A System or a Person?
B ackground Scripture: Colossians 2:6-15.
Devotional Reading: Romans 8:31-39.
Paul is writing to the Christian congregation in Colossae because he has heard encouraging reports through Epaphras of their faith and, at the same time, he is aware that they are under pressure from people who want to lead them astray with philosophies and rituals quite contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Colossians 1, he is establishing a relationship with them, telling them of the good things he has heard about them from Epaphras and others.
Then he gets to the point of why he is writing them: “For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. ... I am saying this that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (2:1,4).
So he warns them that all the representations that they are receiving from various people are actually attempts to deceive them and persuade them that they need more than the gospel of Christ.
The insight into divine mysteries which they are being promised, they already have in “Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3).
As I wrote last week, Paul was concerned about the influence of pagans and Gnostics (those who because of their intellect believed they had insight into the divine mysteries).
Perhaps it may seem there is not any similarity between the situation in Colossae and our churches today. But, if we think about it, might not Paul also write to us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (2:8-10).
Just as in Paul’s time, when outside influences promised the “something more” that tempted the Colossians, so today many of us believe we can “have it all.”
Many have come to the conclusion that Christianity is just one of a number of influences that help to identify us. And when it comes to “push or shove,” some of those other identifications are more sacred to us than our religion.
These include our political affiliations, social rankings, vocational aspirations and the ethics or lack thereof that govern the way we live.
One of President Teddy Roosevelt’s sons used to say that his father was “all for peace, so long as it didn’t interfere with the fighting.”
Might we not say something similar about ourselves: All for Christ — so long as it doesn’t interfere with getting ahead, making a buck or getting what we think is “coming to us.”
Do we really agree with Paul when he says: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority” (2:9,10)?
Paul is assuring the Colossians that in Christ everything is fulfilled, that nothing more is needed. And for us the question is pretty much not, did they believe him, but do we? Is Christ enough and more for us, or do we really need something else to make life full?
What God Sends Us
It is human for us to try to formulate life with our systems: free enterprise, democracy, communism, fascism, hedonism, moral restraint, etc.
But there is no human system, structure, philosophy, theology, etc., that is fool-proof, above question or beyond failure. Any human system is less than cosmic, eternal or divine. No church is a perfect example of what God calls us to be. And, as Paul indicates, that is why God sent us, not a system, but a person.
We humans have to have systems, but we cannot give our loyalty, our love, our lives to a system — only to a person.
All the ecclesiastical systems that human beings create, all the liturgies, all the confessions, all the theologies and creeds are secondary to, and many miles short of, the person of Jesus Christ. In him, not our denominational systems, all the fullness of deity dwells.
What Paul wrote to Colossae, he writes to us as well: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ, for in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (2:8-10).