“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; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” (Col. 2:1-4).
It is very difficult, at times, to say what you want to say, what needs to be said and how to say it. I am reminded of the story of the nervous young preacher who had been asked to preach one Sunday morning. When the time came for him to take his place behind the pulpit, a gust of wind came through an open window and grabbed his notes. The notes floated around in the air, and landed almost hidden and nearly out of reach, in a crack between the floorboards of the old log cabin church. He didn’t know what to do! Exasperated, he said, “Folks, I’ve got a sermon here if I can just get it out of the cracks.” This is somewhat how I feel as I approach this study.
The Book of Colossians addresses a very serious problem that threatened the very existence of the early church and remains a very critical problem today. Here, in our text, the Apostle Paul identifies the problem as a “great conflict” over “enticing words” (persuasive false doctrine).
The Colossian believers have come face to face with error – a gospel that was not the Grace Gospel. The danger is obvious. When error and unbelief penetrates any church, home or Christian institute, it works like leaven. We are told, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9 cf., Mt. 16:6, 11-12; Mk. 8:15; Lk. 12:1; 13:21; 1 Cor. 5:6-8). The lesson is clear, unless the leaven – the error is dealt with – there is little hope for remedy, and it will only get worse. So, here in Colossians 2:4, the Apostle Paul begins by warning that “enticing words” are designed to deceive (cf., Rom. 16:18).
Background for Trouble:
The city of Colosse was located in the Lyciaus Valley, in what is today the Mediterranean Nation of Turkey, and a major European trade route passed through it and its sister city, Laodicea. The Colossians were descendents of the Phrygians and, for the most part, made their livelihood as sheepherders. However, the city dwellers were a mix of ethnic cultures (Gentiles and Jews) that considered themselves intellectuals (a socio-political, elitest group we would probably refer to as “egg-heads”) who were impressed with Greek philosophy. Knowing this background will help us gain some understanding of the “great conflict” the Apostle Paul is referring to here in the Book of Colossians.
Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC) conquered what we call “the known world” of his time. As a result, the culture, economics, politics and religions of the world were greatly impacted! A study of what is called the Maccabeean Period (between Malachi to Matthew) gives us a pretty good idea of the changes that took place and especially as they relate to Israel and the world into which our Lord and Savior was born. The Apostle Paul called it “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). (Note: Dr. Harry Ironside’s book, “The Four Hundred Silent Years” is a very informative and interesting book. It is, however, very old, rare, and out of print. We have tried unsuccessfully to obtain it from many sources, with no success.) It would be hard to recognize the religious life of the Jews since we last saw them at the close of the Old Testament. It was strikingly different when compared with what prevailed at the time of Christ’s advent.
Judaism was splintered into many different theological schisms – Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes and, of course, the Hellenists whose Greek language and culture ruled, even to the point that some marveled that the Hebrew language survived. The Greek philosophers: Aristotle, Philo, Plato, and Socrates were the prevailing voices that influenced most thinking people’s lives. Their teachings provided theoretical answers to questions of “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning to life?” and “Where am I going?” Furthermore, the Jews returning from their Babylonian Captivity and from their many travels along the trade routes into the East: India, Persia, and Egypt, also brought with them the worldly wisdom of the Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, Eleusinian and the Dionyian Mysteries. This combination of Jewish Legalism, Eastern Asceticism, Greek Philosophy and Mysticism is what came to be known as “Gnosticism.”
The Protestant Bible (i.e., the acccepted cannonical texts – not Roman Catholic) predates the Gnostic movement. However, in time, they moved in alongside Bible Christianity. As a result, many Christians apostatized to embrace the mystical theories concerning the nature of Jesus Christ. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “knowledge.” They boasted of a super, esoteric knowledge of spiritual things that, many times, was available exclusively to the initiated.
In my opinion, Gnosticism was and is one of the most insidious forms of error mainly because it is a large mix or variety of religious errors. Religion has always had an appeal to “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16-17). Earnest and sincere people, the world over, have a yearning – an unsatisfied desire in their soul – an aching void seeking fulfilled by the world. Religion then, comes along and deceivingly offers fulfillment. Gnosticism was especially attractive because it incorporated Christ into its belief system. This eventually, and effectively, is successful in lowering the person and work of Christ to a lesser role in salvation, spirituality and the world. They believed that Christ was an illusion and did not have a physical body and, thus, His death, burial and resurrection was, likewise, an illusion (1 Jn. 1:22; 4:2-3).
Two Worlds Collide – Pauline Theology and Gnosticism:
Paul had never met the Colossians (Col. 2:1). They had apparently come to faith in Christ when they heard the Gospel of Grace through the labors of Epaphrus (Col.1:7; 4:12), the pastor of the Colossian Church and perhaps through the converted slave, Onesimus (Phile. 1:10; Col 4:9,18). Both were converts of Paul while he was in a Roman prison for preaching the Mystery (Col. 4:3,18) Later he returned to their home in Colosse. Now, as Paul writes this letter to the saints in Colosse, he shows his apostolic oversight, with great love and concern for their spiritual well being, because he has learned of the invasion of the “Trouble Makers” and their false gospels. This is a very serious problem. In fact, the whole of the Book of Colossians is devoted to combat this error.
This crisis is so grave because essential truths were being challenged – among them were:
- The deity and soul saving work of Christ (Col. 1:11-22).
- True spirituality and worship – not by Law, ceremonies, rituals or worship of angels (Col. 2:6-14, 18).
- The believer’s identity and position of being “complete” in Christ because they are all joined to Him; Head + body – not just the philosophical and intellectual elite (Col. 1:18, 24).
This provoked no small conflict! The Colossians were at risk of slipping away from their “hope…in the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5,23,27; 2:19)!
The Gnostic “trouble makers” taught, or strongly implied, “You believe in Christ! Oh, that’s nice! But, believing in Christ is not enough!” “You need enlightenment!”
You see, these aristocrats of wisdom believe that the material universe (i.e., all matter is evil) and the nameless supreme god (the first aeons) was so other-worldly – removed – distant from humankind that the real fountainhead of all creation is a myriad of lower aeons/angels. From among these aeons, according to the Greek Philosopher Plato, an assistant god called “the craftsman” emerged to be the divine spark that would redeem some human beings through the revelation of perfect knowledge – a secret/mystery revealed only to the initiated – NOT TO ALL – only to those who could attain enlightenment which came by successive levels! A second class of men – good men, who could not reach a level beyond faith, (i.e., …into the “spirit”/pneuma) were eternally limited to a much lower sphere than those who had gained gnosis/knowledge. Lastly, the vast majority of mankind was consigned to unredeemable destruction because they were bound to the material world, incapable of understanding – born that way (predestinated).
These elite “trouble makers” apparently said something like this to the Colossians, “Christ is not God. He is a god! He’s one from among the angels; a super angel. You worship Him as you would worship the angels. Salvation is a matter of deliverance from the bondage of evil matter by enlightenment and practicing either rigid asceticism or, in some cases, unrestrained licentiousness: an excessive indulgence of liberty.” (Note: This an extremely simplified view of the Gnostic belief.)
The Apostle Paul reacted to this assault on the truth of God with alarm and cautions the believers:
- “Warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).
- “And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” (Col. 2:4).
- “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” (Col. 2:8).
- “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).
- “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18).
- “Which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men. Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh (Col. 2:22-23).
Lucifer and his minions have waged an intense spiritual, and invisible, warfare against God and the human race ever since his fall from the exalted position of “Anointed Cherub” (Isa. 14; Ezek. 28:14). This is a tragic tale. Hell will be full of those who are ensnared by these “fables” (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14). Look around you! Look at our world spiritually, politically and economically! Look at all the warfare, bloodshed, sin, degradation, hatred, jealously, greed and man’s inhumanity to his fellowman – and most of it, I believe, without fear of contradiction, can be explained by this invisible war identified in the Bible as “the Mystery of Iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7) and here in Colossians as the “Power of Darkness” (Col. 1:13). Oh! How we need to heed Paul’s instruction and warning, “Put on the whole amour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11-12). “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Mystery versus Mystery:
This conflict is between Mystery and Mystery. As we have already explained, the Gnostics were one of many false religions that may rightly be called mystery religions. That’s because these snobbish purveyors of falsehood kept the secret of their doctrine from those outside of their fraternity. However, once inside and initiated, the mysteries were made known. This became the source of their pride. Paul called them, “vainly puffed up!” In my opinion, these mysteries were what he collectively referred to as the “Mystery of Iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7). This is the mystery that will be the vehicle to eventually deliver the Antichrist to the world stage (2 Thess. 2:8).
By way of contrast and in opposition to the “Mystery of Iniquity,” the Apostle Paul speaks of the “Mystery of Christ.” This, of course, is the one that was divinely revealed to him (Eph. 3:1-9). He refers to this by name 17 times in his letters and each time it pertains to some truth pertaining to the Dispensation of the Grace; truth that was not revealed in the Old Testament or the Gospels. Here in the Book of Colossians, and in the context of the Gnostic Heresies, he mentions it four times (Col. 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3).
It is of significant interest to note that some of the key words used by Paul in his arsenal to combat the Gnostic teaching are:
- “Knowledge” – epignosis – full knowledge in contrast to the Gnostic’s boast of knowledge.
- “Wisdom” – a divine wisdom in contrast to rudiments of the world.
- “Perfect,” “Complete,” “All” and other words that express maximums beyond which no word can go.
Paul’s inspired pen gives us these words in order to amplify the superiority and deity of Christ, the gospel, our full knowledge of God’s will, wisdom, spiritual understanding and our union with Christ (“complete” in Him)! Christ Jesus is Lord! He is the Celebrity! We applaud Him! “That in all things He might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). “For in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). Believers are the Body of Christ and are nourished by Him (Col. 2:19). We are made perfect in Christ (Col. 1:22,28; 4:12). Christ is our “…all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). Give Him praise and glory!
What need have we then for ceremonies, rituals, and worship of angels or prayer to the saints or Mary? What need have we for other allegiances? Why should we spend our days in a monastery or convent? Why should we dress in black, light candles or recite mantras? What need have we for visions, dreams, prophecies or horoscopes and astrology? What need have we for a word of knowledge? What need have we for a secret handshake, password or the lodge? Why can’t we eat pig meat or possum? What else do we need to be saved and sanctified? What need have we for a “second blessing”? What need have we for the Book of Mormon, Koran or any other sacred book? To these questions I answer dogmatically, “Absolutely no need! I am a believer in Christ and I am complete in Christ!” Give Him praise and glory!
In the Book of Colossians and based on the Mystery of Christ, we already have:
- An inheritance with the saints in the “light” (1:12).
- Been delivered from the “powers of darkness” (1:13).
- Been “redeemed” and “forgiven” our sins (1:14).
- Received “peace” and reconciliation (1:20-21).
- Been made positionally “holy and blameless and above reproach” (1:22).
- Been made “rich” – “the hope of glory” (1:27).
- Been “rooted and built up” and “established in the faith” (2:7).
- Been “circumcised” – cut of from the body of sins if the “flesh” (2:11).
- Been “buried” with Christ – our history ended at the cross (2:12).
- Been “resurrected” with Christ (2:12).
- Been made “alive” with Christ (2:13; 3:1).
- Been “nourished” by Christ (2:19).
- Been “hid” with Christ – made safe and secure (3:3).
- And we shall appear with Christ “in Glory” (3:4).
I am compelled to lift my voice and prostrate my heart with the songwriter in praise:
Lord Jesus, You are all I need!
You are all I need!
Lord Jesus, You are all I need!
Lord Jesus, I worship You!
I worship You!
Lord Jesus, I worship You!
Alive and Growing:
Yes, as incredible as it may seem, the teachings of the Gnostics are still around. I don’t doubt that certain religions and false teachings were brought to mind as you read this study. The Gnostic’s dangerous teachings can be identified, to some degree, in many contemporary movements such as: Knights of Columbus, Masons, Shriners, Rosicrucian, Roman Catholicism, Christian Science, and Neo-Pentecostal Movement to name but a few.
Of late, Gnosticism has experienced a tremendous revival. This is due to several things: The discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945 and the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 created a great flurry of excitement. It contained some basic Gnostic teaching. The religious and academic world was aware of their general content, but they had been kept under lock and key until recently (5 to 10 years ago). Then, under very veiled and perhaps illegal means, they were published and made available to the world. What they revealed was not necessarily unknown before. However, it did stimulate interest in the writing of Books such as, “The Mystical Life of Jesus” (H. S. Lewis), “The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed” (Charles Potter), “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” “The Messianic Legacy,” “The Temple and the Lodge” (all 3 by M. Baigent and R. Leigh), “The Uranthia Book” (Said to be written by the angel who was assigned the watchcare of the Apostle Andrew), “The Hiram Key” (C. Knight and R. Lomas). The “Indiana Jones” Movies owe their plot to the Gnostic nonsense. Most recently, Gnosticism has gained popularity through the “Jesus Seminars” being promoted through literature and electronic media and the “Da Vinci Code.” This book has taken the ancient Gnostic heresies and updated them by attaching a modern, suspenseful story line to them. Plans are now for it to be shown around the world in a feature film, no doubt leading to the damnation of gullible and unsuspecting souls who will be convinced of its truth because of its ancient origin. May God help us! I DO NOT RECOMMEND that any unbeliever or new or immature Christian read of any of these books or seeing the movie. These are some of the most blasphemous books you will ever read. We are exhorted rather to, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9). And, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).