The church in Colosse was dealing with cultic influence and practices including asceticism, mysticism, worship of angels, and legalism. Just like today, many religious leaders among the true people of God were teaching, preaching, and practicing a false gospel of salvation through Christ and rather than Christ alone.
Some of “extra” requirements were abstainence of certain food and drink and idolatry. Observance of these things were being substituted and viewed as true sanctification. These men taught the Christians that if they proved pious externally and used their appointed channels for mediation to get to God, then they would be saved. Christ himself was not enough.
Paul wrote to refute these false ideas and replace them with the truths that 1.Christ is sufficient and our only mediator and 2. internal, not external, purity leads to wholeness and true sanctification.
Many people in the church today are deceived by these same false teachings of external piety, idolatrous mediation, and asceticism. For people like us and people like the Colossians, old habits die hard. If I have spent my life believing that it’s coming to church or skipping meat or wearing a long skirt or praying on a necklace or being moral or doing good deeds or praying to saints or teaching Sunday school or, or, or, or, rather than living day by day in Christ by faith worshiping in everything I put my hand to do that saves me and makes me holy, it’s going to take some kind of example to undo what I have always done; what I have always believed; what I have always trusted in in place of Jesus Christ. If I have been taught to abstain from certain foods and certain drinks and I feel superior to other sinners because of my abstinence, it is going to take some serious study and honesty with the scriptures before I really begin to recognize my sin. More than that, it is going to take someone who cares a whole awful lot to talk with me and show me my error in love. Why?
Because self-righteous religion always demands others’ do all of exactly what I prescribe. It is bondage to man made rules and regulations and men do not stop oppressing until someone or something stronger makes them. Conversely, Christ-led relationship simply calls others to do exactly what He prescribes in the scriptures. No power can out wrestle the Holy Spirit’s work in a man’s heart.
Paul is wise to begin with prayer. He knows these things are hard to understand and even harder to change. He does not go in with guns blazing. He goes in with lips thanking. Directly following his introduction, he gives thanks for these people. He reminds them who they are in Christ. He tells them how constant he is and always has been in prayer for them. He wants them to understand that he understands. He knows the key to their hearts and minds will not be found in more regulatory rule lists.
Therefore, Paul opens with encouragement. The Colossians had more than their fill of bad leaders demanding and commanding them on what to do and not do. Although he, if anyone, had the authority, Paul is not about to go there. Instead, he goes somewhere far better – Christ.
In his opening statements, Paul is pointing to something unmistakable. The focus he uses to draw his struggling, swindled, sorely mistaken brothers and sisters in?
You are in Christ.
You are in Christ.
You are in Christ.
The platform he builds from is one with which they would not want to argue. It is like he’s saying, “Hey guys, I know you and guess what.? You’re his.”
The next rung? Do this, do this, do this? Don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do that? NO!
He tells them who they are to be submitted to – really. Not men. Not angels. Not rules. Not food. Not drink. Christ. And here’s who he is…
Jesus. He is exactly what God looks like. He is the visible proof of our invisible God. He is the firstborn, not that he was created, but that he is heir of all things. He is creator of all things. He is ruler of all things. He is owner of all things. He is above all things. He is sustaniner of all things. He is head of the church. He is the beginning. He has power over all things. He is all that God is. He is the firstborn of the dead which makes him your principle hope, joy, future, resurrection. He is your peace with God. He is your reconciliation with man. He is your Savior.
Yes, Paul comes back to his people. As he began, “You are in Christ” and filled in the blanks with “Christ is…,” he finishes his opening statements with “You are in Christ.” Paul did not fail to add the needed disclaimer “if.” If you continue in faith, he says. Paul proves that this discourse is not a blanket statement of universalism telling any and all that they are saved. No. Make no mistake, this is for those who hold on to the true gospel with both hands and honest hearts.
What wisdom! What importance there must be in reassuring and reminding God’s people of who they are in light of who He is!
The only way to draw struggling, swindled, sorely mistaken brothers and sisters in is through Christ. Show them his beauty. Show them his grace. Show them his love. Show them his concern. Show them his Word. If you have any inclination to do such things, do the gospel a favor and stop showing them your man-made preferences. Show them the Way, the Truth, and the Life.