Don’t you just love packaging! Recently I visited a chocolate shop and bought a box of my favourite chocolate coated ginger. It seemed to be a reasonable size box with a red ribbon, and I thought it would be value for money. But I was sadly disappointed when I opened the box to find it only about half full!
It is easy to be deceived by things that look good on the outside but which have little or no substance. This also applies to our religious beliefs.
The Colossians were in danger of being taken in by an empty deception. They were being presented with religious philosophies and humanly imposed ideas that looked good on the surface.
This false teaching later developed in the Gnostic Heresy – the idea that you could acquire some special knowledge to lift one to a higher level of spiritualism available only to the privileged few.
So Paul wrote to them to warn them that these ideas were hollow and empty of truth; and to encourage them to persevere in their faith.
But more than that:
He encouraged them to seek a greater fullness in their Christian life and experience, not by seeking some special knowledge; but by seeking a deeper understanding of the basic gospel truths that brought them to Christ in the first place.
Receiving Christ should not be the end, but the beginning of a life of increasing knowledge of him.
The basic teaching of this letter is summarised in 2:6,7
‘As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.’
Let’s hear that again focusing on the main points:
As you received Christ ... so live;
as you were rooted ... be built up;
as you were taught ... be established in the truth.
Or to express it around the other way: ‘live, be built up and be established in the truth; (just) as you received, were rooted and were taught.’ Let’s consider each of these three points in Paul’s teaching in turn: Firstly …
I. As you received ... so live
What does it mean to receive Christ?
Prior to receiving Christ the Colossians would have been primarily pagan. They were not born into a Christian community as we were.
So, they received Christ based upon an account of the basic gospel truths (much as we might have in a Christianity Explained or Alpha course today, or through a Billy Graham evangelistic rally in the 1960s).
They received an account of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, and an account of the reality and outcome of his resurrection.
It would have been explained to them that salvation is subsequently available to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our salvation and that his righteousness is imputed to all who accept him.
And they will have understood that receiving Jesus is achieved by realising and accepting that we are sinners, repenting of sin, asking for God’s forgiveness and asking in faith for Jesus to come into their life as Saviour and Lord.
Understanding these basic facts of the Gospel can be crucial to being able to stand firm in our faith in the face of religious deception.
There is an illustration in the Christianity Explained Course that I have found over the years to be very helpful. It is an illustration of a man walking along a narrow brick wall. In front of him are ‘facts’, behind him are ‘feelings’ and he is trying to maintain his faith. As long as he keeps his eyes ahead on the facts, he maintains his balance; but if he looks behind at his unreliable and changing feelings, then he is likely to loose his balance and fall off.
Facts – Faith – Feelings Illustration
Keeping our eyes on the facts about Jesus helps us to stand firm in our faith - i.e. not fall away through either changing feelings or being deceived by worldly philosophy or false teachings.
Now our response to the facts should be to recognise Jesus as Lord. This is important because:
· Generally, Jesus must be Lord before he can be Saviour – i.e. he must have authority over the powers of evil before he can deliver us from them.
· For the individual, recognising him as Lord implies submission to him for personal deliverance - and is necessary if we are to receive the fullness of what he has to offer in this life.
However, the acceptance of Jesus as Lord is not as easy as accepting Jesus as Saviour. You see, ‘Jesus as Saviour’ puts all the responsibility on God, whilst ‘Jesus as Lord’ puts a responsibility on us. Do you hear the difference?
The challenge for the Christian is to make Jesus Lord in all of our affairs. And, many of us do not want to be saved from all of our sins, only from their penalty!
So we should not forget the basic truths about Jesus that caused us to first accept his authority over our life when we first acknowledged him as Lord – and we must continue to allow him to be Lord of every aspect of our life.
But this is not the end – i.e. receiving Christ is not the end, but the beginning of a life of increasing knowledge of him that leads to an increasing fullness of the Christian life. So Paul continues ...
II. As you were rooted ... be built up
Now this is a summons to grow in Christ – our conversion and baptism is only the beginning.
Building on the foundation of our knowledge of Christ – we are to grow in him. But, here is the important point: We must grow in the same element in which we were planted.
Those trying to deceive the Colossians with the Gnostic heresy were trying to convince them that they had to leave behind their childish and immature understanding and seek some special higher knowledge that would enable them to rise to a higher spiritual level.
Similarly, today there are some who would like to teach that we need some special knowledge, or some deeper ritual, or such things as baptism in the Spirit, etc. But, Paul says, to claim that we need some richer environment to grow to maturity is false.
Certainly we must seek growth. But it does not require a rejection of the basic understanding of the Gospel that we first received as though we have outgrown it or as though it has become not sufficient. We are to grow in the same ‘soil of truths’ about the person, authority and work of Jesus in which we were first planted as a new Christian.
We might then ask, “How can we grow if we are to remain rooted in the basic understanding of the Gospel that we first received?” Pauls third point gives us the answer ...
III. As you were taught ... be established in the truth
Here we have a summons to a deeper Christian understanding; not, as we have seen, by rejecting the truths of the Gospel that we first received – but by seeking to understand at a deeper level the basic truths and their implications on our life.
It’s a bit like putting a fence post into the ground and then, after filling the hole with soil, ramming the earth around it to make it even firmer.
To be established in the faith is to be consolidated in the truth.
How do we do this in practical terms? Well, this points out the importance of biblical teaching and having a desire to learn. It points out the importance of reading and studying our Bible. It points out the importance of the Ministry of the Word part of our church services – we would not grow if all that we had in our Church Service was the sacrament of the Eucharist.
But again, we must ensure that the new learning is consistent with the old – the saving gospel truths that first led us to Christ must remain our foundation. They are not replaced by some more complex or superior truth – rather they are understood more.
The letter to the Colossians (2:6-19) indicates that we must be on our guard against deceptive philosophy or false, worldly teachings that might lead us astray from the truths of the gospel found in Jesus Christ.
Some Colosse church members were desiring a higher level of spirituality; but in its pursuit, were rejecting the simple truths of the Gospel that they had first received – the truths that caused them to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour in the first place.
Nevertheless, this passage indicates that there is a deeper fullness of the Christian life that is to be pursued.
This fullness in the Christian life is found in Christ – in his deity, in his mission, his death and resurrection, and in his teaching and example. It is attained through seeking to know him more; and through teaching and learning that leads to a more comprehensive knowledge of the fundamental truths of the Gospel. All growth in the Christian life must be consistent with its beginnings.
Perhaps an illustration might help to clarify the message of Colossians 2:6-19:
You may have seen the Brush Box trees that grow in our rainforests - they are huge trees. How did they grow to be so huge?
Well, the first seed fell into the very rich volcanic soil that occurs in the rainforest. This rich soil might be compared with the richness of the fundamental truths of the Gospel. The seeds took shoot and grew in this soil – they were not transplanted into some other soil. Instead they sank their roots deeply into this same rich soil and consolidated their ability to take up the nutrients in this soil. This enabled them to grow to the full stature of giants.
You and I should be like those trees. Amen.