“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the Head of the Body, the Church: Who is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence! For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell” (Col. 1:15-19).

Some Bible Commentators suggest these verses were a primitive worship song in the Early Church. Yes! Yes! BRING FORTH THE ROYAL DIADEM AND CROWN HIM LORD OF ALL!

The City

Colossae was located in what is presently called the Nation of Turkey. In the Apostle Paul’s day it was called Phrygia / “Asia Minor” whose Provincial Capital was Ephesus, located on its Western Coast. Colossae lay approximately125 miles straight east in what was known as the Lycos River Valley.

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The Reason for the Colossian Letter

Have you ever visited a church and immediately sensed that something is wrong? I have on many occasions! It is not a comfortable feeling and you begin to wonder, “What have I gotten myself into; what is going on here?” And then, you begin to look for the back door! Such, I believe, was the situation in the assembly of believers; you just know something is “cockeyed” in Colossae!  

Epaphras, Pastor of the Colossian Church was, no doubt, converted to Christ through the ministry of the Apostle Paul during a “three-year period” of his itinerant missionary work (Acts 20:31) when he was preaching the gospel in and around the regions of Asia Minor. He said, “…I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you… but showed … have taught publicly, and from house to house … repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21).

The news that false doctrine was being introduced into the community of believers would have been troubling to Pastor Epaphras and the Apostle Paul. As far as we know, the Apostle Paul never visited the Colossian Church (Col. 1:7; 2:1; Phil. 1:22). This news would have necessitated Epaphras’ journey to Rome during Paul’s imprisonment to give, what I would call, a Ministry Report to the Apostle Paul. During that visit, Paul would have:

  1. “Heard” (“learned”) of their faith, love, gospel fruit and faithfulness (Col 1:4-7).
  2. That the saints needed to be:
    a. filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
    b. walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work;
    c. increasing in the knowledge of God;
    d. strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power; and
    e. patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Col.1:9-11).
  3. Epaphras needed help! New doctrines were being taught that were undermining the truth about Christ and the gospel. Historically, this false doctrine is identified as the “Colossian Heresy” but, in time, was known worldwide as Gnosticism.

Paul smells a rat! There is doctrinal division in the church. What he has heard and observed from Epaphras sounds an alarm: Beware! Beware! (Col. 2:8, 28). He is on-guard because of those who “beguile” with “enticing words” (Col. 2:4). His concern proves to be correct! In only two-short years, because of this “Colossian Heresy,” Paul said, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15; Acts 20:29-31). Paul calls it “Suffering for the Body’s Sake” (Col. 1:24).

Troublemakers in the Church  

This small Christian Community was troubled by the diversity of cultural, ethnic and religious influences or teachings of those who populated Asia Minor (i.e., Zoroastrians; Angels and Demons Worshipers; Astrologists; Jewish Ascetics, Legalists and Cabbalists, Mystery Cultists and Gnostic Syncretism – a combination of ideas, beliefs and practices that lead to debate, division and depravity). According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, “The Gnostics were a sect of philosophers that arose in the first ages of Christianity, who pretended they were the only men who had a true knowledge of the Christian religion.  They formed for themselves a system of theology, agreeable to the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato, to which they accommodated their interpretations of Scripture. They held that all nature’s intelligible, intellectual and material, are derived by successive emanations from the infinite fountain of deity. These emanations they called eons. These doctrines were derived from an oriental philosophy.” Upon receiving this report from Pastor Epaphras, it seems that Paul was immediately determined to:

  1. Pray for the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae” (Col.1:3, 9);
  2. To write a letter to the Colossian believers with encouragement, instruction and a reminder of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them (2:12-22).
  3. This letter was also a confirmation of the Apostle Paul’s role as a “minister of the Dispensation of God” to fulfil [Complete] the Word of God; even the Mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.” This letter was a reminder that God had shifted gears to a Dispensation where revelations are complete. To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this Mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:25-28)!

In the earlier days of Christianity, “revelations” abounded (2 Cor. 12:1-8). But, with the coming of what the Apostle Paul called “the Revelation of the Mystery” (Eph. 31-9), God shifted gears and, thus, “fulfilled the Word of God” (Completed – filled-up).  If that be true, and I believe God means what He says and says what He means. Then, extra Biblical revelations, such as: miracles, signs, words of knowledge, mystical wisdom, angelic visitations, and the like, gradually ceased by the end of the first century A.D. and became the exception and not the normal Christian experience. The Gnostic doctrines were apostasy! Such things and practices such as dreams, voices, impressions, visions, and revelations were out of line and needed to be soundly condemned. We do well if we “believe not every spirit.” Caution! Caution! They may be from Hell. The Apostle John said, “Try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).

In the days of the early Church, there was a period of transition from Law to Grace; “Christ was the end of the Law” (Rom.10:4). Things were moving from an Old to a New economy (“Dispensation of God”). The philosophers and the worldly-wise thinkers of the day – instead of accepting by faith “all the riches of the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement of the Mystery of God” (Col. 2:2), They, being under the power of demons, attempted to synchronize / blend their perverted view of Christ and His work into an the “other-worldly-view” of pagan beliefs, thinking to unite them under the umbrella of universalism they called the 7th Heaven.  

This syncretism of the prevailing religious beliefs in Colossae held great sway on the Christian Community. These false teachers were not opposed to Christ, as they understood Him…perhaps as a good influence, a religious leader and a good man but, He was considered something less than God! He was only one of many “emanations” and NOT God “in the flesh.” Christ was like a reflection but not the substance. He was not enough! The Gnostics believed that Jesus was not a man at all – come in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2-3; 2 Jn. 1:7). They believed the Apostles only thought they saw Him, but actually did not. More revelations were needed to explain and understand both God and humanity’s place and role in the universe. They were evaluating Christ’s person and work as incomplete and lacking. Also, a person’s salvation and spiritual standing depended upon performance, experience and conformity to rules and regulations rather than faith in the work of Christ alone and the worth of His shed blood (Col.1:20). They believed there was a need for something more, i.e., Greek Philosophy, traditions of men, Angelic Mediation, Secret Knowledge that only the initiated could know (Col. 2:8). This hodgepodge of perverted religious thinking eventually distilled into what was called Gnosticism (γινώσκω = to know). They believed they possessed a mystical and esoteric (internal, secret) higher knowledge of things heavenly and the Divine. As such, the Apostle Paul said they were “intruding into those things which they had not seen, vainly puffed up by a fleshly mind” (Col.  2:18). It was this academic, elitist – “know-it-all thinking” – claiming that they alone “knew the depths” of spiritual knowledge (cf. with Rev. 2:24). This, I believe, opened the door to “Doctrines of Devils and Seducing Spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). This stands as a contrast between “fleshly wisdom” (2 Cor.1:12) and “wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:3; 3:16). Whatever else the Gnostic person believed – he did not believe in the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is one of many and diverse samples of how the Gnostic worshiper believes a man’s soul ascended from earth to the fullness of God’s Light: “Mankind must first pass through the spheres of hostile angels and rulers of the cosmos in hopes of reaching the ‘Seventh Heaven’ alive. (Some will live, some will be wounded, and some will die in process). Once there, they must pass through ‘Seven Palaces’ each guarded by ‘Angelic Gatekeepers.’ Only after he is safely standing before the ‘Throne Room of Glory’ where he will hear Angels singing the praises of God and permitted to participate with the Angel’s and the Archangel’s Choir to praise God’s glorious Name! To the Gnostic mind this signified redemption. This is, perhaps, how they come to ‘worship Angels.’” (Adapted from “New International Commentary of the New Testament” by F.F. Bruce Pg ., 24-25 and numerous others.)

I don’t think it is too hard to see that there are many popular, modern ties to Gnosticism: Mormonism, Christian Science, Masonry, Walt Disney (Cinderella, Littlest Mermaid), Primitive Baptists, Jehovah Witnesses, and Da Vinci Code.

Conclusion:

While the Gnostics were boasting of their supposed spiritual / religious assets, Paul hammers them with “Epignosis” = full knowledge. The Gnostics boasted of gnosis = knowledge. However, Paul boasts of epi = full / gnosis = knowledge.

Paul, in his defense of the “truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:1; Eph. 1:13), uses a series of contrasts to show the superiority of the Gospel over the Gnostic Heresy: Mystery vs. mystery; all fullness vs. fullness; all riches/treasures vs. imaginary treasures; Glory vs. false glory. Here, the Apostle Paul dogmatically declares, that in ALL THINGS He might have the preeminence. YES. HE IS ALL I NEED! Jesus is ALL I need! Give Him Praise and glory!

A Suggested Overview of Colossians

                           

Christ’s Preeminence Declared

  1. In the Gospel Message: 1:1-12
  2. In Redemption: 1:13-14
  3. In Creation: 1:15-17
  4. In the Church: 1:18-23
  5. In Paul’s Ministry: 1:24-29
Christ’s Preeminence Defended

  1. Beware of Empty Philosophies: 2:1-10
  2. Beware of Religious Legalism: 2:11-17
  3. Beware of Man-made Tradition: 2:18-23
Christ’s Preeminence Demonstrated

  1. In Personal Purity: 3:1-11
  2. In Christian Fellowship: 3:12-17
  3. In the Home: 3:18-21
  4. In Daily Work: 3:22-4:1
  5. In Christian Witness:  4:2-6
  6. In Christian Service: 4:7-18
Adapted from “Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Page 657

Bibliography

The Gnostics, by Tobias Churton, 1997
Morals and Dogma of Free Masonry by Albert Pike, 1950
The Kabala, Jewish Mysticism and Secret Doctrines by Erich Bischoff, 1910
The Gnostic Scriptures by Bentley Layton, 1995
Gnosis, an Introduction, by Christophe Markschines, 2003

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