Do heavenly bodies have any influence over our lives? (Millions of people consult their horoscopes every day. In the U.S. alone, 1220 of the 1750 newspapers carry astrological data.) Is there any relationship between diet and spiritual living? Do the Eastern religions have anything to offer the evangelical Christian? These very contemporary questions are the very issues Paul dealt with in his magnificent epistle to the Colossians. Many Bible scholars have concluded that Colossians is the most profound letter Paul ever wrote.
The Epistle to the Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul in about A.D. 60-62, while he was imprisoned in Rome. One purpose was to correct the heresies that had sprung up in the Asian city of Colossae. Colossae was one of three cities in the Lycus Valley, about 100 miles east of Ephesus (capital) in Asia Minor. The area was a meeting point of East and West; an important trade route passed through there. It was fertile ground for religious speculations and heresies. (Colossae is only a few miles from Laodicea, and they were instructed to exchange letters.1 This has a special significance as one understands our Lord's epistle to Laodicea,2 which is also uniquely appropriate for our day!)
Paul was, at that time, a prisoner in Rome.3 Epaphras arrived and reported that some new doctrines had invaded the church at Colossae and were creating problems. Epaphras remained with Paul in Rome,4 and Onesimus and Tychicus carried several of Paul's epistles to their destinations: Ephesians,5 Colossians6 and the personal letter to Philemon.
The circumstance which prompted the writing of Colossians was the special heresies which arose there and which later developed into the Gnosticism of the second century.
The Gnostics (from gnosis, "to know") declared themselves "in the know" when it came to the deep things of God; they felt they were the "spiritual aristocracy" in the church, and they boasted a pretension to special knowledge. These pretensions were similar to the Theosophists of today, and the so-called New Agers. Huxley coined the term "agnostic" = "without knowledge" (the Latin equivalent is ignoramus, but that doesn't seem to have the same impact in social circles!). Paul uses the term epignosis, "superknowledge"! 7 Gnosticism contained several characteristics:
- It was Jewish, stressing the need for observing Old Testament laws and ceremonies.
- It was philosophical, laying emphasis on some special or deeper knowledge (gnosis ).
- It involved the worship of angels as mediators to God.8
- It was exclusive, stressing the special privilege and "perfection" of those select few who belonged to this philosophical elite.
- It was also Christological, but this seminal Gnosticism denied the deity of Christ, thus calling forth one of the greatest declarations of Christ's deity found anywhere in Scripture.9
Some thought that Jesus was "just a man" - similar to Christian Science and other phases of "New Thought." Paul deals with this heresy directly. (Others held that Jesus was only spiritual, not material; John deals with that in his three epistles.)
These errors are important to understand, since these attacks on the deity of Christ are just as prevalent today as then. Every cult group promotes a strategy to misrepresent some aspect of revealed truth in regards to the deity of Christ and His redemptive work.
These heresies promised people "spiritual perfection" if they entered into the teachings and ceremonies prescribed. This "depth" and "full knowledge" could only be enjoyed by those initiated. These were all based on man-made traditions and philosophy, not on divine Truth.10 The Gnostics came to the false conclusion that matter was evil; that a powerful spirit world used material things to attack mankind. They held to a form of astrology, believing that angelic beings associated with heavenly bodies influenced affairs on earth.11 Added to these Eastern speculations was a form of Jewish legalism: the idea that the rite of circumcision was helpful in spiritual development,12 and that Old Testament dietary laws were also helpful in attaining spiritual perfection. 13 Good and evil were derived from rules and regulations.14 These views undermined the very foundations of the Christian faith, and attacked the person and work of Jesus Christ. To them, He was but one of God's many "emanations" and not the very Son of God, come in the flesh. Immanuel means "God with us," 15 but these false teachers claimed that God was keeping His distance from us!
When we trust the Son of God, there is no need for any intermediary beings between us and heaven! In His work on the cross, Jesus Christ settled the sin question16 and completely defeated all satanic forces.17 He put an end to the legal demands of the law.18 He alone is the Preeminent One 19 and completely sufficient.
Matter is not evil, neither is the human body. Our fallen human nature wants to control the body and use it for sin; but the body itself is not evil, or Jesus would never have come to earth in a human body. Nor would He have enjoyed the everyday blessings such as attending wedding feasts or dinners. Diets and disciplines may be good for one's health, but they have no power to develop true spirituality.20
Astrology, Angels, and Heavenly Bodies
Paul denounced these influences with vigor. On the cross, Jesus won complete victory over all satanic powers.21 Christians do not need to turn to the "rudiments" ["elemental beings"] - referring to the beings believed to be controlling the heavenly bodies, which in turn controlled events on the earth. Horoscopes and superstitions deny the person and work of Christ.
Paul spoke much about angels and spirit powers. There is no need for us to worry about angelic mediators or spiritual emanations. God has sent His Son to die for us! Every person who believes on Jesus Christ is saved and is a part of His body, the church, of which He is the Head.22 Furthermore, nothing need be added to our relationship with Him - each believer is complete in Him. He is totally sufficient.
The Age of Syncretism
These false teachings were a combination of many things: Jewish legalism, Oriental philosophies, pagan astrology, mysticism, asceticism, with a touch of Christianity. Here was "something for everybody" - an attempt to harmonize and unite many different schools of thought into a composite religion. These teachers claimed that they were not denying the Christian faith, but only lifting it to a "higher level." Do we have any of these heresies today? Indeed, and they are ever more dangerous!
Nothing "New" in the "New Age"!
Every modern erroneous cult is some ancient satanic heresy revived. Every "new" heresy has been anticipated by the Holy Spirit. Satan has nothing new to offer. We live in a day when religious toleration is interpreted to mean "one religion is as good as another." Many people try to take the best from various religions and fabricate their own. To them Christ is only one of several great religious teachers, with no more authority than they have. He may be prominent, but certainly not preeminent.
When we make Jesus Christ and the Bible only a part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him preeminence. When we strive for "spiritual perfection" or "fullness" by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward rather than forward. We must beware of mixing our Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like. We must also beware of the "deeper life" teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ. In all things, He must have preeminence!
No one familiar with the teaching of Colossians will ever be misled by the specious sophistries of the various occult systems now being foisted upon a credulous public, such as Theosophy, or Spiritualism; or be deluded by the revived Gnostic religions of Eddyism, Unity School of Christianity, or other branches of misnamed New Thought or New Age.
While in Rome, Paul had met a runaway slave named Onesimus who belonged to Philemon, one of the leaders of the church at Colossae. Paul led him to Christ, and then wrote Philemon, asking his friend to forgive Onesimus and receive him back as a brother in Christ. (Philemon had the church meeting in his home.23 It is likely that Apphia and Archippus were respectively the wife and son of Philemon, and Archippus was the pastor of the church.24 )
Our commentary on Paul's charming and instructive personal note that accompanied Onesimus' return is appended to our Expositional Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians, now on MP3 CD-ROM. We encourage you to take advantage of our specials this month on all our Expositional Commentaries.
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