colossians - an exhortation for unity in love

 

“THE CIRCUMCISION MADE WITHOUT HANDS”

In our previous studies, we have seen how the inspired Apostle warned the Colossians of the Judaisers, who sought to add elements of the Mosaic Law (combined with their own traditions) to the requirements of the Gospel. And a key feature of their “philosophy”, was the insistence on Circumcision for salvation. They taught “except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), and it is this requirement which is especially dealt with in the Epistle to the Colossians, where Paul expounds the true significance of circumcision, and how the spiritual points it taught might be manifested by the disciple. He speaks of the Lord Jesus as being “the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11). In some sense then, although the Gentile believers at Colosse were physically uncircumcised (2:13), the spirit of circumcision took place in their union with Christ, for in him they are deemed to be “circumcised” – but “without hands”.

In actual fact, the ordinance of Circumcision did not originate in the Law, irrespective of what claims the Judaisers had made. The Lord Jesus made this clear in his dialogue with the Jews: “Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers); and ye on the Sabbath day circumcise a man” (Jno 7:22). The reason why Moses enjoined circumcision upon Israel then, was not because it formed part of the other ordinances which came by him, but because it was “of the fathers”. It was a practice which became incorporated into the Law, but in actual fact, had it’s origin with the Abraham (Acts 7:8), and was associated with the giving of the New covenant to him.

CIRCUMCISION – A TOKEN OF FAITH IN THE NEW COVENANT

Genesis chapter 17, verses 1-9 describes the giving of certain promises to Abraham, including the establishment of a covenant between him and his seed – particularly the pre-eminent seed, even the Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks ultimately of the future, when Abraham’s seed shall be given – with him: “all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God”. And as a token of that covenant, the practice of circumcision was commanded:

“This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Gen 17:10-14).

In these words, we find a number of important details which are interesting to note. Firstly, circumcision was enjoined upon certain Gentiles as well as Jews – those who had been “bought with money of any stranger”, and had by this means become part of Abraham’s household. So we have in Type, the manner in which Gentiles could become joined to the household of faith, being “bought” by the shed blood of Christ; as the Apostle wrote immediately after his discourse on Circumcision: “he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (see 1Cor 7:18-23). And as we saw earlier, in Christ, all members of the household become, in a sense circumcised, but “without hands”, for “he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom 2:29).

But another point which is not immediately apparent in the Genesis record, is that circumcision was given as a token of Abraham’s faith in the Covenant made with him: “faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness … not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also …” (Rom 4:9-11). Circumcision then, was a “sign”, which spoke of the faith of Abraham in Yahweh’s covenant with him, made when he was yet “uncircumcised”. This was the significance of circumcision under the Law – it should have reminded Abraham’s natural seed of the principles of the New Covenant, and the promises which Abraham had faith in. It was given as a token of faith, and in essence, taught the Jew that righteousness was not by the observance of Law, but by sharing the faith which Abraham had – of which it was a “sign”. And in this way, it would have led them to the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom the promises relate, and through whom they are to be accomplished.

Circumcision then, was a physical sign which distinguished Israel from the nations around them, to be a people chosen by God. Literally speaking, it was the cutting off of the flesh, and so carries the spiritual signification of cutting off the fleshly lusts of the heart. As we cited earlier, “circumcision is that of the heart” (Rom 2:29). It spoke of the faith which ought to have been manifested in Abraham’s seed, and so speaks of righteousness and purity – whereas “uncircumcision” in Scripture speaks of the way of the flesh, or defilement and is a term of reference to some of the ungodly Gentile nations, most notably the Philistines (Jud 15:18, 1Sam14:6, 17:26,36 etc). So Israel, although literally circumcised, were exhorted by Moses to “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut 10:16). Yet although the people went through various phases of national faithfulness, the cutting off of the flesh can be very painful; and not at all pleasing to the natural man. Thus, the foreskin of their hearts remained. They failed to heed the word of the Living God, for the barrier of the flesh obstructed their spiritual hearing, as Jeremiah lamented: “behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of Yahweh is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it” (Jer 6:10). He, as Moses exhorted the people: “Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” (Jer 4:4), but they failed to hearken, and so the promised destruction duly came.

The matter does not end there for Israel, however, for the New Covenant, of which the “sign” of Circumcision testified, is yet to be accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ, as the “Deliverer” who shall “come out of Sion … and shall turn away ungodliness out of Jacob. So Moses spoke of this time – the time of Israel’s future regathering, and subsequent glorification in the land: “Yahweh thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love Yahweh thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deut 31:6). This verse leaves us in no doubt what it is to be Circumcised; it is to remove the fleshly covering of our hearts which proves to be a barrier to things Divine. It is to become Spiritually renewed, that we might love Yahweh, Israel’s God, with all our hearts and soul, that we might become heirs of everlasting life, according to the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. And in that day, all who dwell in Jerusalem – and all who pass through there on their annual pilgrimage to give homage to the King of Kings, shall be spiritually circumcised, for thus saith the Lord to Zion; “put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come unto thee the circumcised and the unclean” (Is 52:1)

We then, are “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” (Col 2:11), if we have faith in Abraham’s Greater Seed. As the Apostle taught the Philippians, “we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3). Literal circumcision was but the literal removal of a small part of the body. But circumcision in Christ is far greater, for it is “the putting of the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11, cp Rom 6:6). Let us therefore rejoice in the faith of Abraham’s God, that we also might find life in Him.

Chris Maddocks