(Delivered Sunday, February 4, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power (Col. 2:6-10).
My family and I recently took a trip to the coast; and as a part of our trip, we enjoyed dinner in the restaurant of a favorite beach-front hotel in Newport. At this particular restaurant, you're seated at one of a few large tables; and you really never know who you're going to sit with. As it turned out, we had a delightful evening with two people from Ireland.
In the course of the evening, I told them about what I do and talked about our church family. And one of our new friends was filled with questions about it. She had grown up in an environment in which the most visible expression of Christianity was the continual fighting between Catholics and Protestants. For her, Christianity seemed to be largely a dispute between two opposing religious groups; and because she was raised neither a Catholic nor a Protestant and felt somewhat separated from the whole thing, she wondered why anyone would want to be a minister in the middle of all of it. "Why would you want to go into a profession that would mean nothing but trouble for yourself?" she asked.
I had to admit that was a good question, given her conception of Christianity. And I answered by explaining, first, that I didn't look at my role as a pastor as if it were a "career move" but rather as a calling from God; and that it was my duty to respond to His call. And second, I explained that my experience of Christianity wasn't merely that of adherence to a religious system, but primarily that of a relationship with a wonderful Person.
A Christian in the biblical sense, I explained, was someone in whom the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ had personally taken up residence; and I said that true Christianity was a matter of growing in a personal, dependent relationship with Him by faith. It all boiled down to knowing and loving the Lord Jesus in a personal way; and I told her that, because this is true, our church is a non-denominational church of the Protestant tradition in which people who have come from all sorts of traditions in the Christian faith have felt welcome - Catholic as well as Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, and Methodist. If Christianity was nothing more than a matter of "religion", we'd soon have a religious battlefield on our hands. But I told her that the thing that ties all these diverse people together in love for one another in our church wasn't their religious connections, but rather their common bond of an ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus Christ through faith.
Our dinner with these two friends was not only an enjoyable experience; but it also reaffirmed, in my mind, the fundamental dynamic of authentic Christianity as a "relationship with a wonderful Person". Everything depends on an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. Without the reality of that relationship, Christianity means nothing more than mere devotion to a religious system. Because of that relationship, however, Christianity means knowing Him in whom "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily", and being made "complete in Him".
I thought of Paul's letter to the Colossian believers while we enjoyed our dinner-time conversation with these two friends; and I also thought back on that dinner conversation again when I began to study this morning's passage.
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Paul believed strongly that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was essential to the Christian faith. And he wrote this letter, in part, because he wanted to protect that essential dynamic in the experience of the believers in Colossae. The great theme of this letter is the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone to make us complete in the eyes of God; and Paul wanted his brothers and sisters to experience all the blessings of the completeness before God that can only come from a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus. Paul was concerned that they cultivate a vital, ongoing, ever-growing dependency on Jesus in every area of life. And he was concerned too that nothing be permitted into their lives that might, in any way, compromise the totality of that dependency, or that might lure them away to some weak, beggarly substitute for a confident, personal trust in Jesus Christ.
There are, in this world, many different philosophies, or systems of teaching, or personal improvement programs, or life-styles - or even material possessions - that all claim to be able to give us that illusive sense of "completeness" and "fulfillment". But the Bible tells us that the genuine, real, lasting fulfillment and completeness that God made us to enjoy cannot be found in those things. God makes full and complete salvation available to anyone who will receive it as a free gift of His grace through Jesus Christ. But according to the Bible, to disregard the offer God makes, and then to pursue after these other things instead is to commit two great evils: (1) to forsake Him who is "the fountain of living waters"; and (2) to hew for one's self "broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13).
The affirmation of Paul in the Bible passage before us this morning is that Jesus Christ, and a relationship with Him, is alone sufficient to save us from our sins and to make us joyfully and wonderfully complete in the eyes of God our Creator. Nothing else can do for us what Jesus alone is sufficient to do; and to try to introduce anything else into the picture only tends to draw us away from a simple dependency on our all-sufficient Savior.
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But this passage speaks to the precise point at which many people fall short in a personal experience of the sufficiency of Christ. Many have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior; but they then think that's all that's required of them. They believe that the sense of completeness in Christ will just somehow happen to them without any effort on their part to grow and to protect their own sense of dependency on Him.
Such people fail to cultivate an ongoing, growing dependency on Christ in their lives; and they unwittingly allow other things into their lives that are designed by the devil to compromise that dependency. And so, while Jesus alone is truly sufficient to make them everything God wants them to be, they often fall short of an experience of that sufficiency. They live with a frustrating sense of incompleteness and unfulfillment - as if the Christian faith is nothing more than a mere religion that, somehow, isn't working for them.
I wonder if you have a sense of completeness in Christ today. Do you have a personal relationship with Him by faith? And if so, do you find that you're growing in an ever greater dependency on Jesus Christ? Do you find that your relationship with Him is continually transforming you and making you more and more the person God wants you to be? And are you growing in a greater sense of satisfaction in Christ? Do you enjoy a growing confidence that, in Jesus Christ, you are completely accepted and loved in the eyes of God, and that you possess all the riches of His favor through your relationship with Him alone? Are you able to say of the precious Lord Jesus, as in the words of Psalm 73:25; "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You" ... and to say it out of a sense of genuine inner fulfillment and satisfaction, because you know that you truly need nothing else but Him? That's what Paul wanted for the Colossian believers; and it's what God wants for you and me today as well.
Paul's words in this morning's passage teach us what we must do to experience the full blessing of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in our lives. A sense of completeness and fulfillment in Jesus Christ is the normal experience of genuine Christian faith; and this experience can be yours and mine if we will do what God is telling us to do in this passage.
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Now; before we come to the "what to do" section of this passage, we need to get something settled in our minds first. All that Paul has to say about our experience of completeness in Christ is based on a theological reality: that Jesus truly is, in absolute fact, all-sufficient for us. We need to have complete confidence in that theological reality before we can even begin to enjoy a personal experience of His sufficiency in our own lives.
And so, lets start off by letting the fact of His full sufficiency sink in. Let's work backwards, as it were, through this passage, and look first at what Paul says in verses 9-10 concerning Jesus. There, we find the wonderful affirmation that ...
I. JESUS CHRIST ALONE IS SUFFICIENT TO MAKE US COMPLETE BEFORE GOD (vv. 9-10).
Paul says it as plainly and unmistakably as he can: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power" (vv. 9-10).
Those two verses alone are enough to make all the difference in the world in our Christian faith. What they affirm makes the difference between a Christianity that's a mere cultural religion, and a Christianity that's an exciting, life-changing, soul-satisfying relationship. In just a few short words, these two verses describe the saving power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Being made complete in the eyes of God isn't found in a religious set of do's and don'ts; nor is it found in adhering to an impersonal philosophy, or abstract body of beliefs. It's found in a Person. "In Him" - that is, summed up in His Person - is found all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And "in Him" - that is, in spiritual union with Him - are we made complete.
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Look at the details. First, notice how Paul here stresses who Jesus is. He says that all the fullness of the Godhead (or "of the Deity", as it is in the NIV) dwells in the Person of Jesus Christ. All that we can have of the triune God is found in Him. He is, as Paul said earlier, "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (1:15-17). And notice that Paul says "all" the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him. Jesus isn't merely "partly God". He is "all God" - very God of very God. As it says in Col. 1:19; "For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell".
And what's more, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him "bodily". The eternal Son of God took human flesh upon Himself and walked among men; so that all the fullness of the Godhead could dwell in someone who was also fully human! The apostle John wrote about this when he said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:1-3). That's who Jesus is. And all of it is made to reach down to where we are - in all our lostness and helplessness - in this: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (v. 14). The Son never ceased to be fully God; but He became at the same time fully man. He became one of us; and revealed the fullness of the Godhead to us "bodily"!
Jesus Christ alone, then, is sufficient - in and of Himself - to make us into everything that God wants us to be. He is able to do this because all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him. And all that fullness of God has been made accessible to us in that it dwelt among us in bodily form in Him. When we have fellowship with the risen and gloified "God/Man", Jesus Christ, we have fellowship with the triune Godhead in all fullness. We enjoy completeness before God in Him because all the fullness of the Godhead exists in Him bodily. The apostle John wrote elsewhere;
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full (1 John 1:1-4).
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Second, notice how Paul affirms not only the deity of the Lord Jesus, but also His supremacy. He says that He is "the head of all principality and power". He is sufficient for us because there is no authority or power that is higher or greater than His.
Paul said earlier in this letter, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (1:16-17). He holds the preeminent position over all because He is the ultimate Creator of every power or authority that exists. And He is sufficient to make us complete in God's eyes, because having died for us on the cross, He has taken away anything that any other power or authority can ever hold against us. "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them" (2:15).
There exists, then, no higher court that can ever be appealed to in order to overturn our justification in Him. There exists no power that can ever impede the sufficiency of His grace to save us. "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect?" as Paul asked; "It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Rom. 8:33-34).
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And third, notice how Paul affirms the sufficiency of a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. "You are complete in Him." Those words alone are worth a sermon in and of themselves! That affirmation alone tells us all we need to know about the complete sufficiency of Jesus.
Look at it again. Paul doesn't merely say, "You are greatly improved in Him"; or "You're almost perfect in Him"; or "You're on the right track in Him - well on your way toward getting better." He says it unambiguously: "You are complete in Him" (or, as it is in the NIV, "You have been given fullness in Christ"). The Greek verb that's here translated "complete" means "to make full" or "to bring to a completion"; and it's in the particular tense of the verb that indicates a once-for-all, completed act (and is, therefore, accurately translated in the NASB; "... In Him you have been made complete ...").
In other words, if you have placed your trust and your faith in Jesus Christ, God has placed you in the closest possible spiritual union with Him. You are "in Christ". And if you are "in Him", then as far as God is concerned, you are already made complete! There is nothing more that you either can do, or even need to do, to be in God's complete favor. In fact, there's nothing more that God needs to do to make you perfect in His eyes than to place you "in Christ". You are already perfected in His eyes by virtue of the sufficiency of the One you are "in". To be sure, it may be that you have an awful lot of growing to do; but it's not in order to be made complete in God's favor, but rather because you have been made complete by Him in Christ already. There's no longer a need to search about for anything else to make you complete in God's eyes. It has already been done for you in full - and all "in Him".
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Now; that's the spiritual reality that stands behind all that Paul has to say to us about a full experience of completeness in Christ. Our being made complete in God's eyes is a work of His grace that is absolutely and fully true at the moment we place our trust in Him and are saved.
But we won't enjoy the experience of the complete sufficiency of Jesus if we don't "remain" in Him after we've "received" Him. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). We need to cultivate an ongoing, ever-growing dependency on Jesus, if we're to be able to enjoy the experience of full completeness in Him. Knowing the theological reality of His full sufficiency, then, prepares us to look at verses 6-8; where we find that ...
II. OUR EXPERIENCE OF CHRIST'S SUFFICIENCY DEPENDS ON OUR FAITHFULNESS TO KEEP WALKING IN HIM (vv. 6-8).
Paul told the Colossians that he delighted to see their "good order" and the "steadfastness" of their faith in Christ (v. 5). But he was very protective of that "good order" and "steadfastness". He wanted to see his brothers and sisters in Christ continue to grow in the experience of all the completeness that was already theirs. It all hinged on their dependency on Christ; and so, he shows them, first, what they must do to cultivate an ongoing dependency on Jesus; and then, he shows them how to guard against those things that would compromise that dependency on Him.
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First, notice that Paul says we must continually live in total dependence on Jesus. He says, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him ..."
Whenever I see the Bible talk about our "walk", I always think of the old Family Circus comic strip in the Sunday funnies. Have you ever seen the cartoons of a day in the life of one of the children in the comic strip? You'd see a drawing of the whole house, with the footsteps of the child traced all through the house - showing you everything he or she did in the course of the whole day. I've always thought of that as a good way to understand what the Bible means when it speaks of our "walk". It's talking the whole course of our life-style practice - how we live, and what sort of practical behaviors we engage in through the course of our every-day lives. Paul says that, as we received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we're also to "walk" in Him. To "walk" in Jesus means that you conduct yourself, in the whole course of your everyday life, as if "in Him".
How does someone "receive" Jesus Christ? It's by faith, isn't it? We simply believe the testimony of the Bible concerning Him, and place our faith in His sacrifice on the cross for us. In fact, there's no other way to receive Him than by faith. You don't have to do any "good works" to earn your salvation in Him. All you have to do is receive the salvation Jesus has already purchased for us on His cross. We are saved by God's grace through Him; and we receive that saving grace by reaching out with the hand of faith and taking ahold of it. As the Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
Well then; Paul says, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him ..." If you received Him by faith, you are now to "walk in Him" in the same way - by faith. You are to go about your daily work with the confidence and joyful attitude of mind that, by faith, Jesus goes with you. You are to turn to Jesus continually in the making of your daily decisions, confident that, by faith, Jesus is right there to guide and direct you in all your choices. You are to face the difficulties and trials of life with the peace and joy that comes from knowing, by faith, that Jesus goes through them with you to stand with you and strengthen you. You are to "walk" in an ongoing, unending relationship of dependency upon the Lord Jesus by faith in every area of your life.
To put it another way: if a cartoon drawing were to be made of the footsteps of your day, the lines would trace out the life of someone who was living throughout the day in continual, on-going, vital fellowship with Jesus by faith. And as you do so, you experience the sense of completeness that comes from a personal relationship with our all-sufficient Savior, Jesus Christ.
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Now, admittedly - that's a pretty daunting task! How do you and I go about doing such a thing? Thankfully, Paul goes on to tell us how. In the original language of the passage before us, Paul gives us a chain of four "participles" linked together; "-ing" words, that define how we're to cultivate that ongoing, dependent walk in Christ: "having been rooted" in Him, "being built up" in Him, "being established" in the faith, and "abounding" with thanksgiving.
First, Paul says that we carry out our walk in the confidence of our "being rooted" in Christ. To understand what it means to be "rooted" in Christ, simply think of a tree. There's no such thing as a free-wheeling, independent tree that's always on the move. It has to be planted somewhere; and once it's planted, it sinks its roots down deeply into the earth, and draws up its nourishment from the place in which it has been planted. It stays put; and the place in which it's been planted becomes its source of life. Without that experience of "being rooted", the tree will die. Similarly, you and I aren't meant to live independently either. We were made by God to be "rooted" once and for all in Christ - never to roam from Him; forever to draw our life and nourishment up from Him and Him alone.
The form of this verb indicates that our being "rooted" in Christ is not something we do to ourselves. It's something that's done to us by someone else. It's God Himself who "plants" us in Christ. And this verb also indicates that this is another "once-for-all" sort of action. Once He plants us in Christ, we're in Christ for good. And having being planted in Him, we're to allow our roots go down into Him and draw up our daily vitality and nourishment from our fellowship with Him. For us, there's no other source of ultimate nourishment and vitality than Christ. I've always appreciated the way the Living Bible paraphrased verses 6-7; "And now just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust him, too, for each day's problems; live in vital union with him. Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him."
Have you placed your trust in Jesus? Have you turned to Him as your Savior, and have you trusted in His sacrifice for you on the cross? Then you can safely trust that God has already planted you into Jesus. But you must draw up your daily nourishment and strength from Him. You must walk in daily, vital fellowship with Him - drawing up your life from Him. What Paul once said of Himself must also be true of you: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
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Second, Paul says that we cultivate an ongoing walk of dependency on Christ by "being built up" in Him. To understand this, think again of a tree. That tree, having been rooted firmly in the ground, not only draws life and nourishment from the place in which it's planted; but it also grows and flourishes, becoming more and more of what it was planted in that spot to become. Likewise, the man or woman who has been "rooted" in Christ is also to be "built up" in Him as well. A man or woman who has been "rooted" in Christ, and who draws up daily life and daily nourishment from Him, will increasingly become more and more like Him in daily practice and life-style.
And so, Paul affirms that, as those who are "rooted" in Christ, we should increasingly become what we were planted in Him to be. We were planted in Him to be more and more like Him. He described our growth in Ephesians 4:13; "... till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of god, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
No one can grow to be like Christ unless they've first been planted in Him; but for those who are rooted in Christ, He Himself is to be the pattern for our growth. As Paul said elsewhere; those whom God has foreknown have also been predestined "to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). And while the verb "rooted" is in a form that indicates a "once-for-all" act, the verb "built up" is in a form that indicates an on-going, progressive act. Those of us who are rooted in Christ are far from what we should be; but we're to be growing more and more like Him - daily being "built up" in Him.
Are you cultivating a dependent relationship with Christ by seeking to be "built up" in Him? Are you daily allowing God to change your "walk", so that you are increasingly being conformed into the image of His Son?
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Third, Paul says that we cultivate an ongoing dependency on Christ by "being established" in the faith - "as you have been taught".
Paul isn't speaking here of "faith" in the sense of belief. He literally speaks of "the" faith, indicating the content of their faith - that is, the truths of the gospel message as taught by the apostles. Earlier in the letter, Paul wrote to the Colossians and reminded them about the truth of the gospel, "which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister in Christ on your behalf" (1:6-7). The Colossians were first taught "the faith" by Epaphras; and Epaphras was taught it by Paul; and Paul was taught it by Christ Himself. And what Paul was urging them to do was to become "established" in it - that is, strengthened in it and confirmed in it in a consistant, unwavering way.
One of the greatest things we can do to grow toward the full experience of completeness in our relationship with Jesus is to grow to be "established" in the truths of the faith as they've been taught to us in Scripture. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and told them that God gave certain gifted servants to the church - some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. And the whole reason was
... for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ ... (Eph. 4:12-15).
And once again, this is to be a 'work in progress'. The form of the verb indicates an ongoing, progressive "establishment" in the faith. We're to be exposing ourselves continually to the teaching and instruction of the word of God, and to be continually growing in our understanding and conviction of the truths of the faith. And as we do, we will be growing in a continual dependency on the Christ whom the faith proclaims.
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Finally, Paul urges that we cultivate a dependency on Christ through an ongoing attitude of thanksgiving - "abounding in it with thanksgiving"; or as it is in the NIV, "overflowing with thankfulness".
A continual attitude of thankfulness toward God is essential to experiencing a full sense of completeness in our walk with Christ. In fact, it's an essential aspect of a Christianity that's "relational" rather than merely "religious". After all, you can't treat the Christian faith as something merely intellectual and impersonal, and be expressing genuine thankfulness to God at the same time. "Thankfulness", by its very nature, implies and acknowledges a personal, dependent relationship with the One being "thanked". Such thankfulness involves taking all the blessings God gives to us in Christ and all the things He does for us through Him, acknowledging those blessings to be gifts of God's free and unmerited grace, and bringing them back to Him full circle for His own glory. He gives us the blessings of His saving grace; and we respond to those blessings in a personal way through our ongoing, continual thankfulness.
That's why Paul said, in Colossians 1:12-14, that he had been praying for the believers in Colossae to become characterized by - among other things - "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins."
Paul is urging us to adopt a 'life-style' of abundant thankfulness to God through Christ. The verb he uses to describe our thankfulness to God means "to be over and above" or "to be superfluous"; and the form of the verb once again describes an ongoing, progressive action. We are to be rich, and abundant, and "over and above" in our thanksgiving to God; and we're to do so as an ongoing, unending, ever-growing life-style characteristic.
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If we're doing those four things and building them into our lives as life-style patterns - being rooted in Christ, being built up in Him, being established in the faith, and abounding with thanksgiving - then we'll be doing our part to cultivate the dependency on Christ that makes a full experience of completeness in Him possible. But it's not enough that we build these things into our lives. We must also be on guard against the things that would distract us from a total dependency on Christ, and that would thus hinder our sense of completeness in Him. And so, Paul goes on to tell us; "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (v. 8).
Consider the first thing Paul says we're to beware of: philosophy. "Philosophy" is a word that comes from two Greek words put together: "philos", which means "love"; and "sophos", which means "wisdom". Philosophy, then, is the love of and the pursuit of wisdom; and in and of itself, such a thing is certainly not wrong. In fact, we're urged in the Bible to seek after the true wisdom found in God's word as a thing to be highly valued and treasured. "Get wisdom!", Proverbs 4:5-7 tells us; "Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; love her, and she will keep you. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding."
But the sort of "wisdom" that Paul speaks of when he warns us against "philosophy" is dangerous precisely because it concerns a "wisdom" that's not from God. In fact, the true nature of the philosophy that Paul has in mind is demonstrated in the phrase he places next to it: "empty deceit". Two phrases are being used; but only one thing is being described by them. It's a kind of "philosophy" that amounts to nothing more than "empty deceit".
Such a seeming "love of wisdom" is really empty deceit, because it manages to fool people into justifying and rationalizing sin in their lives. Paul wrote about the deceitful affect of such "philosophy" when he said;
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them (Eph. 5:5-7).
Paul goes on to describe the nature of such soul-harming philosophy. He says, first, that it's "according to the traditions of men". Such philosophy is useless to make us complete before the eyes of God, because it comes from the imagination and reasoning of fallen human beings; and in the end, it can't rise any higher than its source. It has its beginning point in a fundamental rejection of what God has said in His word; and is then driven forward by the sort of sinful pride that says, "I have all the answers of true wisdom withing me - and I don't need to turn to God for any help."
I was intrigued by a quote I found recently by Mark Twain. Near the end of his life, he was told by a friend that many of the things he had written sounded similar to certain philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzche; and he responded by denying that he drew any inspiration from any such philosophers. He dictated these words as he sought to write the close of his autobiography;
I have not read Nietzche or Ibsen, nor any other philosopher, and have not needed to do it, and have not desired to do it; I have gone to the fountainhead for information - that is to say, the human race. Every man is in his own person the whole human race, with not a detail lacking. I am the whole human race without a detail lacking; I have studied the human race with diligence and strong interest all these years in my own person; in myself I find in big or little proportion every quality and every defect that is findable in the mass of the race. I knew I should not find in any philosophy a single thought which had not passed through my own head, nor a single thought which had not passed through the heads of millions and millions of men before I was born; I knew I should not find a single original thought in any philosophy, and I knew I could not furnish one to the world myself, if I had five centuries to invent it in.
That's about as honest an assessment of the true value of human philosophy as I think I've ever read! Human philosophy gives us the 'answer' alright - the answer to why it is we can't find any 'answer' in human philosophy!! How could any 'answers' that originate from such fallenness and lostness do anything to help us overcome our falleness and lostness?
God has already revealed to us all the truth that we need in order to be saved and to experience fulfillment and completeness in His eyes, if we'll simply believe it and submit to it. Why, then, should we seek answers and solutions from anything less than God's revealed truth? Paul said, in 2:28; "Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility, and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind ..." Allowing ourselves to be influenced by such things will only do harm our full dependency on Christ, and in the end "cheat" us of our sense of completeness in Him.
Second, such philosophy is useless because it's "according to the basic principles of the world". It finds its foundation not in the things of God, but in the mere material things of this earth. It proposes the idea that true happiness and fulfillment is found in a proper relationship - not with God - but with 'things'. It proposes the idea that "completeness" can be experienced through a set of humanly-developed rules that regulate our contact with the basic things of this world.
Paul wrote about the utter inability of such things to make us complete in God's eyes. He said;
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Col. 2:20-23).
How can such mere material things - things which perish and are gone as soon as you use them - be of any value in bringing about God's eternal purposes in us? In the end, an infatuation with such external things leads to 'legalism'; and such legalism does nothing whatsoever to enhance our dependency on Christ.
Finally - and most importantly - such philosophy is useless because it is "not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you re complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power."
God wants you and I to enjoy a sense of total fulfillment before Him. If you have trusted His Son Jesus Christ as your Savior, and have placed your faith in His sacrifice for you on the cross, then you are already made complete before God "in Him"; and your heavenly Father wants you to experience all the benefits of that completeness. He wants our Christianity to be more than that of a mere "religion". He wants it to be the experience of a fulfilling and satisfying "relationship" with Jesus Christ that comes from total dependency on Him.
But it's up to you and I to do what we're supposed to do to cultivate that dependency. We must see ourselves as having been "rooted" in Christ; and we must let our roots grow down deeply into Him, and draw up our nourishment and vitality from daily fellowship with Him. We must allow ourselves to be continually "built up" in Him; letting God conform us increasingly into the image of His Son in the way we live. We must be "established in the faith"; exposing ourselves daily to the instruction of the Bible, under the power of the Holy Spirit, so that God's word changes us at the level of our thinking and our beliefs. We must be "abounding in thanksgiving"; constantly and richly expressing our gratitude to God for all the riches we have in His Son Jesus Christ. And as we grow in dependency on Christ Himself, we must constantly be on the alert against those things that would draw us away from a simple confidence in His complete sufficiency.
As we have received Jesus by faith, may God help us to "keep walking" in Him.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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