When I was in high school, my summer job was producing videos and large print out media for a production company located in an old car lot. The place was hard to secure because of huge windows and ancient out-of-skew doors. So in the back, the owner kept a pack of the wildest, dirtiest, meanest dogs to guard the door. They were all breeds, and among them probably was present every canine disease there ever was.
After the summer was over, I forgot about the place and went on with high school. In my senior year, I was riding around with my friends, my new girlfriend, among them. My buddy, who wanted to get into male modeling, was looking for a place that could enlarge photos. "I know just the place," I said.
With his glossy 8x10 in my hand, I went to the front glass door and knocked. No one came to the door. I didn't want to let my friends down, and especially wanted to impress my girlfriend. I quickly hopped the chainlink fence that surrounded the back of the building and headed toward the rear door.
I immediately remembered the mange pack. A demonic hoard of mutts came screaming around the corner, barking for my hide. The sandals I was wearing had about a two-inch sole on them; my girlfriend was tall, and I was insecure about my height. As soon as I started moving, the strap on one broke, and I slipped sideways in the gravel. The asphalt scraped down my side as the dog pack descended upon me.
The smallest, and might I add, meanest, of the pack was a little long-haired mutt the size of a chihuahua, though I'm sure he didn't have such an excellent pedigree. He sank his teeth into the back of my khaki covered calf.
I jumped up in a hurry, not wanting the rest of the wolves to pounce. In my adrenaline-laced state, all I could do was speak the dog's language. Something animalistic responded to being bitten, and I stood there and barked like a mad man.
I imagine I was speaking with a strange accent because they all paused for a short second and tilted their heads. It gave me long enough to climb back over the fence. By that time, the owner of the business had come to the front door. Trying to retain some sense of ego, I walked over to him, pretending I didn't look like I'd been run toe first through a meat grinder.
Amazingly I was still grasping the picture. I held out the 8x10 photo of my aspiring male model friend to the owner. As soon as I did, I realized that there were gravel stones embedded all over its glossy surface. One rock was right in the middle of his face.
"Would it be possible to enlarge this photo?" I asked even though it looked like I fished it out of a concrete truck. He held the crumpled rock-strewn picture for only a second. It wasn't until this moment that I surveyed the damage. My pants ripped down the thigh. Blood was coming through where the fabric was hanging loose. Open red wounds covered my hands. Above it all, I could feel the teeth marks in my calf. My hard-gelled hair had upended, and my Sandal was hanging on for dear life by one loose thread.
"Uh, no, I can't put that in the scanner,” he said, pointing to the rocks. "Are you okay?" he asked. I shoved my hair down and said I was fine. When I got back to the car, I could tell that my friends, especially my girlfriend, had seen the whole thing by their concerned, bewildered, and amused looks.
So, as you can imagine, I have spent years trying to get over this traumatic experience. I have a palpable fear of dog packs, and I think it's for a good reason. My general attitude is that dogs are dangerous, no matter the size.
In this section, I want to talk about dogs, specifically wolves. Though, I'm not interested in spending any more time considering literal dogs. I'd rather move into the metaphorical and get away from this painful memory. The writers of the Bible used the metaphor of wolves to express an incredibly dangerous threat that the believers and the church face.
After spending years in the area of Asia Minor, which is where Colossae is located, Paul determined that it was time for him to go to Jerusalem, and then Rome. He called together the elders of the Church of Ephesus. As he was preparing to leave, he made a last address, which has some disturbing elements. To those he was about to leave behind, he said this:
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years, I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)
Paul knew there would be trouble. That's because there was always trouble where he planted churches. There is always opposition to the truth. Those wolves would attack the flock from outside. There would even be wolves on the inside of the church as well. He knew that they would test the sheep.
The wolves they faced were of a different sort than we face today, but they ultimately are after the same thing. The wolves of their day were those trying to lead them back into pagan practices. Other wolves would come from the legalistic branches of the Jewish synagogues. There would be wolves teaching an early form of Gnosticism. There would even be wolves that simply wanted power and would divide the church over it.
The wolves we face in our world are different and, at the same time, similar. The particular philosophies are called something else, but the methods are not all that dissimilar.
Outside the walls of today's church, there are wolves who want to turn believers into atheists, agnostics, or apathists. Atheism and agnosticism are more extreme positions, and so they are only held by a small percentage of the population. Apathists, on the other hand, are those who still hold Christian beliefs but are apathetic, giving no space in their lives to Christian fellowship or activity. The vast majority of people who leave the church transform into apathists. Christianity has become unimportant and, therefore, inconsequential for them.
In this section, we'll take a look at how we can stand against the dangers these wolves bring. Let’s take a look at how Paul opens chapter two of his letter to the Colossians.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. (Col. 2:1)
Paul's struggle is his house arrest and ministry efforts. Also, he had been on multiple missionary journeys and would soon go on another. He had invested tremendous energy into bringing the gospel to their homeland and training those who would minister to them.
In that pursuit, there is something that Paul wants for those he's trying to bring to maturity. He says it this way:
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery—Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him. (Col. 2:2-3)
What Paul wants them to experience is encouragement in their heart. Now, remember, in Scripture, heart and mind are interchangeable words. So he's once again hoping that their mindset would strengthen by encouragement.
When we have a steady stream of encouragement, we can face anything. As long as we keep an encouraged mindset/heartstyle, we can continue to pursue Godly and wholesome things.
I've seen the difference in my life. When I was single, I had an ongoing fight with the temptation to look at pornography. I knew I needed to stay away from it, but it kept drawing me back in. It wasn't until I was married to my wife, who is a constant encourager that I was able to kick the habit. What I couldn't do on my own, I could finally do when I was being encouraged. This encouragement came through the fellowship of a close spiritual ally. What Paul prescribes as a ride-along to encouragement is quite telling.
He says he wants them to be joined together in love. One translation says, knit together in love. Our love for other believers should be so strong we're like the woven threads of fabric.
Encouragement comes from one another. That’s why it’s so important that we not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We need one another to have an encouraged mindset/heart. The encouragement that comes from our fellowship makes us strong. It makes us able to withstand the attacks of those who seek to damage the faith.
The encouragement that comes from fellowship brings about all the riches of assured understanding. Paul emphasizes the importance of our mindset over and over in Colossians. Here, he ties our mindset to our fellowship. If you want to have a solid walk with the Lord, it will include fond fellowship with other faithful believers.
When we have all the riches of assured understanding, it makes us even more capable of standing against Christian nay-sayers' attacks. The assurance that comes from understanding God's mysteries makes us like a fortress, as long as we stand together in fellowship, encouraging one another.
An early form of Gnosticism was challenging the Colossians. Gnosticism claims there are deep mysteries and divine secrets that only special people can access. Paul takes that and turns it on its head. He says he wants them to have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.
Instead of claiming that mystery knowledge comes from rituals and secret practices, he explains that everything you need to know, even mystery, is in Christ. How do you access those mysteries? We access them by being encouraged in our loving fellowship with one another (knit together in love) and through God’s word (assured understanding). Our fellowship makes us a fortress; our assured understanding makes us a defendable fortress.
Paul then reveals one of his great concerns when he says:
I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ. (Col. 2:4-5)
These believers, whom Paul is writing to, have a strong faith and conduct orderly worship services. That is obviously to their benefit. Though, he acknowledges that it is still possible to be deceived by persuasive arguments. What has he already prescribed to help them to defend against falsehood? That they be knit together in love. Our love for each other is our fortress.
Jesus called false teachers wolves in sheep's clothing. What do wolves do? They want to use the sheep for their own purposes rather than serve the purpose of the flock. Wolves devour the sheep. How do wolves hunt? They frighten the herd, and then they watch to see which ones get separated from the pack. The wolves chase down and kill the isolated one.
False teachers, in and outside the church, use the same tactics. I've known many people who grew up in church but ultimately became agnostics, atheists, or apathists. I've tried to piece together a storyline of why this happens. In virtually every case, a person becomes isolated from other faithful believers. Certainly, isolation occurs when someone stops going to church, but it can happen to those who are still attending services as well.
Isolation is a faith killer. There are so many wolves out there. Wolves are watchers. They're looking for those on the fringes. There are wolves with YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, channels praising the admirable advantages of atheism, agnosticism, or apathism. Some wolves argue against the church, saying it's outdated, intolerant, and a factory of hate speech. Other wolves are setting up traps for the isolated, lonely, and rejected. They are devouring our people. What can we do?
Remember: Fond fellowship is a fortress from false teachers. Paul doesn't just say, go to church. He says we need to be knit together in love.
In certain parts of the United States, wolf packs (I'm speaking of literal wolves now) have been among the endangered species. Now wolves are being reintroduced into many regions of the country. It's is causing big problems for ranchers who are raising everything from sheep to cattle. Since many wolves are protected species, the ranchers need an option other than killing them.
Herds of wild cattle have a natural defense against predators. They have an instinct to circle up and form a kind of wild phalanx. There's safety in the herd. However, because of generations of domestication on ranches, the cattle have become accustomed to tame dogs. A byproduct is that many of the cows have begun to lose their natural caution around canine predators. So it's easy for wolf packs to pick off individual cattle because they don't have that instinct to cling to the herd.
There's a group that is trying to retrain herds of cattle. They're using dogs to do it. They have the dogs chase the cattle, and when one of the head breaks away and isolates from the herd, the dog harasses that individual until it returns to the herd. It teaches the cow that it is only safe in the herd. In so doing, they are saving the lives of many individuals.
It seems that over the last generation of prosperity and social stability, Christians are losing their natural instinct to cling to the herd. Isolation and individualism, even among Christians, is at an all-time high. Our world is experiencing something unique, something it has never experienced before. A person can live an entirely isolated lifestyle while still maintaining an acceptable standard of living. Though we may be able to live a solitary lifestyle and thrive, we can't thrive spiritually without each other. Fond fellowship is our fortress from falsehood.
Paul gives instructions on how to proceed together:
Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude. (Col 2:6-7)
In these verses, there's a clear division between salvation and discipleship. Those Paul is writing to have already received Christ. We know what it means to receive Christ because John tells us. It means to believe in His name. (John 1:12)
Hopefully, a person's involvement in spiritual things doesn't end at the moment of their salvation. Each of us ought to go on to maturity. We should walk in Him. Notice, once again, that the action he prescribes overflows from the mindset. When we overflow with gratitude and are taught well, it enables us to walk in a Godly manner.
As this happens, we become rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith. It's possible to be saved but not be rooted, built up, or established in the faith. That's why he is directing believers to be on their guard against the damage of false teachers.
The property I now own used to be a forest. There are some very old trees that were not cut down when the forest was cleared. I have about a dozen towering oaks. These trees grew tall when they were in a forest. As you might know, a tree grows differently when it's part of a forest than it does when it's on its own. These trees were protected from stormy winds when they were in a thick grove. However, now that most of them stand alone, many of them have been blown over. Even though they could last hundreds of years in a forest, I doubt many of them will be able to live nearly that long alone.
Now, remember what Paul has already prescribed for us. We need to be knit together in love. It’s hard to imagine any of us being able to be rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith if we refuse to be together. We need to stand together like a grove of trees. We find strength in one another.
However, if we were only to fellowship but did no more than that, we would be weak. That's because our fellowship has to be oriented around a central idea. Paul will show us what concepts should tie us together.
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (Col 2:8-10)
Paul returns to a warning against false professors. There are those who want to take you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. There are philosophies in our world that are not based on Christ. They are based instead on the elemental forces of the world.
In Paul's time, the elemental forces of the world was probably a reference to paganism, or possibly an early form of Gnosticism. However, Christian theology is at war with modern philosophies based on the world's elemental forces. There are atheists worldwide spreading a worldview that takes God out of the cosmic equation. They attempt to create a philosophy that excludes the need for an almighty creator. In many parts of the world, that kind of philosophy is winning. Paul warns us of the danger and that such attempts should not capture us. How do we protect against these concepts?
Some might assume we need to fight fire with fire. Some would say that we need to disprove those philosophies, scientific approaches, and attempts to dethrone Christ. Maybe that has a place, but Paul doesn't tell the Colossians believers to take an offensive approach, but instead a defensive one. How?
Our fellowship must be based on Christ. Christ must be our focus. If we turn the church into an interest group that doesn't center on Christ, then we are going to lose our strength to stand against false philosophies. If we make church about social justice, political change, or environmental improvement, we've abandoned our power to resist those who want to take us captive. It gets worse than that. If we make church about a music method, a service type, even about a particular preference in teaching style, we're laying aside our strength to be well-rooted. You can't fight the wolves unless you have a Christ-centered fellowship.
Indeed, in our world, there are plenty who claim to have Christ as a central theme, but they have abandoned Christ's supremacy. To counter this, Paul reminds us of who Christ is. For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. If this understanding of Christ is not what we rally around, then the fellowship we find won't be a fortress; it will be a trap. If we want safety from falsehood, we must have a growing fellowship that's organized around the Divine Christ, not a cheap imitation. The assured understanding we need is rooted in a high view of Jesus.
The world is filled with wolves. They want to turn our children into atheists, agnostics, and appathists. To fight, we need an assured understanding of who Christ is as we seek to be knit together in love. Christ-focused fellowship is our fortress against false philosophies.