Beware of Cheaters (Colossians 2)
- Order of Service: Matins
- Hymns: LSB #497, 649, 781, 797
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).
Cheaters seeks their own advantage at the expense of those around them. So Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit.” Don't let anyone cheat you out of your salvation. Beware of cheaters! They are all around and they typically sound legit. But their words and deeds are empty. They only cause heartache as they crush those around them whom they consider inferior.
How are Christians supposed to know who is legit and who is a cheater? “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Four elements of a mature Christian life. Four elements to prevent you from being cheated out of your salvation.
“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” This “walk” is not just a moral code. It is enduring faithfulness to Christ's Word. The faithfulness Paul commended last week: “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel.” This walk, when it is stable and steadfast, has these four basic elements.
The first element is being “rooted” in Christ. A word we understand right away. An agricultural term. Plants seek to find nourishment as they send their roots further and further into the earth. They seek the security of deep roots. So they are not swayed by the wind. St. John the Baptizer was a prophet who would not be shaken by the winds of the society. He was David's tree “planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.”
Where do these roots go? “In [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Everything that is God is found in Christ's body. True “substance belongs to Christ.” He is the living embodiment of what God created humanity to be. “Thus it is written, 'The first Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Jesus is true God and perfect Man in sinless flesh. He is “of one substance with the Father” while also being the seed of the woman. The union of His Godhood and His Manhood grants the forgiveness of sin.
“Since mortals can no help afford, place all your trust in Christ, our Lord.” Jesus is the only way of salvation. Thrusting your roots deep into His Word, you will find that security. Security as a beloved son or daughter of your heavenly Father. His Word has the power to “teach us to know our God aright and call Him Father with delight.” Jesus commands us to call God Father.
As you thrust your roots into His Word, you pray, “Lord, by Thy power prepare [my] heart and to [my] weakness strength impart that bravely here [I] may contend through life and death to Thee, [my] Lord, ascend.” His Word nourishes your roots. His Word brings you to Himself and gathers you with each other with the blessed tie that binds your hearts in Christian love. With this biblical tie, we reflect the ineffable bond between the three Persons of the Trinity. In this bond, your are firmly rooted.
Being firmly rooted, you will be “built up in Him.” From an agricultural metaphor, we go into a construction metaphor. Roots grounded in God's Word provide a firm foundation upon which to build your life. St. Paul had previously written, “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss.” Every work you do builds upon the foundation of Christ. The good works are the gold, silver and precious stones. The evil works are the wood, hay and straw. And Judgment Day will show what works survive.
Your good works will survive, not because you are so good, but because “you have been filled in [Christ].” Filled in Christ, in whom is “the whole fullness of Deity,” you have no further room to be filled with anything. Jesus has filled you to overflowing. He strengthens your soul so that you may build on Him an everlasting building crowned in righteousness. Abraham could address God concerning Sodom and Gomorrah because he believed and understood that he was “dust and ashes.” His everlasting righteousness shines forth throughout St. Paul's writings as a shining example of Old Testament faith.
Being built on this firm foundation, you are “'established in the faith” of Christ. This faith and His faithfulness come because “you were circumcised … with the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in Baptism.” God brought people into His old covenant through the circumcision of the flesh. God brings people into His new covenant through the circumcision of Christ, Baptism. Here the foundation and the building thrive. Here your faith and salvation are concrete. St. Paul battles the heretics in Colossae by continuing to point Christians back to their Baptism. That moment gave you roots, built you up by His works, and established you in the one true faith.
Rooted, built up and established, you are “abounding in thanksgiving.” You have reached the maturity Jesus desires for you in this life. He has done all the work. He has given you salvation. And He wants no one to cheat you out of it.
St. Paul desires this fourth element to be visible in every Christian. You abound in thanksgiving when you take notice of the cheaters. You hear their words and say, “That doesn't sound right. That doesn't agree with what I have heard before.” St. Paul encouraged the Colossians to go back to what Epaphras had taught. He could also point to the example of the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Mature Christians don't ever leave their Baptism. Luther points to this in the Small Catechism. When he lists prayers, including his Morning and Evening Prayers, he begins by instructing that the sign of the cross be made in remembrance of your Baptism. Every day should begin and end by remembering your Baptism.
Grounded in your Baptism, you can tell when someone is trying to cheat you out of your salvation. Not only can you tell when, but you have the resources to combat the cheaters.
You have Jesus Christ, who triumphed over everything. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame” when He nailed your debt to His cross. “He bore it all that I might live.”
What more philosophy can be added? What is missing from this? Absolutely nothing. In Christ, you have everything. Nothing is missing. You don't need a certain level of knowledge or understanding. Otherwise we wouldn't baptize babies.
Jesus has done everything. He has rooted you in His Word, burying you into His death in Baptism. He has built you up as a living stone. He has established you in the one true faith. He causes you to abound in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving centered completely on Him because your life is centered on Him.
Cheaters seek their own advantage. Christians seek their neighbor's advantage. Christ sought your advantage. Rooted, built up, established and abounding, you seek another's advantage so that they may also be rooted, built up, established and abounding. Amen.