The Life-Study of the Bible is a book-by-book exposition of the Bible by Witness Lee. It’s similar to J.N. Darby’s Synopsis of the Bible. I have received much benefit from it personally. The following portion is particularly rich and enlightening. It’s concerning the main point, background, and burden of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians.
“The vital point concerning the background of the book of Colossians is that culture had been brought into the church life. The population of Colosse was a mixture of Gentiles and Jews. The Gentiles and the Jews had different cultures. For the most part, the Gentiles were under the influence of Greek culture with its philosophy. At that time, however, Greek philosophy was no longer pure. Rather it was a mingling of various philosophies. Furthermore, the Gentile culture was at least somewhat blended with Jewish religious concepts.
This mixture of cultures flooded the church at Colosse. The church should be a house filled with Christ and constituted with Him. Instead, the church there had been invaded by culture. To a large extent, Christ as the unique element in the church life was being replaced by various aspects of this mixed culture. The constituent of the church should be Christ and Christ alone, for the church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, the content of the church should be nothing other than Christ Himself. Nevertheless, the good elements of culture, especially philosophy and religion, had invaded the church and saturated it.
In particular, a type of religious asceticism had made inroads into the church life. Verses 20 and 21, which speak of ordinances regarding handling, tasting, and touching, refer to this. We know that this asceticism was religious in nature because it was related to the worship of angels (2:18). Hence, the asceticism that flooded the church in Colosse was not crude, but refined and cultured.
To some, the worship of angels may seem quite good, far superior to the worship of reptiles, birds, and beasts. Nevertheless, angel worship is idolatry, although a somewhat refined type of idolatry. People of high culture do not worship animals, but they may be open to worship angels. Some justify such a practice by saying that they do not worship idols, but, in humility, worship the heavenly servants of God. Regarding themselves as too low to worship God directly, they may feel that they must worship Him through an intermediary. This concept has been assimilated into Catholicism, which teaches that we may need the help of an intermediary in order to contact God. In principle at least, Catholicism has adopted the practice of using an intermediary in the worship of God.
It is the subtlety of the enemy to flood the church with the elements of culture. This is what he was doing when the book of Colossians was written. His strategy was to send a mixture of Jewish religion and Gentile philosophy into the church and to saturate the church with this cultural mixture. From the human point of view, this culture, particularly its asceticism, was very good. Asceticism has a good purpose and goal; it attempts to enable people to deal with their lusts. However, we must see that Satan’s strategy in flooding the church with culture is to use the most highly developed aspects of culture to replace Christ.
Do not think that this phenomenon was limited to the first century. It is still with us today. In today’s Christianity Christ has been almost altogether replaced by other things, especially by good things. The name of Christ may be found in Christianity, but the reality of Christ may be absent. Many things have become substitutes for Christ. For example, even the teaching of the Bible is used by the enemy of God as such a substitute for Christ Himself. Many Christians study the Bible without contacting Christ. Due to Satan’s subtlety, any kind of Christian work can also replace Christ Himself. Christian work should minister Christ. However, some Christian works make their particular goal a substitute for Christ.
In today’s religion some pastors and ministers may allow their own personalities to replace Christ. Certain Christian workers have attractive, powerful personalities. They use their personalities to draw people not to Christ, but to themselves. This is the reason that many Christians compliment and even praise the personalities of certain pastors. Those who do not have such a strong personality may attract people by their niceness or their humility. Christians may choose to attend a particular so-called church because the minister there is kind and sympathetic.
When Paul wrote the Epistle to the Colossians, a number of isms were exerting their influence: Judaism, asceticism, mysticism, Gnosticism. These isms were among the highest products of both Jewish and Gentile cultures. Being good things, they spontaneously became replacements for Christ. Therefore, Paul’s purpose in the book of Colossians is to show that in the church nothing should be allowed to be a substitute for Christ. The church life must be constituted uniquely of Christ. He should be our only constituent and our very constitution. This is the reason that in this short Epistle a number of elevated expressions are used to describe Christ. For example, He is called the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from among the dead, and the body of all the shadows. In 3:10 and 11, Paul says that in the new man there is no possibility of having Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian or Scythian, slave or freeman. Rather, in the new man Christ is all and in all. This means that Christ must be everyone and in everyone. In the new man there is no room for Chinese, Japanese, American, British, French, or Germans. Christ must be every one of us. In the new man Christ must be you and me. Not only must culture go, but even we have to go. It is crucial that we see this revelation.
The main point in the Epistle of Colossians is the fact that in the eyes of God nothing counts except Christ. This fact excludes both good things and bad things, both sinful things and cultured things. In particular, it eliminates all the good aspects of culture. We have pointed out again and again that the enemy of God utilizes culture to replace Christ. This is offensive to God. If Satan cannot corrupt us with evil things, God knows that he will try to use the good aspects of culture to replace Christ. Among today’s Christians, where can you find a group of believers with whom you can sense nothing but Christ? Among the various Christian groups we see many good points. However, these good things are not the Person of Christ Himself, but something that has replaced Him in a subtle way. For this reason, in many groups of Christians it is difficult to meet Christ. Some may preach Christ or teach the doctrines regarding Christ, but even this preaching and teaching becomes a substitute for Christ Himself. If we have a clear view of the situation among Christians today, we shall realize that the background of the book of Colossians exactly corresponds to today’s situation. This book was written for us, not only for the saints at Colosse.”
Excerpt taken from Witness Lee’s Life-Study of Colossians, Chapter 1
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