Our reading in the book of Colossians addresses many “modern-day religions” – Some 20 years ago, the major emphasis was on combating the so-called “New Age” religions. But as Ecclesiastes tells us “there is nothing new under the sun.” Paul is in a peculiar situation, having never been to Colossae. It is evident that he does have some knowledge of the church and its people. [Philemon request for Onesimus]
The church at Colossae was fighting against these “knowledge based” religious leaders. Over and over again Paul uses the word “true knowledge” to indicate that those who thought they were more intelligent or wise actually were ignorant of the ways of God. Specifically, the teachings came from Epicureans and the Stoics. Their religious practice centered around “dualism” of the person. In other words they held that the spirit and flesh were separate, and what one did in one realm was separate and of no effect on the other part of the body. This gave license to do in the “flesh” whatever they wanted, since it didn’t have any consequences on the spirit. In chapter 3, Paul addressed that if a person is IN CHRIST, there will be the old life and its sinful practices that have to be “put off” and there must be some new practices “put on.”
Even within theses so-called “super saints” there was great conflict. On one hand there were the philosophers who advocated a superior knowledge that lifted them above the “human experience.” There were also the syncretistic thought where Greek thought was incorporated into the Christian faith. The belief that Christ wasn’t enough, but that people needed a higher “knowledge to be really spiritual.
Then again there was the faction that held to an opposite practice of asceticism/monasticism. This man-made thought felt that if there was “suffering and depriving” of the flesh, this was spiritual. The monastic practices developed in to a rigorous flagellation. You may have seen the movie “The DaVinci Code” where self-inflicted pain was used by the villain as a means of “paying for his sins.”
Colossians is a very complicated book that addresses Greek philosopher influences of the day. At risk was the “True Knowledge of Christ.” At times, reading the epistle will lead to a Jewish influence, and at others it is a Greek influence. Either way, both wanted to change the
Paul addresses the “Mystery of the Gospel.” The superior knowledge minimized the superiority of Christ in sovereignty and creation. As was the case of new works of Paul he had to combat the “works salvation” thought and the return of believers back to a flesh dominated lifestyle. There was also the problem of incorporating many “traditions and customs” of man into the religious practices. The “defrauding” of believers by making them observe certain holy days, festivals, and food and drink. This is still found today in many churches. The traditions of men are not wrong in and of themselves, but if they contradict scripture or enslave believers then they are of no benefit.
The epistle is strong for Paul, especially since he had not been the founder of the church. His relationship with some of the members gave him the “right” to be stern towards their internal legalism.
As is many times the case, churches are subjected to a “more than Jesus” requirements from “works salvation” people. Paul tries to relay the foundation that it is Christ Alone for salvation and sanctification. I am not really sure why we fall for a “Jesus Plus” type of christian expectation, other than we feel we MUST DO something to be found worthy of salvation – which is completely contradictory to The Gospel of Jesus Christ.