If you imagined Colossae with me as a town along a river in WOW region of the UCC, you can make the easy leap to the next references to Laodicea and Hieropolis, towns a few miles away, along the same river. Scholar F.F. Bruce told us that Colossae was known for cold water, Hieropolis for hot springs, but Laodiceans had to schlep lukewarm water home – a joke you may enjoy more after our Easter season reading of Revelation.
The writer regrets having to teach by letter. Readers might be led astray by some slick alternative sales pitch. Verse 8 gives tantalizing hints of a sophisticated competing gospel about philosophy and elemental spirits. The rejoinder is that Jesus Christ is bigger in those spheres, but more grounded and connected with our real life.
The next verses suggest a competition selling a form of Judaism, asking for circumcision and ritual practices. Our brand already enjoys a ‘spiritual circumcision’ and is freed from either ascetic denial of appetites, or ritual expressions of our shared identity.
The rest of the chapter chases that tendency toward ‘spirituality of spirituality’ in visible piety of apparent humility that is in spirit prideful. Nothing changes, says a cynical old pastor – ‘nothing worse than a convert’, people always want to be seen to be holy and good, more than we want to actually be less unholy or bad.
Sure, there are plenty or risks of amorality, and we’ve already been warned by the Peters and by the Johns of the range and variations of ‘antichrist’ scams. This letter is facing some other kind(s) of religiosity. What do you imagine?
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For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face.
2I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself,
3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
4I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments.
5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him,
7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ;
12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
13And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,
14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.
15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.
17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,
19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations,
21‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’?
22All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.
23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.