(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)
Today we venture back into the New Testament with the book of Colossians. Being one of the most relevant books of the Bible for our situation and day, Colossians contains tremendous truth. I don’t even know where to begin with the amount of amazing things that Paul put into this letter. But what is certain is that the themes and tones that Paul is using reflect a problem that was happening in the church of Colossae. False teachers had infiltrated the church and were teaching false doctrine, most notably that Jesus was not God. The doctrine of these false teachers is confronted by Paul, who points the Colossian church in the right direction, guarding it against the lies that are being taught in its ranks. Paul asserts the complete sufficiency of Christ while also detailing the worthlessness of human tradition and philosophy that this heresy is. Paul mentions a man named Epaphras, who was probably the one who started the church in Colossae and served as its pastor. Epaphras had visited Paul and told him of the false doctrine that was being taught. This letter is Paul’s response.
Although he doesn’t go into the details of answering this problem until the second chapter, Paul certainly details the extent of who Christ is. Beginning this letter this way is significant in that he is showing the preeminence of Christ over everything. In 1:3-14 Paul is asserting that he wants the Colossian church to continue in the true faith that they began with when they first heard it through Epaphras. In 1:15-23 he gives the reason for this by elaborating on who Christ is and what He has done.
Verses 15-17 are amazing: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” I don’t know about you but my head is about to explode thinking about how crazy that is, especially when you read the next sentence: “And he is the head of the body, the church.” Wow. This is our Lord, the one whom all truth hinges on. Through Him we were made, and through Him we were made again in salvation. It is Him who we owe our allegiance to, and who we are to submit to. Right doctrine is determined by His truth and who He is. Conversely, wrong doctrine happens because of a lack of Christ, who He is, and what He has done. All heresy in the church hinges on who Christ is.
Colossians is important for us to understand today. The importance for all of us, especially leaders in the church, to understand what is right doctrine and what is wrong doctrine will determine the church’s ability to handle inevitable problems that will arise. False doctrines will always threaten the truth and purity of Christ. It is our job to know and defend the truth. The simplest way we do this is to know Scripture. Those who are called to teach, preach, and lead in the church are held to higher standard by God because they are charged with guiding the church in the right direction, as well as being an example of that truth. But the most significant way in which the church may determine right doctrine is to know Christ and make Him the head of the church, just as Paul said. He is the beginning and the end, and all truth hinges on who He is. Knowing Him deeply gives us the ability to rightly understand what truth is and what it is not. Plenty of lies that creep up in the church are propagated by educated and smart people claiming to be followers of Christ. But whether or not you have the truth in your heart is like the difference between knowing about a delicious steak because you read about it in a cookbook, and knowing about a delicious steak because you ate it and experienced every bit of what it was.
We have been trying to seek our own way since the Garden of Eden. The idea that we know better than God is a lie that the world is embracing, and a subtle deception that the church is also embracing. It is the very essence of our human corruption to think that we can be like God, or even be a god. This is the lie that has descended throughout every generation of humanity across the world: the lie from Satan in the Garden of Eden that we can “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Likewise the church today is full of deceptive “fine sounding arguments” (Colossians 2:4). But the reality of Christ is not in them.
Many things threaten the truth of who Christ is in the church today, from the prosperity gospel, to the idea of pluralism, to the perverse equality of postmodernism. Each of these (and more) poses a threat to the church of Christ in much the same way that the false doctrines that Paul confronted threatened the Colossian church. It is like walking into a clean room and watching someone throw garbage on the floor. You’re going to notice the garbage right away because it doesn’t belong. But if you walked into a room full of trash and the same garbage was thrown on the floor it wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal to you. The same is true in the church today. A lot of garbage has come in. The more garbage of false doctrine we let in, the less likely the church as a whole will notice the individual trash because it won’t seem like that big of a deal, and the less likely it will be to do anything about it as a whole. The end result of this is very bad. The solution is still the same today as it was when Paul penned Colossians: The preeminence of Christ. His truth is what right doctrine is built on. And like I said earlier, knowing Him and making Him Lord of our lives and of the church is the answer, which is why Paul started this letter off by explaining this.
So let’s examine ourselves and the church in general. How are we, or are we not, making Him Lord? How are we submitting to His lead, His command, His directing in our lives? In the church at large? I include myself in this question because I know there are things in me that need work. Would we rather spend all of our time putting up with pathetic false doctrine, or would we rather know Christ and experience His true doctrine?