Week after next, I will resume writing fresh installments for this Bible Study series on Colossians. As most of you know, I’d begun writing it in January, but at the end of February a compression fracture in my back forced me to take a furlough from it. For about a month now, I’ve been rolling the installments out again to provide continuity before we dive back in. Occasionally, I add comments to my original posts, so you might just want to read these reboots.
Have you ever noticed the way your pastor uses the pastoral prayer at the beginning of your church’s Sunday service as an opportunity to share spiritual truths? He doesn’t do that by accident. He’s so committed to your spiritual development that he takes every possible opportunity to expose you to sound doctrine.
The apostle Paul uses prayer to begin his letter to the Colossian church, eager to steer them away from the false teachings of both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics that threatened the churches in Asia Minor. We started examining his prayer last week, so let’s look at the passage again and pick up where we left off.
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~~Colossians 1:9-14 (NASB)
Verse 11 shows Paul praying that, as the Lord fills them with knowledge, wisdom and understanding, the Colossians, will be strengthened. But he hastens to explain that the strength must come according to His glorious might, not from the knowledge in and of itself. The pre-gnostics maintained that knowledge brought power, but Paul turns it around to teach that knowledge comes through God’s glorious might.
Remember that all false teachings point to human achievement instead of looking to God’s grace and providence. The Judaizers and the pre-gnostics each believed that their systems would bring them spiritual prestige. Paul corrects their error immediately by affirming that the strength isn’t originated in them. He puts the spotlight solely on God.
Moving on to verse 12, we learn that the Father qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. Man, do I wish we had the time to unpack everything in this verse! For purposes of our particular study, however, it’s best to concentrate on how Paul uses his prayer to repudiate the wrong idea that salvation depends either on human effort or on the attainment of special knowledge.
The fact that the Father Himself qualifies us for salvation turns both heresies on their heads, doesn’t it? It increases the emphasis on God that we just saw in the previous verse. Paul makes sure that his original readers see that neither works nor mysticism gives them any claim on eternal life. Only the gracious love of God the Father makes us worthy to receive the inheritance of His kingdom.
Verse 13 describes how the Father accomplishes our qualification. He personally delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His Son. We make absolutely no contribution, either by religious rites or by obtaining secret knowledge. Paul again deliberately keeps the focus on God, beginning to demonstrate the contrast between the false teachers that inhabited Colossae and the purity of the Gospel.
In fact, verse 14 introduces the doctrine that God’s Son is our source of redemption, providing the forgiveness of sins. Paul adds this clause quite cleverly, attacking both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics deftly.
Keep in mind that the Judaizers, although they acknowledged that Jesus died for their sins, still insisted on Jewish rituals (especially circumcision) to achieve right relationship with God. To them, Paul insists that forgiveness of sins can be found only — and completely — in Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. His New Covenant renders the demands of the Old Covenant unnecessary.
Remember also that the pre-gnostics believed in a complete separation between the physical and the spiritual. Thus, sins they committed physically weren’t actually sins as far as they were concerned. Redemption came through their secret knowledge and they had no need for forgiveness.
Do you see how succinctly Paul addresses both groups of heretics in one small statement? Forgiveness is necessary in dealing with sin, and it can only come through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Paul wants the Colossians to understand this fundamental point so that they can stand against both groups of false teachers.
Like the First Century Colossians, we are bombarded with teachings that take the emphasis off of Christ. Subtly, they suggest that we must add works or have deeper spiritual experiences before we can really know the fullness of the Christian life. We also must keep returning to the basic Gospel message that Jesus atoned for our sins. Clinging to that truth will protect us from a large amount of false teaching.
Today we have watched Paul call out false teaching simply by infusing his pastoral prayer with sound doctrine. Next week we should arrive at my favorite passage of Scripture, which describes the supremacy of Christ. We’ll see how Paul silences false teachers by exalting His deity. I look forward to studying this passage with you.