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We Need Nothing but Jesus Christ (Col. 2:8-10)

Beware of Plunderers (v. 8)


Christians Can Be Plundered by Vain Philosophies


“Plundered” describes what happens when we do not hold fast to Christ and listen to the world. To be plundered is to be carried off as prisoners to sin and error, to our misery and shame, and great loss of joy in fellowship with Jesus Christ. We can never be plundered, however, if we are established in the truth of God, rooted and built up into Christ. This is a serious warning. He describes plunderers as those who teach empty or vain philosophy. He is not condemning the love of learning and wisdom. Christians have always taken the lead in the spread of truth and knowledge. We live in God’s world and have his Word and Son. We must read and learn in both books – the book of the world God made, and the book of redemption through Jesus Christ. Vain philosophy is all worldviews and popular ideas that build upon another foundation than Jesus Christ. It might be a form of mystical Judaism, as in Colosse. Greek and Roman philosophy would certainly fit into this condemnation, for they did not build upon Jesus Christ. He alone is the key of knowledge and wisdom.

In our day the vain philosophy that plunders many professing Christians is what some have called “expressive individualism.” This is the very dangerous and foolish idea that the individual defines his truth and reality. This truth cannot be argued against, for it is “my truth.” It is oppression for you not to accept my truth. Rather than exposing this foolishness, the church often responds by downplaying apostolic doctrine, for the Lord teaches us that God’s truth defines our reality. And we cannot change his truth or call “truth” what appeals to us and makes us feel good and will gain us followers in the artificial world of social media. But many are led astray, and thus worship services do not focus upon serving God according to his word and hearing his word preached but group emoting and “experiencing God.” This is a very dangerous form of spirituality that has nothing in common with the religion of the Bible. True religion listens to the speaking God and builds upon his Scriptures. True religion hears the discipleship call our Lord gave: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. Only Satan and those deceived by him endorse the vain philosophy to affirm yourself, gratify your desires, and live by “your truth.”


How Do You Identify Them?


The Lord Jesus will lose none of his sheep, and so he gives us by his Spirit of wisdom and revelation three ways to identify empty philosophies. First, they are “after the tradition of men.” This echoes our Lord’s condemnation of the Jewish leaders, who loved human tradition more than God’s word and actually replaced his word with their traditions (Matt. 15:1-9). While the reference may be to an influence of Judaism in Colosse, “human tradition” is clearly contrasted with “established in the faith” (v. 7). Anything based upon the word of any man rather than God’s word is to be rejected as empty philosophy. It matters not that the man is smart, a slick guru, or a podcast philosopher. It is dangerous to follow men, seek the praise of men, or build your faith upon the traditions of men. The only true and health-giving philosophy is that which builds upon Jesus Christ.

A second way to identify plundering philosophies is that they are “after the rudiments of the world.” Paul uses this description in Galatians 4:3-10, and given its rarity, likely refers to the same thing. Some have suggested the old Jewish ceremonies, which is a possibility and seems to fit the argument in Galatians. They are “rudiments,” elementary, if you will. The Judaizers in Galatians insisted upon Gentile adherence to the “weak and beggarly elements” of “observing days, months, times, and years.” This refers to the Jewish religious calendar of ceremonies and feasts, some of which was commanded by God but was greatly augmented over the centuries with an exhausting array of observances and traditions. Paul references a similar issue in Colosse, when he refers again at the end of this chapter to “the elements of the world” and defines them as “subject to ordinances, touch not, taste not, handle not” (vv. 20-23). He seems to be talking about the same kid of materialistic religion – reducing piety to external observances, rituals, and man-made doctrines, sprinkled with mystical speculation about angels. Medieval and late-medieval Romanism would certainly fall under this condemnation and plundered multitudes away from Jesus Christ. Ours is a faith not of “food and drink,” outward observances, but of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).


The Ultimate Test of Truth: Jesus Christ


Third, true religion is vitally connected to Jesus Christ. Vital means “living.” We are in Christ, meaning that he is living, and by faith we are joined to him in saving union and in satisfying communion. This is the ultimate test of any philosophy or idea – does it promote Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Does it build upon his sacrifice as the only way of forgiveness and therefore the necessity of repentance, as he preached (Luke 13:3,5)? When a popular entertainer speaks of “her version of Christianity” as endorsing the alphabet community, this is not “after Christ.” It does not heed his discipleship call to “deny yourself.” This is the way we discern the evil of modern, expressive individualism, whether heralded by our favorite podcaster or the beautiful seducer on stage of the clever talk-show host – it encourages us to affirm ourselves and find our own truth. If Jesus Christ fits into our reality, fine. If not, fine. Satan never had better servants than these advocates today of be your own man, your own woman. They all fail the test of a true and saving philosophy, which leads us to Jesus Christ to be saved from our sins and self-expressive idolatry, unites us to him as our Lord, and follows the Word of God as he did.

Do other movements more evident in the church lead us to Jesus Christ or away from him? One thinks of older disputes about eschatology. The growth of the gospel and of the church between Christ’s first advent and his final coming is an important subject, but whatever one’s reading of this progress, it should lead you to love and serve Jesus Christ more devotedly, to watch for him in prayer with greater desire. If these debates froze our hearts rather than quickened them unto greater love for our Lord and obedience to him, then we were debating for debate’s sake, or system’s sake, and not for Christ’s sake. The same can be said about the older theonomy debates and the church’s engagement with the world’s rejection of the Bible’s teaching on society, men and women, and creation in God’s image. The truth is found in Jesus Christ and his word. The truth humbly believed and defended is not about being right but about honoring and loving him, which always breeds his humility in our lives. Knowledge isolated from knowing and loving our Lord Jesus Christ breeds a haughty spirit that divides rather than unifies. We can speak the truth in very unloving ways that have the opposite effect of speaking the truth in love, as we are commanded to do (Eph. 4:15).

 

In Christ the Fullness of God Dwells (v. 9)


God Revealed in the Flesh in Jesus Christ


There is a great day on the horizon for Christians and for our Savior’s church. Philosophies that worship man’s ideas are sterile and doomed to fail. We live in God’s word, and his truth revealed in Jesus Christ is the only lasting foundation. But who is Jesus Christ that we make so much of him? Why cannot we remake him in any way we want, so that he basically worships our Baal’s with us and pats us on the back for being so bold to follow our self-idolatry? It is because he is the eternal God fully manifested in human flesh. Why must we hold fast to the teaching of Jesus Christ?  Because he is the eternal God incarnate. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten of the Father, he has revealed him” (John 1:18). This is the granite cornerstone of the entire structure of the universe. The incarnation of the Son of God is the heart of the Father’s purpose to reveal his Son so that all will honor him. It is also the way we are redeemed, for he was born of a woman and under the law to atone for our sins on the cross. “The Word made flesh” remains the most remarkable truth ever uttered. No wonder that Satan fought so doggedly either to make Jesus Christ a mere man, or a phantasm, or a divinized man. He must not be the Word incarnate, the eternal Son of God in the flesh. That would mean that salvation has come to sinners in time and history. It means that God’s purposes for creation have not been defeated by man’s sin. And even more gloriously, it reveals the implicit humility in the Godhead, if we may say it like this at a very creaturely level. For it was the Son of God who so humbled himself. He was and is everything God is, but he humbled himself. Come to the humbled Son of God, and he will kill and begin curing your pride. Come to him and learn the evil of man-affirming, empty philosophies, which are all motivated by a satanic, nasty pride.


Truth and Reality Not Disembodied


There is another glorious truth revealed in this little line. Our age is no longer persuaded that the “truth is out there.” The older liberalism failed in its commitment to man’s autonomous reason to find or to justify a foundation for truth and morality. It tried human reason and science, but because it laid these upon a different foundation than Jesus Christ, its house collapsed under the storms of God’s judgment. Now, we have our various forms of escapism from physical reality – digital platforms, pornography, other techno-universes, UFO-frenzy, Mars colonization. Understand that these are all denials of the incarnation of the Son of God – that in him dwells all the fullness of God bodily. They are all an attempt to find meaning without having to confess that he is Lord. There must be a way to move forward in our evolution as a race without having to submit to the Bible. Men may not be self-conscious about these things, but some are, especially the “great ones.” Yet, we must confess that Jesus Christ is the eternal God, and he took upon himself a full and true human nature, excepting sin. He is the only One who has revealed the Father to us. He is the only Light of the world, the only Way to God and the only Way for man himself to be redeemed.

This teaches us that truth and reality are not disembodied. We shall not find another reality other than the one the Son of God created and then redeemed by the “Word was made flesh.” This gives us a great hope and confidence in the body. We may not like our bodies, our circumstances, our economics, or our relationships, but Jesus Christ the Son of God walked this earth in a body. He retains his body at the right hand of the Father. He is Redeemer and Lord of this created order, and whatever our place and circumstances in it, we can serve the Lord. The incarnation of the Son of God is thus the pillar of our faith and the standard by which to judge all other philosophies and technologies of men. Do they seek escape from the limitations and responsibilities of our created, physical existence?  They are satanic, man playing at God, trying to define good and evil for himself. Do they prefer a digital identity or a trans-whatever identity to their creation in God’s image and redemption by the Word made flesh? They are satanic or at least “led captive by him” (2 Tim. 2:26). Truth and reality, redemption and forgiveness, peace and joy, are found in the Son of God incarnate. He is our reality. When men deny him, they live in a lying delusion that will destroy them.


Complete in Christ the Head of All (v. 10)


We Are Presently, Gloriously Complete in Christ


We are complete in Christ. This is more than personal salvation. It certainly includes forgiveness from sins and the imputation of our Lord’s obedience to us so that we are righteous before God. But this completion means that we have all we need in Christ for this life and the life to come. We have all strength and wisdom in him to fulfill his unique callings upon our lives. He gives us all grace from the Spirit of truth and holiness to serve him with joy. We have everything in Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-22). One reason Christians are plundered is that they have not learned contentment with Christ. We do not think often enough of how much there is in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God – everything, unsearchable riches, the fullness of God’s nature in bodily form. Consider how he tells slaves and the poor to serve him where they are (1 Cor. 7:21-22). They were the lowest of the low – but so was he!

He knows the temptations of being despised and downtrodden and abused – and he was the Son of God! He knows, he knows how to help the persecuted and poor, the hated and ridiculed. But we must go to him, take our concerns to him, and perhaps above all take him seriously – abide in his Word and trust him to work in our lives and circumstances. We must seek grace from him, trusting that he possesses everything in order to share of his fullness with us. How did he endure Satan’s attacks and temptations to avoid the cross and accept a worldly kingdom? By the Scriptures. We have these very Scriptures. Are we better than Jesus Christ?  Would we seek completion beyond him – in our digital, virtual, sensual, gaming realities? We shall be plundered unless we are learning of the unsearchable riches of Christ and drawing these graces from him by faith.

So that we learn better to do this, each of us should spend time with believers who know him. If you desire to serve Christ in your work or business, spend time with businessmen who are learning to serve him and lean on him in challenging environments. Spend time with older believers who are learning they are complete in him when alone, when friends or spouses are gone, and he is all they have. Spend time with men and women who are abiding in the word and finding incredible strength and hope in the living voice of Jesus Christ speaking by the Spirit in the Scriptures. The reason so many today are plundered is not that we need a new faith – another of Satan’s lies. It is because the church in some unfaithful places has lost hope in God’s truth and chosen a new religion of emotionalism, non-doctrinal, your personal reality affirming religion. The old and vibrant faith that overcomes the world is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Learn that you are complete in him – in your calling, serve him, whatever it is, however unheralded. Stay away from the “counsel of the ungodly and the seat of the scorner.” Today, these scorners are often internet influencers of various kinds, who encourage your discontentment and a disembodied existence in their fake worlds. Men, reject these lies and seek contentment and completion in Christ. If you are a single, seek a wife who serves Jesus Christ in the real world and does not seek her standards of worth and beauty in Satan’s artificial worlds. All believers – heed Jesus Christ. “Come, learn of me.” You will find him utterly, completely sufficient, and in him you can learn contentment in serving him without drama or fanfare. His smile is more than sufficient reward.


He is Head of All Other Powers


Some in Colosse were delving into the unseen angelic world – by their own imagination, of course, and “vainly puffed up in their fleshly minds” (v. 18). Jesus Christ is Lord of angels. They look to him as their Head. Therefore, as high as we might search into the outer reaches of space or in heaven, there is no higher one than Jesus Christ. Even if some sort of extra-terrestrial life is found, even intelligent life, it will still be created life – not the Creator, Jesus Christ. He is the only Creator and Head of all there is, even the highest creatures. Were we to find unknown and advanced worlds, they would still draw their existence from him. They would not be higher than Jesus Christ or mean we no longer needed him. Their achievements would serve only to show us how much more there is in Christ than our technocratic, man-driven society can achieve without him. Thus, when the Spirit says we are complete in him, this is not to settle for subpar, bland existence. He is calling us to seek our life in the glorious One who is over all, the Father’s beloved in whom he is well pleased, the incarnate Son of God who is our life. We must stop looking for something and someone outside or beyond Jesus Christ to fulfill and satisfy. We must seek more in Christ than we have, expect him to do more as we trust in him and call upon him. He will be respected as the Head, as Lord of all. Do we?

He has made us, and our concern should be to please and worship him, who is the Author and Finisher of our existence and faith. Yes, we are complete in him, but we are complete in him to serve him with joy, to love God’s word, as he did, and to devote ourselves to his praise. We should never place demands upon God to “give me what I want” or “let me be what I want to be” before we serve him. No, seeing what he has done for us in Christ Jesus his Son, we should present ourselves to Him. Lord, what do you want me to be? How can I please and serve you? Lord, show your power in my marriage and change me by your grace so that I can be a more loving husband and more submissive wife. Lord, show your sufficiency in this season in my life when I am more alone than I want to be, and prepare me for what you have for me by making me content in your fellowship. Lord, what vain philosophies are keeping me from having life in you and living life to the fullest in you? Where am I following men and seeking their praise rather than denying myself and following you? And a great glory of our Savior is that he knows how weak we are. He will be our strength. He will forgive our failings. We are not pulling ourselves up to him, but he has reached down to us. He has everything. He is God incarnate. He is our life and Savior. He dwells with us by his Spirit. We need nothing but him. We have everything because of him.

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