John T. Willis

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Substance Versus Shadow--Colossians 2:16-19

Paul and Timothy now encourage Christians to resist opponents who "condemn" (Colossians 2:16) or "disqualify" (Colossians 2:18) Christians on the basis of false teachings. This appears in Colossians 2:16-19. As we work through these verses, note carefully that Paul makes a strong contrast between (1) Christ the substance of real life, and (2) a shadow of what is to come--see verse 17.

I. In verse 16, Paul specifically names five things that false teachers are not to "condemn" Christians: (1) food; (2) drink; (3) festivals; (4) new moons; (5) sabbaths. Other texts, like Romans 14:17 and 1 Corinthians 8:4, in God's sight, the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink. As far as God is concerned, it does not matter whether a person is a vegetarian or eats meat, whether a person drinks wine or abstains. [These texts do not affirm excessive eating or drunkenness]. Festivals, new moons, and sabbaths were common practices in Israel--see Hosea 2:11; Ezekiel 45:17; 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 31:3. These festivals are valid and positive and significant, but not necessary to serving God. Furthermore, the reference to "the elemental spirits of the universe" in Colossians 2:8 indicates that now these earlier practiced have been modified and syncretized, so that the course of the stars and prescribe minutely the order of the calendar. By birth and fate human beings are subjected to the elements of the universe and must serve them by meticulous conformity to food laws and special times. False teachers BIND such ideas on peoples' hearts and lives. This is the problem which Paul addresses here.

II. These regulations are merely a "shadow" of what is to come. Just as Adam was a type of the one who was to come (Romans 5:14) and just as the law had ony the shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 10:1), the coming of Christ into the world is the "substance" of all that is. Human philosophy and regulations demanded by arrogant exponents are meaningless, and the reality which exists solely with Christ is shared only by those who, as members of the body of Christ, are connected to the head, Jesus Christ. Verse 17.

III. In verse 18, Paul explicitly names four things which do not "qualify" God's people under Christ. (1) Insisting on self-abasement. Unreasonable and misguided fasting is not spiritual practice. (2) Worship of angels. God created angels, and thus angels are creatures, not creators. Thus angels are to worship God. Human beings are not to worship angels. See Psalms 29:1-2; 148:2; Jude 6; Revelations 7:11-12. (3) Dwelling on visions. Throughout history, God has given visions to various people. But it is very tempting and easy to think that visions are the essential basis of Christian living. On the contrary, Christ alone is the basis of Christian living. (4) Puffed up by a human way of thinking. Human knowledge is good used properly, but essentially human knowledge "puffs up" those who possess it--1 Corinthians 8:1; 4:18-19; 5:2; 2 Corinthians 12:20. Many universities are misled by the "academic excellence" or human thought. God is the Creator of all human minds, and is superior to all human beings. Verse 18.

IV. The only hope of the people of God=the community of faith=the kingdom of God=the church is "THE HEAD," Jesus Christ, from whom every "ligament" and "sinew"=every member of the church is nourished and grows "with a growth that is from God," not from any other sources. Anyone who commits himself or herself to human philosophy and knowledge immediately severs his or her relationship to the head, Jesus Christ alone. The "body"=the church is completely dependent on the "head"=Jesus Christ. Since Christ is "head" over "every ruler and authority" in heaven and on earth (Colossians 2:10), he is "head" over the church, his community of faith, as Paul has already emphasized in Colossians 1:18, 24. Verse 19.

Individually and collectively, the people of God receive strong overtures to follow human philosophy and rational knowledge. This is helpful, but not ultimate. God through Jesus Christ is the only sound basis for Christian thought and life.

What are YOUR responses to these thoughts? Share YOUR ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, February 25, 2010


The capybara is the largest living rodent on earth. Though now extinct, there once existed a larger capybara called "Neochoerus pinckneyi," which was eight times the size of the modern capybara. The capybara has a heavy, barrel-shaped body and a short head with reddish-brown fur on the upper parts of its body that turns yellowish-brown underneath. The adult capybara is over four feet long and weighs approximately 140 pounds. However, scientists have discovered one individual at 232 pounds. The capybara has slightly webbed feet, no tail, and 20 teeth. Its back legs are slightly longer than its front legs and its muzzles are blunt with eyes, nostrils, and ears on top of its head. Its species is Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, derived from Greek, meaning "water hog."

Capybaras reach sexual maturity within 22 months and breed when conditions are perfect, which can be once per year or throughout the year. Capybara gestation is 130-150 days and usually produces a litter of four capybara babies, but may produce between two and eight in a single litter. Birth is on land and the female rejoins the group with a few hours of delivering the newborn capybaras, which are soon mobile and join the group. The babies wean the mother in about 16 weeks, but they are already eating grass and other food. Like other rodents, the front teeth of capybaras grow continually to compensate for the constant wearing-down from eating grasses; their cheek teeth also grow continuously. When fully grown, a capybara has coarse hair that is sparsely spread over its skin, making the capybara prone to sunburn. To prevent this, it rolls in mud to protect its skin from the sun.

Capybaras are semi-aquatic mammals found all over South America in densely forested areas near bodies of water. They roam in home ranges of 25-50 acres. The diet of the capybara is grasses, fruit, and tree bark, consuming 6 to 8 pounds a day. Its jaw hing is non-perpendicular and thus chews food by grinding back and forth rather than side to side.

Capybaras are social animals, each group controlled by a dominant male. They communicate through a combination of scent and sound. They are vocal with purrs and alarm barks, whistles and clicks, squeals and grunts. They are excellent swimmers and can survive completely underwater up to five minutes to evade predators. They can sleep underwater, keeping the nose just at the waterline. They do not really sleep much, but doze off and on. They have a life span of 4 to 8 years in the wild. They are not an endangered species.

I hope YOU enjoy, appreciate, and support the capybara. This animal is another CREATION of God. Each creature is unique and special--just like YOU. Share YOUR experiences and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Human Philosophy--Colossians 2:8-15

God created human beings with many amazing capabilities. One of these amazing capabilities is philosophy, "the love of wisdom," the science which investigates the facts and principles of reality and of human nature and conduct; the science which comprises logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and the theory of knowledge. Philosophy includes the idea of a body of philosophical principles, especially the body of principles underlying a certain branch of learning or major discipline, a religious system, a human activity, or the like, for example, the philosophy of history or the philosophy of science. Several centuries before Christ, Greek philosophers proposed the study of philosophy. The more famous philosophers are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Plotinus, etc., in the Medieval Period, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Abelard, William of Occam, and in more recent times, Schleiermacher, Teilhard de Chardin, Hume, Bultmann, Whitehead, etc. Philosophy has made a significant impact on human thought through the centuries, continues to do so, and will continue to do so. This approach is essentially academic, rational, and human centered. Some thinkers talk about God, but usually as an abstract subject, not as a real person who actually created the universe, sustains the universe, and constantly works in the world. God is another "topic" of discussion, not the creator of human beings who think and reason as a gift of the creator.

In Colossians 2:8-19, Paul addresses a type of "philosophy" (see Colossians 2:8) current in his day. Scholars debate over the specific nature of this philosophy. The context of Colossians 2:8-19 indicates the issues Paul has in mind. This blog is an attempt to study Colossians 2:8-15 briefly verse by verse. This section emphasizes the sharp contrast between a human rational way of thinking and a receptive acceptance of God's creativity and revelation throughout history and finally through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I. There is great deception in rational thinking. It is rooted in "HUMAN traditions" [see Mark 7:1-8; Matthew 15:1-9; Acts 17:16-21] in contrast to God's "traditions"--see 2 Thessalonians 2:15. It is motivated by "elemental spirits of the universe" [see Galatians 4:3, 9]--that is, demonic principalities ["rulers and authorities"] who want to exercise their tyranny over human beings--see Colossians 2:10, 15. The Bible teaches that God created numerous angelic beings, and these beings had free will to follow God or reject God. Those who reject God are Satan and his angels--see Matthew 25:41. These invisible spirits are constantly at work among human beings, and one of their methods is to "capture" or "captivate" human hearts by rational thinking without the revelation and work of God. People of follow these spirits and their human agents are "not according to Christ." Verse 8.

II. As in Colossians 1:19, Paul reminds the Christians at Colossae and Laodicea that "in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." The entire fullness of deity [see Romans 1:20] exists in Jesus Christ. Verse 9.

III. The people of God ["you" here is plural] have been "FILLED" in Christ alone. See Romans 15:13; Philippians 1:10-11; John 1:16; Ephesians 1:23; 3:19; 4:13. Thus, there is no "room" or "need" for additional human "philosophy" to satisfy the human heart. Verse 10.

IV. In Christ, all Christians were "circumcised" spiritually by putting off of the body of the flesh. Many Old Testament passages emphasize that true "circumcision" is a heart work, not a physical work [see for example, Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:3-4; 6:10; 9:25-26], and New Testament speakers and writers re-state this same truth--see Romans 2:25-29. Biblically, physical circumcision has always been a "sign" of the "real" truth of "circumcision of the heart." At certain times through history, Jewish teachers and believers have insisted that "physical circumcision" is what is important. Jesus, Paul, and all true biblical teachers and preaches oppose such an idea. "Circumcision" is a putting off of sin by the act of God. Verse 11.

V. Baptism, as an external "sign" or "act," is circumcision in God through Jesus Christ. Baptism consists of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ spiritually re-enacted in every human Christian heart. In this way, God puts off the old person and puts on the new person in this mysterious experience. See 1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Romans 6:1-8. This is not a human act, but an act of God "through faith in the POWER of God," not in the power of human works or activity. Verse 12.

VI. Every person "WAS DEAD" in trespasses and sins, that is, the "uncircumcision of the flesh," but by God's power in Christ Jesus, God "made that person alive together with Christ when he forgave all of us all our transgressions." See Colossians
1:14; 3:13. Verse 13.

VII. On the cross, God through Jesus Christ "erased the record that stood against us with its legal demands," "set this aside," and "nailed" it to the cross. This metaphorical language is rooted in common practices in the first century A. D. according to which the debtor issues a certificate of indebtedness in his own hand as an acknowledgment of his outstanding debts. Rabbi Akiba, Abinu Melkenu, and other Jewish rabbis in the Medieval Period described the relationship between human beings and God as that between a debtor and a creditor. Colossians 2:14 has nothing to do with the later view of certain Christians that this has to do with a pact between human beings and the devil or Satan. Rather, our indebtedness is before God. The teaching of the "philosophers" demanded of their adherents (see Colossians 2:20-21) that they observe the "regulations" which, as legal ordinances, minutely govered the lives and conduct of men--much like the Pharisees whom Jesus Christ exposes in Matthew 23. Such "regulations" gave the legal grounds for entanglement in a debt which human beings are unable to pay. God declares through Jesus Christ that God has forgiven all sins and blotted out indebtedness. See Acts 3:19; Revelation 3:5; 7:17; 21:4. God nailed this to the cross of Jesus Christ. Verse 14.

VIII. On the cross, God "stripped" the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, thus divesting them of their entire power and exposing them of whom they are. In this way, God has "triumphed" over all these demonic powers in the cross. In a triumphal procession God parades [see 2 Corinthians 2:14] the powerless powers and principalities to manifest to all the magnitude of the victory. Their rule has come to an end, they no choice now but to worship the victor--God through Jesus Christ alone. What matters now is Christ alone--no one else, nothing outside or alongside him. Verse 15.

YOU will constantly struggle with human "philosophy" of this or that type. This ia a part of human life. It is inevitable. Above the fray, the Bible calls for faith in God through Jesus Christ as a revealed mystery through the word of God testified in the Bible.

What are YOUR thoughts? Share YOUR insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis