Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. (2:18–19)
Mysticism may be defined as the pursuit of a deeper or higher subjective religious experience. It is the belief that spiritual reality is perceived apart from the human intellect and natural senses. It looks for truth internally, weighing feelings, intuition, and other internal sensations more heavily than objective, observable, external data. Mysticism ultimately derives its authority from a self-actualized, self-authenticated light rising from within. This irrational and anti-intellectual approach is the antithesis of Christian theology. The false teachers claimed a mystical union with God. Paul exhorts the Colossians not to allow those false teachers to keep defrauding them of their prize. It was as if the heretics assumed the role of spiritual referees and disqualified the Colossians for not abiding by their rules.
Self-abasement translates tapeinophrosunē, which is usually rendered “humility.” The NASB translation emphasizes the negative use of the term in the present context. The humility of the Colossian errorists was a false humility. They were delighting in it, meaning their supposed humility was nothing but ugly pride. It was like that of Uriah Heep, one of the most contemptible characters of English literature, who said, “I am well aware that I am the ’umblest person going” (chapter 16 of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield).
The false teachers had a far more serious problem than false humility, however. They also engaged in the worship of the angels, thus denying the truth that there is “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
The worship of angels was a heresy that was to plague the Phrygian region (where Colossae was located) for centuries. Commentator William Hendriksen notes that in a.d. 363 a church synod was held in Colossae’s sister city of Laodicea. It declared, “It is not right for Christians to abandon the church of God and go away to invoke angels” (Canon 25) (cited in Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], p. 126). The early Church Father Theodoret, commenting on Colossians 2:18, wrote, “The disease which St. Paul denounces, continued for a long time in Phrygia and Pisidia” (cited in Hendriksen, p. 126). The archangel Michael was worshiped in Asia Minor as late as a.d. 739. He was also given credit for miraculous cures.
The Bible strictly forbids the worship of angels. “It is written,” Jesus told Satan, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’ ” (Matt. 4:10).
The angels themselves worship God, as Isaiah noted in his vision:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. (Isa. 6:1–4)
In Revelation 5:11–12, John writes, “I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ ”
When John tried to worship an angel, he was rebuked for doing so: “I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God’ ” (Rev. 19:10; cf. Rev. 22:9).
In addition to practicing false humility and worshiping angels, the false teachers were taking their stand on visions they had seen. Like many heretics and cultists down through the ages, they claimed support for their aberrant teachings in visions they had supposedly seen. Some of the worst excesses in the modern-day charismatic movement are derived from such visions. There is no need for extrabiblical revelation through visions, because “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2, italics added).
Paul warns the Colossians not to be intimidated by the false teachers’ claims. Far from being the spiritual elite they thought themselves to be, they were inflated without cause by their fleshly minds. Being guilty of gross spiritual pride, they were devoid of the Holy Spirit. Having gone beyond the teaching of Christ (cf. 2 John 9), they were not holding fast to the head, that is, Christ (cf. Col. 1:18). He is the One from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. Spiritual growth comes from union with Christ. Jesus says in John 15:4–5, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
There is a tendency in human nature to move from objectivity to subjectivity—to shift the focus from Christ to experience. This has always intimidated weak believers and threatened the church.
Today this brand of mysticism is most commonly seen in the charismatic movement—where Scripture is a distant second in importance to visions and revelations.
When such intimidation came from the sixteenth-century mystical charismatics of Martin Luther’s day, the great Reformer was very firm with them, clinging to biblical revelation and the centrality and sufficiency of Christ. In particular, the followers of Thomas Münzer and the radical Anabaptists gave great prominence to the work and gifts of the Spirit—and to mystical knowledge. Their cry, expressing their supra-biblical experience, was “The Spirit, the Spirit!” Luther replied, “I will not follow where their spirit leads.” When they were granted the privilege of an interview with Luther, they gave their cry “The Spirit, the Spirit!” The great Reformer was not impressed and thundered, “I slap your spirit on the snout.”
We, like the Colossians, must not be intimidated by those who would make something other than knowing Christ through His Word a requirement for spiritual maturity. Christ is all sufficient, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3).
19 Paul considered the visionaries to be not only conceited but also misguided. He accuses them of not holding fast to or grasping hold of the Head, i.e., Christ (cf. 1:18). It is probable that the ones promoting the “philosophy” regarded themselves as Christians (so Lincoln, 632; O’Brien, xl; cf. otherwise Garland, 31). (It does in fact seem probable that the “philosophers” would have interacted with and been influenced by the Colossian synagogue[s] [cf. Dunn, 185].) Paul calls their contention into question. Their avant-garde attitude toward Christ and their elitist perspective toward other believers endangered their necessary connection to both the Head and the body. God grants nourishment, support, and growth for those attached to Christ (Eph 4:15–16). By deprecating the Head and the body, the innovators ran the risk of severing themselves from the source of and ruler over all things. Paul regards those who are not holding fast to the Head to be disjointed from and out of alignment with the body. It would have been Paul’s hope, however, that those promoting the “philosophy” would be fully restored to the body so that they too might be encouraged in love and grounded in faith (cf. 2:1–5). Paul’s theological strategy for combating the Colossian deviation was to stress Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency. His epistolary plan was to set forth an apology against and to offer remedy for the “philosophy.”
19 This self-inflation and pride in private religious experiences come of not maintaining contact with the head. Here at any rate it is best to understand “head” and “body” in their physiological relation to each other. Each part of the body functions properly so long as it is under the control of the head: if it escapes from this control and begins to act independently, the consequences can be very distressing. It is under the direction of Christ, then, that the various parts of his body function harmoniously together, since they share his common life and grow to maturity under the fostering care of God, supplied with nutriment and fitted to each other by means of the “joints and ligaments.”139
In spite of Dibelius’s argument, developed in agreement with his exposition of Col. 1:18 and 2:10, that the body here is the cosmos, it is preferable by far to take the present passage in the same sense as Eph. 4:16, the body being the church. Dibelius’s interpretation, according to which the false teachers hold fast to the members of the cosmos-body (that is, to the principalities and powers) instead of to Christ as the head of that body, introduces into the argument an element which is not only un-Pauline but not really consistent with its context. What is more probably meant here is that the false teachers, by failing to maintain contact with him who is head of his body the church, have no true part in that body, since it is from Christ as their head that all the members of the body acquire their capacity to function aright in harmony with one another.
19 Anthropology now makes way for Christology, with echoes also of ecclesiology. The halakic charismatics who denounce the Colossian Christians because they have not embraced their version of full conversion (halakah and asceticism) are judged by Paul to “have lost connection to the head.” The language is dramatic and might be connected to themes of apostasy, heresy, and false prophets. Furthermore, this kind of evaluation by Paul demonstrates that the halakic mystics saw themselves as Christians. If so, the halakic mystics have, like Peter and Barnabas in Antioch (Gal 2:11–14), failed to maintain a consistency on gospel inclusion of Gentiles on the basis of faith in Christ.250 Yet, the grammar may not support such a reading. The Greek says “and not grasping the head.” Both the NIV and CEB insinuate that the opponents are losing connection with the head, although the text does not go that far and may be saying only that the opponents may have “never ‘grasped’ Christ in the first place … and now find themselves like a torso without a head.”
The “head” is Christ, the head of the church (Col 1:18; 2:10; also at 1 Cor 11:3–5, 7, 10; Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23). From what follows in our verse the sense of “head” is that Christ is the source of unity for all the church, Jews and Gentiles, with a clear sense that the halakic mystics are drawing the Colossians away from the one body in Christ. The rest of v. 19 is a digression on Christ, something that has become a pattern in Colossians (e.g., 1:13–23; 2:3), but this digression probes beyond a fullness-Christology to explore unity and growth in and through Christ. The core sentence is “from whom the whole body … grows the growth of God”—with “supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews”254 added for colorful metaphor. The core idea is that attachment to Christ is necessary for the body of Christ to grow as God wills. The “whole body” yet again evokes the importance of Gentiles and Jews as a new family (see 3:11). God’s plan is for this body to “grow.” The cognate noun—literally “grow the growth of God”—clarifies the growth as originating in God’s own work. The issue for some is whether this is numerical growth in the sense of the church fanning across the Mediterranean with more and more local churches or whether it is moral and spiritual maturity, with little emphasis on the numerical side. There is evidence in Colossians for the first at 1:6, 10, 26–27, while there is also evidence of the second in 1:10.
Whether more in number or more in maturity, the emphasis of Paul here is unity in Christ and inclusion of Gentiles on the basis of faith instead of adherence to halakah and ascetic rigor: Christ alone is sufficient. One must notice the same emphasis on unity in Eph 4:15–16: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Colossians, however, does not explore spiritual gifts as an instrument of unity. Instead, this letter reduces it to the unity that Christ alone can and does provide.
Three conclusions (vv. 18–19)
Paul draws three conclusions from his declaration of freedom.
the power of error: ‘Let no one cheat you of your reward’ (v. 18; NIV: ‘disqualify you for the prize’). To follow error is to be in danger of losing the reward that awaits the faithful in Christ (Matt. 25:21; 2 Tim. 4:7–8; James 1:12).
the possibility of pride: ‘Taking delight in false humility and worship of angels … vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind’ (v. 18). The ‘spoilers’ made the Colossian believers feel inferior. But in reality they were complete in Christ and lacked nothing for salvation. ‘The worship of angels’ implies that they were being taught that the mediation of angels was a valid and necessary way to approach the Father. ‘The doctrine of angels or of a spirit world was opposed to the sole mediation of Christ, and introduced an intermediate order of beings between God and man’. In A.D. 366 the Synod of Laodicea said, ‘It is not right for Christians to abandon the church of God and go away to invoke angels’ (Canon XXV). Michael the Archangel was worshipped in Asia Minor for centuries before A.D. 739.
the principle of headship: ‘Holding fast to the head’ (v. 19). The correct view of Christ is one which submits to his authority and acknowledges his power as the head of the church. This will lead to God-given growth. Jesus is Lord. But the spoilers had not held ‘fast to the head’, they had ‘lost connection’ (NIV), and as a result the church was now faltering and was in danger of disappearing. Correct spiritual liberty will allow the body to grow.
2:19 / The false teachers have fallen into error because they have stopped holding on to the Head, from whom the whole body … grows. Paul already has discussed the headship of Christ as it relates to the cosmos and the church (1:15–20; 2:10). Here he applies that concept to the problems facing the church by using the analogy of the human body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–31; Eph. 4:15–16). Because these false teachers have detached themselves from Christ, they have deprived themselves of the true source of nourishment and unity.
Christ himself is the only true source of life for the church, for under his control the entire body is supported (epichorēgoumenon). This is a present participle, indicating that the process of support or nourishment is a continuing one. The same continuing action applies to the unity of the body as well (symbibazomenon): Under Christ’s control the whole body is held together by its ligaments and sinews (cf. Eph. 4:16). These anatomical features provide the necessary cohesion for the body. But they can do so only if they remain joined to the head.
Under the headship of Christ, the body grows according to God’s plan. Literally, the Greek translates into an awkward phrase “it (the church) grows (unto?) the growth of God.” The basic meaning, however, is that God provides the pattern for the church’s growth; he also is the source of that growth, which is mediated through Christ, the head.
All of what Paul has been saying adds to his indictment of the false teachers for being vain and carnal (2:18). Since they have cut themselves off from the source of nourishment, unity, and growth, it follows that they are undernourished, fragmented, and stagnant. In fact, the imagery can be carried even further, for it leads to this inescapable truth: The one who separates himself from Christ, the head of the church, is cut off from the church, the body of Christ; the one who separates himself from the church is cut off from Christ, the head.
Warning against Angel-Worship
18 Let no one disqualify you by delighting in humility and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on the things he has seen, without cause puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not keeping firm hold on the Head, from whom the entire body, supported and held together by joints and ligaments, grows with a growth (that is) from God.
- Turning now to the subject of angel-worship, which was one of the characteristics of the Colossian Heresy, Paul writes, Let no one disqualify you. Let no ritualist tell you, “Since you, Colossians, are not following my rules and regulations, you are not in the race or contest at all. You are unfit, unworthy.” Particularly, do not begin to feel inferior when such a person, in addition to stressing the importance of all those restrictions as to eating, drinking, etc., tries to put you to shame by his attempt to draw a sharp contrast between yourself and himself. Let him not disqualify you by his delighting in humility … Now sincere humility, is, indeed, a precious virtue (cf. Col. 3:12, and see N.T.C. on Phil. 2:3), but the humility of which this false teacher boasted was nothing but a thin disguise for insufferable pride, as is clear also from verse 23. This person was as “umble” as Uriah Heep in David Copperfield.
Paul continues, and (also delighting in) the worship of the angels. The question arises, Just what is the relation between humility and the worship of angels? The answer is not given. Perhaps the suggestion that has been offered by more than one commentator is correct, namely, that the teacher of error was trying to create the impression that he considered himself too insignificant to approach God directly, hence sought to contact Deity through the mediation of angels, and since the angels were willing to perform this service for him—or, in order that they might oblige—worshiped them.
With respect to the words here translated the worship of the angels there is much difference of opinion among commentators. Some prefer the rendering, “angelic piety” or “worship as practised by angels.” But the fact that Paul in this epistle constantly emphasizes Christ’s pre-eminence above all creatures, including the angels (Col. 1:16, 17, 20; 2:9, 15) and that he says “of the angels,” seems to indicate that he was combating angel-worship. Not only this, but there is evidence tending to support the theory that angel-worship was practised in the general region in which Colosse was located. Did not the Holy Spirit through John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, strongly condemn angel-worship? See Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9. And did not John, during a considerable portion of his ministry, have Ephesus, only a little over one hundred miles to the west of Colosse, as his headquarters? Moreover, as has been pointed out in footnote , the Essenes, whose doctrine in certain respects resembled the one here attacked (though the Colossian errorists may not have been Essenes!), required of those who were about to be admitted to full membership an oath “carefully to guard … the names of the angels.” The Synod of Laodicea—one of the three cities of the Lycus Valley; see Introduction II A—in the year a.d. 363 declared, “It is not right for Christians to abandon the church of God and go away to invoke angels” (Canon XXV). A century afterward Theodoret, commenting on this very Scripture-passage (Col. 2:18), states, “The disease which St. Paul denounces, continued for a long time in Phrygia and Pisidia.” Irenaeus, himself from Asia Minor but widely traveled, in his work Against Heresies (a.d. 182–188), implies both the widespread presence of angel-worship in the camp of the emissaries of error and the firm stand of the primitive church against this evil practice when he states, “Nor does she [i.e. the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incarnations, or by any other wicked curious art; but directing her prayers to the Lord who made all things … and calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead men into error” (II.xxxii.5). It is known that Michael, a leader of the host of angels, was worshiped widely in Asia Minor, and this worship, too, continued for centuries. So, for example, as late as a.d. 739 the scene of a great victory over the Saracens was dedicated to him. His worship is also implied in inscriptions found in Galatia. And he was given credit for miraculous cures.
From all this it would seem that the rendering “the worship of the angels” is correct. For the theory according to which these angels were “astral spirits,” “rulers of the planetary spheres,” see footnote above. And for Paul’s own teaching respecting angels see not only above, on Col. 1:16, 17; 2:15, but also N.T.C. on I and II Timothy, and Titus, pp. 183–185.
Paul continues, taking his stand on the things he has seen.101
This man pretends (perhaps even believes) to have seen something, and he presumes on this experience he has had. He makes the most of it. If any one ventures to contradict him or to question the truth of his theories, he will answer, “But I have seen such and such a vision.” In saying this and in relating the vision he will, of course, assume an air of deep insight into divinely revealed mysteries. He prides himself on what he regards as his superior knowledge. He forgets that “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). He is, continues Paul, without cause puffed up by his fleshly mind. Note “without cause,” that is, though he is filled with an exalted opinion of himself, he has no good reason to feel this way. His mind, moreover, is distinctly the mind of the flesh, the attitude or disposition of heart and mind apart from regenerating grace. It is important in this connection to observe that for the mind to be “fleshly” or “of the flesh” it is not necessary that it be “fixed on purely physical things.”103 On the contrary, it is “of the flesh” if it bases its hope for salvation on anything apart from Christ, as verse 19 clearly indicates. Whether the ground or which it bases this confidence be physical strength, charm, good works, or, as here, transcendental visions, makes no difference. It is “the mind of the flesh” all the same. Note how Paul exposes this individual who pretends to take such pleasure in humility or self-abasement. He says, as it were, “This man who pretends to be so very humble is in reality unbearably proud. His mind is inflated with the sense of his own importance, as he brags about the things he has seen.” Contrast this tawdry behavior with respect to questionable visions with Paul’s own sensible reaction in regard to real visions (2 Cor. 12:1–14)
19. The trouble with this combination philosopher-ritualist-angel worshiper-ascetic-visionary is that he is taking his stand on the things he has seen … and not keeping firm hold on the Head. He does not cling to Christ. He fails to see that Christ is all-sufficient for salvation, and that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him (Col. 2:3, 9, 10). Hence, Paul continues, from whom the entire body, supported and held together by joints and ligaments, grows with a growth (that is) from God. It should not be necessary to defend the proposition that when the apostle, having just referred to Christ as the Head, now speaks about the entire body, he is thinking about the church. That, in such a connection, this is the only possible meaning is clearly implied in such passages as Col. 1:18, 24; 3:15; Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:16.
The underlying figure in this passage is that of the growth of the human body. The aptness of Paul’s metaphor has been questioned, and this for two reasons:
Objection No. 1. The apostle implies that in a human body the head is the source of growth. This is faulty, ancient physiology.
Answer. As was indicated in connection with Col. 1:18, the hormone that is closely related to the growth of connective tissue, cartilage, and bone structure of the body originates in the pituitary gland which is housed in a small cavity in the base of the skull. And that is only one of several ways in which the head influences the growth of the body.
Objection No. 2. According to Paul “nourishment is ministered” (A.V.) to the body by joints and ligaments. Lightfoot similarly states that one of the two functions of the joints and ligaments is “to supply nutriment” (op. cit., p. 200). But we now know that it is not joints and ligaments but the bloodstream that carries nourishment to the various cells and tissues of the human body. Therefore, Paul was in error.
Answer. The proper rendering is “the entire body supported and held together by joints and ligaments.” Now the fact that the body is, indeed, thus supported and held together is common knowledge. It is not refuted by the most up to date science. Therefore, instead of hinting that the apostle is basing his argument on “loose physiology” (Moule, op. cit., p. 107), the question may well be asked whether the rendering according to which joints and ligaments “supply nutriment” (or “nourishment”) to the body is not “loose translation.”
So much for the underlying figure. Now as to the real message which the apostle is here conveying, in the light of the context it is clear that the main idea is that to Christ the entire church owes its growth. The church need not and must not look for any other source of strength to overcome sin or to increase in knowledge, virtue, and joy. Just as the human body, when properly supported and held together by joints and ligaments, experiences normal growth, so also the church, when each of its members supports and maintains loving contact with the others, will, under the sustaining care of God, proceed from grace to grace and from glory to glory (cf. 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:16).
2:18–19. Fullness and freedom mean that believers need not be drawn into the quest for exciting experiences. Apparently, the false teachers were telling the believers at Colosse that mystical visions and deeper experiences were necessary to make them truly spiritual. Once again, Paul brings the issue back to Christ.
Scholars debate whether the worship of angels referred to the angels being the objects of worship (the worship given to angels) or to the worship that the angels perform. Either are possible, but the former seems most likely. The mystical experience began with initiation into ascetic rituals (possibly referred to in Col. 2:21) which led to supernatural visions in which the individual was ushered into the heavenly realms to worship the angels who emanated from God or to join with the angels in the worship of God. The worshiper would then return with all kinds of stories about what he [had] seen in his vision. The Colossians were being told that if they really wanted to reach new levels of spirituality they needed to engage in these kinds of experiences. The mystical journey was intended to restore a lost dimension to spiritual experience.
Paul says this kind of spiritual quest is in fact a dangerous distraction. The person loses connection with the Head, from whom the whole body grows. The vision becomes the focus; Jesus becomes secondary. As a result growth is stunted, and believers are disqualif[ied] … for the prize. This phrase is actually one Greek term meaning “act as umpire against you.” It could mean “let no one pass critical judgment against you,” or it could mean “let no one deprive you of spiritual reward” because you have become distracted by a quest for experiences. Paul does not want Christians to be robbed of assurance and made to feel unspiritual, unfaithful, and in need of something extra—something more and higher than the cross.
This quest for superspiritual experience, like the legalism of the previous verses, fosters pride. The experience seeker delights in false humility, but his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. Believers may have spiritual experiences of varying kinds. Experiences themselves are not evil. When we try to make our experience the standard for all believers or when we measure our own or someone else’s spirituality on the basis of that experience, we’re being arrogant and unspiritual.
Christ is central. Not rules. Not experiences. Christ.
Vers. 18–19. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility. It is evident that “humility” here is degraded and discoloured by the tinge which is given it by its close connection with the words “in a voluntary.” This is a rendering in the LXX. of a Hebrew word signifying “taking a delight in, having one’s own inclination gratified in.” θέλω is used of that which a man does of his own notion, and passes over into the notion of sheer self-will and arbitrariness. Thus we learn the important lesson that virtues and graces are too delicate for the rough admeasurement of mere hard and fast moral lines. Their beauty and acceptability depart, and may even turn into their opposites. Wilful self-complacency in humility is censured by St. Paul as inconsistent with the sweet unconsciousness of true humility. It becomes the worst pride, or the most abject meanness—the pride or the meanness which apes humility. The word “will worship” in ver. 23 shows that a strong sense of θέλω, as intense self-will, was present to St. Paul’s mind. There as here, self-will imparts a contamination to the virtue with which it is associated. Humility and worship themselves become pride and superstition. Hence in Luke 1:48 the word should be rendered “low estate,” not humility. One who says, “I am humble,” is not humble. Mary does not profess humility, she practices it. (Bp. Alexander.)
Speculative and practical error:—
- The speculative side of the Colossian heresy. In the Authorized Version the apostle is made to bring a charge of presumption against the false teachers “intruding into the things which he hath not seen.” But this is a strange argument for one whose whole walk was by faith and not by sight, and who would hardly count it an answer to a professed revelation to say “you are intruding into that which you have not seen, and therefore you cannot know” with modern materialists. But this difficulty is removed in the Revised Version, which, on high authority, omits the “not,” and inverts the argument. Again, the Greek word “intruding into” means “dwelling in” or “taking his stand upon,” and the charge now becomes that of self-complacent self-conceit. 1. This man has “seen things,” the exact equivalent of our “a man has views,” a phrase of which obscure thinkers are very fond. The Colossian speculator may have professed to see visions and revelations of the Lord, and to bare come back from the third heaven to reveal them; or, if not this, to have seen things in the tone of an arrogant thinker, who gives his notions the style of certainties, verified with the eye of the mind, “dwelling in” them with complacent satisfaction as the whole of truth. 2. Or we may take the marginal reading, “taking his stand upon” his views; regarding them as land which he has won with his intellectual bow and spear, and from which he can go on to move or conquer the universe. 3. These new thinkers spoke much of the mind, made knowledge the bait of their enticements, endeavoured to establish an aristocracy of intellect within that Christian society which was free to all comers, and in which the wise and prudent are set side by side with babes. How striking is St. Paul’s language, “idly inflated with the mind of his flesh.” So far from being edified into the spiritual realm it was merely puffed up, and had its moving power in the repudiated sphere of matter. That Paul would so describe all so-called modern thought which sets aside Christ is certain. II. We pass on to ver. 23 to the practical side of the new heresy. 1. Here we have its treatment of matter, how its teachers sought by ceremonial prohibitions (ver. 21) to counteract the deadly influence of sense in spirit, and to mortify the body as an enemy of the spiritual life. It was a plausible, and perhaps, in its origin, a well-intentioned effort. It was nobler than that which treats matter as of no moment. But the two perversions have one root. Asceticism and licence both rob the body of its dignity as the servant of the spirit. 2. St. Paul admits that the ascetic rules have a show of wisdom; they speak plausibly, and promise largely by their will worship, i.e., their religion of self-imposed observances; by their humility, i.e., their obsequiousness; and by their severity to the body, i.e., their mortifying restrictions. 3. Thus far both versions agree. But now the Authorized Version says, “not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” This leaves out a particle which demands a contrast. But without this is it in accordance with St. Paul’s teaching to blame a system for not satisfying the flesh? Indeed, the Greek word is “indulgence.” But the Revised Version has inserted the particle of antithesis, and reads, “but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.” The language is borrowed from the medical profession. What is good for it? What is a valuable remedy for such and such a disease? Indulgence of the flesh is the disease; can asceticism cure it? St. Paul says no! It sounds well, professes loudly, but has no real value. 4. Rules of abstinence, regulations as to food or drink—lawful, indeed, but from which it is an act of religion to abstain—have a show of wisdom; they point to a terrible evil and profess to cure it; they are well sounding words, “temperance” and the like; they talk of the value of humility in bending the neck to discipline. St. Paul does not deny that the conquest of the body is good, and that the means have something to say for themselves; but he declares as a man of large experience who has tried all means, and who is taught of God that all such regulations will fail.
III. The true principle of Christian thinking and living. 1. In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They who do not hold fast the Head therefore, whatever they may think or see or dream, cannot but be puffed up and not edified. 2. In Christ with whom our life is hid in God (chap. 3:1) can alone be found the secret of the victory over the flesh which is the professed object of every system of ethics. If ye are dead what need of “touch not,” &c.? If ye are risen the chains of flesh shall fall off by the influence of the spiritual life. (Dean Vaughan.)
The angels and the Head:—
- The warning. 1. “Let no man rob you of your prize.” The metaphor is that of the race or wrestling ground; the judge is Christ, the reward is the crown, not of fading bay leaves, but of sprays from the “tree of life” which dower with blessedness the brows round which they are wreathed. The tendency of the heresy is to rob them of this. No names were mentioned, but the portrait of the robber is drawn with four rapid but accurate strokes of the pencil. (a) The humility has not a genuine ring about it. Self-conscious humility in which a man takes delight is not the real thing. A man who knows that he is humble and is self-complacent about it, glancing out of the corners of his downcast eyes at any mirror where he can see himself, is not humble at all. “The devil’s darling vice is the pride that apes humility.” (b) So very humble were these people that they would not venture to pray to God. The utmost they could do was to lay hold of the lowest link of a long chain of angel mediators in hope that the vibration might run upwards through all the links, and perhaps reach the throne at last. Such fantastic abasement which would not take God at His word, nor draw near to Him through Christ, was the very height of pride. (2) “Dwelling in the things he hath seen,” i.e., by visions, &c. The charge against the false teachers was of “walking in a vain show” of unreal imaginations. (3) “Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” The self-conscious humility was only skin deep, and covered the utmost intellectual arrogance. The false teacher was like a blown bladder, dropsical from conceit of “intellectual ability” which was after all only the instrument of the flesh, the sinful self. Of course, such could have no grip of Christ, from whom such tempers were sure to detach. (4) Therefore, the damning indictment closes with “not holding the head.” 2. The special forms of these errors are gone; but the tendencies which underlay them are as rampant as ever. (1) The worship of angels is dead, but we are often tempted to think that we are too sinful to claim our portion of the promises. The spurious humility is by no means out of date, which knows better than God whether He can forgive, and grasps at others as well as Christ, the one Mediator. (2) We do not see visions and dream dreams, except that here and there some one is led astray by “spiritualism,” but plenty of us attach more importance to our speculations than to the clear revelation of God in Christ. The “unseen world” has for many an unwholesome attraction. The Gnostic spirit is still among us which despises the foundation truths of the gospel as milk for babes, and values its baseless artificial speculations about subordinate matters which are unrevealed because they are subordinate, and fascinating to some minds because unrevealed, far above the truths which are clear because they are vital, and inspired because clear. (3) And a swollen self-conceit is, of all things, the most certain to keep a man away from Christ. We must feel our utter helplessness and need before we shall lay hold of Him; and whatever slackens our hold of Christ tends to deprive us of the final prize. “Hold fast that thou hast; let no man take thy crown.”
- The source and manner of all true growth is set forth in order to enforce the warning and to emphasize the need of holding the head. 1. Christ is not merely represented as supreme and sovereign, but as the source of spiritual life. 2. That life which flows through the head is diffused through the whole body by the various and harmonious action of all the parts. The body is “supplied and knit together,” i.e., the functions of nutrition and compaction into a whole are performed by the “joints and bands,” in which last word are included muscles, nerves, tendons. Their action is the condition of growth, but the Head is the source of all. Churches have been bound together by other bonds, such as creeds, polity, nationality; but an external bond is only like a rope round a bundle of faggots. 3. The blessed results of supply and unity are effected through the action of the various parts. If each organ is in healthy action the body grows. There is diversity in offices; the same life is light in the eyes, beauty in the cheek, strength in the hand, thought in the brain. The effect of Christianity is to heighten individuality, and to give to each man his own proper “gift from God.” The perfect light is the blending of all colours. 4. A community where each member thus holds firmly by the Head will increase with the increase of God. There is an increase not of God. These heretical teachers were swollen with dropsical self-conceit. The individual may increase in apparent knowledge, in volubility, in visions and speculations, in so-called Christian work; the Church may increase in members, wealth, influence, &c., and it may not be sound growth, but proud flesh that needs the knife. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The seductive peril of a false philosophy:—A false philosophy—
- Threatens to rob the believer of his reward. Many erroneous opinions may be held without invalidating salvation; but any error that depreciates our estimate of Christ, and interrupts the advance of our Christian life, is a robbery.
- Advocates the most presumptuous and perilous speculations. 1. It affects a spurious humility. God is unknowable to the limited powers of man, so it reasons. But this humility was voluntary, self-induced, and was in reality another form of spiritual pride. 2. It invents a dangerous system of angelolatry. 3. It pretends to a knowledge of the mysterious. Locke says a work in the drawer of a cabinet might as well pretend to guess at the construction of the universe, as man venture to speculate about the unseen world.
III. Ignores the Divine source of all spiritual increase. 1. Christ is the great Head of the Church—the centre of its unity, the source of its life, authority, and influence. 2. The Church is vitally and essentially united to Christ. 3. The vital union of the Church with Christ is the condition of spiritual increase. Lessons: A false philosophy—1. Distorts the grandest truths. 2. Substitutes for truth the most perilous speculations. 3. Against its teachings be ever on your guard. (G. Barlow.)
- The apostle brands the seducers and concludes that no regard is to be paid to them. 1. Because in sacred things they arrogated to themselves, by no right whatever, a power of determining as the judges were accustomed in contests. These voluntary umpires decreed the reward of eternal life to none who were unwilling to subscribe to their doctrines. Therefore, as St. Paul struck at this usurpation, we must understand that no such power is granted to man that he should determine anything in religion of his own will; but is bound to judge according to Scripture (Isa. 8:20). Hence estimate Romish tyranny which claims this very power. 2. They abused their power to deceive Christians. A director of the games, if he should order any one to run outside the course, would deprive him of his prize; because he would never that way arrive at the goal. So they who direct Christians to seek salvation apart from Christ, endeavour to beguile them of their reward (Heb. 3:14). This condemnation rests on all who would lead us from the simplicity of Christ.
- He shows in what instance they abused their usurped authority. The foolish lowliness of mind which would seek the mediation of angels rather than that of Christ, is rebuked because Christ is more united to us than the angels (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 4:16; Eph. 3:12). 1. Because from this and similar places there arises between us and the Papists a great controversy about the worship of angels and deceased saints who are equal to the angels (Luke 20:36); let us see with whom the truth lies. (1) Religious worship, whether it be called latria or dulia, is given to God alone, and not to angels or saints. “Religion,” says Cicero, “is that which is comprised in the pious worship of the gods,” and Hilary says that “religion paid to the creature is accursed.” With this Scripture agrees (Deut. 6:13; Gal. 4:8; Rev. 19:10). The foundation of religious worship is infinite excellence apprehended under the consideration of our first cause and chief good; it is not a sufficient reason therefore, for offering to them, that angels and saints are endowed with supernatural gifts, or procure for us many good things, unless they are the first and chief cause to us of our chief good. (2) The Papists ascribe to angels and even to saints supreme religious worship no less than these seducers here censured. (a) Prayer is an act of latria or highest worship; for where we pray we acknowledge that its object can hear, deliver, and answer (Psa. 50:15). But this is offered to saints. (b) To make a vow to another is an act of latria, due to God alone (Isa. 19:21; Psa. 50:14). But vows are made to angels and saints. (c) To erect a house of prayer, to raise altars and offer incense upon them to any one is to pay Divine honour to him (Exod. 30:37; Matt. 21:13). But this is done wholesale by Rome to the angels and saints. 2. Paul rejects this doctrine, because (1) it proceeded from those who are accustomed rashly to invent and speak about matters unknown to them (1 Tim. 1:7). For they cannot trace angel or saint worship to the Word of God, or learn it from the example of prophets or apostles. Hence we may infer (a) That their bold curiosity is not to be endured who intrude themselves into the determining of things, the investigation of which surpasses human wit (Rom. 12:3). (b) Concerning religious matters nothing should be determined without a sure foundation, i.e., the Word of God, for whatever things we see relating to our salvation we find here. He who obtrudes anything not found there, hath not seen it but imagined it. (c) They, therefore, exercise tyranny over the Church who anathematize all who reject commandments of men for articles of faith. (2) The authors of this doctrine are puffed up with pride, and thence presume that their inventions are the dictates of truth. The fleshly mind denotes the animal man, or perspicacity, unenlightened by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). (Bp. Davenant.)
False confidences:—One of the saddest incidents connected with the disastrous fire at Chicago is that so many trusted not only their goods, but their lives, to buildings that were regarded as fireproof, and that they perished together. Dr. Goodall records similar incidents connected with the great fire at Constantinople in 1831, and makes a suggestive reflection: “We, like many others, fared the worse for living in houses which were considered fire-proof. In the great burning day may no such false confidence prove our ruin.” (Christian Age.)
Humility before God:—Thomas à Becket wore coarse sackcloth made of goats’ hair from the arms to the knees, but his outer garments were remarkable for splendour and extreme costliness, to the end that, thus deceiving human eyes, he might please the sight of God. (Hoveden.)
How self-will may be lost:—A person who had long practised many austerities, without finding any comfort or change of heart, was once complaining to the Bishop of Alst of his state. “Alas!” said he, “self-will and self-righteousness follow me everywhere. Only tell me when you think I shall learn to leave self. Will it be by study, or prayer, or good works?” “I think,” replied the bishop, “that the place where you lose self will be that where you find your Saviour.” Not holding the Head.—
The union between head and body:—The discoveries of modern physiology have invested the apostle’s language with far greater distinctness and force than it can have worn to his own contemporaries. Any exposition of the nervous system more especially reads like a commentary on his image of the relations between the body and the head. At every turn we meet with some fresh illustration which kindles it with a flood of light. The volition communicated from the brain to the limbs, the sensations of the extremities telegraphed back to the brain, the absolute mutual sympathy between the head and the members, the instantaneous paralysis ensuing on the interruption of continuity, all these add to the completeness and life of the image. Bearing in mind the diversity of opinion among ancient physiologists, we cannot fail to be struck in the text, not only with the correctness of the image, but also with the propriety of the terms; and we are forcibly reminded that among the apostle’s most intimate companions at this time was one whom he calls “the beloved physician” (4:14). (Bp. Lightfoot.)
The Head and the body:—
- The Head supplies all things necessary to its members. In worshipping angels the seducers diminished the dignity of Christ, for they took away from Him the prerogative of the Head, and incorrectly judged of His virtue and sufficiency. For Christ, the God Man, is Head of the Church. If they acknowledged Him as God they would seek from Him alone grace and salvation; if as man, they would not solicit angels to intercede for them, since Christ, our Elder Brother, sits continually at the right hand of God. Hence we may infer—1. That they who are concerned about their salvation, ought never to turn their eyes from their Head in whom alone is salvation. 2. Christians are seduced to do so, and do not hold the Head, whenever they embrace new doctrines, worship, means of salvation never prescribed by Christ and His apostles (1 Tim. 6:3, 4).
- The Head binds and knits together the same to itself and to each other. 1. The effect obtained from cleaving to Christ is that the whole body has by joints nourishment ministered. (1) The joints are—(a) The Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9). As that member is not united to the head which is not animated by the same essence as the head itself, neither is that Christian united to Christ who lacks His Spirit. (b) The gifts of the Spirit, e.g., faith by which as a secondary mean we are united to Christ, and receive the remission of sins and all the grace promised in the gospel (John 6:35). (2) The whole body thus adhering to Christ hath nourishment ministered. The Greeks called him “minister” who supplied all the apparatus to the leaders of the sacred dances. By a metaphor derived from this he is said “to supply the expenditure” who furnishes to another the things necessary for any particular object; and the word used by Paul signifies the doing of this copiously and abundantly by Christ, who supplies all the means of salvation. For whether we regard the grace making grateful, or grace gratuitously given, Christ abundantly supplies both to His Church by His Spirit. (a) Of that grace which has reference to justification and sanctification, Paul testifies (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 8:9) that it is ministered to all His members by Christ. (b) The same with that which relates to the edification of the Church (1 Cor. 12:7, &c.; Eph. 4:11). (3) We may here observe—(a) That in the whole body of the Church is not a single dry member, but all are watered by streams of grace flowing from the Head. (b) To adhere to the Pope as a visible head, does not constitute membership, but adherence to Christ. Therefore the ungodly are not true members, to whatever visible Church joined, unless by the joints of the Spirit and faith they are united to Christ. (c) As to doctrine and salvation the Church is supplied from its Head, not one member from another. (d) The Papists err, who will have the Church to draw the doctrine of salvation, not alone from Christ, but from tradition; who will have her receive holiness, merit, &c., not from Christ alone, but the saints. If this be so, the text is not true. 2. By virtue of the Head, the whole body is knit together (Rom. 12:5). The “bands” are the same—the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. For the same Spirit who unites us to Christ is the principal band by which we are united to each other (1 Cor. 12:13), and after He is infused into all the ligaments of the Church, He enkindles in every one that excellent gift of charity which is also the firmest bond of cohesion. The other ties are diversities of gifts and callings emanating from the same Spirit (Eph. 4:11, 12).
III. The fruit of this union. 1. While united to Christ by faith, and knit together by love, the whole body of the Church increaseth in faith, love, holiness, and all saving grace. This growth is said to be of God as He is the primary agent (1 Cor. 3:6), and because it tends to His glory as the ultimate end. 2. Observe of this increase—(1) As there is a growth in the natural body in all its parts, so in the mystical body all the members increase spiritually. (2) Not every increase is approved. A member of the body is not said to increase when it is inflated with any bad humour. So the piety of a Christian man is not increased when his mind is filled with tradition and will worship, which proceed not from the Spirit, but from the empty mind of ignorance and pride. (3) Be not deceived by that incongruous mass of opinions of the Romish Church. The kingdom of the Pope may be increased, viz., by temporal things, traditions, superstitions, not by the knowledge of God and piety. (Bp. Davenant.) (See also on chap. 1:18, and Eph. 4:16)
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 119–122). Chicago: Moody Press.
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