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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Right Vision for this Life
Text:Colossians 2:8-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 1:1                                                                                    

Ps 1:2,3

Reading – Proverbs 2:1-9; Colossians 2

Ps 111:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Colossians 2:8-10

Hy 23:1,2,5,6

Hy 37:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, did you know that you have a worldview? You might be surprised by that. “Me? A worldview? Isn’t that something only for philosophers and deep thinkers? But think about this a bit more. “Worldview” seems a fancy term, but it’s quite simple. It’s our way of looking at this world; it’s how we understand things. A “worldview” describes how we all take a certain perspective on this life. It provides us with a way to deal with life’s surprises, even to make our plans for next year. It’s kind of like the guiding of an internal GPS: shows us the direction we’d like to go.

It’s for this reason that everyone in this world has a worldview. It might not be a healthy one, a proper one, or hopeful—but it’s something that gives direction. Your average person picks up ideas that he likes, here and there. You might read it in a best-selling book, or hear it in a pop song, or see it online—ideas that seem to give life a unity and purpose, a way to chart our course. One person likes the idea of “karma,” that you better treat people right, because what goes around, comes around. Another says, “The most important thing is that you’re happy.” Even if we don’t verbalize it, these ideas become the way we look at this world, and they shape the way that our choices are made.

And a wrong worldview ends in disaster. Because if this life is all about your personal happiness, then you’ve forgotten Someone very important. Or if you’ve listened to a false god, that means you’ve rejected the true God. So what we need is a Christian view of life. We need a right way of thinking about the world. We need to have minds transformed, sanctified by God’s wisdom. And this is what Paul promotes in his letter to the Colossians. I preach God’s Word to you from Colossians 2:8-10 on this theme,

Paul warns us about the deadly deceit of human wisdom:

  1. the emptiness of philosophy
  2. the fullness of Christ
  3. our completeness in him


1. the emptiness of philosophy: We have a few teachers among us. If we asked what was their greatest fear in teaching, the worst outcome they could imagine, they’d probably talk about their students forgetting. The whole point of education is giving lessons on all kinds of important subjects. So if the student finishes the year without being able to recall the basics of what’s been taught, that’s a serious failure: for the student, and the teacher, too.

The apostle Paul was a teacher. His life was dedicated to sharing God’s revelation; he instructed many in the truth of Christ. He taught by his sermons, by his conversations, and by his letters. And Paul surely knew that terrible fear of his students forgetting. Also when he writes this letter, his purpose is that the Colossians stand firm in what they’ve been taught. Look at 1:23, “[May] you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast… not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard.” He wanted these believers to remember the lessons of faith.

Paul’s writing here to the church at Colosse. We don’t read in Acts that Paul ever visited this town, but he did go to nearby Ephesus. It was in the same valley, just up the river. During Paul’s time there, one of the new believers had been keen to share what he knew. So this fellow, Epaphras, had brought the gospel to the Colossians. And they received it gladly.

Now it’s some years later, and Paul’s in jail somewhere—probably in Rome. But his own suffering didn’t choke out Paul’s love for the churches. Even from a distance, Paul wants to remind the Colossians of what they’d been taught. Because if we hold onto anything, if we cherish anything, it needs to be the gospel of salvation.

Paul’s concern from chapter 1 comes back—even stronger—in 2:4, “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” In this verse you can hear that forgetfulness isn’t the only danger for students in the faith. So is deception: when you start listening to wrong ideas, buying into lies, believing the devil’s propaganda. And in Colosse, false teachers were stirring things up. So he sounds the alarm, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit” (v 8). “Be on guard.” Watch out that you don’t make additions to the gospel, or corrupt the truth that was delivered to the saints. “Steer clear of philosophy…”

We wonder if that’s such a danger for us in Mt. Nasura. We’re straight-forward people, aren’t we? Maybe the Colossians liked to read philosophy textbooks, but I think that very few of us do—so does this warning about philosophy in verse 8 ring a bit hollow? Don’t we have bigger temptations to worry about than reading some Rousseau, or looking at Aristotle on the Internet? Do these things really threaten our faith in Christ?

But as we said before, “philosophy” is much more than the subject you can study at university. Literally it means, “love of wisdom.” And in Paul’s day it was any theory about God, the world, and the meaning of human life. In his day, there were lots of philosophies on the market, lots of ideas going around.

So it is today. A lot of people today also claim to “love wisdom.” But it could be a wisdom that’s totally empty, it could be a worldview that contradicts the gospel. For we can’t meditate ourselves to a happier life. Right thoughts don’t make righteous people. That’s why the Spirit says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you,” or better, “lest anyone rob you!” Deceptive ideas will always threaten to steal away God’s truth.

So what was the falsehood in Colosse? It seems to have been a real fruit salad of ideas. These people were taking a bit of that religion, and a bit of this, and stirring it all up. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to suit your taste!

One thing on the Colossians’ plate was the favourite treat of legalism: that God will save us because we behave ourselves, and keep to some code of conduct. When you read chapter 2, you notice this legalism had a Jewish flavour, because they were talking about circumcision and food laws and holy days. They wanted to regulate believers with rules about external things: “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” (2:21). If you lead a strict life, they said, then you’re entitled to feel close to God. But as Paul puts it, these things are only “the traditions of men” (v 8). Making more rules and trying to keep them isn’t the way to glorify God. He’s not after the outward form, but He seeks the heart.

There was something else too. Legalism was joined with superstitions about angels and spiritual powers. Verse 8 describes the philosophy as being “according to the basic principles of the world.” That term “basic principles” is difficult to interpret, but it probably speaks of the spirit world, of angelic beings, both good and evil. On the streets of Colosse there was a lot of speculation about these invisible powers, and a real fear of what the bad spirits could do.

Now, we know that there is a spiritual realm. And please don’t picture the spirit world as populated by those chubby little angels playing harps, or by the little red men carrying pitchforks. But think of that whole host of angels and demons: servants of our Lord, and servants of Satan. There is such a spiritual realm, and it is powerful!

But the false teachers were obsessing over it. They thought that the spirits lived in the stars up in heaven, where they had the ability to control human lives. They imagined a whole chain of command between God and the world, so it was these angels who could protect you from Satan. Knowing the angels, and pleasing them, was how you could enjoy God’s care. Hear the warning in 2:18, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels.”

Jewish legalism, worship of angels, and who-knows-what-else? The Colossian heresy might’ve been a jumbled mix from the religious buffet. But it suited their taste. Thinking about it, we see it’s not so different from today. People still want a way to think about the divine, about the world, and the meaning of human life. People still desire to feel spiritual. Fewer people are in church, but more than ever, they want to talk about being connected to a higher power. People still stand at that smorgasbord of ideas, taking a bit from here and there.

Consider the philosophies and worldviews we mentioned before. Some today still obsess over angels and demons and other spirits—to say nothing of wizards and magic and crystal balls. Or there’s a constant focus on the environment—preserving the planet becomes the lens through which everything else is looked at. Or these days, there’s a “new” atheism, which is a worldview that denies God with religious zeal. For many others, for many of our neighbours, their worldview is all about self: Anything that feels good to me must be good. Self-expression is the way to fulfillment. God becomes made in the image of man!

As Reformed people, we all have “spiritual radars.” And these radars are well-tuned, ready to detect any kind of bad theology. But you can be sure that our culture still affects us. For example, it’s easy to start thinking of God in therapeutic terms; we’ve got this idea that God is focused on our happiness, that God’s top priority is making us comfortable. Or we start to believe that God will surely love us just a little more if we behave ourselves and go to the right church. Or we start to question if there might be more than one path to salvation—after all, it’s pretty intolerant to say that Jesus is the only way to God.

These are more than just opinions that stay upstairs. They have an impact on us. For example, when you have a decision to make, it becomes very important: the way you look at yourself, and at this world, and at God. For when you look at yourself, do you consider that you’re wise enough to make the right choice? Or when you think about God, do you really think that his honour is the most important thing, all the time? Or is life kind of about you too?

This is what Satan has been trying to do for thousands of years. Since the devil’s work in Paradise, he’s always been selling his own brand of wisdom. He’s always been telling us to worship at the altar of self—that if we listen to our hearts, we can become like God. But what does it get you? Worldly wisdom is only a well-packaged lie. Says Paul, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23). They’re of no value! And finally, they rob you of salvation itself.

So beloved, don’t forget what you’ve learned. Don’t be embarrassed about the truth of God’s Word. Don’t give into the thinking of our culture, because it sounds more appealing or seems more acceptable. But embrace what is already yours in Christ.


2. the fullness of Christ: If you had to fight against a false teaching, how would you do it? You might try this or that tactic, but soon you’d just state the truth in a straightforward way. The church has often done this, been “forced” to confess what she believes. As someone once wrote, “Heretics have been responsible for so much good doctrine!”

So when Paul describes this philosophy, he first dismisses it as being “according to the traditions of men.” He rejects it for being “according to the basic principles of the world” (v 8). But then about the worst thing he can say comes last, in verse 8: this empty worldview is “not according to Christ.”

That says so much about why human thinking is empty: it’s “not according to Christ.” Because our way of looking at God, the world, and the meaning of life, needs to be shaped by Christ, and by Christ alone. It’s in Christ that all things hold together! (1:17). Next to Christ, every philosophy is futile. Next to Christ, every rule misses the point. Only in him are we redeemed, and re-made for God’s glory.

Paul wants to explain that. He wants to show the one alternative to all those self-help schemes, all that false religion, and the obsession with our own happiness. So he sets before us the truth: Jesus Christ, the One who is superior to all and everything in the created realm. Paul started talking about the supremacy of Jesus Christ already in chapter 1. Maybe you can read Colossians 1 between services today, where praise for our Saviour is piled up: Christ is the image of the invisible God, Christ is the Creator of the universe, Christ is the sustainer of all things, Christ is the head of the church and the firstborn from the dead.

That’s echoed in 2:9, “In [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” That part of our text can sound like a pretty dense statement. But it’s saying that God himself is revealed in Christ. Not in the same way that God showed himself, for instance, at the burning bush—no, in Christ dwells all the “fullness of the Godhead.” Everything that God is, all that He can do, God’s perfect will and wisdom, are all wrapped up in the person of Christ. So when we see Christ, we see God!

What this means is that all we can know about God—all that we need to know about him—God has already told us in Christ. There’s no need for us to speculate. There’s no need to hunt for a higher truth than God’s Word, or to chase some mystical experience. True religion is found in a living fellowship with Christ. If you really want to be spiritual—if you want to have God inside of you, wherever you are!—then you have to know Christ. He’s our one and only connection to the divine.

Notice how the Spirit slips in that word “bodily,” that God dwells in Jesus “in his body.” A lot of philosophers back in Paul’s day said the body is evil; it’s a dispensable carton for the precious soul inside. The body is kind of like those plastic containers that we’ll toss in the bin when all the sour cream is gone. The body was disposable, while the soul is immortal. It was scandalous then, that God would ever take on human form.

But God is in Christ as a man, because God wants to redeem us fully: in body and soul. The point is that we don’t need to be touched by an angel, or follow some guru, or find another saviour—not when we have Christ. Not when we believe in him.

And if people are still obsessed with angels and spirits and wizards and witches, they need to know that Christ is actually in charge of them all! Verse 10 says He is “is the head of all principality and power,” terms that again describe the realm of spirits. By coming to earth, Jesus put Satan in chains, so that the demonic realm has no more power over us. As we read in 2:15, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them.” There’s no need to live in fear of demons or even of the devil himself, not when our Christ is their Lord and Master!

So what about those rules that the Colossians loved: “Do not touch, do not taste?” We still like rules—be a good boy, go to church, don’t swear, and don’t go to the bar—but thinking about the Christian life only in terms of rules is dangerous. Because it has a terrible side-effect: it makes Christ unnecessary! Who needs Christ, if we can pull ourselves out of the muck of sin by our own effort? Who needs Jesus, if you can be a good person by ticking a few boxes?

This is the alternative: If you’re looking for true understanding of God, let it be “according to Christ.” If you’re seeking real wisdom, let it be “according to Christ.” If you want a vision of life that really works, look no further than the Saviour. For “In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). Christ is the key to everything we need. If we begin with Christ, we can never go wrong.

Because at the cross, Jesus already dealt with our biggest problem. Our biggest problem in this life isn’t terrorism or disease. It isn’t social oppression or lack of education. Our biggest problem isn’t poor self-image, or unhealthy relationships. Our biggest problem is sin, the offense that separates us from the God our Creator. That sin will kill you if it’s not dealt with. But when you have faith in Christ, your sin is fully forgiven, and the power of evil is already conquered.


3. our completeness in him: You can divide most of Paul’s letters into two parts. There’s the doctrinal, and there’s the practical. So for Colossians: when we get to chapters 3 and 4, Paul says, “Now that you’ve seen how great Christ is, seek him with your whole life.” But already now he wants to bring it home, when he says in verse 10, “You are complete in him.”

That’s a present reality, and very practical. We have all that we need in Christ. Through his work, we’re given a new holiness. In him we have access to God—we can enter the presence of his glory, and receive his strength and grace. We’re even being remodeled in the image of God. We are complete in him!

A consequence is that we don’t need to look for completeness elsewhere. Don’t let your sense of worth get shaped by what position you’ve achieved in this world, and how much attention you’re getting, and how productive you’re being. That’s not completeness. Because in Christ, we have all we need! The fullness of God’s Son can fill your emptiness to overflowing.

And we’re learning how Christ gives us the right perspective. Christ shapes our worldview, when we wake up in the morning and we think about what kind of day we’re going to have. His gospel molds us, when we’re eager that day to do what pleases God. It shapes us, when our relationship with God is the most important thing to us.

We can tie this to that piece from Proverbs 2, all about God’s wisdom. There, Solomon is talking to his son about the appeal of true wisdom. It’s something to search for like treasure, something to cry out for like water, something to store up within you forever. This wisdom is not to be found in the theories of men, or the findings of science. It’s not to be found within us either, in the emotions of the heart, the imaginings of the mind, or the pleasures of the body. But real wisdom begins with knowing and serving God.

Says Solomon, “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:5-6). If you want to find your path for life, it’s simple: You have to look at things in God’s way. What are you here for, and what’s your calling? How can you worship your Saviour? What should you do with the gifts that He’s given you? Everything gets coloured by that, by who we’ve become in him. While many people these days are bewildered and confused, we know that everything is in its God-given place. We’re right where we need to be, in God’s purpose and for God’s praise.

When you confess Jesus as Lord, then you’ll see the truth of it: that all things do hold together in him! When you’re led by the Holy Spirit, you’ll understand that you’re here for his glory, and not your own. In the beginning, that’s what we were made for. And at the cross, that’s what we were saved for: his higher glory!

Christ is already the Lord of the universe, and of everything that fills it. Now He needs to be served as the Lord of the church, and the Lord of your life!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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