Complete in Christ

 

Key Text: Col. 2:3: “In whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

 

2:1 “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea.”

Laodicea was a great center of banking and finance (cf. Rev. 3:14-21). It was one of the wealthiest cities of the ancient world! When Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, they refused aid from the Roman empire and rebuilt the city from their own resources (cf. Tacitus, Annals, 14:27).

 

2:2 “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.”

 Here Paul points to the unification in love that believers should have (cf. 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). “Attaining to all the wealth” is having a “true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.”

 

2:3 “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

 Without Christ – we have neither godly (true) wisdom nor godly knowledge,—which are the treasures. Only through Christ Himself do we have true understanding.

 

2:4 “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.”

“Delude.” From the compound Greek word, paralogizomai, meaning, deceive, beguile, reason falsely, mislead. The prefix is from para (alongside or contrary) and the second term is logizomai (logic, logical, take into account, come to a bottom-line, i.e. reason to a logical conclusion (decision) (cf. Thayer). Thus, paralogizomai—to reason contrary to truth, in a misleading (erroneous) way, to miscalculate, to reason falsely. The same word is used in James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

Paul’s point; even though the arguments seem to make sense or are reasonable, they are in the end, false. We should not be frustrated or surprised that our proclamation of a carpenter is God in the flesh, the Creator of all things, resurrected Savior, and that only in Him are hidden the all treasures of wisdom and knowledge; will be rejected by the unregenerate. They “love darkness” (John 3:19). “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Co. 1:18; cf. John 8:43, 47).

 

2:5-6 “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”

Paul is affirming that the fixed tradition that was delivered to the Colossians by Epaphras was indeed Christ-centered, which was focused on Jesus Christ as Lord (cf. Rom. 10:9-13).

2:7 “having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.”

The three participles, “having being rooted,” “being built up,” and “established” belong together and reflect three different symbols:

  • Having being rooted: The first participle “rooted” (perfect tense) indicates a solid condition on the part of the Colossian believers and refers “metaphorically” to horticulture.
  • Being built up: The second participle “built up” (present passive) comes from the world of Architecture.
  • Established: The third participle “established” (present passive) comes from the law courts.

 

With these three metaphors (as well as the following comment on “thankfulness”), Paul seems to be expressing his command to them: continue to live their lives in Christ. The passive tenses seems to indicate God’s active role in His working in them—“having been firmly rooted” them, having built them up, and having established their faith in Him.”

 Similar to Philippians 2:12-13: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 theos gar estin ho energōn en humin [lit., ‘for God is the one energizing you’], both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

 

2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Here Paul is not arguing against the study of philosophy or critical thinking, but rather, the acceptance (or tolerance) of a philosophy that is in opposition of a proper view of Christ Jesus and the ethics of the Christian life.

“Through philosophy” – dia tēs philosophias (lit., “through the philosophy”). Note the article “the” (tēs) precedes “philosophy.” Paul speaks of a particular philosophy, the philosophy of the Gnostics—which rejects the idea of God becoming flesh. Additionally, this false philosophy is connected with “empty deceit.”

“Captive”- sulagōgōn, a compound word from sulōn, “a prey, victim” and agō, “carry off” – lexically, “to carry off like a predator with its prey,” “to make a victim by fraud.” Paul is warning the Colossians: “See to it that no one takes you captive [or, carry off like a predator with its prey] through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

 “According to the traditions of men.” Paul defines the kind of philosophy to which he is condemning.

 

2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” – hoti en autō katoikei pan to plērōma tēs theotētos sōmatikōs.

The Greek verb katoikei (“dwells”) is a present active indicative form of katoikeō.” The present tense indicates that the fullness of absolute Deity (theotētos) permanently and continuously dwells in “bodily form” (sōmatikōs)—thus contradicting further any idea of a cessation of the Son. Jesus created all things, in fact, all the fullness of the supreme Deity presently, continuously, and permanently dwells in bodily form.

Due to a prior theological comment, the lexical semantic (viz. the meaning in its original significance) of the Greek term theotētos (“Deity”) is denied by unitarians (esp. Muslims and JWs). However, note some academic sources defining the meaning of the term in this passage:

Joseph B. Lightfoot: “The totality of the divine powers and attributes.”

Richard C. Trench: “All the fullness of absolute Godhead . . . He was, and is, absolute and perfect God.”

John A. Bengal: “Not merely [to] the Divine attributes, but [to] the Divine Nature itself.”

 C. G. Moule: “As strong as possible; Deity, not only Divinity”;

Robert Reymond: “The being of the very essence of deity”

Benjamin B. Warfield: “The very deity of God, that which makes God God, in all its completeness.”

The syntactical meaning cannot be denied. The deity of Christ was a constant theme in the Pauline corpus. The Christ that Paul preached was fully and absolutely God and fully and absolutely man—the two natured person.

He was so fixed on the deity of Christ that he implicitly and explicitly asserted it in virtually every one of his epistles (cf. Rom. 1:3-4; 9:5; 1 Cor. 2:8 [see 1 Sam. 15:29; and Acts 7:1-2]; 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:13.

Paul also applies OT passages referring to YHWH yet applies them to Christ. For example, Paul cites Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:13 seeing Christ as the Lord (viz., the YHWH of Joel 2:32) whose “name” (i.e., power/authority) one must call upon to be saved. Same with his reference of Isaiah 45:23 in Philippians 2:10-11 where Paul sees Christ as the YHWH of Isaiah 45:23, before whose name (authority/power) every knee will bow and every tongue confess.

2:10 “and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority…”

Only in Christ, our peace, our God, our Savior, and our Lord are we complete. All that is necessary for our salvation is found in Him. The grace of Christ, sustains us and strengthens us through the trials of life (cf. Rom. 8:18, 39). 

Paul’s purpose in his letter to the Colossians was to present a sharp refutation to the very heart of the Gnostic idea by clearly presenting that: (a) Jesus Christ provided redemption, (the forgiveness of sins), by His substitutionary infallible cross work—“having made peace through the blood of His cross” (cf. 1:14–22), (b) He was the Creator of all things (cf. 1:16-17), (c) He was God in the flesh (cf. 2:9), and (d) only in Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). He is the “Lord of Glory” through whom we have spiritual completion and life everlasting (cf. Rom 5:1; 8:1; Eph. 3: 20-21).

 

All Christians should be biblically familiar with the real meaning of what most call “Christmas”, which is the most important event in all of human history: God became flesh. It is a celebration of God the Son adding a new nature and becoming flesh, in order to live the perfect life and die on the cross fulfilling the requirements of God’s perfect and holy justice. This produced both forgiveness of our sins and the evasion of divine wrath that was due to us because of sin (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). The fact that the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, stepped into His own creation to provide redemption for sinners is the theological trademark and faith to which true Christians are devoted.

Essential Part of the Gospel 

The perpetual incarnation of God the Son is one of the most essential and foundational doctrines of Christendom – not only does it define true Christianity, but it defines the work of the Son—the gospel itself! The Incarnation is fully revealed in the NT. Paul calls it a “mystery”[1] meaning that it was once hidden (pre-NT), but now has been revealed (NT). However, we do see allusions of it in the OT (cf. Isa. 9:6: “child[humanity] will be born to us, a son [deity] will be given to us”). The Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel.” The term translated “descendant” is from the Greek spermatos (from sperma), which means that He was from the literal bloodline of David, nothing metaphorical or figurative about it—God actually became flesh (cf. Rom. 9:5). Only as God-man could Paul say that is was the “Lord of glory” that was crucified (1 Cor. 2:8; cf. 1 Sam. 15:29; Acts 7:1), or say in his farewell address to the elders/overseers (pastors) of the church of Ephesus: “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). God’s “own blood” is the blood of the God-man, Jesus Christ(Acts 20:28).

JOHN 1:1 (trans. mine): In the beginning before time, the Word was (ēn) already existing [eternally, cf. Phil. 2:6], and the Word was with [pros], distinctly and intimately, God [the Father], and the Word as to His essential nature/essence [i.e., qualitatively] was fully God [theos—in the same sense, but not the same person as that of God the Father].” Two distinct persons sharing the same nature of God.

JOHN 1:14 (trans. mine): And the Word [who was God] became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the one and only, unique one, from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The verb eskēnōsen (“dwelt among us,” NASB) derives its meaning from the Hebrew term sākan referring to Yahweh coming down to earth to dwell (cf. Exod. 25:8; cf. 2 Sam. 7:5-6). In verse 1, the Apostle John positively affirmed that the Word was (a) eternal/preexistent (1:1a), (b) distinct from God the Father (1:1b), and (c) absolutely God (1:1c). In verse 14, John further identifies the bodily incarnation of God the eternal Word showing that Jesus Christ was not merely a temporary “theophany” (theos phainō, lit., “God appearance”; e.g., Gen. chaps. 18-19), but rather “the Word became flesh [ho logos sarx egeneto].” The Greek here clearly indicates that God the Son did not “wrap” Himself in flesh as one would put on an outfit or costume, but He actually BECAME (egeneto) flesh.

JOHN 1:18: “No one has seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” The prologue of John (vv. 1-18) contains some of the highest Christology in the NT (as does the prologues of Col. and Heb.). After having established the Word’s deity (including His role as the Creator), preexistence, distinction from the Father, and His incarnation, now in verse 18, the perpetual incarnation of the eternal Word is expressed. The phrase (“who is”) present active articular participle ho ōn (“who is,” lit., “the one being”) denoting timeless ongoing existence (as with Rom. 9:5: “Christ according to the flesh, who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the one who is/being always”] over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

Systematic theologian, Robert Reymond remarks on the significance of the articular participle: “The present participle ho ōn . . . indicates a continuing state of being: ‘who is continually in the bosom of the Father’” (Reymond, Systematic Theology) In the LXX of Exodus 3:14, we find the same articular participle denoting Yahweh’s eternal existence: Egō eimi ho ōn, literally, “I am the eternal/always existing One.” Thus, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the one who is/being always”] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [“exegeted”] Him.”

PHILIPPIANS 2:7: He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Verse 6 starts with the affirmation that Christ is “always existing” in the form/nature of God (as clearly taught in John 1:1, 5:17-18; Titus 2:13; Rev. 1:8, 22:13 et al). However, He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,” that is, to be used for His own independent advantage. “But [He Himself][2] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”— God the Son emptied Himself by incarnating Himself in order to provide definite redemption by His vicarious and perfect life and substitutionary death on the cross.

The Necessity of God Becoming Man

First, no “mere man” can provide redemption (cf. Ps. 49:7-8), but as perfect man and fully God, Jesus’ redemptive work has infinite value, as He declared on the cross, “It is finished”! Second, as perfect man,Christ lived the perfect life fulfilling the “covenant of works” that Adam did not keep and to which all humans are related (cf. Gen. 2:17; Hosea 6:7; Rom. 5:5-13). God required perfect obedience, which resulted in the promise of eternal life. Adam, as well as all humans, could not keep this covenant. So, God enacted a new covenant, a covenant of grace, in which salvation is granted to sinners, but not on grounds of their own merits, rather the merits of the incarnate “God Christ,” the “second Adam,” who met all the requirements of the justice of God in not only His vicarious cross work, but also His perfect and substitutionary life. That is why Paul says that we “shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10).

Hence, the incarnation of God the Son was the very means God provided to redeem His people—“the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” Only because the Son is both God and man is He now our Priest in which He intercedes (mediates) forever between God the Father and us (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:24-25).

The Perpetual Incarnation

The incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, was not a temporary event, rather it was perpetual and is permanent—He is forever more God in the flesh.

COLOSSIANS 2:9:“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The book of Colossians sharply refutes the dualistic ideology (i.e., spirit vs. matter) of gnostic philosophy that rejected the material/physical world). Some the “Docetic” gnostics went so far as to say it really did not exist—anything physical was illusory only seeming to be real. Hence, they naturally repudiated the concept of Jesus being God in the flesh. Paul opposed this view, definitively presenting the Christ as the Creator of all things and (cf. 1:16-17), and in Him, Christ, presently, continuously, and permanently “dwells” (katoikei) all the fullness (plērōma) of Deity (theotētos) in bodily form (sōmatikōs)—namely, Jesus is God in the flesh. Therefore, against the Gnostics, in 2:9 (and many other places), Paul stresses in the strongest way that in the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ, continuously and permanently dwells all the fullness of God in human flesh.

1 & 2 JOHN. In these two epistles, we find the same problem that Paul addresses in Colossians. The incarnation of Jesus Christ was so essential to the Christian faith that the Apostle John sees it as the ultimate test of true orthodoxy—namely, genuine Christianity. As with Colossians, John provides a sharp refutation against the flesh-denying Gnostics. This is especially seen in 1 John 4:2-3:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist.

Note the phrase translated “has come” is from the Greek verb elēluthota, which is a perfect active participle (from erchomai, “to come”). The general import of a perfect tense is a completed action occurring in the past with continuous effects; it denotes a present condition or state resulting from a past action (the perfect is used in John 19:30: “It is [has been for all time] finished.” Thus, the literal reading of verse 2 is “Every spirit that confesses/acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come and remains in the flesh is from God.” The two-natured person, God the Son, became and remains in the flesh. John expresses the same in 2 John 1:7 where the present active participle is used to express the same thing:

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming [and remaining] in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.

The Apostle John sees that believing that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh presently and forevermore is a mark of true Christianity. In fact, so important is this biblical truth to John that anyone who denies it (as with JWs) is not only characterized as “the spirit of the antichrist,” but in 2 John 1:7, this person is ho planos (‘the deceiver”) and ho antichristos (“the antichrist”)—note the definite article precedes both nouns.

Scripture explicitly stresses both the necessity and importance of the incarnation—namely, knowing and understanding that Jesus Christ became man and thus remains the God-man forever (cf. Acts 17:31; 1 Tim. 2:5). Hence, we must always include the incarnation and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ in our proclamation of the gospel, just as biblical authors and the early church did—not merely on December 25th.

Because He became flesh, He is our Prophet, Priest, and King. Scripture presents that God the Son actually substituted Himself on behalf of His people, in their place. His cross work perfectly secured salvation for them. Because He became flesh, His substitutionary atonement did not merely make salvation a possibility for all men, but rather it actually and infallibly saved those for whom He died. Christ’s death removed the wrath from those who were effectually called – both Jews and Gentiles, “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9)—only because God the Son became flesh.

NOTES

[1] By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He [or “God”] who was revealed in the flesh. . . .”

[2] Here the reflexive pronoun heauton (“Himself”) precedes “emptied” (heauton ekenōsen, lit., “He Himself emptied”), which denotes a “self-emptying.”