Some people find certain things easy, while others might struggle with those same things.
For example, I always found math to be fairly easy in school, while Pastor Josh has admitted that he always struggled with math.
But you don’t need to feel bad if math is your struggle. In fact, I read a statistic recently that said 5 out of 4 people struggle with math!
As we begin to explore chapter 2 of Colossians, we find the Apostle Paul talking about the struggle that faith can involve - verse 1:
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face.”
At the end of chapter 1 Paul said “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” Now he talks about “how great a struggle” he has experienced for “all those who have not personally seen my face.”
That last statement might seem a bit surprising. The church in Colossae hadn’t been started by Paul, but by a disciple named Epaphras. And when problems started to surface in his new church, Epaphras had gone to Paul asking for his advice. So, Paul had never really met most of the people he was writing this letter to. But that didn’t mean he didn’t care about them or that he didn’t pray for them.
In verses 2 and 3 Paul explains some of the things that he prayed about for them:
2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul prays for unity, understanding, and knowledge. And notice how Paul emphasizes that TRUE knowledge “is Christ Himself”.
That was particularly important, because there were false teachers coming into Colossae who were trying to replace Jesus with their own so-called “secret” knowledge. That’s why Paul warns in verse 4:
4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.
Paul was praying for their protection because he couldn’t be there with them in person:
5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
The false teachers were right there on the ground with the people, pushing their unbiblical viewpoints, while Paul was stuck in a Roman prison, able to communicate with them only by writing letters. Obviously, he was at a disadvantage in the natural realm, but not in the spiritual realm. And he points out three key weapons that all believers need to use to fight back against false teaching:
These same three strategies are still our best defense: Being in the Spirit, practicing good spiritual discipline such as regular church attendance, bible reading, and prayer, and having stability in our faith; knowing what we believe and why we believe it.
Then of course there is the actually “putting into practice” of what we know.
That’s what the Apostle Paul talks about in verses 6 and 7:
6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
You’ve probably heard this before, how we are supposed to “walk the walk” of discipleship, not just “talk the talk”:
Jesus said it in John 8:12
"Then spoke Jesus again unto them saying, I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
Paul said it in Galatians 5:16
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh."
In verse 7 Paul used two analogies to describe what a healthy Christian walk should look like.
The first picture is that of a tree.
He says “having been firmly rooted”
This analogy goes all the way back to Psalm 1:3 which describes a righteous man this way:
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The second picture is that of a building.
He says “now being built up in Him and established in your faith”
Sin breaks us down. It wants to destroy us; to reduce us to nothing. But God comes along and puts us on a solid foundation through our faith in Jesus, and begins a new work of rebuilding our lives that He has every intention of completing.
Now here in verse 8 Paul gives them an additional warning:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Paul is telling us this: Guard your thought life.
This is critical because the enemy of our souls, is trying to “take captive” our minds and our hearts.
Guarding your thought life is the key to determining whether you’re living in freedom or captivity.
Here are three important tools to guard our thinking:
1. Make time to read the Bible regularly.
2. Carefully choose your sources of information.
3. Use the Scriptures as a filter.
We can’t have a biblical world view if we don’t read the Bible, so that becomes the starting point for guarding our thoughts.
And since the Bible isn’t the only source of information that we’re going to come across, we also need to carefully choose our sources of information.
Choose carefully what you’re going to read. Choose carefully what you’re going to look at on TV or on the internet. Choose carefully who you’re going to listen to. Get input from sources you know you can trust.
The third safeguard is: Use the Scriptures as a filter.
When you hear or see something, run it through the filter of Scripture to determine whether it’s worthy of your time or your thoughts.
If it’s in agreement with the Bible, accept it. If it goes against the Bible, disregard it.
In 2nd Timothy 4:3-4, Paul warns young Timothy that the time will come when people will turn away from sound teaching and turn toward what their sinful ears want to hear. He says they “will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
But starting in verses 9 and 10, Paul declares that you CAN’T push Jesus aside!
If you push Jesus away from the center of what you believe, everything else that you believe won’t make sense! Why not?
9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
Jesus has it ALL! He is the fullness of God! Paul continues making his case in verse 11:
11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
Why does Paul mention circumcision? Because the false teachers were making circumcision a requirement for becoming a “true” Christian. Paul is showing that we don’t need any rituals or traditions to become followers of Jesus. Rather than circumcision, Paul points to baptism in verses 12 and 13, as a testimony of the change that Jesus has brought about in our lives.
Notice how the emphasis here isn’t on what WE’VE done, but on what Jesus has done FOR us:
12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions
Aren’t you glad that God already did all of the work necessary to get us saved?
Then in verse 14 Paul paints this wonderful picture of exactly how God accomplished our salvation:
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
That “certificate of debt” could be compared to what we might call an IOU.
If you think about it, most of us spent a large portion of our lives “borrowing” from God’s grace and mercy by living lives contrary to how He created us to live.
And that IOU just kept getting BIGGER and BIGGER! And the saddest thing is that we couldn’t ever pay it back.
But thank God, Jesus took our IOU “out of the way” and “nailed it to the cross” while He hung there and died in our place.
15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
One commentary says “Through Jesus’ death, Satan was robbed of his power to intimidate and control people through the threat of death and eternal separation from God. The devil’s power over us is broken, and if we understand that we can walk in victory.”
In the next few verses Paul is going to warn Christians against falling back into living a life of bondage:
16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—
There WAS a time when the people of Israel WERE expected to observe the Sabbath a certain way, and celebrate the festivals a certain way, and to eat certain foods and to NOT eat certain foods; but that was the OLD Covenant. We are under the NEW Covenant! That’s why Paul sums up ALL of that stuff in verse 17 by saying that those things were simply:
17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
This is a critical, crucial truth for us to understand!
Your relationship with God should be built on one thing and one thing only – your faith in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. That’s the SUBSTANCE of our lives!
Anything else other than Jesus, no matter how religious or spiritual it looks or sounds, is just a SHADOW of what real faith looks like.
And there’s no reason to settle for the shadow when you can have the substance! That’s what Paul means in this next verse when he says:
18 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,
What was the prize that they were in danger of being defrauded of? It was the prize of a true relationship with Jesus. Paul knew that Jesus was the real prize we should be seeking after. He said in Philippians 3:13-14 “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Instead of the real prize, the false teachers were trying to get the people to chase after what we might call “booby-prizes”!
What are the “booby-prizes”? Things like false humility, worshipping angels, and a belief system based upon personal visions, rather than upon God’s word.
Then in verse 19, Paul uses the analogy of the human body to explain why all of these false “booby-prizes” are unable to provide true spiritual satisfaction:
19 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.
Anything that is lifted up into a place of spiritual significance, whether it’s specific ways of acting, or praying, or the latest “vision”, runs the risk of replacing Jesus as the “head” of our lives. If something other than Jesus is at the center of your spiritual life, you are getting off track and you’re headed for trouble. That’s why Paul asks the Colossians in verses 20-23:
20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Trying to live a spiritual life based upon man-made rules instead of a living relationship with Jesus is pointless, fruitless, and basically insane.
Chasing after artificial religious practices reduces our Christian walk from a living faith to dead legalism. And Paul points out the most absurd part of this whole picture in verse 23 when he says:
“…self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body…are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Pay attention to these two phrases:
1. “self-made religion” - In other words, if your belief system isn’t based on what God says in His word, it’s just something you made up on your own! And therefore, it is:
2. “of no value” - the false teachings of self-made religion are not just worthless in solving our sin problem. They are actually harmful. In other words, they will most likely backfire, and make the situation worse! Because if we are focusing on rules and rituals and jumping through religious hoops, that means we AREN’T focusing on Jesus!
Back in chapter 1 verse 27, Paul told us that the great mystery that had been revealed to us was “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Do you want to have fewer struggles in life? Put your focus on Jesus and only Jesus. Don’t ever put your hope in anything or anyone else!