benefit those in whom they are interested. The acceptance which we receive from the Father for the sake of Jesus is on the line, therefore, of natural law. It is the application of a principle upon which men are acting every day.
IV. FROM CHRIST WE RECEIVE THE TRUE CIRCUMCISION. (Ver. 11.) Circumcision was among the false teachers the initial ceremony which secured a Jewish standing for the Gentile proselyte. Their insinuation was that Gentiles who remained uncircumcised could not possibly be saved. It was this which Paul combatted constantly. Hence he shows, in this eleventh verse, that the real circumcision is secured in Christ for all who trust in him. It is a circumcision not made with hands, a circumcision of the heart, a circumcision which secured "the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh." If the Gentile converts realized this, then they need not concern themselves about the outward circumcision. It surely teaches us that, not by mechanical, but by spiritual means we may vanquish the power of sin within us. It is said that circumcision circumscribes lustful tendencies and keeps them within mechanical bounds. Whatever truth may be in this, it is certain that Jesus can so restrain us by his indwelling and grace as to deliver us from the whole body of the sins of the flesh.
V. CHRIST HAS ALSO CANCELLED THE CEREMONIES UPON THE CROSS, SO THAT WHEN WE RISE WITH HIM INTO NEWNESS OF LIFE WE ARE FREED FROM THEIR OBLIGATION. (Vers. 12-15.) The ritual of Judaism typified in its various aspects the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The sacrifices pointed to the one great sacrifice on Calvary. The long list of ordinances, therefore, conducted the intelligent mind to Christ's cross and received their fulfilment there. Hence it was that those who by faith passed through resurrection with Christ became as free from the obligation of these ceremonies as the risen Jesus was himself. Could any one have gone to Jesus after his resurrection and asked from him, with any show of reason, a fulfilment of the ceremonial Law? Is it not felt by every intelligent thinker that Jesus had so fulfilled the ceremonies in the actualities of atonement that more ceremony from him would be unmeaning? A similar emancipation, Paul here insists, from the obligation of ceremonies is the property of Christ's believing people. A careful study of the cross is the great protection, therefore, against improper emphasis being laid on ceremonials. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.