Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

04 January Devotion

4th January 2021
Audio: 

Readings: Col 2: 8-end

In today’s reading, we see that Paul is trying to fix a certain problem in the church in Colosse. It is a serious problem as one can infer from his choice of words. There seems to have been a certain heresy or a false teaching which led Christians in Colosse to act in a way that, in Paul’s view, was not compatible with the gospel. Biblical scholars disagree when trying to identify what exactly is the heresy. Some say it was some sort of Gnosticism, others say it was a kind of mystical Judaism, and yet others say it was syncretistic, that is a combination of religious and philosophical beliefs. 

Each heresy is played out in the practices of its adherers. In the case of the Colossian heresy - whatever it was - Paul was adamant to identify and call out all these practices. These practices include rigorous self-discipline, dwelling in spiritual and abstaining from certain drinks and foods. Paul describes the followers of that teaching as having a kind of humility which he judges as “false.” But why wasn’t Paul tolerant with these practices? Why is he making a big deal out of it? Why would Paul dismiss self-discipline and some dietary rules? Why couldn’t Paul leave room for some diversity in Collose? One would expect Paul to be intolerant with immorality (as he was in other instances), but it seems that he is here attacking those who hold to high moral standards.

Paul took issue with these practices because he believed it is a direct attack on the gospel. The religious practices implied that Christ (and what he accomplished for the church) is not sufficient. According to them, more had to be done in order to attain a higher level of spirituality. The Colossians behaved as if they could add something to Christ and his work. This is, of course, a departure from the gospel. 

Paul’s remedy for this situation is simple yet effective: he preaches (or rather re-preaches) the gospel to the church in Colossae: Christ is God incarnate (v. 9), Christ died for you (11, 12), and Christ was raised to life (13). Paul reminds the Colossian believers that they are united with Jesus Christ; their debt was paid when he died, and they are given a new life in his resurrection. To add to the gospel is to render Christ insufficient and Paul, understandably, is not willing to tolerate this. 

Is Paul’s message to the Colossians relevant for us today? YES! The Colossian heresy has its roots in the first heresy that ever existed; you might call it “The Primordial Heresy” and it goes like this: “you are not enough... the Creator’s word is not totally true… you can be ‘like God.’” These were the serpent’s words to Adam and Eve which they followed. The echo of these words still rings in all human being’s ears and we are born with the propensity to fall for it even after conversion.

We add to the gospel every time we follow the compulsion that we are “not enough”; every time we think we can work to earn God’s stamp of approval. Tragically, we work to achieve fullness, yet we grasp the wind. It is significant how Paul juxtaposes the emptiness of the heretical teaching (and practices) with the state of fullness which the Colossian believers enjoy in Christ. 

Before setting the new year’s resolution, it is important to consider what God is saying to you through Paul: “you, in Christ, are enough; the debt was paid, and all the enemies were defeated.”

Prayer: 

Lord God, heavenly Father,
you did not spare your only Son,
but gave him up for us all to be our Savior,
and along with him
you have graciously given us all things.
We thank you for your precious, saving gospel,
and we pray that you would help us to believe
in the name of our Savior
faithfully and steadfastly,
for he alone
is our righteousness and wisdom,
our comfort and peace,
so that we may stand on the day of his appearing;
through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our Lord.
Amen.

(Martin Luther)

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