Men who know little of the deep convictions that stirred the heart of the apostle Paul will have difficulty realizing the intensity of his feelings when the truth of God was questioned and the people of the Lord were in danger of being corrupted by false doctrine and turned aside from the simplicity that is in Christ. He wrote to the Colossians, "I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you" (2:1). This verse could also be translated, "I would have you know what intense agony I have for you."
Paul was not one who could play fast and loose with revealed truth. His very soul was tortured when Christ was dishonored by those who professed His name. He was not a self-complacent liberal theologian, carelessly tolerant of any teaching, no matter how pernicious, as long as it did not disrupt outward unity.
The apostle was intensely concerned about the fact that at both Colossae and Laodicea, designing men were seeking to seduce the saints from their first love—that is, Christ. We know that the enemy was largely successful at Laodicea, for the glorified Son of man charged the Laodiceans with being "neither cold nor hot" (Revelation 3:15). Proud of their culture and wealth, they were indifferent to Christ. Paul sought to save the Laodiceans and Colossians from such indifference, and it is to be hoped that he succeeded with the Colossians.
Truth unites. Error divides. Paul wanted the hearts of the Colossians to be "knit together in love" as they understood "the mystery of God" (Colossians 2:2). There is some manuscript diversity in the wording of the last part of this verse. The King James version reads, "The mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ"; this translation is admittedly peculiar. A more understandable rendering of the same manuscript would be "The mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ." But Paul's meaning seems clearer in other manuscripts that can be translated, "The mystery of God, even Christ"; this version is probably the correct one. Paul was referring to the great divine mystery of the "new man" (Ephesians 2:15). As we read in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:
As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
There probably should be a definite article before "Christ" in 1 Corinthians 12:12, for it is the mystical Christ that is in view. I take it that we have a similar idea in Colossians 2:2. "The mystery of God" is that which He has now revealed regarding Christ as Head of the body and consequently of the entire new creation.
As believers comprehend "the mystery," they are delivered from vain speculations and fleshly strivings, for all perfection is found in Christ. The apostle wanted the Colossians to have "the full assurance of understanding" as their hearts acknowledged the wealth of this great mystery. In Hebrews 6:11 we read of "the full assurance of hope" and in Hebrews 10:22 we read of the "full assurance of faith." Full assurance of understanding, hope, and faith—these together establish the soul and set it free from doubt and fear.
In Christ—or, if you prefer, in this mystery of God now revealed—"are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). It is not necessary to go elsewhere—that is, to investigate human systems and philosophies—to find an explanation of the mystery of the universe and the relationship of the Creator to His creatures. As we learn to know Christ better and understand the truth concerning Him, every question is answered, every perplexity made clear, and every doubt dissolved. Why turn aside to idle speculations, no matter how pretentious, when God has spoken in His Son and given His holy Word to lead us by the Spirit into all truth?
Paul wanted to protect the saints from being led astray by persuasive talk or "with enticing words" (Colossians 2:4). Advocates of error delight to clothe their evil systems in most attractive phraseology in an attempt to entrap the souls of the unwary. Only the truth of God can preserve believers when they are exposed to such deception. It is important to remember that no amount of intellectual culture or human learning can take the place of divine revelation. If God has not spoken, we may speculate and reason as we please. But if He has given the truth in His Word, there is an end to all our theorizing. In Colossians 2 Paul showed how Christ is the antidote for human philosophy, Jewish legality, oriental mysticism, and carnal asceticism. These have no place in Christianity. Christ supersedes them all.
The apostle knew (through the report of Epaphras) what Christ had meant to the Colossian saints from the time of their conversion and he was concerned that they might now be turned aside from Him. Though not with them physically, he was one with them in spirit and he rejoiced in all he heard of their godly orderliness and steadfast confidence in Christ. They had begun their Christian journey in faith; moreover they had continued in the same paths of truth and Paul did not want them to go astray. They had received Christ Jesus the Lord—that is, they had trusted Him as Savior and owned Him as Master—and the apostle now wanted them to walk in Him, not turning aside to any new system or perversion of the truth.
Paul's desire was that they be "rooted and built up" in Christ (Colossians 2:7). Then, as a tree sends its roots deep down into the soil, they would draw on hidden sources of supply, all centered in Christ; and as a building founded on a rock is firmly established, they would recognize Christ as their only foundation. The apostle used the same figures of speech in Ephesians 3:17: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love." God is love; so to be rooted and established in love is to be rooted in and founded on God, God revealed in Christ.
If a man walks "in him" (Colossians 2:6), he is established in the faith, "abounding therein with thanksgiving" (2:7). Nothing causes the soul to overflow with worship and gratitude to God so much as a deep knowledge of Christ. True joy is only found in acquaintance with Him. Why then should anyone go after speculative theories that cannot give the soul peace and that make light of Christ the Head?
Every system that makes light of Christ or His atoning blood is from the pit and is to be shunned as a viper by all who know Him. So-called Christian Science is an example. A follower of Mrs. Eddy, the now-deceased head of the cult, visited a simple Christian woman and labored long to explain the professed benefits and beauties of that system. After listening for several hours, the Christian found herself utterly unable to follow the specious sophistries and vapid theorizings of her visitor. Finally the Christian exclaimed, "I do not understand what you are getting at. Can't you put it all in simpler terms so that I may know what it is that you want me to believe?"
"Well," replied the cultist, "in the first place you must understand this: God is a principle not a person. You see, my dear, we worship a principle."
"Enough," exclaimed the other with a relieved expression on her countenance, "That would never do for me! I worship a personal God revealed in Christ, my blessed, adorable Savior." And at once her soul was delivered from the net spread before her by the soft-voiced emissary of Satan who had been endeavoring to ensnare her.
The test of any system is whether it makes light of Christ.
"What think ye of Christ?" is the test,
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him:
As Jesus appears in your view—
As He is beloved or not,
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy or wrath is your lot.
Some take Him a creature to be—
A man, or an angel at most;
But they have not feelings like me,
Nor know themselves wretched and lost.
So guilty, so helpless am I,
I durst not confide in His blood,
Nor on His protection rely,
Unless I were sure He is God.
Some call Him a Saviour, in word,
But mix their own works with His plan;
And hope He His help will afford,
When they have done all that they can:
If doings prove rather too light
(A little they own they may fail),
They purpose to make up full weight,
By casting His name in the scale.
Some style Him "the Pearl of great price,"
And say, He's the fountain of joys;
Yet feed upon folly and vice,
And cleave to the world and its toys.
Like Judas, the Saviour they kiss,
And while they salute Him, betray:
Oh! what will profession like this
Avail in His terrible day?
If asked what of Jesus I think,
Though still my best thoughts are but poor,
I say, He's my meat and my drink,
My life, and my strength, and my store;
My Shepherd, my trust, and my Friend,
My Saviour from sin and from thrall;
My Hope from beginning to end,
My Portion, my Lord and my All.
The natural man cannot understand why Christians should insist on a clear-cut confession of the truth about Christ. "What does it matter," he asks, "whether Jesus is a mere man, more spiritual than most, or the divine eternal Son in the form of man? If He is only a man, He is still the great example and the master teacher. If He is more than man, He is only the revelation of the Father: by His life of love and purity He has shown us God's attitude toward all mankind and has lead us into a better understanding of God and our relationship to Him."
The natural man does not understand Scriptural truth concerning Christ. His holy life—whether only human or divinely human—can never take away our sins or fit us to stand uncondemned before the eternal throne. He had to be both God and man in order to make atonement for sin; as perfect man He had to meet every claim that the outraged deity had against sinful man. If you detract from the person of Christ, you detract from His work. If that work was not divinely perfect, there remains no other sacrifice for sins and we are left without a Savior.
But we can thank God that He who came forth from the Father has glorified Him on the earth and having finished the work that was given to Him to do, He has gone back to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 16:28; 17: