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In the letter he wrote to the Colossians, Paul had to deal with a false teaching that scholars often refer to as “the heresy of Colossae.” This designation is due to the unique character of the teaching and the fact that it seems to have flourished only in that region. It was a combination of Jewish elements with ascetic and mystical practices—all connected by an incipient Gnosticism. Its supporters had managed to infiltrate the Christian churches in Colossae and probably churches of other cities located in the Lycus River Valley as well. We have no evidence that this sect settled in other places.

It seems that the appeal of this dangerous sect to the Christians was the promise made of fullness, perfection, and satisfaction in God by a certain knowledge (gnōsis) that had not been previously revealed by the ministry of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. This gnōsis involved Jewish practices such as circumcision, their dietary laws and their religious calendar, together with ascetic practices and mystical worship based on contact with the angels. We can deduce that the Christians at Colossae had begun to listen to the proponents of these ideas. Paul writes this letter in order to prevent them from fully adopting these teachings.

The Centrality of Christ

The central argument of Paul in the letter is that in Jesus Christ, Christians already have everything that the sect falsely offered: wholeness, fullness, perfection, and satisfaction in God. In other words, Paul responds to false teachers by presenting the sufficiency of Christ.

Paul’s argument is first presented from the person of Christ. He is “the image of the invisible God” (1:15) in whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created (v. 16). He is before all things; in Him all things are held together (v. 17). He is the firstborn from the dead who takes precedence over all things (v. 18). It pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell (v. 19), and through Him God should reconcile all things to Himself (v. 20). In Christ dwells the whole fullness of deity (2:9).

As a result of being united to Christ, believers have already received graciously from God perfection, wholeness, fullness, and satisfaction. The ultimate gnōsis of God is actually in Christ. He is the mystery of God, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:2–3), something infinitely superior to the gnōsis offered by the false teachers.

The Superiority of Christ

The teaching of these teachers was based on subtle philosophical arguments. Among them was what Paul calls the “elemental spirits of the world,” a possible reference to spiritual, angelic beings who, according to Gnostic teaching, dominated the planets and other celestial bodies and filled the space (fullness) between men and God, functioning as mediators. Paul’s answer to this teaching is that in Christ dwells the fullness of deity bodily (2:8–9). Jesus Christ is God Himself incarnate as a man. There is no need for angelic mediators to reach up to God and reach perfection. Those who are in Christ by faith are already perfected (v. 10).

Similarly, requirements like the practice of the works of the law are unnecessary. Circumcision has been fulfilled through the baptism in Jesus’ name and is a superior circumcision (vv. 11–12). In His life, Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law for His people. On the cross, He paid their debt (v. 14). The works of the law, such as dietary rules and the keeping of holy days, were like a shadow cast by the body of Christ, and once the body arrived, the shadow became unnecessary (v. 17).

Christ also triumphed over the principalities and powers, the angelic beings that, according to Gnostic teaching, dominated the basic elements of the universe (v. 15). Therefore, believers should reject the idea that it is necessary to worship the angels. Such teaching is the result of hallucinations of a sensuous mind (v. 18). In Christ, believers are dead to the “elemental spirits of the world” (v. 20).

The Sufficiency of Christ

And finally, the ascetic practices demanded by the false teachers as necessary to dominate sensuality and other sinful passions are useless. Actually, the ascetic rigor exhibited by the proponents of this teaching is self-worship or self-made religion. It has no power to stop the passions of the esh (vv. 20–23). However, through union with Christ in His death and resurrection, believers can mortify the flesh and live for God (3:1–17).

Thus, Paul teaches the believers in Colossae that Jesus Christ is sufficient to meet all the needs of those who are His. Christ satisfies our thirst for wholeness. He satisfies our longing to know God, our deepest yearnings to be full. By daily communion with Christ through the means of grace, we find full satisfaction for all our needs. This satisfaction enables the Christian to serve God here in this world with a heart full of fervor and dedication. A happy heart in Christ empowers the believer to overcome sin and dedicate himself entirely to the service of his Lord and Redeemer.