“In his book, I Shall Not Want, Robert Ketchum tells about a Sunday school teacher who asked her group of children if any of them could quote the entire twenty-third psalm. A little four-and-a-half-year-old girl was among those who raised their hands. A bit skeptical, the teacher asked if she could really quote the entire psalm. The little girl came to the podium, faced the class, made a little bow, and said: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.’ She then bowed again and sat down.” Christ is all we want and He is all we need, and as the Apostle Paul tells us, we are complete in Him.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).
Concerned about the Colossian believers being influenced by false teachings that would lead them away from Christ, Paul wrote, “Beware!” The word rendered “Beware” means to see, to discern, to take heed, but in the context of the spiritual dangers it conveys the idea of “Look out!” “Watch out!” “Take note!” The Body of Christ is taught here to be on guard, alert, and to keep a watchful eye.
We are to do so “lest any man spoil you.” Now, this isn’t the kind of spoiling that grandparents do to their grandchildren; rather, it literally means to carry one off as a captive. We’ve probably all heard of the “spoils of war,” or the adage, “To the victor go the spoils.” In biblical times, the spoils were the gold, silver, goods, merchandise, and livestock taken by the victorious army. Spoils were also many times people, as they would be taken away as prisoners to be made slaves in the homeland of the victors.
Paul’s concern was that the Colossians’ faith would be overthrown and they would be carried off as slaves to the beliefs of false teachers. Paul had just taught the Colossians of the need to be “rooted and built up in Him [Christ], and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught” (v. 7). This rooting and grounding and being established in our faith are so that we do not become spoiled or carried away by those who would seek to capture us by false teaching and lead us away from the Lord.
Paul tells us that one way believers can be entrapped and carried away from Christ is “through philosophy and vain deceit” (v. 8). The term “philosophy” is made up of two Greek words, phileo and sophia. Phileo refers to brotherly love and sophia means wisdom. Putting them together, philosophy literally means the love of wisdom. There is nothing wrong with loving wisdom, as long as it is the right kind of wisdom, the wisdom of God. However, the wisdom Paul warns against here is a godless wisdom of man that spoils and leads one away from the Word of God and the simplicity and truth that is in Christ.
The philosophy that Paul is referencing is the type that is “vain deceit.” The words “vain deceit” refer to empty lies, devoid of truth. Revelation 12:9 informs us that Satan “deceiveth the whole world.” And by his influence, there is much vain deceit and philosophical nonsense surrounding us in the world today.
“It is said that the great French philosopher, Sartre, summed up all of life with the statement, ‘To do is to be.’ Camus, his contemporary, summed up all of life with a conflicting statement, ‘To be is to do!’ Then Frank Sinatra came along and put them both together in a song: ‘Do-be-do-be-do!’”
Human philosophy can be contradictory, is constantly changing, and can be nonsense. As we know, the pursuit and love of man’s philosophies is an empty idol to many in this world, an idol which cannot truly meet the needs of the soul. It’s been said well that “Philosophy is the search for truth. In Jesus, the search ends.”3 As our apostle wrote a few verses prior to our main text, “In Whom [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). We find the truth and true wisdom by looking to Christ Jesus.
Paul wrote that we need to beware of philosophies that are empty lies, and are “after the tradition of men.” The empty philosophies of men often gain supposed authority in that they are from antiquity and have been handed down and believed to be true for so long. They arise out of the thinking of men, find a foothold in society, and then are passed along from generation to generation, thereby appearing popular and widely supported as something “everybody knows.” But just because people have believed something and handed it down through the years does not make it true. Tradition may merely serve to perpetuate error.
Paul further wrote that philosophy is “after the rudiments of the world.” The word “rudiments” means that which is basic or elementary, and the Greek word from which “rudiments” is translated can refer to the spoken sounds of the letters of the alphabet. Rudiments of the world are those basic principles—the building blocks—that get combined to make up the teaching of the material world. This shows us that, in God’s eyes, philosophy isn’t advanced, deep, or new knowledge (Eccl. 1:9-11), but actually finds its basis in the ABCs and most elementary principles of this world.
Finally, Paul warns us of philosophy of the type that is “not after Christ.” This is the foremost reason that we must “Beware.” Any philosophy, teaching, or belief that is “not after Christ,” and which disregards, belittles, or leads us away from Him, is satanic, dangerous, and something that we must reject.
Why Settle for Less?
“For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
The word “for” introduces the reason for abandoning the false teachings of philosophy that are not after Christ. And the reason is that Christ is God! The reasoning is, why would anyone settle for anything less than Him Who is God Almighty? Man’s philosophies are “vain” or empty, and they only fill anyone with more emptiness; in contrast, Paul wrote about the One Who has all fullness (Col. 1:19), the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
In Christ dwells ALL the fullness of the Godhead. He is not part God or 50% God, or 99% percent God, but 100% God. This verse is a dramatic, airtight declaration of the deity of Jesus Christ. As John Newton put it in his poem on page 4, “So guilty, so helpless am I, / I dare not confide in His blood, / nor on His protection rely, / unless I were sure He is God.” We are sure He is God, and before us is one of the clearest statements in all of Scripture testifying to this fact.
Considering that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, He cannot be a halfway god or a junior god. Christ wasn’t merely inspired by God or illuminated by God. Christ is not God-like. Christ was God. Christ is God. Christ will always be God.
All that God is, Christ is. Christ is complete Deity. He is God essentially and perfectly and has all the infinite attributes and perfections of God in full measure.
And the term “dwelleth” here speaks of permanence. Commenting on this, Pastor and professor Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) wrote, “The indwelling of the divine fullness in Him is characteristic of Him as Christ, from all ages and to all ages. Hence the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Him before His incarnation.… It dwelt in Him during His incarnation.…The fullness of the Godhead dwells in His glorified humanity in heaven.…He carried His human body with Him into heaven, and in His glorified body now and ever dwells the fullness of the Godhead.”
Colossians 2:9 teaches that not only is Christ fully God, but He is also fully human. He is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Having the fullness of the Godhead in His Person as God the Son within the Trinity has always been the case from eternity past. But having the fullness of the Godhead “bodily” has only been the case since the incarnation roughly 2000 years ago and now for eternity future.
Christ is God in a human body. And when Christ ascended to heaven, He did so in His body of flesh and bones. After His resurrection, the Lord said, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have” (Luke 24:39). Christ is now in heaven in His risen, glorified body. He
currently and permanently has a body of flesh and bones, and He will always now be the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Part of Christ’s sacrifice for us is that He Who is God, the Son of God, took on a human body for eternity. And now forevermore He is the “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Being 100% God and 100% Man, Christ is the perfect Intercessor and Mediator between God and man.
Incomplete vs. Complete
“And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10).
The implication of being complete in Christ is that we are incomplete outside of Him. As a result of sin and the curse, mankind is in a state of incompleteness. We are spiritually incomplete, unrighteous, dead in our sins, and separated from the life of God (Eph. 2:1). But when we trust the One Who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily, that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, we immediately go from incompleteness to being “complete in Him.”
“Complete” in Colossians 2:10 means to be made full, to fill to the full. We are made full in Christ. Verse 9 says that “in Him” dwells all fullness of the Godhead bodily. Verse 10 says that “in Him” we find fullness and are made full. There’s no room for anything more and, being in Him, there’s nothing missing. There aren’t any other things to add. Christ makes us whole spiritually.
The teaching of fullness from verse 9 carries into verse 10. Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and there is nothing that could be added to Christ to make Him be more God. He is completely God. He lacks nothing as God. Likewise, believers find total fullness and completeness in Christ.
Just as Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily, there is nothing we lack in Him. There is not one thing that could or ever needs to be added to make us more complete in Him or more filled by Him. In Him, we have everything we need for salvation and spiritual life. You cannot add anything to the completeness that you have in Christ. You do not need anything more than you already have in Him.
Being complete in Christ is not a status to be achieved, it is a truth in which to rejoice. And this truth is all by grace. It is nothing we deserve. At the moment we trust Christ as our personal Savior, we are complete in Christ. Professor and Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) has written, “When a person is born again into the family of God, he is born complete in Christ.”
Paul doesn’t say to you the believer that you will be complete in Christ, he says you “ARE complete in Him.” From the moment you believe and for all eternity, this is permanently so. In Christ, we will never be anything but complete.
Being complete in Christ is true because Christ is truly God. If Christ were not God, we could not be complete in Him. And we won’t find completion in anyone or anything else. Salvation is in Christ alone. In Him alone, our hope is found.
Paul goes on in verse 10 to say that we are complete in the One “which is the head of all principality and power.” He is far above the hierarchy of heaven and over all angelic principalities and powers. He is the Creator of those principalities and powers: “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers” (Col. 1:16).
Reinforcing His deity and our completeness in Him, Paul shows us that Christ is abundantly able to save, because He is Lord, Creator, and God Almighty, before Whom all in heaven submit and Who commands all the host of angels. In this all-glorious One, we are complete. It is He which supplies us with so great and so complete a salvation.
Paul provides us here with a startling and stark contrast between the emptiness and incompleteness of the philosophies of this world and the greatness and majesty of our Savior and the completeness we have in Him. The stance of the apostle first was negative, that of admonishment: beware that you don’t allow yourself to be carried off from Christ by godless human wisdom which is nothing more than empty, deceitful tradition passed down over time, and is the same old ABCs of human thought, reasoning, and speculation. Then Paul’s stance turned positive, to one of encouragement: when you have Christ, the fullness of the Godhead bodily, Who is the head of all principality and power, you have everything you need in Him.
Pastor and BBS founder C. R. Stam (1908-2003) has said, “You and I, dear friends, are either ‘complete in Christ’ or we are completely out of Christ.”6 Which are you? Without Christ we have nothing, but in Him we have everything. Being completely out of Christ, and therefore still in your sins, means you are perishing and on the road to the second death of the judgment of the lake of fire. But that isn’t God’s desire for anyone. God desires “all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4), and Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6) so that anyone can be saved through Christ’s finished work. Having trusted Christ as your personal Savior, and thus being complete in Him, you are right with God and you know you are headed for glory.
“He was just a little fellow. His mother died when he was just a child. His father, in trying to be both mommy and daddy, had planned a picnic. The little boy had never been on a picnic, so they made their plans, fixed the lunch, and packed the car. Then it was time to go to bed, for the picnic was the next day. He just couldn’t sleep. He tossed and he turned, but the excitement got to him. Finally, he got out of bed, ran into the room where his father had already fallen asleep, and shook him. His father woke up and saw his son. He said to him, ‘What are you doing up? What’s the matter?’
“The boy said, ‘I can’t sleep.’
“The father asked, ‘Why can’t you sleep?’
“In answering, the boy said, ‘Daddy, I’m excited about tomorrow.’
“His father replied, ‘Well, Son, I’m sure you are, and it’s going to be a great day, but it won’t be great if we don’t get some sleep. So why don’t you just run down the hall, get back in bed, and get a good night’s rest.’
“So the boy trudged off down the hall to his room and got in bed. Before long, sleep came—to the father, that is. It wasn’t long thereafter that back was the little boy. He was pushing and shoving his father, and his father opened his eyes. Harsh words almost blurted out until he saw the expression on the boy’s face. The father asked, ‘What’s the matter now?’
“The boy said, ‘Daddy, I just want to thank you for tomorrow.’ ”
As a result of what Christ has accomplished for us, because we are complete in Him, we know without a doubt that we are heaven-bound, and we can say, “Thank you, Father, for tomorrow,” the tomorrow of eternity in glory. Thanking our heavenly Father for our salvation is what Paul did earlier in this letter:
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: In Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14).