Some people will believe anything! Sadly, the best "snake oil salesmen" can be found behind church pulpits.


Colossians 1:1—14; 2:1—5

In writing this letter to the Colossian church, Paul challenges what we now know as “the Gnostic heresy.” This was a terrible false teaching and a deadly enemy of Christ and His Church. The first chapter lays the ground work, setting the tone for what he will deal with in chapter 2.

This great letter was written from a man in Christ to a church in Christ in response to a report from its pastor, Epaphrus. This report was chilling. The formidable heresy of Gnosticism had crept into his church and was just beginning to threaten his people.

Paul takes great pains to point out that the best way to immunize ones’ self against false teaching is to know Christ. The congregation at Colosse, a fledgling church just getting started, was facing the winds of Gnosticism, but Paul’s advice to them is echoed throughout much of is writing to churches old and new, small and large.

1. Being thankful for true believers, 1:1—8

a. Paul’s personal greeting, vs. 1, 2

While this letter opens with Paul’s familiar greeting, he was writing to a group of believers he had never met before. He states his name, Paul, and his office, “an apostle.” Paul is not bragging about his position as an apostle, he simply states that he is “an apostle.” The word “apostle” in the Greek means several things the way Paul used it. In the strict sense, it means “one who is sent out,” but as used by Paul, it meant “missionary” and even “messenger.” Undoubtedly, Paul was a special apostle, and everybody of day his knew this, yet he lumps himself in with all the other apostles, like Barnabas, by referring to himself as “an apostle,” not “the apostle.” To further demonstrate this man’s humility, he places young Timothy on an even playing field with himself, by including the young pastor in the greeting, as though Timothy was a part of this letter’s composition.

Paul also briefly gives the authority by which he is an apostle; he was so “by the will of God.” This lifts the apostle’s authority to the highest level. What Paul was about to say in confronting the false teaching was not merely his opinion, but God’s thoughts on the matter.

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ… (verse 2)

In the Old Testament, holiness was used to describe not only people, but also places and objects. This suggests the the basic idea behind “holy” (hagios) is not excellence of character, as we tend to think today, but rather, dedication. To be holy reflects the state of being set apart for the work, use, and worship of God. This is what Paul thought of the people in the Colossian church; they were “holy,” they were separate from the rest of the people of Colosseae by virtue of the relationship with God.

Linked to being holy is being “faithful” (pistois). The sense is that the fine folks here were dedicated and loyal to God. Paul may not have met any of them, but he certainly held all of them in high regard.

b. A word of thanksgiving to God, vs. 3—8

The content Paul’s word of thanksgiving was determined by the condition of the church and Paul’s relation to both it and its pastor, Epaphrus. The prayer may be outlined like this:

  • Appreciation for them, vs 3. Even though the people themselves were of sterling character, Paul recognized that they were that way because of God, and so he goes directly to God, acknowledging this. God is the one responsible for any good that comes from any of His children. Even though the occasion of this letter was pretty dire, Paul was still encouraged by the good things he had heard about the church from its pastor.

  • Recognition of grace in them, vs, 4, 5a. Here is Paul’s oft-seen triad of virtues: faith, love, and hope. (1) Faith, pistis, is defined as “commitment to” or “trust in” another person. In this case, their faith was demonstrated by their “commitment to” and their “trust in” Jesus Christ. (2) Love, agape, is the fruit of faith and a proof of its reality in life. In this case, the Colossian’s love was expressed toward all the people of God–”all the saints.” (3) Finally, hope, elpis, may be taken either in a subjective way, that is, a person has the emotion of hope—a joyful expectancy that something good will happen, or objectively, denoting something definitely hoped for. In this case, the Colossian’s hope was like a treasure, stored up for them in heaven and knowledge of that hope came from hearing the Gospel.

  • The Gospel, from which the Colossians learned of real hope was, is a powerful force to be reckoned with. So powerful it was (and is) that Paul makes this astonishing statement:

...the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world…(verse 6)

Of course we don’t take Paul literally here; the Gospel certainly hadn’t been preached to every corner of the world in his day. But what we do take literally is this: wherever the Gospel had been preached, it had yielded results for the Kingdom of God. The Gospel cannot fail to produce fruit; it has in innate power beyond our capacity to understand it. The phrase “bearing fruit” is a way to translate a Greek word in the middle voice, meaning that the Gospel has an “inward energy” that is released in those who have received it. One commentator put it this way: “the Gospel is a reproductive organism whose seed is itself.”

  • Epaphrus. Lastly, Paul was thankful for the work done by Pastor Epaphrus. He was the one, after all, who had taught the Colossians the Gospel in the first place. We know next to nothing about this man, except that “Epaphrus” is a shortened version of “Epaphroditus.” He had worked in Colossae, Laodicia, and Hierapolis. He was a dear friend of Paul’s, a faithful minister for Jesus Christ, and wholly trustworthy. No wonder Paul was thankful for him.

2. Prayer for mature understanding of Christ, 1:9—14

To the great thanksgiving, Paul adds a petition. What Paul is simply praying for is that the Colossians may have a deeper spiritual discernment. Paul had heard wonderful things about this congregation, and these things caused him to rejoice and be thankful. At the same time, however, the apostle was very concerned about the creeping Gnostic heresy and the necessity for all believers in the church to exercise discernment when faced with it.

The fervent petition breaks down like this:

  • He wanted the Colossians to be filled with knowledge. But not just any knowledge would do. The Greek word used is epignosis, meaning a kind of “super knowledge.” For Paul, this “super knowledge” is linked to knowing God’s will. And anybody facing The one squaring off against the self-proclaimed super knowledge of a Gnostic would need genuine “super knowledge” from God to emerge victorious, faith intact.

  • Secondly, Paul wanted his Colossian friends to live lives pleasing to God. How does a Christian please God? From Paul’s perspective, it is by actively engaging in good work for God:

bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. (verses 10—12)

So, working for God involves actively learning about God and receiving strength from Him so that we may exercise endurance and patience as we give thanks to Him. If we are able to do those things, we, like the Colossians, will be pleasing to God. But notice, all those “good works” are not what makes us fit for heaven! No, it is God alone who enables us to “share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.” We may work, but it is God who does the work in us!

Living as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven carries certain moral and spiritual demands; things like living righteously because we have been forgiven, redeemed, from sin. Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that the main goal of every believer ought to be living a worthy life. The beautiful thing is that we have an infilling of the Holy Spirit, so that there may be a corresponding outflowing of Christ’s life from us, sustained by an endless supply from the Lord. Like the innate power of the Gospel, if we are truly living for Christ, we have to bear fruit; there is no way we cannot! But it all hinges on an ever expanding knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must know His truth, for it alone surpasses all human speculations. False teachers today, as in Paul’s day, claim a sort of secret, superior knowledge, which is available only to a select few. How different is the knowledge of Christ! It’s is available to all people, everywhere.

The Colossians faced a powerful foe; the conflict had begun and the prizes were the hearts and souls of the Colossian Christians.

3. Know Christ! 2:1—4

The Gnostic heresy that was infesting the early church was just another man-made philosophy. In chapter 2, we see that Jesus Christ is the answer to any philosophy.

a. The struggle in love, vs. 1

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.

What the Colossians were facing was not unique to them. Apparently Gnosticism had taken root in nearby Laodicea, too. The metaphor of the arena is used here when Paul uses the word “contending.” The Greek word is powerful: agona, from which we get the word “agony.” Paul was fighting an agonizing fight for the very souls of his friends; that’s how dangerous this heresy was.

This wasn’t the first time Paul had agonized for his friends; it’s all part of being, not only a pastor, but also a believer. His love and compassion for fellow believers was strong and he viewed “contending for them” as just part of what Christians do for each other. This particular struggle was in the arena of prayer. At the time he wrote this letter, he was in prison; there was no way he could contend in person for the Colossians or the Laodiceans. All he could do was pray.

This agona formed a integral part of Paul’s prayer life. Very often his prayers involved him in a conflict where one’s soul was in danger. This reminds us of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; our Lord agonized there. Here, Paul’s agony was on behalf of the Colossians and the Laodiceans. Even though he had not met them personally, Christ’s love compelled him to contend for their faith.

b. Heart to heart with Jesus, vs. 2, 3

Here is the centerpiece of Paul’s prayer for his friends:

…that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding… (verse 2)

Encouragement and unity are two powerful factors in the life of a church. The Greek for “encouraged” comes from paraklethosin, which means “to call to one’s side.” This word is also used to describe the Holy Spirit, the “paraclete.” In essence, believers are to be united “side-by-side” as they live their faith. When we are united in comfort, encouragement, and sometimes exhortation, we can face the onslaught of any false teaching.

The word “united” is a strong and very descriptive word suggesting “welded together.” That’s the kind of unity that should mark a strong congregation. Imagine if all church members were “welded together!”

The ultimate goal of a congregation being united in heart (the complete inner man) and in love, is not for the sake of peace, but rather for the sake of knowledge:

…in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (verses 2, 3)

God is no mystery; He is revealed in Jesus Christ! When we know Him, we know God and even more: we know all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In other words, when we are united together, we are united with Christ, His mind is our mind, and what He knows we know.

The false teachers ran around claiming to have access to all kinds of hidden knowledge, but the reality is, only a true believer is capable of knowing things hidden from the rest of the world! There is NO higher knowledge than the knowledge available to even the most uneducated, simple Christian through Christ! But no believer is an island; all this hinges on our relationship with each other in the Body of Christ. If we can’t be united in love with our fellows, we can’t be united with Christ. And if we can’t be united with Christ, then we’ll believe any false teaching that comes our way.

c. The best protection, vs. 4, 5

Here is why Paul was anxious:

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (verse 4)

The way this is written, it was already happening. These Gnostics, these despicable false teachers, were already hard at work tricking Paul’s friends into following them and into believing their ideas. The Colossians and the Laodiceans were in danger of being beguiled. Many historians believe that the Gnostic heresy eventually destroyed the church at Colossea and weakened the church at Laodicea. Evil is potent.

The Greek paralogizetai (deceive) suggests being led astray by false reasoning and clever words. “Fine sounding arguments” can also be rendered “persuasive rhetoric.” We might say “fast talking.” These false teachers were nothing more than snake oil salesmen, peddling junk philosophy. And yet, this junk philosophy was strong enough to rip churches apart.

In our time, there are many such “junk philosophies” floating around our society. Very often, they come to rest in the Church of Jesus Christ. It boggles our mind that so many believers are so easily led astray by all these bogus ideas. To those of us united with and serving the Lord, it seems ridiculous.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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