If You Continue
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 12:48PM
Jeff Smith in Conversion, Denominationalism, Discipleship, Evangelism, Judgment, Worldliness

The Christians in Colossae were not thinking about quitting the church or beginning to have doubts about the existence of God. They were not flirting with a denomination or falling prey to a heightened desire for carnal immorality. When Paul wrote them with special encouragement toward steadfast faithfulness, his concern was that they were vulnerable to false teachers’ promises of deeper insight and knowledge, which actually amounted to erudite error and apostasy. Our own perseverance is likewise conditional upon our resistance of worldly wisdom and the false appearance of religion.


I. Discipleship in Colossae

A. Epaphras

1. it appears that Paul did not personally preach in Colossae, but that one of his students, Epaphras, heard him preach in Ephesus during his third missionary journey and took the gospel back home with him (Colossians 1:3-8)

2. at this writing, Epaphras appears to have been in Rome with Paul, where the apostle was imprisoned (Colossians 4:12-13)

3. Epaphras, however, has reported to Paul that not all is well in the Colossian church, which has been seduced by specters of its Grecian culture, as weakness for human philosophy and superstitious attractions to false gods and cults of personality

4. Epaphras saw the wisdom of God under assault by a form of teaching that boasted feeble, earthly wisdom, but which contradicted true, divine wisdom (Colossians 1:9-10)

B. Wisdom

1. biblical scholars have been puzzled for centuries about the exact nature of the threat in Colossae, sometimes attributing it to Gnosticism or Jewish mysticism, but never settling the question

2. the local context of Jewish and pagan folk beliefs, however, provides an explanation consistent with the text and history (Colossians 2:16-23)

a. Colossians were known to call on angels for help and protection from evil spirits, and to wear magical stone amulets to ward off demons

b. the most powerful error is usually one that has enough truth to attract the faithful, while the falsehood works away subtly and incrementally

c. the error in Colossae appealed to their superstitions without completely rejecting their Christianity, creating an unholy alliance of faith and fiction

3. before Jesus became just another imaginary mediator, the apostle took action to contrast true wisdom with the compromise version in vogue in Colossae (Colossians 2:6-10)

C. Exaltation

1. human beings have always sought both knowledge and wisdom; where knowledge seems to be so objective and neutral, wisdom promises to sink deeper than the mind into the soul

2. when Jehovah gave Solomon unsurpassed insight, “people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. … And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind” (First Kings 4:34, 10:24).

3. part of the Old Testament is designated as “wisdom literature,” much of it ascribed to Solomon, and all of it in a quest for greater insight into the purpose and process of successful living – emotional happiness, material prosperity, interpersonal peace, and divine favor, extending even into eternity

4. it is that last consideration that eclipses all the other pursuits in the ministry of Christ – divine favor, especially touching on the hope of eternal life

5. in the Colossian letter, Paul makes the point that the disciples there had already discovered the source of perfect enlightenment in Christ and that mixing Christianity with the rituals and taboos of some local shaman would only diminish their understanding and destroy their divine favor

6. seldom is so much said in a single sentence:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)

II. Mental Ascent

A. Alienation and Intellectual Hostility

1. formerly, the Colossians had endured alienation from the God of the Jews, not only due to their evil deeds, but also their intellectual hostility toward the monotheism and the simplicity in Christ

2. alienation is an estrangement that defines tattered relations, severed communication, and a broken relationship

3. while the Jews had continued to pursue some kind of relationship with Jehovah, the Gentiles had largely forgotten him until the apostles shared his son’s name with the Mediterranean world (Ephesians 2:11-12)

4. understand that this is not merely a practice of immoral behavior – greed, lust, wrath, etc. – but is a function of intellectual hostility toward the things that God’s message supports (Romans 1:18-21)

5. worldly wisdom continues to present itself as a rival to biblical counsel, promising something more pragmatic than pure faith, and therefore, more palatable and practicable (James 3:13-18)

6. this diluted version of wisdom appears today in a thousand self-help books, popular psychologies, pharmaceutical palliatives for self-control and anxiety issues, and the unwavering positivism of false preachers who willingly confuse good and evil to prevent the production of soul-saving guilt in the sinner

B. Atoning Reconciliation

1. the middle wall of separation that divided Jews from Gentiles also indicated the unbeliever’s separation from God himself, but the death of Jesus Christ provided the means by which man could be reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:13-16)

2. Christ killed the hostility – the racial distinction between Jew and Gentile, as well as the graceless covenant that defined it – by enduring the cross for every sinner (Second Corinthians 5:14-19)

3. sometimes, among people, reconciliation is achieved by an apology or by the simple passage of time, healing wounds; reconciliation with God is achieved only through the blood of his son, and no matter how obscene or barbaric that sounds to modern ears, it remains the perfect wisdom of God, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22)

4. this reconciliation promises to make the believer three things: holy, blameless, and irreproachable, the same language used in the Old Testament of the unblemished animals required for priestly sacrifice before God – the purpose of our reconciliation is renewal (Romans 12:1-2)

C. Conditionality

1. among men, reconciliation can be ruined by a return to former habits; estrangement recurs where people refuse to learn, to grow, to try harder

2. in the same way, Paul describes our state of reconciliation and hopes of exaltation according to very important conditions relating to perseverance and steadfastness: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23)

3. the final perseverance of the saint is dependent upon, not his perpetual flawlessness, but his steadfast faithfulness and striving against sin, including his commitment to a prayerful, penitent response when sin occurs

4. as Jesus taught, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22), but it is always possible that a believer might cease to believe or cease to act like he believes (Hebrews 10:35-39)


There is conditionality built in to the promise of eternal life, not to enforce perfectionism or create a meritorious system of redemption, but to encourage sustained faithfulness and ascent toward godliness.

Questions for Review

  1. What role did Epaphras play in evangelizing Colossae?

  2. What was the threat to the Colossian church?

  3. What distinguishes earthly wisdom from heavenly?

  4. What alienates people from God?

  5. How are people reconciled to God?

  6. What is the condition of eternal life Paul describes here?

  7. How does this differ from a meritorious system of works?

Update on Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 1:46PM by Registered CommenterJeff Smith

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Article originally appeared on ElectronicGospel (http://electronicgospel.com/).
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