Colossians - The Plentitude of Christ
Every age witnesses a band of people who come along and claim that they have discovered a secret source of information about God. The alleged source can be a vision, a secret book, a secret tradition, or a supernatural illumination of the mind. Around the time of St. Paul, the germs of such a new sect were being sown in the soil of Christianity. A group of people whom were later to be called Gnostics appeared; they saw themselves as a spiritual aristocracy, an esoteric brotherhood, a band of enlightened and elitist souls who believed themselves to be above humanity because of the special knowledge they had acquired of God. They were accustomed to keep their identity a mystery; for, so they thought, their exposure to the mob of humanity would sap them of their exclusivistic dignity.
An early group of these "illuminati" had entered and disturbed the peace of the church in Colosse, an ancient city in southern Asian Minor. We learn from the epistle that this mystery cult taught a mixture of Judaic and theosophic doctrine which asserted that a Christian must: own a strange philosophy;1 be circumcised;2 keep Jewish festivals and Sabbaths;3 accept angels as middlemen between the believer and Christ;4 and abide by certain regulations that prohibited a person from ever eating or touch certain foods.5
Epaphras6, a wise and cautious leader in the church (possibly the bishop), rushed through the long journey from Asia Minor to Rome—where St. Paul was imprisoned—to bring the Apostle the sad tidings of the insidious error that had lately crept into the Colossians' fold. It was a beginner's heresy, young and undeveloped; yet the perceptive eye of St. Paul saw all its future deadliness, as it would evolve into full-blown Gnosticism in the second century, and inspire theosophy, free-masonry, Wicca and all other New Age cults in later centuries.
The most striking quality of this epistle is its Christology, which St. Paul presents beginning at 1:15. So important is this section that St. John Chrysostom arranged a day to expound it to his congregation when their minds were the most alert.7 St. Paul offers a preface by giving thanks to the Father; for salvation is not the exclusive privilege of the few, but rather it is an inheritance for all, given not through knowledge but through God's qualification of us.8 The Apostle then moves on to one of the most incredible descriptions of the Son of God ever written. Christ is the visible ikon (Greek) of the invisible Father;9 He is the fountain and reservoir of all creation;10 He is the sustainer of the cosmos;11 He is the head of the Church;12 His is the Plentitude—that is, all the powers and attributes of divinity reside in Him;13 and He is the reconciliation of Heaven and Earth, by the blood of His cross.14
In short, neither knowledge nor so-called enlightenment, nor rituals, nor observances, nor pointless religious rites can bring a man into the divine life—but only abiding in Christ. And because these teachers' main weakness was the so-called knowledge they vaunted, St. Paul employs words such as "wisdom", "knowledge", "light", and "understanding" repeatedly to unmask the gnostics' deceit. St. Paul wishes that the Colossians would grow in all spiritual understanding15 and reminds them that they have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge.16
As with all his epistles, the Apostle provides his theological statements with the practical momentum needed to shape Christian lives by urging his readers to moral righteousness. The sum of the Christian life, he says, is this: that we have died to sin, and our life is hidden with Christ in God.17 The wise Christian has the word of Christ dwelling in him richly;18 and all things must be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.19