I mentioned in my last post that this year I am sharing responsibility for an adult Sunday school class at Christ Presbyterian Church on the letter to the Colossians. Given that this is the focus of any focused theological study on my part at the moment I’m sure the reader will be neither surprised nor offended that my monthly blog posts on theological topics might in the coming months sometimes contain reflections from that study. First of all, the passage at hand, just six verses from the first chapter of Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
In some ways determining what the “main theme” of Colossians is can be difficult. While the letter to the Galatians is clearly focused upon the doctrine of justification by faith (and not by works of the law), 1 Corinthians addresses some serious sin issues in that church, and the unsigned letter to the Hebrews exhorts Jewish believers to not return to their former faith, teasing out the focus of Colossians is a bit of a challenge simply because the Colossians are so well-behaved. Paul commends their faith and practice throughout and offers little in the way of criticism. Nevertheless, the presence of false teaching in Colosse becomes increasingly evident as the letter progresses, so commentators more or less agree that Paul’s purpose in writing is to thwart any attempt by outside forces to introduce a counterfeit gospel into the church there.
The way Paul approaches this in these verses—some of the most densely-packed theologically in all of Paul’s writing—is interesting and instructive, particularly because of its positive presentation. We get practically no indication anywhere in Colossians of the identity of the false teachers that he was aiming to refute when writing this letter, and no real mention of the presence of false teaching all until Chapter Two. Instead, Paul positively presents and reminds the Colossians of the true doctrine of the Person and work of Christ. He seems to understand that “the Colossians are not willfully unfaithful. It is simply that they are young in the faith.” And that “this positive instruction, once its implications have been grasped in terms of the sufficiency of Christ, will be the Colossians’ best protection against error.” (Dick Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 45)
Have you ever heard of how law enforcement agencies train their officers to detect counterfeit currency? While I’m sure they spend some time studying the various techniques that counterfeiters might employ, the focus of this training is upon becoming intimately familiar with the characteristics of real currency. The better one knows the genuine article, the better equipped he will be to spot a fake.
Paul is evidently employing a similar approach here, and one Christians today would be wise to emulate. While there is certainly a place for familiarizing oneself with and mastering arguments to refute the teachings of cults, heretical groups, other religions, and secular philosophies, the best protection for our own souls is to know better the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The more we “consider him” (cf. Hebrews 12:3)—who Christ is and what he has done for us—the better equipped we will be to spot those teachings which are contrary to the gospel.