We have come to the fourth main section in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (2:6-23). In this part of the letter, Paul addresses the false teachings and cultural pressures that are attempting to infiltrate the church and take the Colossian Christians captive.
We are going to look at this part of the letter in two sections:
1. Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness that seek to enslave the Colossians (2:6-15)
2. Freedom from human tradition through Christ (2:16-23)
Earlier in the letter (1:28), Paul shared three ways he helps God’s people become mature in Christ: proclaiming Jesus, warning of the dangers of sin, and teaching a better way to live. This is what Paul will go on to do in the second half of the letter. The apostle warns the church to not be led astray by the false teachers (2:6-23) and then teaches them what it looks like to live as a new creation in Christ (3:1-4:6). Paul has been constantly proclaiming Jesus throughout the letter and will continue to do so until its end.
Overview of Verses 6-15
Paul challenges the believers to remain attached to Jesus and grow in their spiritual maturity (2:6-7). He then warns the church not to be taken captive by the empty and deceptive philosophies of the spiritual forces of evil because they have everything they need in Christ (2:8-10). The Apostle reminds the Colossians that they do not need to be circumcised or submit to any human traditions because they have already been brought from death to life in Christ (2:11-15).
Break it Down: Verse-by-Verse (ESV)
v6-7: “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.”
Verses 6 and 7 summarize the main point of Paul’s argument: You have Jesus now; stick with him. Living our lives in Christ leads to transformation and spiritual growth. The apostle uses several different metaphors to describe the process of Christian growth. This process is often referred to in the New Testament and Christian tradition as sanctification (becoming holy). Let us learn from these verses that transformation starts on the inside and works its way out. It starts when we receive Christ in our hearts through faith and is a lifelong journey that we must continue to walk.
Notice: rooted, built up, and established are all passive verbs. This is because we do not fight the good fight alone; God does the work within us and will see it through to the end (Philippians 1:6). Let us hear the words of Paul’s prayer for the church in Thessalonica: “…may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely… He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV). Thanks be to God for this great gift! He is committed not only to saving us but also to transforming us into the image of his Son through the mighty power he works within us.
v8-10: “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.”
Paul is not condemning philosophy as a whole; Paul himself is a brilliant philosopher, as were many of the leaders of the early church. Rather, the apostle is condemning the kind of philosophy that presents itself as profound truth but is in truth empty and deceptive. This kind of philosophy attempts to take its hearers captive and make them slaves of the evil spiritual forces of the world.
But the whole fullness of the one true God is found in Jesus, for Jesus is the one true God, and he is the ruler of all things. Therefore, we have no reason to seek spiritual truth or meaning anywhere else. Paul keeps making this point over-and-over again: Jesus is all we need. The philosophies of the world are empty and their benefits are fleeting. We have been filled in him who is eternal.
v11-12: “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.”
There were many false prophets in the early church that taught that Gentile Christians must obey the Jewish laws of the Torah, especially circumcision. The circumcision controversy appears several times in the New Testament and is the main reason Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians.
The ultimate purpose of the Torah was not to provide a means of salvation. The Torah does not rescue us from our sin, but reveals our sinfulness to us and promises that someone will come to save us. This promised Savior has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In baptism, the Christian is united with the One who has defeated death. Paul tells the church in Rome, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 ESV).
v13-15: “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.”
We were spiritually dead because of sin; God made us alive with Christ.
We were guilty before a holy Judge because of our sins; God nailed them all to the cross, that we might be forgiven.
We were enslaved to demonic rulers and authorities; Jesus has taken away all of their power and made a public spectacle of them through his work on the cross.
As we take time to reflect on this truth, we are liberated from the tyranny of sin as we realize that through Jesus we have been given everything we need to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3). Now that Jesus has disarmed the enslaving powers of evil, we have confidence that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:31-39). Let us walk in the light of this glorious truth.
~Father, we thank you for doing the work within us that we can’t do ourselves. We ask that you would continue to transform us into the image of your Son so that we can bring you glory in everything we do.
The times are confusing and it is hard to discern between truth and fake news. Help us discern. Help us be on our guard against the hollow and deceptive philosophies of the world. We pray that you would continue to remind us that you have already defeated our foes and that nothing can come between us and your soul-transforming, all-consuming love. Amen.
1. How has God transformed my heart since I began walking with him? In what ways do I want God to transform me now?
2. What are some philosophies in our culture that claim to be profound truths but are actually empty lies?
3. How can I help others learn to become free in Christ?
This post is the eighth in our series on Colossians.
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The Bible Project – Overview: Colossians https://youtu.be/pXTXlDxQsvc
The Naked Bible Podcast – Colossians (https://nakedbiblepodcast.com)
St. John Chrysostom – Homilies on Colossians (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2303.htm)
N.T. Wright – Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale New Testament Commentary (https://bit.ly/2Houfit)
Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible – Colossians (https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/colossians/)