“Thankful to be Complete in Him”
Series: The All-Satisfying Christ (Colossians)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
I invite you to take your Bibles and join me this morning in the Book of Colossians, chapter 2 (page ; YouVersion).
We are continuing our series of messages, verse-by-verse, through this letter of Paul’s written to the church at Colosse. And if you’re wanting a Thanksgiving-themed message this morning, I believe you will find a reason to be thankful in this morning’s passage.
Last week we left off with the very word “thanksgiving” in verse 7, the very last word of that verse. Paul says Christians are to abound in the faith, “with thanksgiving.” And that’s a good word for this week as we focus on the things for which we are thankful.
Paul will mention our need to be thankful again in the next chapter, chapter 3, verse 15: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:15).” And then he’ll write about thanksgiving again in chapter 4, verse 2, where he says, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).”
In fact, given the Christian’s “completeness” in Christ, why not preach a Thanksgiving message from this book? The key statement of the Book of Colossians is found in this morning’s passage, in verses 9 and 10 of chapter 2. So let’s stand and read the passage as we study this morning about our gratitude or, our being “Thankful to be Complete in Him.”
• Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Some years ago I heard about a beautiful castle in Europe, a castle that one could see if sailing towards it from the North Sea. And the way I remember hearing about this particular castle was that it was such an impressive sight as you saw it from a distance. Approaching by ship sailing in the direction of the castle, it just took one’s breath away—towering majestically over the coastline, tall and magnificent in appearance. It seemed to have a sort of spellbinding affect on those who saw it and it drew onlookers closer to it for a greater appreciation of its beauty.
But then, as one sailed closer to the castle, close enough to see it for what it truly was, the castle disappointed, because it turned out to be nothing more an empty shell of a castle, like a facade, impressive on the outside at first glance from a distance but upon closer scrutiny offering nothing more than emptiness on the inside.
In our passage this morning, the Apostle Paul warns against a kind of teaching that may well be attractive and impressive when we first look at it; a teaching that seems to promise so much but, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be nothing more than an empty shell of a religion or philosophy, a teaching that offers little more than emptiness.
So the passage this morning provides for us two very important actions. This week as we live out the teaching of this passage, there are two important actions that spring from the text. Look again at verse 8 for the first action. Paul says:
8 Beware (or, be watchful) lest anyone cheat you (and the word “cheat” here means to “capture”) through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
So the first action for us this morning is to:
I. Be Watchful for what Captures You (8)
I said a moment ago the word “cheat” means to “capture” or “take away” as in “taking away the spoils of war,” or “taking an enemy captive,” kidnapping or capturing a prisoner of war.
Paul is concerned that these Christians in Colosse may be captured and carried away by the unbiblical teachings of false teachers. The NIV translation conveys this idea. It reads:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy…
See to it, or “Be watchful,” that no one takes you captive—seizing upon you and carrying you away by false teaching, teaching he describes as “hollow and deceptive philosophy.”
In the original Greek—and remember that this is the language of the New Testament—and in the original there is an article preceding the word “philosophy” so that literally the text reads, “the” philosophy, beware lest anyone cheat you through “the philosophy,” which likely suggests that this was what the false teachers may have called their special brand of teaching: “The Philosophy.”
That’s important because Paul certainly is not saying that there is no value whatsoever in philosophy, in general. He is not saying that. He’s not saying you can’t go to school and major or minor in philosophy. Philosophy in general has much to commend. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have taught us much and continue to teach us much.
Paul’s own use of philosophically sound thinking, reasoning, and logic permeate his New Testament letters. At the same time, however, philosophy cannot by itself lead one to love God, live for God, or worship God. The philosophers of the Enlightenment period of history tried to understand God by pure reason alone—and this is the ultimate failing of the Enlightenment thinkers.
Apart from the gifting of God’s Spirit man cannot fully understand nor love the One True God of the Bible. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, nor has any ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” The understanding of spiritual truth is a gift of God’s grace, the impartation of heavenly wisdom that human wisdom alone cannot attain.
Human philosophy, while good and helpful, is insufficient to bring us to a full understand of God, nor does human philosophy equip us with the ability to know God in a deep, personal, and intimate way. Human philosophy in and of itself cannot save souls, cannot forgive sinners.
But Paul has in mind in verse 8 “The Philosophy,” the principles taught by false teachers in Colosse, a teaching that maintained it was not enough for a person merely to have Christ. The false teaching suggested that one could attain to an even higher experience, a higher wisdom, that was found only in their mysterious teachings, including the false teaching that eventually came to be known as Gnosticism.
Paul describes this particular brand of teaching as that which is “empty” and “deceitful.” It is empty, rather than full. It is empty of the true riches of Christ (Colossians 1:27) and empty of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
So Christians need to beware of any teaching or any human reasoning that suggests that we need something more than that which Christ provides. To embrace such teaching would be to be captured or carried away by these teachers, carried away from your freedom in Christ only to be enslaved by empty false teachings.
The phrase, “the tradition of men” in verse 8 suggests a man-made teaching that does not cohere with “God-made” teaching. “The tradition of men” suggests teaching that is outside the realm of Scripture; unbiblical teachings. The tradition of men suggests teachings man added to the Christian faith as though Christ Himself were insufficient to the Christian experience.
You know, green vegetables are good for you, aren’t they? Green beans, okra. But when you cover those green things up with a batter of cornmeal and fry them up in a pan full of oil they’re no longer as good for you as they once were. Fruit is the same. Fruit by itself is a good thing and good for you, but when you pour mounds of milk chocolate over that fruit it is no longer as good for you as it once was. An apple by itself is nutritious. Dip in a red hot glaze of candy and you have now added something to it and mixed something with it so that it is no longer as good for you as it once was. In fact, it also becomes a dentist’s nightmare—or a dentist’s job security! So to take that which is good for you and add to that the ingredients of oil or chocolate or sugar is to dilute it of its nutrients and destroy it of its benefits.
You are complete in Christ. To add something else to Christ, to say that something else is needed other than Jesus Christ is to take that which is good for you, indeed that which is absolutely essential to your spiritual health—and to add to that, and to mix with that, the ingredients of false teachings is to take that which is absolutely indispensable to sound, spiritual health, and to dilute it of its nutrients and destroy it of its benefits.
Remember that Paul has said in the verses preceding that Christians are to be “rooted and built up in Him and established [or strengthened] in the faith,” rooted in the true teachings of Christianity, strengthened by the Word of God, able to stand firm and unmovable when faced with the winds of false doctrine, rooted not like a flimsy flower, a pansy, but rooted like a box holly, a strong evergreen that remains vibrant through all seasons of life. That comes only by knowing Christ and being rooted in His teachings, knowing the Bible and living the Bible.
There is another phrase in verse 8, the phrase, “according to the basic principles of the world.”
Some of the translations think the word “principles” should be translated “spirits” and the truth is, we really don’t know for sure which Paul has in mind. The original word could go either way, either basic or, elementary “principles” or, “elementary spirits.” The word describes things lined up “in a row,” like letters in an alphabet: ABC or numbers: 1234 or the ordering of planets and stars.
So the NIV, for example, has:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
It may be that Paul has in mind, then, the kind of thing that is popular today: looking to forces aligning the stars and looking to the ordering of the stars as astrology buffs do, placing their faith in the reading of a daily horoscope; placing faith in powers and forces that in opposition to Christ, demonic forces and powers.
One of the reasons we don’t know precisely which false teaching Paul has in mind is because he never really names it. So it’s probably wise that we not spend much time trying to figure it out this morning. If the apostle does not find it necessary to call it out by name, we won’t try, either. His method, of course, suggest that the best way to counter that which is false is not so much by knowing exhaustively that which is false but by knowing exhaustively that which is true.
What is most significant is for us to understand what Paul says lastly in verse 8 and that is that these teachings are: “not according to Christ.”
So again, Christians must beware of any teaching or any human reasoning that suggests that we need something more than that which Christ provides. Beware lest anyone capture you away from the freedom you enjoy, enslaving you to a form of reasoning or religion that is not according to Christ.
Judaism, for example, does not embrace Jesus as a person in whom dwells all the fullness of God in bodily form. Judaism is largely a religion that is “not according to Christ.”
The false teaching of Islam—a religion which was not in existence in Paul’s day, coming over 500 years later—Islam believes in a Jesus called the Christ, but not a Jesus in whom the fulness of the godhead dwells bodily. Jesus is believed by adherents of Islam to be a prophet, but merely a prophet, and a man insufficient to save you from your sin. Don’t be captivated by the false and empty teaching of Islam. It is a teaching that is “not according to Christ.”
The naturalistic teachings of humanism, the anti-supernatural teachings of Darwinian evolution, these are teachings that are “not according to Christ,” not according to the One by whom—recall Colossians 1:16-17, the One by whom, “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Beware lest anyone capture you away through false teachings.
Be watchful for what captures you, teachings that are “not according to Christ,” things you may read in books whose teachings are at odds with the Scriptures, be watchful so as not to be captured by the false teachings packaged in a secular documentary you view on the History Channel. There’s nothing wrong with watching such a documentary—much can be learned by doing so—but remember that such documentaries are largely predicated upon an anti-supernatural worldview. So be watchful for what captures you.
Be watchful for teachings that are “not according to Christ.”
Teachings such as, “There are many paths to salvation.” No, that is a teaching that is not according to Christ. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.”
Teachings such as, “Become a Christian and you will never have any problems.” No, that is a teaching that is not according to Christ. Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation.”
There are many teachings that are not according to Christ and not according to the full biblical message of Christianity. Teachings such as, “You have a right to kill a baby inside your womb.” Teachings such as, “You can define marriage any way you choose.” Teachings such as, “God does not mind if you act-out your sexual desires outside of the confines of marriage—He made you that way, whether you are a heterosexual adulterer or a sexually active homosexual.”
No, these are all teachings that are according to the tradition of man, and not according to Christ.
Be watchful for what captures you. Well, this cautionary statement leads to the second of two commands and it is found in verses 9 and 10. Paul says:
II. Be Grateful for what Completes You (9-10)
The stress in this letter to the Colossians is the Christian’s completeness in Christ. In Christ Jesus, the Christian has everything he or she needs for forgiveness, for salvation, for satisfaction, for purpose, for meaning, for real identity. Completeness.
Speaking of Christ, Paul says in verse 9:
9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
In verse 9 Paul says that “in Him,” in Christ “dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” or in bodily form.
The very essence of the One True God dwells in Christ. Whatever it is that makes God, God, is found in Christ. So it’s not just that Jesus has supernatural powers and is a wonder-working prophet. He is God in the flesh. This is the focus of the Advent Season beginning next Sunday, celebrating the advent—the coming of—God in the flesh.
See, Jesus is not just a good example for us; Jesus is not just a great dispenser of heavenly wisdom; Jesus Christ is not just a good moral teacher. Christianity is not just the teachings of Christ. Christianity is God in the flesh for us. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.”
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
In describing Jesus as, “the head of all principality and power,” Paul is likely countering false understandings of Jesus as one who is merely equal to other heavenly beings, namely angels. Paul says, “No, Jesus is the head of all principality and power.” Jesus is the preeminent one, first and foremost, the one who is “large and in-Charge!” He is Lord. Don’t allow yourselves to be captured by a teaching that causes you to become enslaved again to sin. You are complete in Him.
The word “Complete” actually means “to be filled to completion.” Like a 5-page essay that is complete only when the writer “fills” the 5 pages with content. You are filled fully in Christ. You lack nothing. You are complete in Him. You are filled full, or even better, you are “full-filled” in Him. You are fulfilled in—and only in—the all-satisfying Christ! Nothing else and no one else can or will complete you as Christ. You are filled to the full in Him.
The false teachers were trying to capture weak, uninformed Christians, trying to seize upon them and kidnap them away by telling them that they were lacking something. These false teachers were saying that Christians needed more than just Christ to be filled to the full. But Paul says we are “full-filled” in Christ alone.
In Christ alone our hope is found;
He is our light, our strength, our song;
Be Grateful for what Completes You. Jesus Christ completely fills, fills to the full, fulfills the Christian.
In Him, we have everything we need for forgiveness, for salvation, for purpose, for meaning, for life.
Peter teaches a similar truth in his second letter:
2 Peter 1:3, “[Christ’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,”
In Christ, we have everything we need for forgiveness, for salvation, for purpose, for meaning, for life. We are completely saved in Him and completely satisfied in Him.
In Him, we locate our sense of identity. We do not locate our identity in anything else. Someone says, “Who are you?” Well, “I’m a minister.” No, that’s what you do; who are you? “Well, I’m a dentist.” No, that’s what you do; who are you? “I’m a plumber, a laborer, a student, a mother, a father.” No, that’s what you do. Who are you? “I’m an adulterer, a sinner,” No, that’s what you did, who are you? “I’m a homosexual, I know what the Bible says and I’m struggling.” No, that’s what you have done, who are you? You see?! I am a Christian. I am “in Christ” and He is “in me.” I locate my identity not in my job, my vocation, my successes, my failures—no those are things I have done, but they do not define who I am. I am “in Him,” and complete in Him.
Be watchful for what captures you. Be grateful for what completes you.
During this Thanksgiving week, could anything be more important to us than our completeness in Christ?!
I will never get over the fact that in Christ I am completely forgiven of all sin—all sin past, present, and all sin future. Because I am in Christ, every sin I will fall into and break my Master’s heart, every sin that I hate that I will, in fact, commit this week—even those sins are already completely forgiven in the complete and finished work of Jesus Christ and I am complete in Him.
I am thankful to be complete in Christ. Are you?
Our complete forgiveness in Christ is not only something for which we thank God in our praising Him, but it something for which we thank God in our sharing of Him—in our sharing the Gospel with others.
You know there are a lot of people right here in our community who are searching, people who are looking for completeness. There are many people in our neighborhoods, and at school, at our workplaces, and at the malls this week who may be captured by some other teaching, people who are searching of remaining and looking for completeness.
There will be many people this week for whom thanksgiving is merely a time to eat turkey or go shopping until the next big holiday event comes along.
Sometimes we Christians merely recoil at all of this, or merely criticize the commercial element of it all. We insist that people say, “Merry Christmas” to us and we appear to so many as merely angry and grumpy, self-righteous holiday curmudgeons.
We insist that Starbucks change their coffee cup! We do not like the simple red colored cup. We insist that it bear some kind of holiday greeting. In our theology class Wednesday we agreed that we go to Starbucks for our coffee, not for our theology. In fact, Jesus teaches that I am to take my theology into the coffee shop and shine the light of the Gospel throughout the building.
People need the Lord and we are to be salt and light in a world that is dark and in a world that needs the seasoning influence of the Gospel.
So with this in mind, I want to invite you to demonstrate your gratitude this week by being a blessing to someone else.
To help you to this end we have provided these little yellow cards. These were designed originally to be used at Drive-Thru Restaurants, but you all have been creative in using them in so many ways beyond.
If used at a Drive-Thru window, you merely pay for your order and then ask to pay for the person in the car behind you and you pay for their meal and ask the person at the window to tell them their meal was paid for and ask them to give them this card which reads, “We just wanted you to experience the love of Jesus Christ in a practical way. Have a great day and God bless you!” And on the other side is the name of our church along with service times. Now isn’t that a wonderful way to bless someone this Thanksgiving week?!
You can also use the card to buy someone’s meal at a sit-down restaurant. Look for someone who is seated at a table near you who looks like they need a blessing. Find their server and pay for their meal anonymously—generous tip included, 20%—and ask the server to pass along this card. Such a blessing to others!
Doing stuff like this demonstrates our gratitude for completion in Christ. So get a card in your hand get ready to go out and bless others this week.
• All in favor, stand for prayer.
Be watchful for what captures you…be grateful for what completes you…
“Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”
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