Devotional # 153. 9/17/15. Colossians 2:8-10.
Intro. Last week in verses 4-5 we talked about deceivers and false teachers trying to break up the church. And we talked about the three tests to know when someone is a false teacher. Do you remember them?
If not they were: 1. Biblical – does what they’re teaching match up to the Bible, which was the “doctrine which [we] learned” (v. 17)? 2. Christological – Does it reflect Christ or the false teacher’s own selfishness (v. 18)? 3. Moral – Does it fall under God’s definition of being “wise in what is good” (v. 19)?
This week we’re going to talk about why we don’t need to settle for cheap deceits but instead are completely filled by God. And we’ll talk about who God is in and of Himself, so that He can make us complete.
v. 8. This verse gives us four things that “cheat” us. I love that Paul uses “cheat” because it’s true. I remember when I was in junior high school I had a buddy that would trade his sister penny’s for dimes. She thought that since penny’s were bigger they were worth more but by the time he had a dollar she was only left with ten cents. She was getting cheated because she didn’t know any better. Don’t get cheated just because you don’t know any better – read what Paul is telling us!
First, there is the “[empty] philosophy”. Do you remember in Colossians 1:1 when we talked about the “Colossian heresy” which had morphed weird aspects of Jewish legalism and pagan mysticism and was threatening to pull members away from the church (Devotional # 142)? Well, “philosophy” here literally means “love of wisdom” and is more than just academics, “but described any theory about God, the world, or the meaning of life.” This was the exact word that those in the Colossian heresy” used to describe the type of knowledge they had supposedly reached (Source 1).
Second, there is “empty deceit” which was exactly what the aforementioned “philosophy” was. It wasn’t just “deceit” which would be bad enough but it was “empty” also. It was like dying in the desert and being handed a canteen that ended up being dry. There was the promise of good things but it was all a charade. We have false teachers like this today who have moralistic teaching (just be good and you’ll go to heaven) and others teach prosperity doctrine (God wants you to be rich) and works based teaching (you can work your way into heaven) but all of them leave you empty and searching for more. And the sad thing is that because people were given those false doctrines as a representation of God they think that God failed them when in reality it was the “empty deceit” that failed them.
Third, the “traditions of men” is pretty obvious but there are some points we should clarify. The other day I heard someone say they never approach a job just looking at the issues but they always say “we don’t have any problems, only solutions.” That’s exactly what Paul is doing here, he doesn’t just state the issue but he implies the solution: the tradition of Jesus. “There is then a proper tradition – to which the apostle elsewhere expresses indebtedness… the essence of which lies in its apostolicity [relating to the 12 apostles] (see Col. 1:1)” (Source 2). Remember what we studied last week in verse 7 just prior to this. There is a tradition that we have been given, through the Bible, which is correct. Tradition itself isn’t the enemy; it’s what that tradition promotes. “Apostolic tradition has the status of revelation, for in it exulted Christ Himself speaks through his authorized representatives” (Source 3).
Lastly, “the basic principles of the world” are simplistic and feed into what people want to hear. I’m not interested in what people have created when it comes to my salvation and what my meaning of life is. It’s easy to gravitate towards the “basic”, simplistic and naive teachings that I can wrap my mind around, but it takes some work to actually look into what is the truth. A proper search for the truth will always end with Jesus and that’s why Paul tells us that “the basic principles of the world” are cheating us “and not according to Christ.”
In our lives these might be a job, or drugs, or our kids, or TV and movies, or food, or traveling, or whatever. The point is that we take these as promises of complete fulfillment then they are distractions, they don’t fill the hole, they just make us look in another direction for a while until we’re bored and then we feel that hole again.
v. 9. I often refer to this verse to show that Jesus is God but there’s a bigger reason that Paul shares this with us here. First, let’s talk about why this is proof that Jesus is God and then we’ll talk about why it matters here. The reason that this is one more proof that Jesus is God is chiefly because of the use of “fullness” and “Godhead.”
When it says that “in Him dwells all the fullness” the word in the Greek for “fullness” is pleroma (G#4138) and was often used when describing that a ship was fully manned (full of sailors, rowers and soldiers). I like this definition because everyone had a different skill but they were all part of the crew. It is used in place like when Jesus feeds the 4,000 and there are 7 baskets “full” of leftovers (Source 4). The idea is that there is a completeness, abundance and comprehensiveness about Jesus’ nature. In other words, because this phrase is emphatic (Source 5) it means there can be nothing more added (“all”) to complete (“fullness”) for Jesus to be God.
The “Godhead” is the “divine nature and attributes” (Source 1). In the Greek “Godhead” is theotes (G#2320) and simply means “deity: the state of being God.” This is the only time in the whole Bible the word is used (Source 6). Proper theology will tell us that when we use the phrase “attributes of God” we mean “the particular distinct perfections or realities” of God. And when we use the phrase “nature of God” we mean the sum of all the…”attributes of God” (Source 7). Off the top of my head I think of pizza. When you have the “attributes” of pizza each one is good in and of itself: mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce, pepperonis and dough. But it’s only once you put them altogether that they have the “nature” of pizza. So each attribute of God (such as the eternity of God, the immutability of God, the omnipotence of God, the goodness of God, the love of God, the self-existence of God and God’s infinitude*) makes up His “nature.” And Jesus is perfect “fullness” and completeness of the attributes and therefore the “nature” of God. As I often say if you want to know anything about God look to Jesus. If you want to know how God would react in a certain situation look at how Jesus reacted. If you want to know what God is passionate about find out what Jesus was passionate about.
So why does it matter here? The big picture is that we don’t need to search for other things to fill us because we are complete in God because He is complete in Himself. That’s a pretty deep thought! If you’re not sure you got it, you’re not alone. Let’s break it down into bight-sized pieces:
The big picture is that we don’t need to search for other things to fill us. Every human is discontent and unhappy. Now if every person is like that then what’s wrong with the human race? There is something missing. If the Bible is right then there is a God shaped hole that we inherited as soon as humans sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. It makes sense that the only thing that can truly fill that hole is God Himself. So why do we try inadequate substitutes? Because we still have the drive and desire to work things out and fix stuff. Little kids say it all the time: “I can do it myself.” We think that if we fill the hole ourselves then its on our terms and we were the conqueror and then we get to make the rules. So we listen to the things from verse 8, the “[empty] philosophy”, the “empty deceit”, the “traditions of men” and “the basic principles of the world.” Remember these might be drugs or TV and movies, etc. But we’ve all tried them and they don’t satisfy. Sure they’ll be fine for a while but there is never a lasting spiritual connection made with a distraction. But when God gets a hold of your life, no matter how much you squirm at first, there is a real change. If someone asks, ‘how do you know Christianity is the right way if you haven’t tried Buddhism or Mormonism or Wicca?’ The answer is that once you’ve found the truth you don’t need to keep looking. If I lose my keys and then find them would I keep looking for them?
Because we are complete in God. Read below for verse 10.
Because He is complete in Himself. As we just read in verse 9 Jesus is complete in the “Godhead” but this only matters if the “Godhead” is complete in and of itself. The three Persons of God (Father, Son and Spirit) are complete and self-sufficient alone. Read the Prayer in the Conclusion of this Devotional for more.
*Attributes of God: Read A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy for more!
v. 10. The statement here in verse 10 that we are “complete in Him” is because of “your faith in Christ” (v. 5). We cannot be “complete in Him” unless we’ve committed to that “steadfastness of [our] faith in Christ“. Remember what we just talked about in verse 8, that the false teachers “of the world” will teach us “basic” and simplistic “principles“? “Everyone who possesses the gift of faith will recognize the wisdom of those daring words of one of the early church fathers: ‘I believe that Christ died for me because it is incredible; I believe that He rose from the dead because it is impossible’…” (Source 8, p. 19). Well, it’s true it does take a certain amount of “faith” to believe some of the teachings of the Bible. But these doctrines of truth we’ve seen clearly in our life experiences, the prophecies we’ve seen fulfilled and the fact that a universe so well organized must be created by a Being much better and full of surprises than we could ever imagine. And since our life experiences, the prophecies as well as the rest of the Bible (Psalm 100:5) and the mere fact of creation all point to a GOOD God, we can rest assured that we will be complete in Him. Only “the head of all principality and power” would know what’s best for us, His creations. We find “completeness” in Him because He created us complete, it was sin and our own selfishness, much like false teachers, that is at the root of why we are incomplete in the first place.
Conclusion. I’m going to end this great portion of Scripture with a prayer I’ve borrowed (and modernized slightly) from A.W. Tozer: “Teach us, O God, that nothing is necessary to You…if nothing is necessary to You, then no one is necessary, and if no one, then not us. You do seek us though You don’t need us. We seek You because we need You, for in You we live and move and have our being. Amen” (Source 8, p. 32).
Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1835.
Source 2: The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1972, p. 791.
Source 3: Oscar Cullmann, “Tradition,” the early church, quoted from The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1972, p. 791.
Source 4: “fullness”, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4138&t=KJV
Source 5: Troy VanderWende, sermon given 9/12/10.
Source 6: “Godhead”, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2320&t=KJV
Source 7: Georg Christian Knapp, Lectures on Christian Theology, Volume 1, https://books.google.com/books?id=cZkRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA176&lpg=PA176&dq=difference+between+divine+attributes+and+nature&source=bl&ots=1-BxtYS9B5&sig=i82ulOSDe4_MA-P3Bp8_qa7q-ME&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAmoVChMIvM-jgM3lxwIVyjaICh29Vwhm#v=onepage&q=difference%20between%20divine%20attributes%20and%20nature&f=false
Source 8: A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.