Colossians 2:1-23 Sermon Notes

By December 5, 2021Sermon Notes

All across the country children in schools and in homes are doing the same exercise this time of year: filling out a Christmas wish list – They are sitting down with a piece of paper that says: “This year for Christmas I hope I get: ______________ – And they are writing in all things their finds have been fantasizing about over the past year: Legos, superhero costumes, a new pair of Nikes, a princess dress, a new video game

I asked my three-year-old son the other day what he wanted for Christmas and he came up with two things: 1) a fishing pole, 2) a snow globe containing a Christmas tree with a star on top – Very specific

The rest of may not be writing our lists down on paper but we are still hoping for something this Christmas – We are still filling in blank in our minds: “This year for Christmas I hope I get: _____________” – Maybe it is some actual, physical gift – Maybe it’s something different – Maybe we are hoping for a family gathering without drama or a bonus from our employer or picture-perfect Christmas morning with cinnamon rolls and smiling children and inner peace

I wonder what we might be hoping for collectively, as a church? – Maybe for this building project to finally be finished – A nice, new spacious sanctuary – Room to spread out – Lattes – I know I’m looking forward to all of those things

But I want to propose that we fill in the blank with something else this Christmas – This Christmas I hope we get: wisdom – One of the things we celebrate at Christmas is the reality that wisdom, in its fullness, has come to us in Jesus Christ

Thus the second verse in “O Come, O Come Immanuel”: “O come, O Wisdom from on high, who ordered all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show and teach us in its ways to go.” – At Advent we celebrate that the wisdom of God was, is, and will be displayed in the salvation He offers in Jesus Christ – Wisdom has come – And, yet, it must be sought

Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” – This Christmas I hope we, above anything else we might get, get wisdom – But in order to do that, we cannot just sit back and wait – We will have to seek it – And we will have to seek it with diligence and care

This morning, Colossians 2 – In this chapter, Paul gives church at Colossae Three Warnings about getting wisdom – We are going to look at Paul’s Three Warnings about getting this wisdom that has come to us in Jesus Christ or what not to do – And then we’ll end by looking at Paul’s Central Encouragement about getting wisdom or what to do

But, before we jump in, let me give you a bit of context – Apostle Paul, who wrote letter to church at Colossae in modern-day Turkey had apparently never been with congregation in person (2:1) – Another Christian, and one of Paul’s fellow laborers named Epaphras, had preached Gospel in Colossae and started church (1:7) – Later, Epaphras shared with Paul about both livelihood of church in Colossae and some of threats to its long-term health (1:8)

After hearing these things, Paul began praying consistently for church at Colossae, giving thanks to God for their faith and love (1:3-4) – But he also spent time thinking about threats they were facing – Eventually, he decided to write them a letter, both to let them know about his joy as a result of their faith and to respond to potential threats they were facing – And he responds to those threats most directly in chapter two

He writes: 1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments [NASB: persuasive argument, NIV: fine-sounding arguments].

Paul was writing to refute some people – Some people who were apparently trying to deceive Christians in Colossae with fine-sounding, persuasive, but untrue arguments – And there are two important questions we need to answer to help us understand what Paul wrote in rest of this chapter

First: “Who were these people whom Paul was refuting?”

Biblical scholars have spilled a lot of ink trying to identify exact group of people or belief system that Paul was refuting – To date, there is not a clear consensus among them – But most of them discern hints of Jewish Law in the arguments Paul refutes here – So, some believe, and I think it best fits evidence, that Paul is writing against a group of Jews who were outside congregation[1]

Second question: “What arguments were they using to try to deceive these Christians?” 

It seems like these Jews were trying to convince the young, largely Gentile congregation in Colossae that they could not actually be the people of God because they didn’t observe Jewish Law[2] – They were claiming to have superior wisdom to Christians in Colossae – While Colossians hadn’t really bought into idea, Paul saw threat these arguments posed to their life in Christ, so he gave them Three Warnings about getting wisdom

Warning #1 – Wisdom is about reality, not rhetoric

See to it [command] that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Paul says, “Listen, these opponents may have good rhetoric, but their view of reality is untrue – They may sound persuasive, but their source is incorrect

And it is not correct because it is not according to Christ – What they proclaim is not Christ, it is philosophy, which is really broad Greek term that Paul uses here to refer generally to human religious activity[3] – What they proclaim is mere human religious activity – What they proclaim is empty deceit

Their rhetoric may sound persuasive, but their reality is rooted in wrong source – They preach human tradition, not Divine revelation – They speak not from Christ, but from the broken world order and evil spirits who animate it

And if Christians at Colossae do not keep assessing wisdom based on reality rather than rhetoric, Paul says that they will be like an army who walks right into an enemy’s ambush – They will be captured by empty deceit – Taken prisoner by human tradition – Handcuffed by ways of world – And led away from Christ, into captivity

And that is why Paul gives this first warning: See to it [church] that no one takes you captive…” – “See to it, church, that no one tricks you into buying bad beliefs because of good marketing” – “See to it, church, that you measure the information you receive and convictions you believe not based on human rhetoric but on biblical reality, especially life, death, and resurrection of Jesus”

Why? – Verse 9: “For in him [in Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Jews in Colossae seem to have been arguing that they had superior wisdom to Christians because of their long heritage with God and the Law – They seem to have been arguing that Christians were not “complete” in Christ – That they had not reached “fullness” in Christ – And that in order to reach “completeness” or “fullness” or to “attain greater wisdom” they needed to also observe Jewish law – Jesus + Law

But Paul says, “Nonsense – In Christ, you lack nothing – In Christ, the Law has been fulfilled for you – Verse 13:

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Before I was born, my parents bought a small farm and small herd of cattle in western Kansas – My dad and grandpa started a custom haying business together – But then a drought came – A bad drought – It did not rain for several years – No grass for cattle – Not much hay to harvest – The business went under – My parents lost farm – And they didn’t feel like bankruptcy was right thing to do, so my parents and grandparents took on a large sum of shared debt – A lot of debt

They paid on it for years – And then, when I was young, my grandpa was struck with muscular sclerosis and became unable to work – The shared debt suddenly became my parents debt – They were trying to raise two young boys and the debt was just more than they could pay – They were in over their heads and they needed a way out

So, my mom sat down and wrote a letter to the bank, explaining everything that had happened – A few days later they got a call from banker and he said, “We are forgiving your debt – What you lacked in paying us, we will just take it on ourselves – The pit that you had dug…we will fill it full”

The Gospel is like that – God’s Law, Law these Jews were hanging over Christian’s heads, had made us insurmountably indebted to God because of our sin – But in Christ, “God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us [because of the Law]. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross [through Jesus].

That sounds like foolishness to the world – But that is biblical reality – That is actually wisdom – Wisdom is about reality, not rhetoric – And the most essential reality for the Christian is the saving work of Jesus Christ to forgive our sin-debt and to give us freedom from Law by bearing the cross so that we could be made alive together with God through the resurrection

Warning #2 – Wisdom is in the substance of God, not the shadow of God

16 Therefore… – That’s an important word to note – Your legal indebtedness to God has been nailed to cross with Christ – Therefore – …let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

Apparently, this group of Jews was condemning Christians because they did not follow Jewish Law regarding clean/unclean foods or observation of religious holy days – Paul says, “Do not let them pass judgment on you for those things because 17 These [regulations found in Law] are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Repeat

How many of you have observed a toddler seeing their shadow for first time? – If you haven’t, just YouTube it later and enjoy a good laugh – Your welcome – Some toddlers are mesmerized by their shadow – They just stare at it or they kind of play with it – Some are completely terrified – They start screaming and crying and running away only to discover that the dark, two-dimensional creature on ground is chasing them

Why do they do these things? – Because they confuse shadow with substance – And when they get shadow and substance confused, they start believing incorrectly, and then they do weird stuff

We cannot confuse shadow and substance – Author of Hebrews tells us that Law was a shadow of God, but it was not substance of God – The substance of God came later, in Christ – Hebrews 10, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…[Jesus] does away with the first [covenant of shadow] in order to establish the second [covenant of substance]. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:1, 9-10)

What we celebrate at Advent is that, with coming of Jesus, we no longer simply peer at a shadow of God, we get to partake in His substance

Wisdom is in the substance of God, which we access by having union with Christ in the Gospel, not the shadow of God, which is keeping Law – Shadow is helpful to us in that it can lead us to substance – But here’s thing, we all have a tendency spiritually to be like children – We either become mesmerized by the shadow or we become completely overwhelmed and terrified by it – Wisdom is to be mesmerized and overwhelmed by God – Substance, not the shadow

Warning #3 – Wisdom produces actual growth, not apparent growth

18 Let no one disqualify you… – Word commonly used to describe act of a sports official to disqualify someone for unfair play

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [form of strict self-denial] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Do not let anyone disqualify you for not keeping requirements of God’s Law, why? – Because they are officiating a completely different sport! – They are calling pass interference – We are playing basketball – “Don’t let them disqualify you because you aren’t keeping the rules of their empty deceit – In Christ you died to this philosophy – You were set free from this human tradition – You escaped spirits of world – Do not again submit to them!”

23 These [things they do] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

There is a common type of scam that happens in our world, in which scammers will call elderly people and claim to be their grandchildren – This actually happened in Jim’s family – Scammers will frantically explain how they had an accident or got robbed or were wrongly arrested and are in urgent need of money – They’ll use information they’ve collected from social media to make it personal enough that these elderly people will be persuaded to wire them money, thinking they are helping a deranged grandchild

From 2015-2020, Federal Trade Commission logged more than 91,000 reports these types of scams – In July of this year, a group of 8 people were indicted for scamming $2 million out of elderly people over course of 11 months[4] – How is this possible? – Because they fabricated something that appeared to be true, but was not actually true

That’s what Satan does – Satan has a way of casting lies so that they appear to be wise but are not actually wise – He has a way of giving apparent growth in order to hide reality of our need for actual growth – And that is what he’d convinced this group of Jews in Colossae to believe – At first glance, these regulations – “Do not handle – Do not touch – Do not taste” – seem to have some validity – They have appearance of wisdom – On surface, may look good, wise, beneficial, righteous – They give appearance of growth and maturity – But, in reality, there is no actual growth and maturity

We can be tricked into believing same thing – You can discipline yourself to get out of bed at 5 AM every day – You can discipline yourself to read through the Bible in a year – You can discipline yourself to exercise five days a week – You can discipline yourself to eat salads – You can discipline yourself to quit drinking or quit smoking or quit looking at pornography – And it could all appear very wise

But if it is divorced from a saving knowledge and pursuit of Christ, then that’s all that it is: an appearance of wisdom – It is just a self-made religion and it will not save you – You will never truly put to death your sin and you will never truly put on wisdom in Christ – You might grow in Bible knowledge – You might overcome a bad habit – You might lose some weight – You might have a more disciplined mind – But that’s very different than having godly compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, gratitude – And those are kind of things Paul will talk about in Colossians 3 as being attributes of actual wisdom

We cannot be deceived by apparent growth – Satan would love to make us satisfied with apparent growth so that we never experience actual growth – He is not stupid – He’s actually very smart – He’s evil, but he’s smart – And we are not as good at sniffing him out as we might hope to be

And what that means very practically is that if we want to get wisdom this Christmas, we cannot just sit back and wait – We will have to seek it – And we will have to seek it with diligence and care – We cannot mindlessly or passively be pulled through life by our circumstances and simply accept everything at face value – We have to rouse ourselves to pursue and discern and believe and live actual wisdom

And we have to do it together – Paul was writing to a church – Not to his buddy Bill – To a collective body of believers – He’s saying, “You all, together, pursue actual wisdom” – And you will find all of its fullness in Christ – Verse 3, in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”

And it is only when body of Christ holds fast to its Head – to actual wisdom – that it is nourished and knit together and that it “grows with a growth that is from God” – I love that phrase – The church, when it holds fast to its Head, who is actual wisdom, “grows with a growth that is from God” – That is actual growth, not apparent growth

If you want to be richer, hold on to your money – If you want to be stronger, hold on to your dumbbells – If you want to be prouder, hold on to your accomplishments – But if you want to be wise, hold on to Jesus, who is actual wisdom

Let’s circle back to verses 6-7 for our application – We’ve discussed Paul’s Three Warnings about getting wisdom: 1) Wisdom is about reality, not rhetoric; 2) Wisdom is in the substance of God, not the shadow of God; 3) Wisdom produces actual growth, not apparent growth – Now let’s finish by looking at his Central Encouragement with regard to getting wisdom

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Let me just say, if you’ve never truly received Christ Jesus as Lord and you are aware of your need to do that this morning, we would love to talk with you about it – You can find any of people you’ve seen up front here this morning and ask us how to do that or you can fill out a Welcome Card and communicate your interest

But if you have received Jesus, this is Paul’s command: “walk in him” – Go on being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith – Keep going, just as you have been taught – And give thanks

This really doesn’t need explanation – It really just needs application – It is not complex – It is difficult, but it is not complex – “walk in him” – Be consistent in drawing near to Him in the Word – Create the time, whatever you can carve out, to have some time of silence and solitude and to pray – Confess your sin and your need for Christ daily, even when it’s not glaring issue – Keep a list not just of all the things you need to do this month, but all the things you are thankful for this month – Share encouragement and fellowship with one another – And be gracious, selfless, and courageous with people he has put around you – And ask Him to help you make it about partaking in His substance, not peering into the shadows

And that is difficult any time of year but, if your family is like mine, it is especially difficult this busy month of December – The irony of December is that I can celebrate the coming of Wisdom by making it very hard on myself to actually pursue Him – But it doesn’t have to be that way for us – This year for Christmas, above all else, I hope we get wisdom – We must get wisdom – And that means we’ll have to seek it with diligence and care – But we can seek it knowing that the glory of Christmas is that it can be found



[1] Garland, D. E. (1998). Colossians and Philemon (p. 23-32). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, (p. 141).


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