This is a sermon I wrote for my Dr. White class Pauline epistles II.
I. Title: Christ is above all — why settle for less?
II. Scripture: Colossians 2:8 – 3:4
A. Attention Step: A couple of years back, as I was picking up some cereal for breakfast, I noticed that the brand name cereal I came to get was on sale; it was actually the same price as the generic, off-brand! As I reaching for the box a lady, obviously in a hurry, grabbed a box of the off-brand cereal, not noticing that the better quality cereal was the same price! While the better quality product was the same price, the lady unknowingly chose the inferior over the superior. Christians often do this in their spiritual lives, embracing earthy wisdom and practices when Christ is offering so much more!
B. Subject Step: The main point of Colossians is the preeminence of Christ. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “preeminence” as “surpassing all others; very distinguished in some way.” In Chapter two, verse six, Paul writes, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…” (3:6-7a). Paul was trying to convince the Church at Colossae that Christ was above all and preeminent in all areas of life. In the first two chapters he presents Christ as the Creator (1:16-17), as the redeemer (1:20), the possessor of all wisdom and knowledge (2:3), and in 1:19 and 2:9 as God Himself!
C. “Lead into the subject” step
-Theme: Christ is preeminently the head of the Church.
1. Doctrinal: The letter to the Colossians is a doctrinally rich book. The extensiveness, and deepness of its Christology has even caused some liberals to question its Pauline authorship (Hiebert 221). Paul clearly identifies the divinity of Christ and drives home the idea that Christ is preeminent in every area of life! The first two chapters seem to deal with Christ’s preeminence in doctrine, while the last two deal with His preeminence in the practical out-workings of our lives and ministries.
2. Practical: Though asceticism and keeping the mosaic law (just a couple of the things that were moving into the city of Colossae) is obviously not a common problem in our churches today, the principles of continually remembering the sufficiency of Christ, and not being led astray by human wisdom and false religion, can be applied to our lives today.
3. Proposition: “As Christians we must realize the Sufficiency of Christ ”
4. In what areas of our life?
5. Living the Christian life is about following Christ and recognizing Christ’s sufficiency and supremacy in every area of our life. In Colossians chapter two, Paul gives three areas in which Christ should have preeminence in our lives.
I. Over human wisdom (8-10)
A. Explanation: Beginning in Chapter two Paul starts his argument against the “Colossian Heresy” which was a syncretistic false teaching that would later be called gnosticism. This Colossian gnosticism was a mixture of the Jewish law (dietary laws etc.), Christianity, Greek Philosophy, worship of angels, and asceticism. The word “Gnostic” literally means “knowledge”; the gnostics believed to have a deeper knowledge of the universe and its operation than the common man (Hubbard 11-12); ultimately they believed that this knowledge would bring them salvation. These teachings and philosophies were apparently beginning to seep into the Church in Colossae and Paul, though he had never been to the city, felt the urgency to write from prison (Draper 7). Paul writes in verses eight to ten, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits [or “principles”] of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Is Paul saying that philosophy is wrong? Philosophy simply means ‘love of wisdom’ (MacArthur, Your Completeness In Christ 72) No, Paul is saying that they shouldn’t be led away with non-Christocentric philosophy. Throughout the whole letter he emphasizes the preeminence of Christ; in this section he stresses that Christ is superior to human wisdom. In the immediately following verse he states a very good reason — Christ is God! John MacArthur says, “Christ was not only God manifest, but also God in essence” (The Preeminence Of Christ 8). Not only that, but just a few verses earlier Paul says, “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” To paraphrase, Paul is saying, ‘why are you listening to this human “wisdom,” when Christ, the possessor of all wisdom and knowledge, lives in you?’
B. Argumentation: Paul writes a similar exhortation in his letter to Timothy (I Timothy 6:20-21); “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” In Ephesians 5:6 Paul states that the “wrath of God” is coming because of these “empty words.” This is obviously something God feels very strongly about! It is also interesting that in Galatians 4:3 Paul seems to equate these “elementary spirits (or “principles” — στοιχεια)” with the Law. He writes, (Gal 4:3-5) “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
C. Illustration: A few years back I was putting together an office desk that I bought for my room; I struggled for about an hour trying to figure out what pieces went where, when I realized that I could simply look at the directions that were siting on the floor next to me! They were there the whole time but were of no help to me because I refused to use them. Instead I chose to use my inferior brain power to figure out the complicated desk.
D. Application: The applications that can be applied from these verses are some of the most obvious to pick out in this chapter. Secular thought and worldview is infiltrating our churches from every angle today — even the literature that we pick up from our Christian book stores! Aside from the worldly ideals that we gather from our culture (T.V., music, magazines) we are being influenced with with a slew of humanistic, man-centered philosophies from own hit “Christian” books. We will read entire books in a few days, but will not be able to raise our hand if the preacher asks who has read through the Bible this year (or even our entire life!). It seems that the Church today has done the exact same thing as the church at Colossae; we have elevated earthy wisdom above our Preeminent Christ and His Word. Along with understanding the sufficiency of Christ comes understanding the sufficiency of His Word. Gary Gilley says, “The problem is they lack confidence in the Scriptures and have therefore co-mingled it with a plethora of supplemental sources. …If the Bible is not sufficient, as well as inerrant, than it has no real impact on how we live or how we structure the church” (14). In order to keep our churches from drifting to where Colossae was at this time (or rather, lift it back up from there!) we must hold high Christ and His holy Word above all!
II. Over Legalism (11-17)
A. Explanation: Paul then begins to spell out the great work of Christ in our lives. Each of the examples he gives constructs the reason why the Colossian Christians should not be involved in the legalism that was so prominent in the Colossian heresy. First, he says that we have been “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands.” This was a presentation of the spiritual circumcision of the new dispensation; the heresy being taught almost undoubtedly included the Old Testament ordinance of circumcision (Nicholson 194).
Next, he speaks of our burial and resurrection with Christ. This was symbolic of dying to the power of our former life of sin (the old man) and being raised into a new life in God’s power (Harrison 61). He further explains this in verse 13; “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” Notice how he switches from using “you” at the beginning of the verse to “us” at the end (White 88). Its almost as if he got so excited when describing the great forgiveness of God that he didn’t want to be left out! In I Timothy 1:15 he calls himself the “foremost” of sinners! In verse 14 he explains even further how Christ was able to do this. He writes, “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This term “record of debt” is a legal term; what we were, by law, required to pay, Christ canceled by his substitutionary death! Not only did He cancel our record of debts but disarmed the “rulers and authorities.” The language here could be taken as, ‘He unclothed their powers’ (Pokorny 141). All this he says to prove that Christ’s death was sufficient for our salvation; we have no need for legalism or the Old Testament law. He writes; “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The “therefore” basically means ‘because of the great salvation we have in Christ.’ He goes on to explain that the mosaic law was simply a shadow, while the shadow-caster was Christ. Now that Christ has come, died, and resurrected we are no longer required to keep the law.
B. Argumentation: The writer of Hebrews uses very similar language in verses 10:1. He says, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” He goes on in the next nine verses to explain how the law and sacrifices didn’t actually remove sin, but where there to remind them of it and. Christ is the only sin-removing sacrifice, and it was done once and for all.
C. Illustration: In the Old Testament the twenty-first chapter of Numbers gives us a story about a certain serpent that was biting the people, making them sick. God had Moses make a bronze serpent wrapped around a pole. According to God’s command all the people who had been effected by the poisonous serpent could look at the bronze serpent to be healed. Nothing the people did on their own would heal them — they had to fully trust God’s power through the serpent.
D. Application: Although circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, and dietary laws are not common problems in today’s church, we can still pull valuable principles from this passage! Often times Christian people will set for themselves certain personal standards (each of us has his or her own weaknesses and setting standards in that area is necessary) but when one begins to push his personal standards on others bad things are bound to happen. Many times these standards begin to be taught from a pulpit and spread throughout a congregation, quickly morphing into legalism. There would be nothing wrong if a entire church all held a certain extra-biblical standard, but often those who hold these standards will begin to judge others by them, and this is where it becomes legalism. When this happens a ‘holier-than-thou’ mindset is developed and the work of Christ is diminished. For Christians it is vital that we go back to the gospel often. An understanding of Christ and His work will only humble us and cause us to worship our magnificent savior! Christ saved us and Christ alone! There is nothing we could have done and nothing we can do to save ourselves. Our favor with God is based solely on the work of Jesus Christ.
III. Over Mysticism and Asceticism (20-3:4)
A. Explanation: In the final few verses of the chapter Paul attacks the legalistic rituals that had become part of this gnostic heresy. Not only did they bring back the mosaic law, with all its dietary laws, but were mixing in mysticism such as angel worship and began claiming to be receiving visions. Once again the fact of Christ’s preeminence makes the actions of the people seem ridiculous! Christ is preeminent (Paul’s argument in 1:18, and the entire book), meaning that everything else known to man is petty in comparison; why then would you worship angels who are under Him when you could worship Christ Himself? In the first 4 verses of the next chapter Paul gives us an exhortation to keep seeking Christ with our lives and with our minds.
B. Argumentation: Hebrews 1:4 clearly states that Christ is superior to angels. It says. “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
C. Illustration: Exodus chapter 32 gives us a shocking story of the nation of Israel building themselves a golden calf to worship. This idolatry happened shortly after God delivered them out of the hand of Pharaoh, and demonstrated His power through miracles such as a fiery pillar and parting the Red Sea! Whenever I hear this story I wonder how they could, so quickly, turn from the God who so clearly demonstrated His power to them, but then I am reminded of how I so often do the same thing! I believe all the stories given in the Scriptures, and have seen the power of God first hand, but I still seem to drift in to idolatry whenever I get my focus off of Christ and His calling on my life.
D. Application: For most of us our problem is probably not mysticism, and almost definitely not asceticism, but it may be that there is something else in our life that has become the object of our worship. Maybe its just our goals or dreams; are we willing to give up our dreams to serve Christ? Maybe its just our lifestyle; are we willing to change our lifestyle honor Christ? Maybe its just our personal time; are we willing to give up things in our schedule worship Christ? If we really believe the Bible than we believe that Christ is preeminent. We must act on that belief and show it with our actions. Fully surrendering our lives to Christ in worship is only response we can give if we truly believe that Christ is above all.
IV. Conclusion: Paul, throughout the book of Colossians emphasizes the preeminence of Christ. In the second chapter he focuses in on a few specific areas that the Colossians had failed to recognize His preeminence. He argues that they should recognize His preeminence over human wisdom, over legalism, and over mysticism and asceticism. Though some of the heresies wrote of in this passage are long-gone in today’s culture, the principles can definitely be applied.
Draper, James T. Colossians, a portrait of Christ. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House, 1982.
Gilley, Gary E. This Little Church Stayed Home A Faithful Church in Deceptive Times. New York: Evangelical P, 2006.
Harrison, Everett F. Colossians (Everyman’s Bible Commentary). New York: Moody, 1987.
Hiebert, D. Edmond. Pauline Epistles. Chicago: Moody P, 1977.
Hubbard, David Allan. Colossians speaks to the sickness of our times. Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1976.
MacArthur, John. “The Preeminence of Christ.” Bible Bulletin Board. 01 Apr. 2009 <http:// www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sg1601.htm>.
MacArthur, John. Your completeness in Christ. Chicago: Moody P, 1985.
Nicholson, William R. Colossians oneness with Christ. Minneapolis: Kregel Publications, 1973.
Pokorny, Petr. Colossians a commentary. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1991.
White, R. E. O. In Him the fullness homiletic studies in Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. Old Tappan, N.J: Revell, 1973.