“Ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power”
In our earlier studies, we demonstrated how one of the central themes running through this Epistle, is the principle of unity, and how the multitude of believers are united in Christ as a single conglomerate entity; “the body, the ecclesia” (1:18), with the Lord Jesus himself as the Head. And having established that principle, the Spirit through Paul then proceeds to draw certain lessons and conclusions based upon it; one of these being the fact that as the body is “complete” in Christ (as our opening citation indicates), there is no need for anything else in addition to Him, such as the observance of the Mosaic Law.
In this vain, the Apostle gave the warning: “beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him …” (Col 2:8-10). Here, the “rudiments” (or “principles” as the word is elsewhere rendered (Heb 5:12)) of the world” speak of the elementary principles of the Law upon which the then present order of things, or kosmos, was based. We read of these again in the Epistle to the Galatian ecclesia, speaking of Israelites under the Mosaic Schoolmaster: “even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons … Now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal 4:3-9). The turning back to the precepts of the Law, was a return to bondage; a bondage from which the Lord Jesus had provided redemption. And this was the danger which Paul warned the Colossians against – the Judaisers were seeking to turn the believers away from the Redemption of Christ, so bringing them into bondage to precepts which could only bring condemnation.
But in speaking of the “philosophy” of the Judaisers to the Colossians, the Apostle also speaks of their “vain deceit” and “the tradition of men” which, as we saw in our introductory study, indicates how that they were not simply seeking to bring the believers back under the things commanded by Moses; but also their own teachings which they had mingled with it. The Lord speaks of this, rebuking the Pharisees and Scribes for “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the command of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition …” (Mark 7:8,9). The Pharisees effectively negated the precepts of the Law by their traditions which had become superimposed onto it. In rejecting the spiritual principles revealed to Moses, their righteousness stood in the keeping of their own traditions, hence the apostle’s condemnation of it as “empty deceit”. As he wrote to the Galatians; that which the Judaisers sought to bring Christ’s brethren into bondage to, were “weak and beggarly elements”. Not that any elements of the Law were “weak and beggarly”, for they perfectly achieved what the Divine Lawgiver intended. But that the elementary principles upon which the order of things established by the Pharisees and the like, had become “weak and beggarly”, weakened and impoverished, devoid of any spiritual value by the subtraction of the Lord’s Truth, and the addition of the philosophies of man.
And how much like today’s religious scene this is! Truly history has repeated itself in the decline of Christendom to the degenerate state of corruptness and spiritual whoredom (Rev 17:5) which it is in today. Like the Pharisees of old, the leaders of modern churches have “rejected the commandment of God” that they may keep their own traditions. And this to the extent that what is presented to the people is likewise void of spiritual nourishment; being simply the humanistic sophistries of human wisdom which lead the hearers back into the bondage of sin: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse than the beginning” (2Pet 2:19:20). So it is, that the principles of Paul’s warning apply to our generation just as they do to the Colossians, a warning which too few hearken to.
“IN HIM DWELLETH ALL THE FULNESS OF THE GODHEAD BODILY”
The very centre of the Mosaic order of things, and the core of National Worship to Israel, was the Tabernacle arrangement, and later the Temple of Solomon’s building. And the key idea found in both of these constructions, was to provide a symbolic means by which the Almighty Creator might dwell in the midst of His People: “let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex 25:8), Not that Yahweh would personally descend from His Heavenly Throne and physically dwell in the Tabernacle, but that the glory of His Presence would be there in symbol, dwelling between the Cherubim (Is 37:16), a glory which the people could approach unto once yearly through the High Priest as their representative. But this arrangement of things was but a shadow; a Type of greater things to come. The Law in all it’s various facets was a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24), and so the fulness of all it’s precepts are displayed perfectly in him.
So it is, that being greater than the shadowy institution of old, God was in Christ (2Cor 5:19) by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and by the Attributes of His Glory which were seen in him. The Lord Jesus is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb 1:3), he is “the Word” which John says “was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (Jno 1:14). As the Apostle wrote to the Colossians, “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (1:19), and again, “for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (2:9).
This is the greatness of the Lord Jesus over the Tabernacle/Temple arrangement; there the glory was but a symbol – but in him it dwelt bodily, that is, physically and literally – and not partially, but in “fulness”. As a Son he perfectly manifested the Attributes of his Divine Father, being “God manifest in the flesh” (1Tim 3:16). His “body” being the antitypical temple (Jno 2:21), the Father-Spirit dwelt there, enabling him to perform the miraculous works he did. As the Son himself declared: “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (Jno 14:10,11).
But the practical outworking of this teaching; is that if all the “fulness” of Divine Character dwells bodily in the Lord Jesus Christ, not only is it the case that the Law becomes greatly surpassed and therefore must fade away (2Cor 3:7-11), but those who are “in” Christ by faith and baptism also become complete in him. This is the inspired reasoning of Paul: “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in him.” In simple terms, if the Divine Attributes of Glory are seen in all their fulness, or completeness in Christ – then those who become joined to him ought also to manifest those attributes; and share that completeness. God is in Christ, and we are in him. As the Lord himself prayed to his Father; “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jno 17:21). The believers then, are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), a single, complete, united “ecclesia, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph 1:23). “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), but in the Body of His Ecclesia, in “fulness”. Hence the exhortation to develop the Divine qualities of the Spirit, and not be led away by the beguiling influences of man.
THE HANDWRITING OF ORDINANCES
The Apostle, in describing how the Lord Jesus has removed the burden of the law from off the believers, speaks of how he has “forgiven you all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col 2:13,14). This description of a “handwriting of ordinances” being against someone is highly reminiscent of a well known Old Testament Passage, which speaks literally of a hand (or a part of a hand) writing ordinances against a particular individual – a writing of condemnation which was not blotted out, but allowed to be fulfilled according to the Will and Purpose of the writer.
The 5th Chapter of Daniel records the idolatrous, drunken feast held by Belshazzar the king of Babylon, when the holy vessels taken from the House of Yahweh by Nebuchadnezzar were brought out, and used to praise “the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the King saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another” (Dan 5:5-6). Here then, was a hand writing ordinances against Belshazzar and his Kingdom. The words which were written were interpreted by Daniel: “this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the things: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (5:25-28).
In contrast to the Body spoken of in Colossians, Belshazzar was not “complete”, being filled with the fulness of God; but being weighed in the balances of Divine Justice, he was “found wanting”. Too light to be of any real value. The idols he worshipped in defiance of Israel’s God were unable to be of any help to him, for Yahweh had decreed that his kingdom would end – that he would be condemned and would die by being overcome by another nation. And the handwriting of this ordinance was not to be blotted out; the condemnation would not be removed, but rather it was executed fully, and Belshazzar suffered the judgement which rightly fell to him.
And notice the physical effect that the handwriting had upon Belshazzar’s body: “the joints (margin: bindings, or knots) of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another”. What a contrast to the apostle’s depiction of Christ’s body, redeemed from a condemnatory handwriting of ordinances, speaking of “the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col 2:19). Whereas the joints and bindings of Belshazzar’s body became loosed (cp Is 45:1), the “joints and bands” of Christ’s body are tightly “knit together” – in love (2:2), being nourished by the Head, even the Lord Jesus himself.
But Belshazzar provides us with an example of what can happen to a body under the condemnation of a handwriting of ordinances. The exhortation of Paul to the Colossians was that being redeemed from the handwriting of the law, they ought not allow themselves to be brought back to it – and the pernicious influence of false teachers can only cause disunity in the body. To permit and allow wrong doctrine to be taught in the ecclesia will inevitably result in a body like Belshazzar’s – unloosed from the bonds of love, disunited, smiting itself. And this is what the Ecclesia at Colosse would have become like if it had been brought back under the handwriting of ordinances which the Lord Jesus had blotted out. And in contrast to Belshazzar, who was overcome by the power of another kingdom, the Apostle describes the victory of Christ over the powers of the Jewish nation which sought to overcome him:- “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in himself” (2:15).
“WORSHIPPING OF ANGELS”
In continuing the theme of separateness from the philosophies of the Judaisers, and the various feasts, holydays and food requirements of the law, the exhortation continues: “let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (2:18). This verse, particularly the reference to the “worshipping of angels” has been the cause of much difficulty for many commentators it appears, for a great variety of opinions are set forth. These include the idea that some, out of a supreme reverence for the Father felt that he could not be approached by mortal man – even through His Son, and so they began making supplications to angels instead. Others suggest that it was a warning against the “Gnostics”. Still others say that the Jews had incorporated angel-worship into their system of things. But the evidence for these suggestions is not convincing. There is no evidence that the Jews worshipped Angels in the time of the Apostles, and we would expect that if the practice was commonplace, then it would receive more attention in the Epistles. As for the ideas relating to the “Gnostics” and others; the context of the chapter is clearly relating to the Judaisers, as we have seen, and it would be strange to have a single verse, about another group in the midst of a warning about Judaisers. We believe the verse should be understood in the context in which it occurs.
The Greek word rendered “worshipping” interestingly, is not the usual word for “worship”. It is used on only 3 other occasions in Scripture (Acts 26:5, Jas 1:26,27), and on each of those occasions, it is rendered “religion”, speaking not of an act of supplication; but an entire religious system. For instance, Acts 26:5 records the words of Paul: “after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee”. So the “worshipping of angels”, we suggest rather related to the religion of, or given by Angels – the Law itself. The inspired writer of the Hebrews speaks of the Law in these terms: “if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?” (Heb 2:2,3). The Law itself was given to Moses by Angelic hands (Acts 7:38,53), but the word of salvation came by God’s only begotten Son. And if those who neglected the angelic Law received punishment – what will be our end if we neglect that spoken by the Son of the Creator of the Universe?
So it was, that in seeking to bring the believers in Christ under the Mosaic Law, the Judaisers were unwittingly bringing them to something greatly inferior to Christ. It was the religion, or system of worship from Angels, whereas the Gospel is from the Son, in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells. In doing this, the Judaisers were “intruding into those things which he hath not seen”. And to this day, the Jews have not “seen” the glory of the Law which they appear to delight in; “their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament, which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away” (2Cor 3:14-16). This was the true position of the Judaisers – they were spiritually blind, unable to see the fulfilment of the Law in the Lord Jesus, but rather gloried in the observance of their own traditions, “vainly puffed up” by their “fleshly minds”.
But the religious world in which we sojourn is really no better. The nations are blinded by the god of this world (2Cor 4:4), that they also cannot see the shining brilliance of the Glory of Israel’s God in Christ. There is then, a dual blindness, or veiling – over both Israel and the nations, for all wander in darkness, unable to see the way of salvation in Christ. But this lamentable situation is soon to have an end, for at the appearance of the Lord Jesus upon the earth once more, “the vail shall be taken away” from Israel (2Cor 3:16), and “the vail that is spread over all nations” (Is 25:7) shall be removed. In that day, Israel shall become an exalted people in the earth, the “first dominion” of the Great Prince, and the nations shall come to bow before him, in recognition of his supremacy, and exalted status as the Son of the Most High God. In that day, the false systems of men’s religion shall be destroyed, and replaced by a glorious new law, which shall go forth from the Mountain of the House of Yahweh, requiring all nations to appear at the city of the great King to keep the feast of Tabernacles, and be taught Yahweh’s ways of Truth. Our wisdom then, is to heed the warning of the inspired Apostle, to remain separate from the blindness of the world’s philosophies, and seek to become united as a complete Body in Christ. It is that Body which shall be subject to glorification (Rev 1:13-16), when all the pretence of false worship shall fail, and be exposed for all it’s fleshly weakness. And it is the individual members of that Body which shall come to be partakers of divine nature, and so be filled physically with the Glory of God, and so truly become even as our Lord Jesus Christ.