And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.…
We have seen that the heresy that was threatening the Colossian Church was twofold in its character. Its propagators "had a false conception in theology and they had a false basis of morals." These two errors were closely connected together, and seem to have sprung from the prevalent idea that matter was the abode of evil and therefore opposed to God. It was the plausibility of these false doctrines that made the apostle so anxious. But he had the firmest conviction that the Christ he proclaimed could satisfy every reasonable want and aspiration of the inquiring spirit. The words, "This I say," etc. (ver. 4) look back over vers. 1-3, and remind them both of his anxieties and his convictions. But at present the leaven had not spread in the Church, so that the apostle can address to them -
I. CONGRATULATIONS ON THEIR STEADFASTNESS. (Ver. 5.) St. Paul thus most wisely prepares the way for warnings. He shows them how deep is his interest and sympathy. He says all he can in their favour, as our Lord does to the Churches in Asia. The recognition of what is good in others is one of the best means of helping them to see and to strive against error. All right,minded Christians at Colossae would be encouraged by the declaration that so eminent an apostle as Paul could rejoice in them while he saw them holding their present faith. (For other illustrations of commendation, see Philippians 1:3-5; Philippians 2:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4; 3 John 1:3, etc.) Men can more easily be encouraged in the truth than scolded into it. The terms "order" and "steadfastness" may both have been used as military figures, suggested by the apostle's familiarity with military matters in the Praetorian camp at Rome (cf. Ephesians 6:13, etc.). He saw their "orderly array and solid front." They were still loyal to the truth and steadfast in the faith. Their ranks were not yet thinned by deserters, in spite of all the seductive appeals of the emissaries of error around them. But cautions were not needless in the midst of congratulations. When an epidemic is in the country precautions are needed, though it may not yet have entered our house or even our town. A fearless, cheerful mind may in itself be one precaution, just as the encouragement in our faith which we receive from the sympathetic words of experienced Christians may be one safeguard against the epidemic of unbelief. But with these congratulations on their steadfastness, St. Paul thinks it needful to blend -
II. CAUTIONS RESPECTING THEIR DANGERS. (Ver. 4.) Note:
1. Paul does not make light of erroneous teaching, He warns against "enticing words," "persuasiveness of speech." The tendency of many now is to make light of doctrinal, definite teaching altogether, using the Greek term for "doctrine" (dogma) as a term of reproach - a course as childish as it is dangerous. Paul knew that doctrine had a moulding power on the characters of those who came under its influence (Romans 6:17). He was not indifferent even to the form of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13). The variety of meaning in good honest words may nevertheless make them instruments of error, not to say deception. (Illustrate from such words as "inspiration," "atonement," etc.) Solemn cautions are suggested to teachers and disputants by Proverbs 18:21; Matthew 12:36, 37.
2. Paul nowhere charges these false teachers with immorality or any gross sin. Elsewhere he does bring such charges against other heretics (1 Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:10-16). Here the strongest is in ver. 18. This is instructive for two reasons.
(1) The errors at Colossae were as yet in the bud, and had not brought forth the bitter fruit that was natural to them. Dr. Lightfoot has shown that it is probable that the more perilous heresy of Cerinthus was the outgrowth of these errors at Colossae (Comm., pp. 106-113). The gradual corruption of the truth respecting the ministry as a teaching and pastoral office, apparently harmless enough at first, led on to full-blown sacerdotalism, Romanism, Vaticanism.
(2) We are reminded of the special danger of errors when held and taught by holy men. A Tetzel and a Tom Paine are harmless compared with advocates of substantially the same doctrines whose lives are blameless. We must seek to combine charity to men with unflinching opposition to their erroneous teaching when it touches the "faith in Christ." "Obsta principiis" (Jude 1:3).
3. Paul counsels them to hold fast to the gospel of Christ. (Vers. 6, 7.) Till you can find something better, "hold that fast which thou hast," etc. (Revelation 3:11). They had received a definite gospel from Epaphras; Paul certifies it as his own. They had received "Jesus" (a living example, a dying Saviour) as "the Christ" (God's own Son, the anointed Priest and King of men) their "Lord" (Romans 14:9). The reception of this gospel had brought great joy in that city, and they could still "abound in thanksgiving" (ver. 7; Romans 5:11). They had begun well; now, says St. Paul, go on well; "Walk in him." Abide in Christ and proceed by Christ, for as he is "the Truth" wherein we are to abide, he is also "the Way" wherein we are to walk. But he takes for granted that holding the truth of Christ is essential to walking in the ways of Christ. Notice the connection of Philippians 3:8-11 and 12-14. This is still further seen by the other figures which he employs. The first is that of a tree. Notice the tenses employed in the participial clauses. We are once for all to be firmly rooted in Christ. As "God's husbandry," "planted in the house of the Lord," the roots of our life are "hidden with Christ in God." To him we must cling; around him every fibre of the soul must twine. Thus "rooted and grounded in love" because in Christ himself, we shall be safe against the gales of false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), which would uproot our souls. The second figure is that of a house, "God's building," a more frequent figure (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5). Edification is a gradual work, and in proportion to it shall we be "established in our faith." In the West Indies we have seen trees that seemed to combine the two figures of this verse. In the magnificent silk cotton trees (Eriodendrum) we see enormous trunks sometimes rising eighty or a hundred feet before they send forth any of their huge branches. The widespreading roots secure the safety of the vast superstructure from the wildest hurricane. But around the base of the trunk there rise above the roots massive buttresses whereby the tree is "built up" to still greater stability. Thus "rooted and built up" in Christ, the Christian may defy storms, may "wax stronger and stronger," may bring forth "much fruit," "abounding therein in thanksgiving." - E.S.P.
Parallel VersesKJV: And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.