Jesus is the best.They’d begun at Colossae to doubt it.They’d been offered ‘better’ than their simple and authentic experience and understanding of Jesus.It’s common, but it’s always a con!Three theological issues that Paul picks up in these verses address the way the heretics at Colossae had tried to offer something better than Christianity … though there’s no evidence that they ever said they were leaving the Christian way.It’s usual for Christian deviations to claim that it’s THEY that are authentic.It’s usual for them to offer something that is ‘better’.So Paul now begins to take this full on ….The issue of ‘fullness’ recurs, the idea of circumcision arises again and the matter of the principalities and powers still needs to get extended exposure to the Cross.Those issues may possibly sound a bit irrelevant at the moment, but in terms of the areas of possibility for deviation that they represent … we’re going to see that they’re not.In the immediately preceding verses, Paul has been seeking to strengthen the faith of the wavering people at Colossae.What Paul is doing NOW is to make plain to the Colossian Christians why the ‘philosophy’ of the false teachers is NOT according to Christ.It’s as if he’s sorted out their hearts and now moves on to their heads.Here it comes …
Given his experience from the Damascus Road days onwards, and given what he’s seen during the course of his extensive missionary experience, it’s no wonder what Paul does with them is to focus their attention on the centrality of Christ.The readers of this letter are left in no doubt by the repetition of the phrase ‘in Him’ (meaning Jesus) showing them time and again that the good things they have are good things that they have ‘in Christ’ … and not from the deceptive and hollow philosophy going the rounds at Colossae.Those words ‘in Him’ (or here) ‘in Christ’ are repeated in the emphatic position in the sentence.And it’s worth noting that phrases used here echo the language of the hymn to Christ in 1:19‘In Him’‘Dwells’‘all the fullness’ … these are phrases that echo the words of ch. 1.
So what’s this idea of fullness all about?Various answers get given but the background to this verse and to Col. 1:19 seems to be that this was a technical term in proto-Gnosticism, as much as it was in the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century.It signified the top deck of the ancient spiritual world, the immediate presence of God in the OT (where God’s glory FILLED the whole earth, etc. so God fills the Heavens and the earth in Jer. 23:24). and the place where God particularly choses to dwell (we’re thinking Jerusalem Temple here) is also identified as the place of His full presence.As O’Brien puts it: “These three lines converge at Colossians 1:19 …”All God’s fullness dwells (not a temporary sojourn – παροικεω but a permanent dwelling – κατοικεω) in Christ.Jesus is the one and only mediator (unlike the Gnostic system with loads of Divine ‘emanances’) between God and mankind, joining humanity and divinity in one corporeal identity.So the Colossians needn’t fear those supernatural powers … planets, trees, or what have you … because God in all His Divine essence and power had taken up residence in Christ.
There’s the background to the text amongst the heretics … they were pushing the idea there was ‘better than just Jesus’ and they were pushing some esoteric experience that got you to this higher, better level.Now we do encounter this sort of thing all around us today, don’t we?From the old style Pentecostal who insists you need to speak in tongues to have the full works from Jesus, through the RCs who insist you need to be christened to the Christian deviations and the Scientologists who all insist that there are extras added on that you need to make you a full, proper, best you can be believer.And Paul says you’ve received fullness in Christ.There it is!No big secrets.No ritual or experiential extras.You’ve got the full works with you already, by simply turning and trusting in Christ.
This language Paul uses picks up the language, as we’ve said, of their early Christian instruction in what many believe to be an instructional hymn in Colossians 1:15-20.“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
So now let’s come on to our text …
That word ‘lives’ is in the present tense.In Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in an on-going sort of way … continuingly.The genitive ‘of deity’ more fully defines what ‘the fullness’ is all about. The addition of the words ‘in bodily form’ (actually that’s a bit of an interpretation – it just says ‘bodily’) tell you the manner in which the fullness of the Deity dwells in Christ.There’s an issue to notice that Paul is being explicit about in the text here … Paul is explicitly not using the word that would say the fullness of divinity (God-like-ness) dwells in Jesus.He is explicitly saying that the fullness of the Divine (God Himself) is in Jesus.Meyer: “Accordingly, the essence of God, undivided and in its whole fullness, dwells in Christ in His exalted state, so that He is the essential and adequate image of God (i.15), which He could not be if He were not possessor of the divine essence.”Now there’s a consequence of that … and here’s why the full deity of Jesus is so important.If the fullness of God is in Jesus, and we are in Jesus … then look at v. 10.It doesn’t say that the fullness of the divine being is ours!It does say that in Christ we have been brought to that fullness of God in Jesus.Fullness – fulfilment – is met with as we meet with Jesus.Such fullness and fulfilment as we have is derived from our personal encounter and union with Him.I’m conscious of the need to be careful as to what I say about the mechanics of all this, but O’Brien puts it like this: “… from the fullness of deity that dwells in the exalted Christ follows the infilling of the Colossian Christians … it is in union with Christ alone that they possess this fullness already.”See that?It’s in continuing in union with Him that we’ve got it.What’s the corollary?It’s when we cease to continue in our functional, real union with Christ that the fulfilment slips away, and we begin to think He isn’t enough.Now, of course, tiredness can have something to do with it.Pressure of work, poverty or relationships can have something to do with it.Illness and infirmity can definitely, definitely affect it profoundly.All these things can damage all sorts of relationships that otherwise we can comfortably sustain.But when they damage that relationship of union with Jesus, then dissatisfaction and de-fulfilment result.IN CHRIST you HAVE BEEN brought to fullness … perfect tense … it’s a fact!But unless that relationship and that union are sustained, then there’s certainly no abiding sense of it – we don’t FEEL it – and we cease to live in the realities of what Christ has objectively DONE for us!Paul is no doubt here employing a slogan that the heretics had been using themselves … the fullness of life … and he’s saying you’ve already been given this in Christ in a continuing way as the result of a definite, concluded act in the past.They’ve lost all sight and sense of that, become dissatisfied with the simple Gospel of Christ and fallen prey to the heretics who offered ‘extra’.But says Paul (read the verse) …
One part of the extra being offered seems to have been experiential (as in the Greek mystery religions) but another part of the extra being offered was ‘ritual’.This syncretistic teaching afflicting the church in Colossae seemed to be mixing pride nurturing higher knowledge (or ‘philosophy’) with ritual observances.Why are humans so tempted by ‘ritual’?!Here it happens to be circumcision … but there are so may others we can fall prey to!
The verb περιτέμνω used here is often used in the OT … it’s a ritual, technical term for physical circumcision which was the outward sign of God’s covenant with His OT people.It had been of huge significance to Paul before his conversion, as the outward sign of what set him and his people apart from and above other men.(We need to remember that Paul had been no stranger to supremacist religion or its rituals and that he was well-placed to recognise that phenomenon when he saw it)But even within the OT this term came to be used in an ethical rather than a literal sense, pointing to the ‘circumcision of heart’ that should accompany being part of the set apart people of God.So Jer. 4:4 “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done – burn with no one to quench it.”Or Deuteronomy 10:15 ff. “… the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations – as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.”But what Paul refers to next from the OT is absolutely breath-taking for a man who used to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews … he picks up another OT phrase to describe circumcision (the sign of the sacred covenant) as: ‘that done in the flesh by the hands of men’.The heretics appear therefore to have been trying to give the Colossians extra pseudo-philosophy from the Greek mystery religions and proto-Gnosticism (‘fullness’) and also mashing that into a syncretistic package including elements of Jewish ritual and religion that was NOT actually ‘extra’ because it had been superseded by the Gospel … as Paul is about to explain.
Three things here …i)You’ve already been circumcisedii) It’s not a faulty idolatrous circumcisioniii) Here’s how Christ did it for you … repentant baptism & resurrection faith
Circumcision in Genesis was the entry rite for every good young Jewish lad into the OT people of God.It was the gatekeeper ordinance.We’re not talking about medical circumcision or anything else of that sort – this is all exclusively about a religious rite signifying that you were one of the special people.These heretics coming across to Colossae were saying this still held for the Colossians, that there was ‘extra’ they weren’t getting and that they (the Gentiles of Colossae) needed to be circumcised … forthwith.Paul’s response is direct, clear, plain and obvious and what I’m about to show you I haven’t read in the commentaries.Let me show you what this verse here is saying …
Ok – words meaning circumcision in red, words describing or defining that circumcision in green and then interlinear translation in gold.Paul is telling these Colossian Christians that they have already passed the gatekeeper ordinance, and their privilege is such that they weren’t just circumcised by a big famous rabbi … they were circumcised in Christ.Now that ‘in Christ’ formula keeps cropping up and it refers to the believer’s union with Christ.The benefits the Gospel confers on us it confers by virtue of our union with Christ, because they are benefits Christ has earned and won and we get them by being united with the One Who has earned or won them.So … we were circumcised by virtue of our union with the (circumcised) Christ.This was not a physical, man made circumcision done with human hands.That’s an interesting phrase in itself …The adjective χειροποιητος was used in the LXX to denote idols.It therefore described idols as things made with human hands … which is pretty loaded language for what Paul is talking about here!Wherever it crops up in the NT, this word sets out the contrast between what is man-made and what is the genuine work of God.So Paul here sets the Jewish circumcision the heretics at Colossae were promoting over against the circumcision of heart that God had done for these Colossians (and all believers) already.They’d passed the Christian’s gate keeper ordinance when God gave them repentance unto life and they’d laid aside their previous life (lived as if this fleshly life was all there is to it) for life lived in union with Christ.
So their circumcision was not a laying aside of physical flesh but of the life lived for the sinful flesh.It was in Christ.And here’s how Christ did it …
Notwithstanding the way the paedobaptist commentators complicate this verse, the imagery is really pretty similar to the imagery in Romans 6 … the Christian has put to death the life of the flesh, following its passions and desires, to follow Christ.The picture of baptism is a picture of dying to that old life which gets laid in the baptismal ‘grave’ and the believer is then raised up out of the water symbolising the fact that they have been raised to live a new life in Christ.Baptism is now the gatekeeper ordinance for the new covenant people of God, and it symbolises something better by far than this circumcision ritual that the heretics are so wrong to be trying to get them to go back to.Next week we’ll turn from the rites and rituals these heretics were trying to foist on the Colossians and take a more leisurely look at the issue of the principalities and powers and how they can still impinge adversely on the lives of the people of God.
Now all this (including the principalities and powers bit that we haven’t got to yet) is really just the preamble to the point Paul’s going to be making here because v. 16 begins with a ‘therefore’.For NOW, though, let’s just recap and see how far Paul’s brought us today so far.The Colossians are typical heretics – offering more but delivering substantially less a result of the things they’ve tried to ‘add’ to the Gospel.This whole fullness idea is a travesty because their little mystery religion experience that was claimed to ‘top up’ their Christianity couldn’t hold a candle in the wind … By sticking to their simple Biblical faith in Christ’s cross and resurrection without adding to it they would gain Christ … in Whom are all the riches of deity.Furthermore, by sticking to the simple Gospel they were counted circumcised by virtue of their union with Christ … not simply that done in the flesh by the hand of men but the far more profoundly significant dying to the sinful human flesh and rising to the new life of faith in Christ, by virtue of repentance, baptism and saving faith in the Cross and resurrection.Trying to add more defeated that faith because it was saying tat they didn’t trust Christ’s death and resurrection to be capable of doing enough to save them … they needed extra.Which is how the heretics’ ‘more’ turned out to be decisively less.The appeal of this passage is to see Christ’s death and resurrection as utterly sufficient for us, and repentance and faith symbolised in the ordinance of baptism as being the way to tap into their benefits.I’m calling on you to live day by day as if Jesus was actually enough.Because that is what’s called saving faith.Next week we’ll look at the whole vexed, contemporary question of the principalities and powers and the victory over them that took place at the Cross.
Colossians 2 vv 9 15
Welcome to Grace! “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Colossians 2:9-10
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’, vv. 9-10“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity livesin bodily form, and you have been givenfullness in Christ, who is the head over everypower and authority.”
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’ – Background • Heretics • Hymn • “19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’ – Background – Text: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’, vv. 11-14“In him you were also circumcised, in theputting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’ – Background • OT • Heretics – Text
Colossians 2:11-12“In him you were also circumcised, in theputting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’ – Background – Text • You’ve already been circumcised
Colossians 2:11ἐν ᾧ καὶ περιετμήθητεIn Whom you were also circumcised περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳWith a circumcision not done by hands ἐν τῇ ἀπεκδύςει τοῦ ςώματοσ τῆσ ςαρκόσIn the removal of the body of fleshἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ ΧριςτοῦIn the circumcision of Christ
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’ – Background – Text • You’ve already been circumcised • It’s not a faulty idolatrous circumcision
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’ – Background – Text • You’ve already been circumcised • It’s not a faulty idolatrous circumcision • Here’s how Christ did it (right) for you … repentant baptism & resurrection faith
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’• ‘Principalities and powers’, v. 15 “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Colossians 2:12“… having been buried with him in baptism andraised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. “
Colossians 2:9-15• Introduction• ‘fullness’• ‘Circumcision’• ‘Principalities and powers’• Conclusion