Notes on the Epistle to the Colossians - Fulness Resident
W. Fraser Naismith, Kilmarnock
The key verse of this chapter is verse 9, "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily". The first four verses reveal
Paul's Spiritual Exercise. He wrestled in prayer for the saints. What a burden must have been his! for he had the "care of all the churches", 2 Cor. 11. 28. He sought to encourage the hearts of the saints towards true unity in love, so that a full sense of the mystery might be realized. In that mystery were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and their responsibility was to acknowledge the mystery of God.
Did they need to be assured that in Christ all fulness had taken up residence? Such a fact is declared in verse 9. The Spirit is emphasizing the thought of what the mystery is. He is the treasure-house of wisdom and knowledge. In Ephesians angels learn through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, 3. 10. Here the emphasis is laid on the Person in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. In verse 5 the paramount thought is
Paul's Spiritual Discernment, for absent in body he was with the saints in spirit, and their order and steadfastness were cause for much delight on his part. In John's third Epistle verse 4 the apostle John indicates a similar pleasure, saying, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth". Verses 6 and 7 bring into relief
Paul's Spiritual Desire for the saints. Since the Colossians had received the Lord, and that involved the acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ, he exhorts to a practical demonstration of the fact by a walk which harmonizes with such a claim. The phrase "walk ye in him" suggests evidencing the fellowship into which the saints have been introduced. "Rooted and built up in him" suggests fruitfulness. Plants receive their sustenance from the root and are built up; the proof of this is in the products. To be "stablished in the faith" means that faith enables the individual to become satiated with the Word of God. Then the Spirit has something upon which to work, so that when opposition comes there is ever the appropriate portion to silence the attacks of the enemy. Christ is our sufficiency for every exigency of life, and since we have learnt the truth we ought to abound in it with thanksgiving.
Paul's Spiritual Warnings follow and these are provoked through his yearnings after the believers. Philosophy and vain deceit will endeavour to make their inroads into the life and doctrine of the believer; even traditionalism will seek a place. Heathen philosophy, which was supposed to be marvellously profound, made its appeal, and the saints were encouraged to incorporate such into their Christian faith in order to enhance it. In other words, they were encouraged to bring in a little ritual to improve their Christianity. Since then, Christendom has become choked with ritual, much of which has been borrowed from the Old Testament. Human philosophy has an impelling force designated "the rudiments (or, elements, A.v. marg.) of the world" which, as a moral system, has three governing principles, namely "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life", 1 John 2. 16. This world's philosophy stands in marked contrast to Christ who is the fulness of divine wisdom, for "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily", Col. 2. 9.
Paul's teaching is unique and distinct from the philosophy which grips the man of the world. Having assured us that the fulness of the Godhead dwells in a human body - that is, in Christ our Lord - we are "complete (or filled full) in him". We lack nothing in Christ! The fulness of the Godhead dwells in the Son. The Son could say, "The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works", and again, "If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils . . .". Such statements reveal the activities of a triune God in grace in this sinful world. In Colossians 1. 19 we view the Man Christ Jesus on earth when it was pleasing "that in him should all fulness dwell". In Colossians 2. 9 we see Him as the glorified Man, and "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily".
This One is "the head of all principality and power", v. 10. Since we have new life in Christ, we effectively put off the old man with his deeds. There must be the cutting off before we can manifest the new man with the accompanying characteristics.
The next factor is the evidencing outwardly of what has taken place inwardly. Baptism is a renouncing openly of any hopes in ourselves or in the first man, a confession of the death and resurrection of Christ, and our death and resurrection with Him. "Buried with him in baptism" suggests that as a dead person is buried and put out of sight so we, being put out of sight in baptism, are risen with Him through the operation of the active internal power of God who raised Him from the dead. We once were dead, but now are quickened, and assured that our sins are forgiven.
There were ordinances which weighed heavily on a devout Jew. The conscience was placed under a burden of activity which was never accomplished by man: "this do and thou shalt live". The soul could never reach a righteousness which enabled him to stand justified before a holy God, for "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified", Gal. 2. 16. The believer has now life and liberty. The great work effaced the handwriting in ordinances and removed that out of the way, having spoilt principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly. We know that "he led captivity captive", binding His enemies to His chariot wheels; cf. Eph. 4. 8.
In verse 18 angelic worship is alluded to, but should any indulge in such it would be a setting aside of Christ, and an intrusion into the sanctity of heavenly things. Pride must never be countenanced. The Head must be the sole resource. As united to Him, all the fulness of the Head was at their disposal. The vision of Zechariah 4 may help to illustrate this teaching. The prophet saw "a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it". The lampstand had seven lights, and these would suggest spiritual co-ordination of unity in testimony. The golden bowl upon the top would indicate the resource from which the light of witness could be sustained. We, therefore, who have died with Christ have cut ourselves adrift from the rudiments of this world, and have a sufficiency from above to enable us to witness a good confession for the Lord. This vision enables us to appreciate the comment of the Holy Spirit addressing the Colossians in verse 19, "not holding the Head". The Head and the Body are inseparably connected. Saul of Tarsus realized this when he heard from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ the words, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?". He discovered that in touching the saints, forming the Body of Christ, he was actually touching the Head. May we learn the truth of "holding the Head". The Lordship of Christ has to do with the individual; the Headship of Christ has to do with the aggregate of believers - the Body of Christ.
This chapter concludes with a solemn warning regarding the outcome of human philosophy. There is the appearance of wisdom in will worship. Such would make people hermits, but our God proposes none of those things for His children. He does not suggest either a cloister or an oyster.
It is essential that we keep our body under; cf. 1 Cor. 9. 27, yet, it is worthy of note, that the body can do nothing of itself. It is subject to the dictates and promptings of the soul and spirit, and acts according to what either of these determines should be done. If the body is God-glorifying, then the spirit and soul must be dictating things which harmonize with the mind of God. Most critical renderings of 1 Corinthians 6. 20 omit the seven words which conclude the verse and chapter; it reads thus, "for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body". The words "and in your spirit, which are God's", are an interpolation and would then be redundant to the context of the passage. For if the body is God-glorifying we affirm that both soul and spirit must be glorifying God.