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Colossians 2:8-9 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:52 mins 9 secs

How to Have a Full, Rich, Robust Life
Colossians 2:8-9

Questions to think about: What makes your life full? What makes your life rich? Think about the times in your life when you were the happiest, when you were thinking that this is what life is really all about. What made it so rich, so real and so full at that particular time? Then think about how to relate that to what Scripture teaches in this passage in terms especially of all that we have in Christ.

In this passage in Colossians the apostle Paul tells us of basically two options in life. One is to try to find a fullness of life and a richness of life on the basis of God's Word, doing it God's way, or to try to find meaning and happi9ness and fulfilment in life by doing it our own way, finding our own path and "doing it my way." Those are the only options. Doing it my way may have seven-billion different variations today—that is the population of the earth—but they are all basically the same thing: people saying, I am not going to do what God says to do, doing it His way, I am going to make it on my own, I am going to come up with my own values, my own ideas, I am going to develop my own ways of thinking. And yet all of that ultimately reflects a unified world view that is opposed to God and to His Word, because Scripture teaches that there is only one truth and that one truth is God's truth. That one truth is presented through the sixty-six books of the Bible, over fifty different authors wrote over a 2000-year period, and yet even though they discussed some of the most controversial issues ever known to man they agree one hundred per cent and they present a unified approach to life. That is because the ultimate author of Scripture was God the Holy Spirit who spoke and wrote through these human authors. That was recorded and preserved for us that we might come to understand those eternal truths and apply them in our own life.

The problem is that all of those alternate ways are ultimately energized by the same ultimate source. Scripture identifies this individual as one the greatest, most brilliant, most intelligent and attractive of all of the creatures God ever made. He is known by the name Lucifer before he falls into sin and seeks to be thought of as equal to God, and following that, he is referred to by the title Shatan, meaning the accusing one. There are a number of other titles given to him: the devil, the tempter; he is the one who is opposed to everything that God has and is the author of a way of thinking that basically reflects his two primary points of his fall. One is his hostility and antagonism to God and the other is his assertion of his own autonomy, his own independence: that he can do it without God. If we look at all the world's religions—Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.—they all manifest these same characteristics, and that is independence from God: I don't need God, I can find meaning, value, purpose and can have a rich life on this earth without God. The other is, because we are serving that autonomy, that independence from God, anything that comes along which exposes this fraud, this hoax; that somehow we can find meaning and purpose apart from God, anything that even threatens to remove that veneer of independence, is threatening. And so we react to it in hostility and the more threatening it becomes the more the threat of exposure of our inability to succeed and find meaning and hope and happiness apart from God, then the more hostile the reaction.

The problem with all of the human viewpoint solutions to life is that they are ephemeral, transitory, and ultimately they are unfulfilling and just cannot last beyond the grave.

The Colossians Christians faced the same kind of problem that we face in this area. They faced the same problems in life, the same heart-aches, the same disappointments, the same challenges. And as Christians they faced the same hostility to their belief in Christ as the only way to eternal life that you and I face. Their culture, just like our culture, had a variety of self-help techniques. They had their own motivational speakers and psychological gurus and religious hucksters to present a plethora of ways to find meaning and happiness in life. Some we might classify today as religious, others as philosophy. In their time they would all be subsumed under the idea of philosophy. Even Josephus in his writings refers to the beliefs of the Jews in the Old Testament as a philosophy. Their idea of philosophy was much broader than ours.     

In this section we are approaching in vv. 8-18 we are going to learn that the wealth of the whims of the world is really a delusional dream that never delivers. It is chosen only at the expense of incredible riches in  glory and the happiness that every one of us owns because we are in Christ. It is our possession. But it is our possession only potentially because we have to maker decisions to activate that and make it real in our life. We have to make the right choices. So the other question to be thinking about when we think about what makes our life full and gives it meaning and gives us real happiness is, what choices are we making? Are we choosing God's way or are we choosing man's way? 

As we have looked at this section previously we have said that vv. 6, 7 is the beginning of the main thrust of this letter. So at the opening of this main section the apostle Paul is going to punch home the main idea that he wants his readers to walk away with after they have read this. That is, we are to walk in Christ. It really means to walk in light of or on the basis of all that we have and have been given in Christ. At that moment that we trust in Christ as savior we are identified with Him and united with Him, and so Paul begins with the command that we are to walk in Christ. Verse 7 talks about the basis for that: that we have already been rooted, i.e. at salvation, and now we are being built up in Him and established in the faith. What establishes us, what gives us strength is the faith, i.e. the doctrines of Scripture, the teaching, the principles of the Word of God. We are to be taught the Word; we are to study the Word; and then we are to abound in it with thanksgiving.    

Then we come to verse 8 where there is a warning. Colossians 2:8 NASB "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. [9] For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. [10] and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." It is those first two verses that establish the foundation, the focal point, of everything that Paul says from now until the end of chapter three. It is what it means to walk in Christ.

What makes the difference between Christianity and everything else is what we have, what we have been given, in Christ; the riches that are ours in Christ. Because we are united with Jesus and all that He has is ours positionally. That is real. Just because it is a legal concept, a positional concept, doesn't mean it is less real. It is not experiential in the sense that we feel it; we come to learn about it.

Paul has already prepared his readers for what he is about to say. It is all grounded in the introduction. Every idea that comes up now is an idea that has already been stated. For example, in Colossians 2:4 as he came to his conclusion to the introduction he brought in a warning. NASB "I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument." Then world and its arguments are systems of thought that are attractive, they have their own logic and they appeal to the lusts of our sin nature. There is this natural affinity from our sin nature to be attracted to these views because we really have something in our system, our sin nature that wants us to be able to do this without God. So we have to make a choice that we are not going to be deceived, that we are not going to follow these persuasive words. He expands on this again in verse 8 NASB "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."

Then he will expand on the concept of the fullness that we have in Christ which he has already mentioned in Colossians 1:19 NASB "For it was the {Father's} good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him." It doesn't really define fullness there but he comes back and defines it in 2:9 where he says NASB "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." That is, all that is related to God in terms of His essence which is fully present in Christ and everything that God gives us is in Christ. So that means that Christ is sufficient for us in whatever circumstance or situation that we have in life.

Then he emphasizes the authority of Christ as the head. This has already been introduced in Colossians 1:18 speaking about Christ who is the head of the body, the church. He is the authority of every believer because He is the head of the body, i.e. the church. This is the universal church, the true church. Colossians 2:10 develops this idea. NASB "and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." NKJV "… who is the head of all principality and power." The terms "principality and power" are used of the hierarchy of authority and organization within the angelic creation, including both the elect angels as well as the fallen angels.

Then Paul emphasizes that Christ's authority and His victory over these spiritual forces, especially the demonic forces of darkness, is ultimately grounded in the cross. This is also introduced earlier in Colossians 1:20 NASB "and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, {I say,} whether things on earth or things in heaven." In 2:15 he will expand on that idea stating that He disarmed principalities and powers NASB "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him."

So the ideas that we will cover from verse 8 down through verse 15 are ideas that have already been introduced to us, and now he is going to expand upon them so that his readers, as well of those of us today, can understand what we have in Christ: that this is superior to any alternative; whatever the alternative may be it falls so short of what we have in Christ that there is no need to even make a comparison.

Colossians 2:8 is the negative, the warning. Verses 9-15 are going to expand and develop our riches in Christ—coming to understand what that means and where we get it. Verse 8 comes with the warning though because there was a very real threat at that time just as there is today that there are ideas and viewpoints and pinions and systems of thought, religions and philosophies—all of which Paul subsumes under his concept of deceptive philosophies here—that are out there that work their way in every one of us. The moment we were born we began to assimilate into our thinking … even when we were just a day old we were trying to organize the world according to our will, and that is an assertion of autonomy from the sin nature. From that day we tried to make life work on our terms, the way we thought it should work. Yet one day, hopefully, we woke up and realized that was a failure, that there may be a way, as the proverb states, that seems right to man but the end thereof is death. And we recognized that if we did all that we could do we would never ever be able to produce the righteousness God demanded, and we learned that only Jesus could give us righteousness if we trusted in Him and at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone God credited to us the righteousness of Christ, and God declared us to be just. At that point He regenerated us; we became a new creature in Christ. Now we have to learn what that means. But there is still all this garbage in our soul that was picked up before we were saved.

So Paul gives us a warning in verse 8 NASB "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." blepo [blepw] is really the word to see, to look for something. When it is used in the imperative it is usually used in the sense of look at something carefully, watch for something carefully. When it uses the negative is means to watch or be careful not to be caught up in something, not to be deceived. It could be translated "Look carefully" or "Watch out." It could be translated, "Look carefully (or, Watch out) that no one deceives you," or in this case, "rob you." It is a present imperative, which means that this is to characterize our life on a regular basis, standard operating procedure. The next word we need to understand is the word that the NKJV translates as "cheat." Cheating has a certain connotation—rule breaking when you are playing a game, trying to sneak something by your opponent and break the rules so that you can win. That is not really the idea of this particular Greek word sulagogeo [sulagwgew] which has the idea of something that is taken off or carried off as plunder. This is the idea of being plundered, the idea of a pirate ship coming along, taking control of the vessel and then stealing everything off of that vessel and carrying it off for its own use. So the idea here is that the philosophies that are out there, these various religions, seek to gain control of your life by basically capturing you and pulling you into their thought system, and the end result is that rather than having the riches of Christ you are living on all of that rusty, moth-eaten, empty philosophy of the world. We ought to be careful of being carried off as plunder; we don't want our live to be plundered by Satan and the cosmic system.

Then Paul says that this is done "through philosophy and empty deception." This is not a statement by Paul that is opposed to philosophy per se. That is not how he is using it here in terms of the Greek construction. This is one of those passages in the Greek where there are two nouns or adjectives that are used, both modified by one definite article. What that does in the Greek is it shows that these two ideas are closely connected. In some cases they are virtually synonymous, in other cases either one or both modify the other so that this could be understood as philosophical deception or deceptive philosophy. It is a phrase that Paul is basically applying to all of the ways of making life work other than complete and total dependence upon Jesus Christ. He doesn't identify one particular system; he leaves it broad enough to where this can apply in any culture, in any circumstance whether it is the first century church or the twenty-first century church. Any Christian at any time is going to be confronted with the claims and the deceptions of a satanic way of thinking.

This word "philosophy" is further described by two other words: kenos and apate. kenos [kenoj] is something that is empty of all intellectual, moral or spiritual value. It is empty truth or power; it is just vanity. It has the appearance of presenting something that is going to work; it appeals to the lust patterns of our sin nature. It seems to justify our independence from God and that somehow I can make life work, but ultimately they cannot provide solutions for life. The word apate [a)path] is a word that is used to refer to pleasure or deceit, the deceitfulness of sensual pleasures. It is used of the deceptiveness of wealth in Matthew 13:22—not that there is anything wrong with wealth but that if we think that wealth provides meaning and value and happiness in life then at that point it is deceptive. In other passages the word just means pleasure. Pleasure can be quite a distraction for us, especially today as opposed to other periods in history when perhaps pleasure is presented as a dominant way of life, that people live for pleasure and are constantly looking for stimulation that brings them physical joy and happiness, and that is what makes life work for them. So these deceptions, these philosophies, are stated as that which takes us captive, which plunders our spiritual life in Christ.

Then Paul uses the preposition kata [kata], that this deceptive philosophy is "according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world," and it is not according to Christ. The point is that he is making this juxtaposition: it is either Christ or it is these worldly philosophies; one or the other, there is no middle ground, and the empty traditions of men that are according to the basic principles of the world is all empty philosophy and deceptive in contrast to what we have in Christ.               

One of the key words here is "basic principles," the Greek word stiocheia [stoixeia]; "tradition of men" is pretty well understood, that men have different traditions. Sometimes we get the idea that tradition in and of itself is bad but biblical tradition is good. It is just the tradition of men, the tradition of the Pharisees that is wrong. Paul talks positively about the tradition of the fathers, going back to the Old Testament. That is good, so tradition isn't in and of itself bad; it depends on the kind of tradition. stiocheia here refers to the basic principles of the world. There are three basic meanings for this word. It is a sort of generic term that can be and is applied and used in a lot of different ways, positively and negatively. The first meaning is that it refers to the basic elements comprise the understanding of the world at the times of the first century, that is that the basic elements of the universe were earth, air, fire and water. The second meaning is that this just refers to the basic or elementary principles of anything, whatever it might be. This meaning is found in Hebrews 5:12 where the author refers to the elementary truths of God's Word. A third sense is one we see in a number of current translations translate this in the sense of spiritual being. The problem with that meaning is that the use of stiocheia to refer to spiritual beings—we would say the demonic hosts—doesn't have any attestation or validation in the historical records until 300 years after Christ. So there is nobody in the first century using the word with that meaning and it probably doesn't fit the context very well at all.

Paul is probably not using this word in the sense of the second meaning, and we know that because there is a similar passage in Galatians 4:9. In Galatians Paul is dealing with the same kind of problem, i.e. false teachers had gotten into the congregation and were stirring up trouble. He says, NASB "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things [stiocheia], to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?" So it seems that these definitions in terms of one or two really don't fit here. There is more than that; there is a religious connotation to that. The only meaning of these three that has any religious connotation is the first one. In the ancient world there were those who worshipped, deified the basic elements of nature. Philo states: "Some nations have made divinities of the four elements, earth and water, air and fire; others of the sun and moon and of the planets and fixed stars; others, again, of the whole world." So when we talk about these four elements it is not just talking about them as basic chemical elements but as what they became, the significance that they had in the culture at that time. They were worshipped, deified.

The Jews in the Old Testament were warned against this in Deuteronomy 4:19 NASB "And {beware} not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven." When man rejects God as the creator he is driven to worship the creation. We all create our idols that we look to for meaning and purpose in life. But in terms of the ancient religions from astrology and the worship of the astral bodies to later fertility cults, Deuteronomy 32:17 tells us that there is a reality behind those false gods and it is demonic. It is part of Satan's system. NASB "They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known, New {gods} who came lately, Whom your fathers did not dread." Paul reaffirms this 1 Corinthians 10:20 where he is speaking of the idolatry of the Greeks. NASB "{No,} but {I say} that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons."

So when we look at our passage in Colossians there is a warning that underlies this that when we get caught up and are seduced by the thinking of the world, by the various systems of the world that promised life and happiness and meaning and value that aren't grounded in Christ and Christ alone, we are getting sucked into forms of demonic thinking. It is not bad enough that it is false but it has its ultimate origin in Satan and is promoted by the demons. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 tells us that Satan goes about like an angel of light and his ministers (fallen angels) as ministers of righteousness, seeking to deceive people. He is the great deceiver, and so if we don't have the doctrine, if people are not grounded in what Paul describes as "what you have been taught," the faith, then we are easily seduced into false systems.      

Paul corrects that and explains why he says what he says, starting in Colossians 2:9 NASB "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." If we want to have a full life it can only be found in Christ. It can only be found in the Word of God; it cannot be found in perusing the pleasures of the day, the intellectual stimulation of the day, not that some of those things might be okay in a certain context. It is great to be entertained, but entertainment doesn't equal meaning and value in life. It is great to have pleasure, which we can have in many things; but it is wrong to make the pleasure the center and focal point of meaning and happiness in our lives. This verse is dependent upon and expands the idea of 1:19 that God brought the fullness to dwell in Christ. What that fullness comprised of was not mentioned in that verse but it is here, and it is the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

Colossians 2:10 NASB "and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." It is in the incarnation of Christ—full humanity, full true deity—all the fullness dwells, and we are in Him. So the fullness of life is in Christ, and the only place to get the fullness is to live our life in light of our position in Christ. Because we are complete in Him; it is ours positionally; it is ours potentially; but if we are not walking in Christ then it can't be ours actually.

The phrase "the Godhead bodily" [NKJV] in Colossians 2:9 is the Greek word theotes [qeothj] which describes the divine nature, the state of God's being. This is the only place this word is used. There is a similar word which refers to quality or the characteristic pertaining to deity. The word in this verse refers to the state of being God, so it is a strong statement of the full deity of Jesus Christ. But in context it is going beyond that. It is not just saying that in the humanity of Jesus there was true deity, that when the eternal second person of the Trinity entered into human history and just added humanity to His divine nature. It is saying more than that in context, it is saying that all the fullness that God can give us is fully in Jesus Christ. If we are in Him then we have access to everything that God has given us and everything that God could possibly provide for any of us. Our position in Christ means that we have all that we need to have the richness of life that deep in the corner of our souls we know we ought to have.

AS Christians we can face the pain and misery of life because we are in Christ. In Him we have everything we need to face any and every circumstance. We know we live in a fallen world but we have something that overcomes the fallen world. We have all the riches in Christ that enable us to have victory in the midst of that world. This is the point of that final phrase. We are complete in Him because "He is the head over all rule and authority." He has conquered the principalities and powers at the cross, and when we trusted in Him that victory is our victory, and so we can overcome the world as Jesus said and we can have that same victory. But it only comes one way, and going back to the introduction that is the choice. What is it that makes our life real and full? Is it circumstances, pleasure, the things of this life, or is it a relationship with God? The temporal things are temporary, they don't last; they have no staying power. The only thing which has staying power is that which is eternal, and the only eternality is Jesus Christ as God; and we have all of this in Him. So the issue: what is our choice?