Strong Plants and Good Roots
Study 13 Colossians 2:1-8
by Bob Burridge ©2022
During the part of the year when things grow we often get an amazing crop of wild trees and weeds. What we call weeds might be very nice plants in the right place, but they can be a nuisance too. When they grow in our lawn or garden of other things, they can be unsightly and the enemy of the things that should be growing there. There are herbicides to use. But there’s an old method that’s still very effective. It’s to get down on your knees and pull the weeds out by their roots. A plant or tree is persistent and strong because of its root.
The world looks at Christians as being something like weeds. We are fine if we just stay in our place — and stay out of their garden. But if we make them feel uncomfortable about their moral standards, or if we promote laws that limit their greed, disregard for human life, or sexual perversions, or if we talk about being held accountable to a holy God who made all things, we become a challenge to them and they want to root us out.
David Lapp was a Physics teacher at a High School near San Francisco. For 11 years he quietly blended in. Then he became the object of campus protests and demonstrations. The reason was he wrote to the school newspaper criticizing certain school assemblies. All students were required to attend the assemblies. The program was run by members of certain extremist groups. He said they were one sided and intended to indoctrinate young teens in just one point of view. They had teens testify about the importance and value of abortions and the acceptance of homosexuality. When he expressed his opinion, the physics teacher became a weed. So much for tolerance.
Churches that are faithful to God’s word are strongly detested by the fallen world. To those still blinded by their fallen nature, Bible teaching churches are weeds that are hard to get rid of.However, the true church is impossible to defeat because the world can’t get to the root. Truly redeemed believers rooted in Christ are kept by God’s transforming grace. He produces evidences of spiritual life and growth in them that the world hates and can’t stop. It just takes one healthy plant to stand out in the garden as a testimony to the gospel truth.
Paul’s hope for the Colossian believers, rested in the evidences of their true redemption in Christ. The vine rooted in and abiding in Christ can’t be rooted out and stopped from growing.
True Bible-believers struggle in a real world of challenges and temptations. The Bible isn’t given as a guide-book for tourists in paradise, or for hermits from society. It’s a practical guide for day to day living for the glory and truth of God in the midst of opposition.
One tactic used by those who hate the gospel, is to confuse the message. They would have us mix the gospel’s truth with human thought up ideas and traditions. When we’re sure that God’s word alone is the only source of real truth we stand out to them as weeds in their garden. But our roots are sure and sustain us by God’s grace.
Paul was preparing the Colossians to stand against just such an attack. The best preparation for being under attack is to make sure your roots are sound.
First Paul wanted the believers to
understand the deep concern he had for them.
Colossians 2:1. “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,”
Paul’s compassion and burden for them wasn’t just a casual acquaintance or something just academic. It was a deep and sincere concern for their spiritual growth. It was something he struggled to build upon from a heart that cared very much for them.
This particular letter was for the Churches of the Lycus valley. It wasn’t only for those at Colossae, but also in Laodicea, and Heiropolis. He was even concerned for those he’d never met personally. Literally he referes to those who had “not seen the face of me in flesh.” There’s a bond we have as believers that transcends getting to know one another personally. We who are redeemed are all part of God’s spiritual family. There should be a special love for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul knew the Christians there
were facing a hard challenge.
So he explained his concern for them. It was …
2. that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
3. in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The last chapter ended with an explanation of the great mystery God had made known. God had kept the final fulfillment a secret in the past as his people anticipated the promises. They had the clues but didn’t know how they would come together. But the mystery made good sense once all the final clues had been revealed. The promises were accomplished in the work of Jesus Christ. Christ’s special presence in them is the hope of glory for all believers, both Jews and non-Jews!
Even as they faced those who challenged this truth, there was encouragement. Paul wanted them to be encouraged knowing the anchor or root that holds a person firm. The mystery revealed in Christ brought God’s promises together in a special way:
First, Paul reminded them of the special union we have as God’s people. The love God implants in his people knits them into a spiritual family. It was an established fact they could and should count on.
Of course those who hated the mystery revealed in Christ have a bond too. They’re united in their hatred of God’s ways and of the redeemed believers who are the weeds in their garden.
However, our union together in Christ is a rich heritage that binds us with God’s people in all ages. We stand with Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and all the great heroes of the faith. This bond isn’t based on superficial and temporal similarities and interests. Our bond is based on a real spiritual unity produced in us by the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is another source of encouragement too. We have the assurance that comes from knowing the mystery revealed in Christ. The Old Testament symbols and promises come together in an amazing convergence. There can be no doubt that this gospel is God’s truth. At the center of it all is the indwelling Christ, who is himself the depository of the wisdom and knowledge which were formerly hidden.
Paul uses a special form of the word “knowledge” here. The Greek word “epignosis” (ἐπίγνωσις) implies that this is a full kind of knowledge. It’s a knowing that comes from God’s now complete explanation of the mystery.
Is no wonder that this assurance is called “riches” and a “treasure“. The world’s treasures make us feel secure for a while,but they may be gone in the next moment. They might be lost by shifts in the market place where our investments are placed. They might be lost in a surge of fire or in the winds of a tornado. They might be lost because of a scandal or rumor whether true or false, and lives and livelihoods are destroyed. The greatest offerings of the world can be burned away like dry grass in a forest fire. One day in God’s judgment all worldly gains and sinful thoughts will not only be reduced to ashes, they will actually condemn the unredeemed who hoped in these temporal trinkets.
In Christ, there is real treasure. It’s a wealth that’s secure forever. When you find that vault, you find the valuables in it. Jesus Christ is that vault.
There were challengers trying
to get them on the wrong path.
4. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
Teachers of false ideas had come to Colossae. They promoted an unbiblical but popular form of Judaism. Something tragic had happened to the Jews who had been known as the People of the Book. Instead of the Scriptures God gave them, they had come to rely on another book called “The Sayings of the Fathers“. In it the rabbis defended the authority behind their added and complex rules and traditions. It taught that when God gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he also gave Moses other teachings that were not written down in the books of Moses. Moses passed these teachings on to the men of the “Great Synagogue” orally. Then in each generation the Elders, Prophets, and Rabbis passed these unwritten laws along. The teachings were said to be received as the traditions of the Elders. In Mark 7:3 Jesus directly attacked the tradition of the elders. It was probably these received oral laws that he was referring to.
When the mystery of Christ’s work was made known, it put an end to the old symbols and sacrifices, since they had been fulfilled. But many of the traditionalist Jews would not give them up. This rejection of the work of the promised Messiah was the origin of what today is the Jewish religion. The Christians were weeds in their garden. Their careful use of the law and prophets claimed that Jesus was the Messiah he said he was.
It contradicted their perversions of Moses and the Prophets taught in their oral traditions. The Jews declared spiritual war on the church. Some looked to Jesus as a deliverer or Rabbi, but they wouldn’t accept him as the true Redeemer who fulfilled the covenant promises. They tried to lure believers away from the foundation laid by the Apostles. They insisted that the old rituals, diets, holidays and rules were still to be followed. Paul warned them not to be deluded by all their seemingly persuasive arguments. They shouldn’t let these false teachers confuse them and get them off track.
God created our human nature to need boundaries and beliefs to survive. The contrast to these false ways, comes at the end of verse 8, “… not according to Christ.”
Traditions aren’t bad in themselves. Paul referred to his own teachings about the gospel as a good tradition that should be kept. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” Without God’s word as the final standard, other rules and ideas are accepted.
It’s impossible for humans to live without any traditions. Those who speak so loudly against what they call traditionalism are bound to their own customs and practices. The so called non-conformists are all alike.
I remember some of those proud anti-traditionalists in the coffee houses I used to perform in. You could always spot them. They dressed the same, wore their hair certain ways, and used the same expressions all the time. They oozed with tradition. Yet they would quickly label anyone not like them as enslaved to traditions.
To the fallen mind, popularity is the greatest measure of what is true and right. People want to know that they don’t stand alone, that they have made the right choices. So they blindly follow celebrities, charismatic leaders, seeming experts, and the masses. They are convinced that the popular ones must be right. They find confidence in not standing alone. Polls tell politicians how to vote, rather than listening to their inner conscience and our Constitution. What most unsaved seekers look for has become the tone of worship in many churches. It’s not just teens tempted by tobacco, drugs, or sex who are easily persuaded by the argument that “Everybody is doing it so it must be OK.”
The mystery made known in Jesus Christ does what no human traditions can do. Christ changes the heart to enable it to desire and to follow the ways of God. Human traditions replace the ways God teaches us in his Word. They have it backwards from how God made things to work.
But Paul was confident that
these troubled believers had
a firm and strong root in Christ.
5. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Word of their obedient practice of God’s morality and unwavering trust in Christ, made Paul rejoice, though he wasn’t able to be there in person. The evidence of their changed lives encouraged the Apostle and should encourage them too.
Paul next turned their attention to
how they should deal with the challenge.
6. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,
The Jews who opposed the Christians said they, “received as the traditions of the Elders, and that the people should walk in them.” The same words are used here by the Apostle but about the teachings of Christ. It’s not clear that Paul intentionally used their words. But clearly his comments contradicted the authority behind their teachings.
Rather than being enticed to live according to human inventions, no matter how popular they are, Christians are those who received Christ as their tradition and should walk by what he taught.
Some teach that at some point after we receive Jesus as Savior, we receive him as Lord. Paul taught that aspiring to submit to the lordship of Christ isn’t some higher lever of spiritual living. It’s what God expects of all his children all the time.
So Paul goes on to say …
7. rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Notice the four main action words, the verbs, in this verse:
1. True believers have been firmly rooted in Christ. That’s where it starts. They have that firm foundation, a root that can’t be shaken. Because of that, living by these God-given traditions can take place.
2. We are now being built up in Him. Life grows from the nourishment of the root. A healthy root produces a strong plant. We can only build a great structure when we build on a solid foundation.
3. We are established in our faith as we’re instructed in God’s truth. This is a legal term. We are given God’s firmly promised principles that can’t be repealed.
4. We are abounding with gratitude for the grace God has shown to us in Christ. The word here has a prefix that makes it “superabounding“, over and above just abounding. Knowing this truth will greatly abound in expressions of thankfulness. That’s one of the evidences of a true confidence in what God has said and done. We will obey and love God’s ways, because we love God himself.
When we draw from our healthy root in Christ we grow and can’t be trampled down by false teachers.
Considering these wonderful promises, we should not become slaves to lies.
8. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
When people were conquered, they were often taken off to become slaves of their captors. That’s what happens when someone gives in to the empty arguments of the false teachers. The Apostle exposed the vain and empty philosophy that rejects the now revealed and solved mystery. The deceived ones are just putting on an impressive show. But it’s all an illusion.
Sometimes people hear good solid evidences, but still chose to believe foolish fantasies and speculations. With unredeemed hearts, its what we all would do. But for those redeemed by grace through Christ, this shouldn’t be happening.
The word philosophy means the love of wisdom. But what the world loves is not true wisdom. It’s speculative. It’s based on prejudiced assumptions. The believer is the true philosopher. He loves and wants to study the wisdom God gives in his word and implants in our hearts by his grace.
God’s word speaks highly of wisdom.
Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
And from the book of Proverbs …
2:6, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;”
3:13, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,”
4:5, “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.”
29:3, “He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.”
Paul is showing how this mystery in Christ brings these ideas together and to fruition. To love God’s truth and ways is true wisdom. Lovers of wisdom will walk in those ways and rejoice in thankful praise. Those reconciled with God by the work of Christ will have an unshakable foundation.
So Paul struggled in his concern and love for these believers in Colossae. Fallen people will trouble us to get us to take on their traditions. But we dare not! We ought to follow the only right tradition, the one God provides in Jesus Christ.
If you draw nourishment from that root you will not be shaken. You will bear fruit and grow spiritually. The church is triumphant. When taken in by the deceivers, weakly taught churches adopt worldly ways. They measure success by attracting large numbers, and figure that this proves they are right. They change worship into entertainment putting our feelings over humbly honoring God for his mercy and grace. They make lists of things to abstain from as if avoiding things God doesn’t forbid makes them better than others. They make excuses for allowing culturally common things that go against what God says right and good.
The true church triumphs by changing lives, by rescuing troubled families, by living the way God teaches us, by anchoring us firmly in the root which is Jesus the true and promised Christ. Against that church nothing can prevail, not even the gates of hell itself, as Jesus said in Matthew 16:18.
It’s easy to be enticed by the world, perhaps in very subtle ways. But if you are firmly rooted in Christ and know the riches of his teachings and promises, nothing can prevail against you.
We’ll stand together as those lovingly adopted into God’s family. We’ll appreciate and love the mystery that brings God’s truth together consistently. We’ll know the treasures that are based on the great wealth of true wisdom, and God’s promises. We’ll be growing spiritually and evidencing the power of the gospel. We’ll see our lives bearing fruit of that indestructible vine which is Christ. We’ll be humbly thankful for these undeserved blessings earned for us by our Savior. We have no reason to fear the attacks and arguments of the world.
There will be those who see you as a weed in their garden. But God has planted you here to show forth the beauty which is Christ in your life. As you’ve received Christ, so walk in him as one regenerated by grace, and kept by the undefeatable hand of God the Creator and Lord of all things.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.