Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The third in a four-part series on Colossians, this text addresses a controversy among the Colossians. Some are judging others for not following certain dogmatic ideas and self-abasing practices.

Luke 11:10
"[F]or everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."Photo by Ronald Cuyan on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

July 28, 2019

Second Reading
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Commentary on Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]

The third in a four-part series on Colossians, this text addresses a controversy among the Colossians. Some are judging others for not following certain dogmatic ideas and self-abasing practices.

In response, the writer urges his readers to be rooted in the Messiah, in whom the “entire fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Since they too have “come to fullness” in this Messiah — having been baptized into his crucifixion and resurrection — they need not be “dogmatized” by any self-appointed “authorities and rulers” who seek to undermine their faith.

Live in the Messiah, in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily

The writer begins by urging his readers to continue walking — that is, living their lives — in the Messiah (Colossians 2:6). The word for “walking” (peripateite) has profound baptismal resonance. As a way of life, baptism enacts our palpable unity with the Messiah, who as God’s Wisdom empowers us to “walk” in the way of righteousness and live in alignment with paths of justice (Proverbs 8:20; see Romans 6:4).

Be “rooted” in the Messiah, the writer implores, “built up” in him, “established in the faith,” and “overflowing with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7) — just as you were taught “in all wisdom” (Colossians 1:28). These appeals pertain not to specific behaviors but to an awareness of the “Messiah in you” (Colossians 1:27).

Beware of anyone who would cage you with deceptive philosophies that only denude your experience of life’s fullness and value — whether based on human tradition or ideas about the universe. The writer here is not attacking “philosophy” per se, but rather beliefs and practices (which in this case are clearly spiritual and religious) that are not rooted in the Messiah, the divine Wisdom who permeates the cosmos (see Colossians 1:15-17).

“The entire fullness of deity dwells bodily” in the Messiah — palpably enfleshed as a ubiquitous and personal presence that saturates reality with truth (Colossians 2:9). Moreover, you yourselves have already “come to fullness in him” (Colossians 2:10a). Thus, since the Messiah, as God’s Wisdom, is the “head” of every “ruler and authority” (Colossians 2:10b), no one — absolutely no one — can have the presumption to think that they can rule or have authority over you!

You have been buried and raised with the Messiah

Baptism signifies how we — literally — “come to fullness” in the Messiah. The writer uses circumcision, the Jewish rite of inclusion into God’s people, to depict the Messiah’s crucifixion and what happens to us when we participate in it through baptism (see Romans 2:28-29; Philemon 3:3).

When crucified with the Messiah in baptism, we “strip off” our old, false selves — like dirty clothes. The “body of flesh” (somatos tes sarkos) we discard is not our physical body (recall that deity dwells bodily in the Messiah and in us). Rather, it refers to all that consumes and corrupts, whether within or around us, serving only capricious desires or the interests of those who seek rule and authority over others — from behaviors and practices to traditions and ideas.

However, when you were buried with the Messiah in baptism, “you were also raised with him through faith in the same power of God, who raised him” (Colossians 2:12; 3:1; Ephesians 2:6). On this point, Colossians and Ephesians, which describe believers as already “raised” from the dead (see Colossians 2:12; 3:1; Ephesians 2:6), differ from Paul’s undisputed letters, which anticipate a future resurrection (Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23; Philemon 3:10-11) — although Romans 6:4 sets as parallel the Messiah’s being “raised from the dead” and our “walking in newness of life.”

The writer goes on to describe how “you were dead in transgression.” His allusion to “the uncircumcision of your flesh” suggests that the Colossians had been Gentile and thus had lived, without the Torah of God, in a state of lawlessness (Colossians 2:13a; see Colossians 1:27).

Yet, he continues, God “made you alive together” with the Messiah, when God “forgave us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13b). Several scriptural links are presupposed here. The Torah, which brings life, is God’s Wisdom (Sirach 24). Thus, if the Messiah embodies God’s Wisdom for all people, then God works life in all through their participation in the Messiah.

Although the Greek word for “forgive” in 2:13 is charizomai, its use here suggests the biblical meaning of aphesis (used earlier in Colossians 1:13) — being set free from unjust contracts, as in the Jubilee Year when debts were annulled (Luke 4:18; see also Isaiah 61:1). In the Messiah’s crucifixion, God forgave all people, blotting out the entire record of debts against us with its decrees (literally, “dogmas,” dogmazin).

Nailing this record to the cross, God not only disarmed all rulers and authorities that would control us, but also publicly humiliated them in a “triumphal procession” — an ancient Roman victory celebration in which prisoners of war were paraded as an act of triumph (Colossians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 2:14).

Therefore, let no one “dogmatize” you; instead hold fast to the Messiah

Hence, the writer admonishes, “Do not let anyone judge you” (Colossians 2:16). “Do not let anyone disqualify you” (Colossians 2:18). Those who would condemn you on matters related to food, drink, or observing certain festivals — or who insist on self-abasement or paranormal activity — are futilely exaggerating their own self-importance with what, ironically, is merely a “human way of thinking” (Colossians 2:16, 18).

These things are a mere “shadow” of what is to come, in contrast to the “body,” which belongs to the Messiah (Colossians 2:17). Instead, maintain close intimacy with its head — the Messiah, God’s Wisdom — from whom the whole body, supported and held together by all its joints and connecting bonds, grows with a growth that comes only from God (Colossians 2:19).

In the Messiah, you have died to everything in the universe (Colossians 2:20; Galatians 6:14). So why be “dogmatized” (dogmatizesthe) by human precepts and teachings that merely separate you from your bodies and relationships — such as, “Do not make contact, Do not taste, Do not touch”? (Colossians 2:21). With their self-induced piety, self-abasement, and asceticism, these “dogmas” merely appear to speak a “word holding wisdom,” but they are worthless for checking the actual desires and interests that constitute “the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).