Alan Knox

  • Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 4

    I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

    The beginning of the study
    Preliminary outline
    Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
    Prayer Part 1
    Prayer Part 2
    Jesus’ preeminence over creation
    Jesus’ preeminence over the church
    Paul’s service for the gospel
    Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
    Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
    Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3

    I’ve been studying through the section of Colossians in which Paul exhorts his readers to trust Christ and not human wisdom, philosophy, traditions, etc (Colossians 2:6-23). This is the last part of this section. (As a reminder, this section is part of a larger exhortation/paraenesis (teaching) section that runs from Colossians 2:6 through Colossians 4:6.)

    Here is the final passage in this section:

    If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

    Once again, Paul returns to the baptism imagery (which points to the actual death and resurrection of Christ) to remind his readers of their position in Christ. He expects that a reminder of their relationship to God through Christ will help them stay away from human wisdom, philosophy, traditions, rules and regulations, etc.

    Paul begins by reminding them that they were raised when Christ was raised (resurrected) (“Therefore, since you were raised together with Christ…”) (Colossians 3:1). While the English translation “if” above suggests that “raised together” may not have happened, a better translation of “since” puts Paul’s later exhortation in the proper perspective. Paul has already recognized their relationship with God through Christ, so he is not calling that into question now. Instead, he is using that relationship (which does exist) to punctuate and highlight what follows.

    Since the Colossians were raised together with Christ, Paul exhorts them to both seek and to think about “the things that are above.” He explains that “the things that are above” are the things of Christ who is presently positioned at “the right hand of God,” which is a indication of power and authority, not necessarily of location (since Paul has already stated that Christ is present with the Colossians).

    “The things that are above” – that is, the things related to Christ – are contrasted to “the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2). In this section, it seems that Paul specifically has in mind the philosophies, traditions, logic, and rationalization (way of thinking) related to the world and its systems and rulers. Using “the mind of Christ” (as Paul would say to other readers) could appear contradictory and irrational and even unwise when viewed from a human perspective. But, Paul says, the Colossians are not supposed to view things from a human perspective, but from Christ’s perspective.

    Paul again reminds the Colossians that they died together with Christ and are raised to new life – a new life that is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). (Even if there was some question as to whether Colossians 3:1should be translated, “If you were raised,” or “Since you were raised,” this sentence makes it clear that Paul believes the Colossians both died with Christ and now live in him.) But to whom or to what have the lives of the Colossians been hidden? Obviously, their lives have not been hidden from Christ or from God, since they are hidden with Christ in God. In context, their life (or perhaps “way of life”) has been hidden from those who continue to use human wisdom and who attempt to “capture” them using human philosophies, logic, traditions, rules and regulations, etc.

    This will certainly lead to conflict with the Colossians who walk with Christ and others who walk in human wisdom. This conflict may also lead to pain and suffering on the part of the Colossian believers. What is the solution? When Christ is finally revealed as Lord, the Colossian Christians will also be revealed in his glory (Colossians 3:4). At the time, the truth will be obvious: Christ was life (and way of life) for the Colossians.

    In this last statement, Paul goes beyond the baptism imagery that we’ve seen previously. Before, Paul pointed back to their baptism as a reminder of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, in this last sentence, he includes the Colossians in the second coming of Christ. When Christ is revealed (appears), they will also be revealed (appear) together with him.

    As a reminder, in this section of Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23) Paul has alternated between exhorting the Colossians to trust only Christ and warning them against being tricked into living according to human wisdom and traditions. He began with a reminder that they received Christ and must therefore live as Christ would live, being completely dependent on him (Colossians 2:6). He also ends by reminding the Colossians that they died with Christ and now live in Christ, and that they should continue in the way of Christ until both Jesus and they are revealed in truth and glory.

    What would you add to my study of this section of Colossians?

  • Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 3

    I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

    The beginning of the study
    Preliminary outline
    Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
    Prayer Part 1
    Prayer Part 2
    Jesus’ preeminence over creation
    Jesus’ preeminence over the church
    Paul’s service for the gospel
    Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
    Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2

    As I continue studying through this section of Colossians, in this post I will focus on this passage:

    Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” ( referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:16-23)

    In this passage, Paul again warns the Colossians against trusting human traditions, even those that appear to promote some type of wisdom. In our terms, this human wisdom and philosophy would seem to be rational and logical and even religious. However, Paul says to stay away from these things and only trust Christ.

    Paul begins by warning that some would attempt to “pass judgment” on the Colossians based upon whether or not they kept certain rules and regulations related to food, drink, or special days (Colossians 2:16). He immediately jumps to the problem with these kinds of rules and regulations. While they may have had a good purpose in the past, they were only a shadow of the reality that the Colossians now have in Christ himself (Colossians 2:17).

    While the previous warnings may have been against practices related to Judaism, the next warnings are broader, and perhaps dip into some pagan practices. Paul says that some will judge the Colossians based on their views of asceticism, the worship of angels, or following dreams and visions (Colossians 2:18). Again, the problem with these practices is that growth does not come from them. Instead, Paul says, growth comes only by holding fast to the head (previously identified as Jesus Christ – Colossians 1:18) and being joined together in community with one another (Colossians 2:19). This is the growth that comes from God.

    Paul exhorts his readers based on their new life in Christ. He reminds them that together with Christ they have died to their old life (“Since you died with Christ…”), so they should no longer follow the basic principles that guide this world (Colossians 2:20). Paul says that the world’s wisdom teaches, “Do not handle; do not taste; do not touch” (and other such prohibitions), but that these kinds of rules and regulations have no power to break the tempations that lead to sin (Colossians 2:21-23). To the world (and obviously to many Christians today), prohibitions such as these are the basis of following God. But, for the one who is in Christ, they have no value against temptation and sin.

    Now, one question we must consider is this: Were the Colossians currently falling for these kinds of human rules and regulations, thinking that they were living godly lives by obeying them? It’s possible. However, it is also possible that Paul was teaching in general. Usually, when Paul is dealing with current problems among the believers of a city, he would say something like, “It has been reported to me…” (1 Corinthians 1:11), or “I am astonished that you…” (Galatians 1:6), and then he would identify the particular problem that exists.

    Next, there is a clear warning here for modern churches. Many seem to define themselves based on what they are against or what they do not allow “their members” to do. Paul would teaching against this, saying their is no value for growth in this kind of teaching. Instead, he would exhort them to trust Christ alone, not those rules and regulations of human invention (even those that seem to produce godliness).

    What would add to my discussion of this passage?

  • Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 2

    I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

    The beginning of the study
    Preliminary outline
    Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
    Prayer Part 1
    Prayer Part 2
    Jesus’ preeminence over creation
    Jesus’ preeminence over the church
    Paul’s service for the gospel
    Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1

    In my previous post, I began the section of Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23) while Paul alternates between exhortations to trust Christ (alone) and warnings against following human wisdom. This section is introduced in Colossians 2:6-10.

    In the next few posts, I am going to continue studying this section verse by verse. However, it is helpful to notice that Paul jumps back and forth between these two contrasts. The whole section should be studied and understood together.

    I will begin by looking at the first exhortations to trust only Christ, since this is where Paul begins:

    In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

    Paul begins by using circumcision as a metaphor. (Colossians 2:11) The metaphor demonstrates the “putting off” of the “body of flesh.” (Later we see that Paul says the “uncircumcision of the flesh” is related to being “dead in trespasses.” It is clear that Paul has a metaphorical circumcision in view because he specifically says it is a “circumcision made without hands” and a “circumcision of Christ.”

    The circumcision metaphor is intertwined with another metaphor: baptism. Immersion into water in baptism (No, I don’t want to start a theological debate here, but “baptism” means “immersion” and the imagery uses that meaning.) represents being buried with Christ. And being raised back out of the water in baptism represents being resurrected with Christ (Colossians 2:12).

    Continuing with the interwoven metaphors of circumcision and baptism, Paul wants his readers to see that their sins have been “cut off” (much like in circumcision) and that they are now alive in Christ (much like they were raised out of the water in baptism) (Colossians 2:13). While he uses metaphors to get his point across, to Paul the forgiveness of sin and the new life in Christ is very real. In fact, he says that our sin debt has been paid in full (“nailed to the cross”) by the death of Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:14)

    But Christ’s death did more than cancel all records of our sins. Paul also says that, through his death, Christ removed all rights that others might have on the children of God (Colossians 2:15). He “disarmed” them, stripping off all power that they may have had to control those who are now risen with him.

    This last point becomes very important as Paul continues his argument. These rulers and authorities (whether earthly or heavenly) might make claims on or offer philosophical arguments against God’s children. These claims and arguments might sound good, and even be rational and believable. But Paul says those rulers and authorities have been stripped of all power of those who are in Christ.

    In this passage, it is clear that the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is extremely important for Paul and his readers. While he uses metaphorical language of circumcision and baptism, the metaphors point to the reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In that event, God canceled the sin debt for all those who are in Christ and removed them from power and authority of earthly or spiritual rulers.

    What would you add to my study of this section of Colossians?

  • Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 1

    I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

    The beginning of the study
    Preliminary outline
    Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
    Prayer Part 1
    Prayer Part 2
    Jesus’ preeminence over creation
    Jesus’ preeminence over the church
    Paul’s service for the gospel

    The next section of the letter to the Colossians covers almost the remainder of the book. This section (Colossians 2:6-23) includes instructions for the Colossians concerning how to live in a manner worthy of their God and Savior. It is important to remember that Paul has already stated that his readers are “saints” (or holy ones) and “brothers and sisters.” In other words, they are God’s children. He now wants to help them live in a way that demonstrates their relationship to God.

    The first part of this long teaching passage is found in Colossians 2:6-23. It is composed of alternating reminders of the promises in Christ and warnings against living according to human wisdom. In the first few sentences, we see both the purpose for this section and the first contrast between Christ and human arguments and philosophy:

    Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10)

    Paul begins with the assumption that the Colossian readers have received the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the basis of the remainder of his exhortation and teaching. Jesus Christ, who Paul has just described as being preeminent over all things (creation and especially the church) and for whom Paul was in service, is their Lord. Therefore, they should seek to him “walk” in him, with “walk” being a metaphor used to describe their way of life. Their entire way of life should be defined and submitted to Jesus Christ. (Paul uses the “walk” metaphor three times within this longer section: Colossians 2:6, Colossians 3:7, and Colossians 4:5.)

    They begin walking in Jesus Christ by having been rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). While I don’t want to get too technical here, this participle is in the perfect tense, pointing to something that happened in the past but has ongoing repercussions. They were rooted in Christ in the past (when they received him), and they are still rooted in him. They are also helped to walk in him when they are being built up in him and being strengthened (“established”) in faith. These two participles are in the present tense, showing the ongoing work of both being built up and being strengthened. (The ongoing sense of the verb is the reason that I prefer the translation “strengthened” instead of “established.”) Finally, they walk in Christ when they are abounding (“increasing”) in thankfulness to God. These descriptions of what it means to “walk in him” sound very similar to previous phrases that Paul has used. For example, see Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:10, Colossians 1:11-12, Colossians 1:28, and Colossians 2:2.

    Why is it so important that the Colossians (and us too?) continue to be built up in Christ and strengthened in the faith? Because human philosophy and wisdom often work contrary to the ways of Christ. For this reason, Paul warns them that if they are not careful (“Watch out!”), human philosophy and empty deception and traditions can captivate them and carry them off of the path that Jesus wants them to walk. Paul says that these things are based on the principles of this world and they are not based on Christ (Colossians 2:8).

    Paul reminds that the full divinity of God was in Christ, and he is the head of all things, even human or heavenly rulers or authorities (Colossians 2:9-10). The Colossians have been filled with Christ, and thus do not have to submit to human wisdom. There is a play on words here: The fullness of God dwells in Christ, and Christ fills you. Paul reminds them that the presence of Christ in them gives them both the godly wisdom to deny human philosophy and it also gives them the authority to refuse to submit to human wisdom and traditions.

    In the next few sentences, Paul weaves together passages that remind the Colossians who they are and what they have in Christ with warnings against being “captured” by human wisdom. But, all of these reminders and warnings follow from this introduction by Paul. The Colossians have received Christ and are filled with Christ. Therefore, they should walk in him. Part of walking in him includes continuously being built up and strengthened. But it also includes not being pulled away from Christ by attractive philosophies or arguments from human or worldly principles.

    What would you like to add to this study?

  • About Alan Knox

    Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

    He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

    Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.