Over the last few days we’ve looked at Paul’s “sales strategies” to get his Colossian readers (and us) to trust him and his message. Today, we get to the heart of the message of the letter: the thesis statement of his argument. Firstly, he puts it in positive terms:
Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
That is, keep going the way you started, basing your worldview on Jesus as its all-powerful, all-sufficient creator and sustainer. Allow that reality to inform how you live.
He then gives the negative; the alternative he’s urging them not to follow, which by now in our study of Colossians we should be very familiar with:
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
Don’t be misled by the alternative worldviews – and the lifestyle that goes with them – that we talked about a few weeks ago in our overview to Colossians. These, says Paul, originate from human beings rather than God, and from the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.”
As we noted a couple of weeks ago, the Greek word for this (stoicheia) could refer to the elements of Jewish teaching; the elements of the material world (earth, water, air, fire); or elemental spiritual beings (e.g. angels and demons). That is, it could be reinforcing the human origin of the alternative philosophies, or it could be pointing out a more sinister origin that lies behind it. Either way, the alternative “philosophies” come from places opposed to God. They aren’t morally neutral worldviews and lifestyles. Christians can’t just throw them into the mix; add them on to the Christian faith; or worse, think that they might provide a means of living the life God wants us to live.
So why should the Colossian readers (and us) reject the alternatives? Paul gives his major rationale in the next verse:
Colossians 2:9-10 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
In other words, you already have something far better in Christ: the fullness of “God-ness” in Jesus.
What’s with this “fullness” term Paul uses? It probably comes from Old Testament and Jewish wisdom references to the presence of God – his glory and his spirit – “filling” both his temple and the whole earth (e.g. Isaiah 6:1-3; Ps 72:19; Wisdom of Solomon 1:6-7). It may also be taking the language of the competing philosophies which offered “fullness” through mystical experiences or special teaching.* Either way, Paul’s arguing that both the Jewish concept of God – and what all of the pagan alternatives were offering – are found in Jesus.
He’s the one who’s supreme over every other potential rival, as we saw in the Colossian hymn in chapter one. You don’t need to look for God, or meaning, or your own fulfilment anywhere else: God has turned up in human history in the person of Jesus, with the express purpose of revealing the fullness of God to us, and bringing us into that same fullness – uniting us with our Creator.
Paul’s point is: so why would we even want to play around with alternatives when we’ve already got the best?
It’s a bit like Panadol Rapid (or for American readers, Tylenol Rapid Release). You know, the reformulation of Panadol that works twice as fast as regular Panadol. It makes me wonder: why is there still regular Panadol? Who would choose to stick with it once they’ve heard about Panadol Rapid? Is there some segment of the market out there containing people who want to enjoy their headache for a little longer? I can see these poor indecisive souls now: tablets in one hand, glass of water in the other, going “oh, do I really have to take pain relief now, just when my headache was starting to feel so good…? Thank goodness for regular Panadol…” **
You’d have to be crazy to go back to something inferior when there’s something so much better available – wouldn’t you? That’s Paul’s point (kind of). All the fullness of God has turned up in Jesus… and you’re toying with going back to the old brand that at best was a shadow of what was to come (Col 2:17)? You’re insane!
Paul then gets stuck into some of those alternatives, which we’ll look at next week. But tomorrow, he reminds us of how we’ve been brought into this “fullness of the Deity” of which he speaks.
*See McKnight, Colossians, 160-61.
**Yes, health professionals, I know that there’s also chronic pain which needs slower release. This is humour, not medical advice. But most of the advertising for regular Panadol still involves someone getting a headache and popping a Panadol to fix it, so I think my point still stands. For the record, I fully respect Panadol Osteo.