Paul has possibly a polemical reference. It denotes in Greek philosophy, the faculty of thought , as opposed to the bodily powers. In Philo's teaching it signifies the higher part of human nature, akin to God, and opposed to evil which belongs to the senses: But here sin is associated With the intellect in man, and redemption with "the body of Christ's flesh" ver. John, only used here by St. These works are the practices of life in which the sinner is abidingly excluded from "the kingdom of Christ and God" Ephesians 5: Paul, primarily temporal, then also logical in sense.
If "did he reconcile" or, "hath he reconciled" be the correct reading, "Christ" is still subject of the verb, as in vers. On "reconcile," see ver. In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:. With a significant emphasis, the material body of Christ is made the instrument of that reconciliation in the carrying out of which "his whole fulness" is engaged vers.
The necessity of the double expression was shown by the fact that the Gnostic Marcion erased "of his flesh" from the text of this Epistle, and interpreted "the body" as "the Church;" Bengel and others suppose "of his flesh "to be added to prevent this mistake see Tertullian, 'Against Marcion,' 5: This phrase was the crux of Docetism, whose principles were indeed implicitly contained in the Alexandrine-Jewish philosophy with its contempt for matter and the physical life, which was now first beginning to leaven the Church.
Body is antithetical to soul: The former is individual and concrete, the actual physical organism; the latter denotes the material of which it consists, the bodily nature in its essence and characteristics comp. That reconciliation is through the or, his death Romans 3: And the atoning death presupposes the Incarnation Hebrews 2: The two foregoing phrases belong grammatically to ver.
To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him ver. He will "himself present the Church to himself" Ephesians 5: In this presentation his redeeming work culminates comp. So, in general, Meyer and Alford. Ellicott and Lightfoot refer to God's present approbations , quoting Ephesians 1: On "holy," see note, ver.
In the LXX it is the equivalent of the Hebrew tamim "integer" , "faultless" in bodily condition or in moral character. If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;. All that Christ has done and will do for the Colossians, yet depends on their continued faith. As present indicative, it implies a supposed actual state.
The words, and not being moved away or, letting yourselves be moved away , put the same assumption negatively, and more specifically as he adds, from the hope of the gospel; good tidings vers. The gospel which you heard vers. The transition from "you" to "all creation" resembles that of vers. Paul see 2 Timothy 1: The phrase, "all creation," the writer has already used in ver. The universal meaning it carries there is now limited by "under the heaven. And with this range it was proclaimed , for from the first it claimed universal audience. Whereof I became, I Paul, a minister vers.
For "minister," see ver. The later Epistles betray a markedly heightened sense in the apostle of the unique dignity and importance of his own position, and those who question their authenticity press this fact against them. But the difference of tone is what one would expect in "such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus" Philemon 1: As the Gentile Churches grew, reverence for his person deepened; and the success of his life mission became more assured, especially now that the struggle with reactionary Judaism, signalized by the Epistles of the third missionary journey, was to a large extent decided in his favour.
The false teachers he is now opposing did not, we should gather, attack the apostle personally; but may rather have claimed to be on his side. The movement of thought we have followed in vers. Here, however, the second of these topics has been made quite subordinate vers. The third is the subject of our next section. Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:.
The abruptness of expression indicates a sudden outburst of feeling comp. Paul's sufferings as apostle of the Gentiles and in defence of their rights in the gospel - so "for your sake" comp. And am filling up in my turn the things that are lacking of the afflictions of Christ Mark Paul, a distinct and pointed reference of its own.
Christ, the Head, had borne his part, now the apostle in turn fills up his part, in the great sum of suffering to be undergone on behalf of the body of Christ see parallels. The verb being so understood, then, with Lightfoot, we infer that "the afflictions of Christ" a phrase peculiar. Affliction is a common term for all that Christians suffer as being in "this present evil world" 2 Thessalonians 1: Such suffering is common to the Master and his servants John These afflictions are "the sufferings of the Christ" in their ministerial as distinguished from their mediatorial aspect.
Paul and the whole New Testament, that the sacrifice of Christ is the sole meritorious ground of salvation for all men, leaving nothing to fill up vers. It is worthy of note that, unless it be in the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul never uses the words "suffer," "suffering" much less "affliction" in connection with the atoning sacrifice. He dwells rather on the objective fact itself - "the death," "the cross," "the blood. But this view identifies Paul's sufferings with his Master's, while he expressly distinguishes them; and the idea, however beautiful in itself, is without Pauline analogy.
Gloag, in the Expositor , first series, vol. In my flesh 2 Corinthians 4: Paul's physical nature felt keenly the pangs of imprisonment, the chafing of "these bonds. On behalf of his body, which is the Church ver. The interests of the Church demanded his sufferings. They are "for you" Colossian Gentiles ; but, in his view, the full possession of the gospel by the Gentiles and the existence of the Church itself were vitally bound up together Ephesians 2: If "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for her" Ephesians 5: The magnitude of the interests involved are measured by his greatness whose body the Church is vers.
On "body," see note, ver. Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;. His sufferings are, therefore, matter of duty , as well as of joy. As the Church's minister , he is bound to toil and to suffer in whatever way her welfare requires. Elsewhere he styles himself "minister of the gospel" ver 23; Ephesians 3: On "minister," see note, ver. According to the stewardship of God, that was given me to you-ward Ephesians 3: Such an office the apostle holds, along with others 1 Corinthians 4: In this office he "administers the gospel" 1 Corinthians 9: This office "was given" him, and specifically as "toward the Gentiles" for "you" points to the Colossians as Gentiles, vers.
Some interpreters connect "to you-ward" with the word "fulfil," but less suitably comp. To fulfil the word of God Romans Paul elsewhere in the latter sense, and the former precisely suits the context compare parallels from Romans. Other interpretations - "to preach abundantly," "to continue Christ's preaching" Ephesians 2: The word which it is the object of the apostle's ministry to fulfil , and in regard to which he had a special stewardship, is none other than -. Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:. The word "mystery" plays a large part in Colossians and Ephesians.
It occurs in 1 Corinthians, and twice in the Roman Epistle, written from Corinth. Its use in Romans The Greek mysteries were secret religious doctrines and rites made known only to initiated persons, who formed associations statedly assembling at certain sacred spots, of which Eleusis near Athens was the most famous. These systems exercised a vast influence over the Greek mind, and Greek literature is full of allusions to them; but their secret has been well kept, and little is known of their real character.
Some of these mystic systems, probably, inculcated doctrines of a purer and more spiritual type than those of the vulgar polytheism. The ascetic and mystical doctrines ascribed to Pythagoras were propagated by secret societies. The language and ideas connected with the mysteries were readily adopted by the Jewish Broad Church of Alexandria, whose endeavour it was to expand Judaism by a symbolical and allegorizing method into a philosophic and universal religious system, and who were compelled to veil their inner doctrine from the eyes of their stricter, unenlightened or unsophisticated fellowbelievers.
Paul, writing to men accustomed, either as Greeks or as Hellenistic Jews, to this phraseology, calls the gospel "a mystery," as that which is "hidden from the natural understanding and from the previous searchings of men" 1 Corinthians 2: But in the words that follow he repudiates the notion of any secrecy or exclusiveness in its proclamation comp. Ages are successive epochs of time, with their states and conditions comp.
But now it was made manifest to his saints Colossians 2: The word "reveal" Ephesians 3: The transition from the participle in the last clause to the strongly assertive finite verb in this almost disappears in English idiom: There is also a change of tense: To his sailors ; i. The Church had long ago formally accepted this revelation Acts Paul's office to make it practically effectual.
Both in this Epistle and in 1 Corinthians the writer is contending against forms of error which found their account in the Greek love of eloquence and of dexterous word-play. While the first part of the predicate, therefore, explains the intellectual attractiveness of the Colossian error, the clause next following accounts for its religious fascination; and the third part of the verse strikes at the root of its ethical and practical applications. Shown in or, with devotion to or, delight in worship or, voluntary worship and lowliness of mind verse The preposition "in" brings us into the moral and religious sphere of life in which this would be wisdom of doctrine had its range and found its application.
As against Ellicott and Lightfoot on the etymological point, see Hofmann, pp. Only so far as the worship in question see note, verse 18, on "worship" is evil, can the having a will to worship be evil. The other characteristics of the error marked in this verse seem to be recommendations, and "devotion to worship" is in keeping with them. This disposition, moreover, has an air of "humility," which does not belong to a self-imposed, arbitrary worship.
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There is a love of worship for mere worship's sake which is a perversion of the religious instinct, and tends to multiply both the forms and objects of devotion. This spurious religiousness took the form, in the Colossian errorists, of worship paid to the angels. On this particular worship the apostle passed his judgment in verse 18, and now points out the tendency from which it springs.
In verse 18 "humility" precedes; here it follows "worship," by way of transition from the religious to the moral aspect of tile now teaching. And or, with unsparing treatment of the body— not in any honour as against surfeiting of the flesh verses 16, 21, 22; Philippians 3: The "and" linking this clause to the last under the government of "in," is textually doubtful; Lightfoot cancels it; Westcott and Hort give the omission as a secondary reading. Hort regards the passage, like verse 18, as hopelessly corrupt—a verdict which we would fain believe is too despairing.
On either construction, the sense appears to be that it was its combination of ascetic rigour with religious devotion that gave to the system in question its undoubted charm, and furnished an adequate field for the eloquence and philosophical skill of its advocate. This clause, therefore, contains a complete sense, and we must not look outside it for an explanation of the included words, "not in any honour. He has in verses 16, denounced certain ascetic rules as obsolete, or as trifling and needless; but he has yet to expose the principle and tendency from which they sprang.
He is the more bound to be explicit on this subject inasmuch as there were ascetic leanings in his own teaching, and passages in his earlier Epistles such as Romans 8: He could not condemn severity to the body absolutely, and in every sense. The Colossian rigorism he does condemn—. These two objections are thrown into a single terse, energetic negative clause, obscure, like so much in this chapter, from its brevity and want of connecting particles. In 1 Thessalonians 4: The contempt of Alexandrine theosophists for physical nature was fatal to morality, undermining the basis on which rests the government of the body as the "vessel" and vesture of the spiritual life.
Their principles took effect, first, in a morbid and unnatural asceticism; then, by a sure reaction, and with equal consistency, in unrestrained and shocking licence. See, for the latter result, the Epistles to the seven Churches of Asia Romans 2: And the sentiment it expresses errs on the anti-ascetic side, and comes into collision with Romans Hence we cannot admit the interpretation of Meyer, Alford, Ellicott, who make the "flesh" here the sinful principle generally, and understand "surfeiting" figuratively, supposing the apostle to mean, that the ascetic rules in question, while they dishonour the body, tend to gratify the carnal mind.
The saying of Philippians 3: Here, then, the apostle lays hold of the root principle of the false teachers' whole scheme of morality, its hostility to the body as a material organism. Such a treatment, he declares, dishonours the body, while it fails, and for this very reason, to prevent that feeding of the flesh, the fostering of sensual appetency and habit, in which lies our real peril and dishonour in regard to this vessel of our earthly life. Here we have a suitable starting-point for the exhortations of the next chapter, where the apostle, in Habakkuk 2: Yet this all do not see, but only God, and those he loves.
The apostle's concern for the Colossian Church. Already the apostle has breathed out his "heart's desire and prayer to God" for these Colossians Colossians 1: We expect, therefore, in this passage a recurrence of the strain of thought pursued in the prayer of the first chapter. We find a like prominence given to knowledge, the chief desideratum of this Church, and to the need of a Christianly instructed understanding as a safeguard against the subtleties and plausibilities of error. At the same time, the view now presented of this object has gained greatly in fulness and depth by the development of the apostle's argument in the intervening paragraphs of his letter.
The teaching of this section we may summarize in the words of 2 Peter 3: Paul has spoken of the. Church as "the body of Christ" Colossians 1: The salvation of individual souls is but half the work of Christ. He seeks to build the redeemed, regenerated units of mankind as "living stones" into "a holy temple" Ephesians 2: Of this union, love is the bond Colossians 3: In all true and lasting union amongst men some sympathetic affection must exist, either as a basis for the fellowship or as generated by it.
Mere identity of beliefs or of interests will never hold men for long together. The heart must love or hate, must be attracted or repelled, in some degree, by every personality around it. And the union of souls in Christ, being the most deep and spiritual of any, must be thoroughly pervaded and determined by love. Moreover, the growth of Christian knowledge and the perfecting of personal character depend much more largely than we are apt to suppose, in this age of exaggerated individualism and selfish culture seeking, on the soundness and completeness of cur Church life, of our Christian social life.
Paul's mind the "perfect man" and the perfect Church—the perfection of the part and of the whole—are reciprocally dependent, and all but identical Ephesians 4: But love without knowledge, heat without light, will not suffice. As "faith, being alone, is dead" James 2: The apostle declared that "God willed to make known to his saints the riches of the glory of his mystery" Colossians 1: Love and knowledge must bear fruit in practical obedience. Christ Jesus was received by the Colossians as "the Lord" verse 6; Colossians 3: He is a Master to be obeyed Romans In him we must walk.
The whole conduct of life must be governed by his Spirit Romans 8: He "in all things" claims to be "pre-eminent" Colossians 1: Every desire, affection, pursuit, of the Christian must "acknowledge him to be the Lord. And the root of this life of advancing knowledge and obedient love is faith. By this the soul is first "rooted in him" verses 5, 12; Colossians 1: From this root springs love Galatians 5: If this fails, everything fails Galatians 3: Whatever strengthens, comforts, and upbuilds the Christian, does so by ministering to his faith.
A growing knowledge, a quickened love, a more steadfast obedience, enable his faith to strike deeper root—stablish him in his faith verse 7. In this world he never ceases to "walk by faith" 2 Corinthians 4: Yet faith, again, has its outward instrument and condition. It "comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" Romans The Colossians are to be "stablished in their faith," "even as they were taught" verse 7: To that instruction they owe all they possess in Christ, even their own selves Philippians 1: And he who abounds in faith will abound in thanksgiving also.
The more strongly the Christian believes in the Son of God and enters into the mysteries of his kingdom, the more joyfully and constantly will he offer his tribute of praise. This, too, is a fruit of faith—" the fruit of the lips" Hebrews Of such thanksgiving, called forth by the contemplation of the "mystery of God" in Christ, St. Paul's own act of praise in Ephesians 1: There was one thing that specially endangered Christian life and the well being of the Church at Colossal.
It was the charts of perverted eloquence Ephesians 1: A clever tongue and a popular style are gifts by no means incompatible with the faithful and spiritual preaching of Christ; but they have their peculiar dangers for their possessor, and for the Church in which they are exercised. Paul appears to have admired gifts of this kind in Apollos, but he felt that a plainer and severer method became himself, in which the sheer might and majesty of the truth should stand forth without adornment of rhetoric or drapery of graceful diction that might distract attention from the all important theme of his address 1 Corinthians 2: The possession of such powers made the men whom he is denouncing at Colossae so formidable.
Perhaps their very gifts had proved a snare to them; and there are indications in St. Paul's description of them Ephesians 1: On the other hand, there was one specially hopeful feature in the state of this Church—the good order which it had maintained Ephesians 1: So far, these "deceitful workers" had not succeeded in disturbing the Church's unity or stirring up insubordination against its officers. In every organized body it is a first condition of strength and safety that its members should "obey them that have the rule" Hebrews The Christian's completeness in Christ.
However plausible in argument Colossians 2: All true philosophy, though standing on natural grounds and drawing its premisses from natural experience and intuition, yet, rightly understood, must needs harmonize with the Christian faith, and will be "according to Christ. And the facts on which philosophy rests, the menial and material constitution of things concerning which it theorizes, "were created" and "consist in him" Colossians 1: The Colossian error presented itself as philosophy, advanced on rational grounds, and claiming the attention of men of thought and culture within the Church.
It inculcated the religious traditions of the Jew under the forms and methods of the Greek intellect, seeking to reanimate both by the aid of the new spiritual fervour and lofty moral aspirations of the Christian faith. There was nothing in itself blameworthy in such an attempt. Endeavours must be continually made, though they can never be final, to harmonize the current philosophy of the age with the Divine revelation as received in the Church. Paul himself makes large contributions in this direction.
But those who take this work in hand should understand both sides of the question. This the Colossian errorists failed to do. They tried to fit Christ into some place in their preconceived philosophy, instead of allowing themselves to be led, as St. Paul would have taught them Colossians 1: Hence their teaching, put forward as Christian truth and claiming to be the Christian theory of life, is condemned as "philosophy and empty deceit. It was according to the tradition of men. It could claim only human authority for its principles. They were not found in Christ's doctrine, and had received no authentication from his lips Galatians 1: And any scheme of religion, whether calling itself "philosophy" or not, that is in this position, stands self condemned.
What he is, how he is disposed towards the children of men, it is for him to say. They know full well that they have lost his favour and defaced his image in their souls; but how their recovery is possible is to them "past finding out. And such systems, leaving the clear and firm ground of obedience to the supremacy of Christ, are compelled to fall hack, in some form or other, on the rudiments of the world. Their advocates discover that the influence of human names and the force of general reasoning do not command the deference of the conscience or stir the spiritual emotions, are indeed without that "power of God" 1 Corinthians 1: They return, therefore, to the dead forms of old religions, putting, as they suppose, a new meaning into them.
They are at once "advanced," and reactionary.
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They dress up the newest rationalism in the cast-off garments of faith's childhood. They combine a puerile ritualism, borrowing its forms and practices from the mere rudiments of an age of sensuous "feeling after God," with the most bare and abstract, the most arid and joyless, conceptions of his nature, or of a nature that is their substitute for him. The combination of "philosophy" and "circumcision" John 1: We must also mark the arrogant and overbearing temper of the new teachers at Colossae, their exclusiveness and their endeavour to form a personal party within the Church.
They are men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" Acts They would make simple Christians their booty John 1: They set up to judge their brethren in matters of diet and outward observance John 1: They assume, in this character of judges in the Church, to deny to Christian men, walking in faith and love Colossians 1: They issue their decrees, "Touch not, taste not," etc. They are "humble" before the powers of the invisible world, and zealous to offer them a worship which they repudiate and abhor John 1: They aggrandize themselves, while they destroy the Church of God John 1: For the Christian everything depends on what he thinks of Christ and makes him to be.
Christ's glory is his security. His greatness and the greatness of our interest in him are commensurate. For "he gave himself for us" Galatians 2: Our salvation is not merely a work of Christ, a something wrought out for us, and externally conferred upon us; it is "Christ in us" Colossians 1: Paul virtually says, "In robbing Christ of his glory, your new teachers are robbing you of your salvation.
By so much as his position is lowered, his fulness diminished, by so much is your spiritual life imperilled and impaired. Whatever is taken away from the completeness of his Person and the sufficiency of his mediation, is taken away at the same time from your assurance of pardon John 1: Whatever touches his person touches the centre and vital spring of your life in God, the anchor of your immortal hopes, and the foundation on which rests the whole fabric of the Church" John 1: But Christ's fulness does not simply "dwell in him," terminating in himself; it is an active, out flowing fulness, that seeks to make us in turn complete in him John 1: The Judaizers of Colossae, as we understand their position, were urging on their Gentile disciples that they should complete their imperfect Christian state by circumcision and the adoption of various ritual observances including worship of the angels along with Christ and bodily austerities John 1: These requirements they enforced by philosophical reasoning, under considerations of the symbolic meaning of ancient rites and the beneficial effect upon the soul of the regimen prescribed as cleansing and elevating to its proper level man's spiritual nature.
Paul acknowledges by implication that, to a certain extent but see John 1: Other objections, such as might easily present themselves, he does not care to argue. What the individual Christian now realizes for himself in Christ—his new life in God and the cleansing and sanctifying of his nature—is but the personal appropriation of that which was revealed to the whole world and addresses itself to the wants of human nature everywhere. It meets the conditions brought about by God's previous dealings with mankind Colossians 1: In two respects the apostle signalizes the earlier relations of men to God as imperfect: There was the law with its condemning voice for the conscience, and the angelic mediation with its terrors and its mysteries for the heart and understanding.
The first guilty pair "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden" Genesis 3: And God in mercy and in justice heard their prayer. Till then it was increasingly felt that the law with its decrees was against us. It "wrought wrath" Romans 4: It brought us "under a curse" Galatians 3: It stirred up and brought to its crisis in an agony of self despair the conflict between the better nature and the worse in man Romans 7: It invoked death with its anticipatory terrors as the seal to its authority and the witness to our guilt Romans 5: The list of its commandments is but a catalogue of our offences, a tale of debts, not one of which we are prepared to meet, and yet which must be discharged "to the uttermost farthing.
He has removed it from between us and himself; and nailed it, with Christ's body, to the cross, where he bids us read, "There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus" Romans 8: This the apostle had taught already, and it is the glory of his earlier Epistles, addressed to Churches infested with Pharisaic Judaism and its teaching of salvation by works of law, to have established this truth in the understanding and the faith of the Church for all time.
But the philosophic Judaism with which he has now to deal requires him to insist more strongly on the immediate revelation of God himself to the world that is made in Christ. Now that One has been "manifested at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" Hebrews 9: With the revelation of his pardoning mercy and sin-avenging justice in Christ, "the Son of his love" Ephesians 2: To Israel, in comparison with other nations, "God was nigh" Deuteronomy 4: He "came with ten thousand of his holy ones, and from his right hand went a fiery law for them" Deuteronomy The mystic veil that screened his presence was as splendid as the law by which he ruled the consciences of men was stern and terrible.
But in Christ, he "laid his glory by. He bids all his angels worship and wait upon the lowly form of the Son of man, and the elements of nature more closely linked with the angelic powers, perhaps, than we can imagine are made to do his bidding, "that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father" John 5: None had "seen God at any time;" the angels that had been his ministers, the glories of the created world in which he robed himself Psalms Paul's day hung between the Jewish mind and the true knowledge of God, "remaineth unlifted" for those who will not behold "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" 2 Corinthians 3: God at once "reconciled the world unto himself" and unveiled himself to the world in him.
This is the sum of these two verses. The claims of the false teacher. The Colossian error is the earliest Christian heresy, understanding the word in its stricter sense as denoting a movement in the direction el' error, originating within the Church itself. It first answers to the terms of St. Paul's prediction in Acts The powerful Judaizing reaction with which St. Paul and the Gentile Church had previously to struggle, and which drew from him the Galatian and Roman Epistles, was negative and retrograde in its character, originating from without rather than from within the Church, and stimulated by the increasing violence and desperation of Jewish national feeling.
But here we discern the rise of a heterodox school of thought within Christianity itself. At this point, first of all, were those elements of error introduced, those seeds of division sown, which ripened into the wild and disastrous Gnostic apostasy of the second century; and that may be said to have persisted to the present day. For our inveterate and multiplied ecclesiastical divisions and our deeply rooted doctrinal differences, with the animosities and prejudices that attend them, show too plainly that the rents which then began to open in the Church's unity are far from being closed.
Accordingly, the Colossian error presents heresy in its germinal form. It contains and combines in itself the root principles and incipient forms of those errors which have most widely prevailed in after ages. It unites evil tendencies which afterwards parted asunder and became opposed to each other, which seem indeed to be radically inconsistent. But this was an age of eclecticism and amalgamation.
Moreover, there is a latent contradiction inherent in falsehood and error. It must needs be inconsistent and witnesses against itself. Its principles, when carried forward and pushed to their issues in logic and practice, become mutually destructive; and the system built upon them and the party which has espoused them of themselves break up into contending fragments.
Hence the shifting phases and combinations of religious error—Protean, many headed—under which the same elements constantly reappear, identical in essence, incessantly varying in form. But who will assure himself that he has in all things, so far as he might, truly ascertained and followed it? We have distinguished in the Colossian heresy four elements of error, which may be roughly designated under the names of rationalism, ceremonialism, mysticism, and asceticism.
They are the heresies, respectively, of the intellect, of the religious instinct, of the spiritual consciousness, and of the moral will,—aberrations, each of them, of functions belonging to the highest and divinest part of man's nature. The false teachers are evidently rationalists. It is this characteristic which the apostle first expressly specifies Acts They construed Christianity in terms of their preconceived philosophic theory.
They were philosophers first, and Christians afterwards, or only Christians so far as their philosophy permitted. Christ was not the centre of their thoughts, the Master of their intellect and heart Colossians 2: Not in Christ, it appears, but in themselves and in "the tradition of men," were "the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," out of which the Christian teaching, in its uncultured crudeness and poverty of thought, must have its errors corrected and its deficiencies supplied!
But the philosophy of these Colossian illuminati was clearly wrong in its views both of the world and of human nature; and no one would be found now to advocate it. Their attempts to recast and rationalize Christianity proved an utter failure, and bore fruit in the next age only in immorality and schism. Their wisdom was but a "wisdom of words" Acts Every system of philosophy, every scheme of human life, which attempts to patronize and to pervert to its own purposes the Christian teaching, has, we may be sure, a like doom awaiting it.
Paul does not seek to check the rationalistic movement at Colossae by mere repression, by discouraging intellectual inquiry. On the contrary, he impresses on his readers again and again the necessity of a better understanding, a deeper knowledge of "the mystery of God" Colossians 1: It was their slight and imperfect Christian education which laid them open to the attacks of sophistry and a shallow philosophy. The letter is one that appeals to and stimulates Christian thought in an extraordinary degree, and is itself a theological discipline.
The spurious and plausible guests, "the knowledge falsely so called" 1 Timothy 6: What Lord Bacon said of atheism may apply with equal truth to heresy: With their philosophical, a priori interpretation of Christianity, the false teachers of Colossae combined a love of ceremonialism and a devotion to the externals of worship. Here we note the Jewish element in their training, while their Greek sympathies and habits of thought betray themselves in their fundamental philosophic bias. The motive of their religiousness was, however, radically different from that of the traditional Jewish legalism, and St.
Paul deals with it in quite another method from that which he follows in Galatians. The "philosophers" of Colossae valued Jewish ritual for its expressiveness and symbolic truth, and practised it as a means of spiritual self culture rather than in mere obedience to law. Hence they insisted much on the sacred seasons and feasts, on the distinctions of meats verses 16, 17 , on circumcision verse 11 , and studied greatly the art of worship verses 18, 23 ; while, like the Essenes, they attached little importance to the sacrificial system of Judaism.
So, at least, we should infer from the apostle's silence on these latter topics, as contrasted with the leading part they play in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Their system was Jewish in its materials, but wholly different from the Jewish in spirit and tendency. But their piety was wanting in spiritual depth and reality, or they could scarcely have failed to recognize in Christ "the Image of God" Colossians 1: God was to them so far off that they would not seek to approach him directly in the Person of his Son, but supposed a whole hierarchy of mediators necessary, to make worship possible.
He was, in their view, a great abstract Infinitude, no "living Father," no listening, answering Presence. Their religion was an elaborate artifice, beneficial chiefly in its reaction on themselves; and their God was shrouded, like an Oriental monarch, behind a multitude of vague and fugitive mediators, whom practically they worshipped instead of him. A like result ensues wherever the idea of a personal God is obscured and weakened in the minds of men, whether by philosophical reflection making him a formula, or by superstitious ignorance treating him as a fetish.
For true worship is the converse—"in spirit and in truth" John 4: And this cannot well be maintained where an ornate ceremonialism overpowers the senses and fills the imagination with its external pomp; or where the living God "in whom we live," and Christ the "one Mediator" 1 Timothy 2: There may be a sincere "zeal for worship" in the anxious study of ecclesiastical dress and decoration, and under the sensuous impressiveness of a splendid and elaborate ritualism.
But this is not what "the Father seeketh" John 4: Our worship must, indeed, have its forms; and order and propriety 1 Corinthians And men of varying temperament and mental habit are aided by a greater or less degree, and by different kinds, of outward expression in their worship. But when the form is cultivated for its own sake, and the sensuous and the artistic predominate over and displace the spiritual, the end of worship itself is frustrated, and the service that professes to be rendered to the Most High becomes a mockery to him, and a blind to his worshippers that effectually hides him from them.
Yet this tendency has often a strong attraction for devout and humble spirits, "delighting in humility" verses 18, 23 ; who love to worship, and readily bow before any superior influence, but are not so anxious to "worship what they know" John 4: A multiplying of the objects of worship verse 18 very commonly attends the excessive elaboration of its forms; for both are due to the same cause, and are the manifestations of a religion weak in spiritual faith in God.
The dissatisfaction and emptiness of soul which ensue on seeking God thus, lead to our making still more cumbrous and exacting the forms of devotion, and to our resorting to new mediators and new methods of approach to him, till Christian worship sinks into a round of ritual performance and semi-idolatry, and becomes an imposture in itself and an aversion to thoughtful, truth-seeking men.
Colossians Commentaries & Sermons | Precept Austin
There was, in the third place, a strong vein of false mysticism in the Colossian heresy. This element, in the nature of the case, is more difficult to distinguish and to delineate than those already set forth. The mysticism of Greece was chiefly derived and fed front Oriental sources. Pythagoras, in the latter half of the sixth century B. The Pythagorean and Platonic mysticism was at this time greatly in vogue, especially in Asia Minor and in Egypt, where it found a congenial soil. The Alexandrine school of Philo imported its principles into Judaism. The Neo-Platonism, in which, in the fourth and fifth centuries A.
The Montanism of the second century, a product of the same Phrygian soil on which the Colossian heresy sprang up, attested the persistence of the mystic tendency within the Church. Its later manifestations, as allied now with pantheistic rationalism, now with devout ceremonialism, now with rigid asceticism, we cannot endeavour here to follow.
Frequently bought together
There has always been in the Church a mystical school, side by side with the rationalistic, and the ritualistic or sacerdotal. And, within certain limits, the mystic principle has its rights, and must be recognized as essential to spiritual religion. To mysticism, the spiritual consciousness of the individual is the source and the test of truth. God is to be reached by intuition. Meditative contemplation, aided by suitable initiatory and disciplinary symbolic rites, is the way of salvation, whoso goal is absorption in the Divine nature.
Such was the teaching of ancient mystics generally; and the esoteric doctrines introduced at Colossae were, doubtless, of the same stamp. That God, indeed, reveals himself by his Spirit to the individual consciousness, is the teaching of St. Paul, and, as we believe, of the whole Bible Romans 8: But when the inner consciousness, the spiritual reason, is regarded as in itself the primary source of revelation, then error begins and hallucination supervenes. The mind turns itself in upon its own self-generated phantasies, instead of fixing its gaze on the historical revelation of God and seeking to comprehend and mirror its glory 2 Corinthians 3: The Colossian errorist, walking in the light of his self confident, self contemplating reason, saw visions of angels as he imagined, and heard messages and teachings that were but the echo of his own speculations.
With these deceived and deceiving subjective imaginings the apostle confronts the actual historic Person and work of Christ, as the supreme Object of contemplation and of trust Colossians 1: Only through "belief of the truth" come the testifying and sanctifying visitations of "the Spirit of the truth" 2 Thessalonians 2: The objective revelation of God to the soul and the subjective attestation and experience of its power are reciprocally linked together, and advance pari passu.
Compare the teaching of Christ in promising the Holy Spirit to his disciples John The doctrine of the Holy Spirit was indirectly but vitally affected by the Colossian error; and this topic, though not brought forward in this Epistle, is prominent in the Ephesian letter, which is in many respects a complement to this and, in our belief, is "the letter" to be sent "from Laodicea" for the perusal of the Colossian Church Colossians 4: In the sphere of morals and practical life, the Colossian, errorists inculcated a strict asceticism.
This part of their system is consistent with each of the other three, though it proceeded rather from its philosophical and mystical than from its Judaistic and ceremonial constituent factor. In the early Christian ages, asceticism was frequently associated with theoretic rationalism; in later times, it has been more frequently the ally of a sacerdotal type of Christianity. Asceticism was a thing foreign to Judaism.
It was a religion too healthy and practical for that. Psalm cxxviii, expresses what has always been the true religious feeling of Israel in regard to the blessings of this life. The Pharisaic yoke was indeed "grievous to be borne, and pressed on the externals of life with the weight of a slavery; but, after all, it concerned matters which habit makes comparatively easy, and its spirit was that of a formal legalism, aiming at precision in the performance of all external acts, and by no means valuing hard treatment of the body in itself.
But the latter was the distinguishing feature of the new Colossian ethics, as of the ethics of Eastern mysticism and of Christian monachism, and, in some sort, of Puritanism too. Nature and objects of the apostle's struggle on behalf of the saints. His intense anxiety on their account.
His anxious labours in defending the simplicity of the gospel against the corrupting devices of false teachers. His striving in prayer for the saints. Ministers who "please not men, but God," have often a great "fight of affliction" on behalf of their flocks, especially when they have to encounter men who "resist the truth" and "withstand the words" of faithful men and "do much evil" 2 Timothy 3: The Judaeo-Gnostics had inspired him with a deep concern for the religious integrity of the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and, perhaps, the Christians of Hierapolis, who all dwelt in the valley of the Lycus.
What a blessing to them that they had the prayers and the labours of an apostle who had never seen one of them in the flesh! Their hearts were to be comforted and strengthened so that they might stand fast in the faith. The manner in which the comfort was to reach them. The end of the consolation and the object of the union in love. The apostle counted all things but loss for "the excellency" of this knowledge Philippians 3: Eternal life is involved in it John It is the knowledge of him which leads to great boldness and sincerity.
The treasures of the Gnostics were hid from nil but the initiated; the treasures hid in Christ are made accessible to all, so that we can know "the heavenly things" which he alone knows "who is in heaven" John 3: It is thus he reveals to us the Father, brings life and immortality to light, and enriches the Church with "the revelation of Jesus Christ" Revelation 1: The treasures are twofold. There is "a word of wisdom" as well as "a word of knowledge" given by the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians Wisdom reasons about the relations of things, and applies to actions as well as doctrines. Christ is made to us "Wisdom" 1 Corinthians 1: The wisdom that is "from above" has many noble qualities James 3: What but ignorance of Christ leads men to listen to deceivers?
This is more restricted than wisdom applying to the apprehension of truths. This was the very word that the Gnostics took as their watchword, but the apostle here significantly makes it secondary to wisdom.
It is a right thing for believers to sound forth the praises of Christ's wisdom and knowledge. A warning against deceivers. One method is to reason men into error, as the word here signifies. Gnosticism was essentially rationalistic in its method, gossamer like in its webs of speculation, and full of intellectual pride. The subtle seducer is often more dangerous than the persecutor. Another is to use persuasiveness of speech in the application of this reasoning. They use "fair speeches and flattering words to deceive the hearts of the simple" Romans The arguments were false and sophistical, but they were made to appear true through arts of rhetoric.
It is the duty of ministers to warn their people against them.
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How often did the apostle say, "Be not deceived;" "Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" Ephesians 4: Ministers are thus to "take heed to the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost hath made them bishops" Acts We must "try the spirits" ourselves 1 John 4: We must retain the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ as the treasure house of all wisdom and knowledge. The knowledge of his excellency is a preservative against seducing spirits. We must live under the constant power of the Word, which is "able to build us up.
We must walk purely in the fear of God. For "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" John 7: True love rejoices in the work of grace wherever it is discerned. The apostle heard from Epaphras good tidings of Colossian faithfulness and firmness, and was glad, as Barnabas was glad at Antioch when he saw "the grace of God" Acts The Apostle John likewise says, "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth" 2 John 1: Order and steadfastness are signs of soundness in the faith.
These words have military associations which may have been suggested by the presence of the Praetorian soldiers with the apostle Philippians 1: The principle of a consistent Christian walk. This includes the reception of him doctrinally, as the historical Person Jesus, and the acceptance of him as Lord. The false teachers misrepresented his true character in these respects. But it expressly points to a believing reception of himself as at once the sum and substance of all teaching and the foundation of all hope for man. Those who thus receive him.
That we are carefully to guard the true doctrine of Christ's person. One apostle rejoiced to hear that his children" walked in truth" 2 John 1: There were men who "walked not after the traditions which they received of the apostle" 2 Thessalonians 3: Let us give earnest heed to what has been "received of the Lord" and. Let us not "lose what we have wrought" 2 John 2 John 1: Join John MacArthur as he explains each verse in a way that is both doctrinally precise and intensely practical. Taking into account the cultural, theological, and Old Testament contexts of each passage, MacArthur tackles interpretive challenges and fairly evaluates differing views, giving the reader confidence in his conclusions.
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