Updated: Apr 6, 2020
by Gabe Bernal
In the United States, the Secret Service is the name of the special task force charged with protecting the nation’s top leaders and their families, most notably the President. But did you know despite being a law enforcement agency, until 2003 they were a part of the US Department of Treasury? That’s a bit strange.
However, there is a justifiable reason for this. When the Secret Service was first created in 1865, it was to help stop the spread and circulation of counterfeit money after the American Civil War. Reports claimed that one-third of the currency was counterfeit, and it was negatively affecting the economy.
Therefore, the US Government commissioned the Secret Service to take over all national investigations into the discovery and suppression of counterfeit money and its creators.
Of course, the question I have is, how do you discover counterfeit money?
Sure it’s easy to tell monopoly money is fake, but what about real attempts at making fake money. I wouldn't have the first clue as to how to spot a counterfeit. Some counterfeits look like real money to the untrained eye; additionally, almost every counterfeit note will look slightly different depending on when it was made or who made it?
The trick the original Secret Service discovered was- you don’t study the counterfeits. You study the real thing!
They learned that if their agents knew what a real note looked like, they would be able to spot a fake easily.
This practice is so effective that it is still in use today 160+ years later by investigation agencies, banks, and businesses all over the world. They carefully study and learn what the marks of what a real note in their country looks like. They carefully examine every detail. Every watermark, every letter, every picture is meticulously studied until without a doubt they know what the real thing is.
This practice doesn’t only apply to spotting counterfeit money. It can also refer to anything that someone would try to replicate and pass off as real. Sports kits, Rolex watches, expensive clothes, autographs, paintings, the list goes on.
I tell you this story to direct your attention to the idea that you can use this same method to identify false teachings when it comes to the Bible. Whether we realise it or not, there are religious counterfeits all around us.
Whether it’s a new way to God or some special enlightenment, false prophets or preachers lead people away from God far too often.
In Colossians, Paul wrote the church in Colossae (in present-day Turkey) to help combat false teachings that had crept into the church there. The way he goes about combating it is to affirm who Jesus is. He writes with particular emphasis about the supremacy of Christ so that they can recognise false teachings about Christ.
As you join me in the next several weeks looking at the book of Colossians, I want you to keep those ideas in mind. The supremacy of Christ and using that truth to help you spot false teachers and ideas.
Just like the original Secret Service in America combating counterfeit money, some of the inaccuracies may be so small and minor that the only way we will be able to spot them is to make sure we study the fullness of Christ. It’s only by knowing Christ can we determine the things that aren’t of Him.
As we examine this book together in this blog, I want to join you in learning the real thing! I will not only share some commentary on the Scripture and anecdotes to help make sense of individual parts, but I also plan to give you some questions from time to time for you to journal or dwell on as we dive deep into this book.
Before we move into the text itself, I want to start with some big picture stuff. Because if we are going to begin to start examining truth to detect counterfeits, we need to understand the context of Scripture. Just like a painter would prepare a canvas, we need to prepare our hearts and minds to study Scripture by laying the right foundation.
Personally, I love looking at the big picture ideas. Authorship, history, geographical context. They are all part of the full picture that is being painted, like when Bob Ross adds "happy little trees."
But more than that, I think we as Christians need to do a better job of studying these things to consider the full picture of Scripture and how God is trying to reveal himself. If we don't consider the context, we will end up falling into a few traps:
1.) we are more likely to water down the Gospel
2.) we are more likely to accommodate Scripture to our cultural expectations
3.) we are more likely to draw our own conclusions in what we read instead of learning what the author is trying to teach us
These are easy traps to fall in. Even more dangerously, these are the traps that false teachers will prey on when they preach false gospels.
Don't misunderstand me, not all teachers who fall into these traps are using them maliciously to lead people astray. Some truly have good intentions and want to help encourage and lift up their disciples.
But... some people do use the Bible and these traps to try and make it say what they want it to say. The supremacy of Christ is not their goal. Sometimes it's money, fame, power, but regardless they repurpose these traps for their own means.
It is traditionally accepted that Paul is the author of Colossians. Though authorship of many books are debated in the academic world, we are going forward with the assumption that Paul wrote this letter.
Not because we are ignoring any differing opinions, but because there is no obvious indicator in the text that Paul didn't write this. And with its close link to Philemon, which is universally accepted as "authentically" Pauline, lends more credibility to Colossians being written by Paul.
Speaking of the epistle of Philemon, as a quick aside, this letter written by Paul to a man named Philemon who lived in Colossae about a slave who traveled with Paul named Onesimus. Philemon was probably wealthy, as he owned at least one slave, and as a result was probably a prominent member of the Christian community there.
Paul probably wrote the two letters at about the same time, and many scholars believe that they were delivered at the same time. Because of this, before we reach the end of Colossians, we will have a quick look at the book of Philemon to see what additional wisdom Paul has in Philemon.
Colossae was a city located in modern-day south central Turkey. Based on 2:1, we know that Paul never visited the church here, many believe that Epaphras (a fellow prisoner with Paul at the time) may have established the church there.
Through modern archaeological study, we know Colossae was a reasonably prosperous city but was devastated by an earthquake in 62 AD in the region (Laodicea from Revelation was also struck by the same earthquake as it was nearby, only 11 miles away). Though they began to rebuild, they never fully recovered. However, since Paul never mentions an earthquake in the letter, we know Colossians was written before that.
Much like many of Paul's letters, Colossians has a clear purpose, and that is to combat the report of growing heresy of false teachings.
First and second-century religion was much like it is today. People would do take from several different faiths and build their own jumbled worldview and spiritual belief. They would add and subtract from bits of other religions they liked until they created a spiritual practice that let them stay in their comfort zone and allow them to keep doing what they want.
If you are studying this alone, grab a journal, or if you are reading with someone else, discuss these questions as you begin:
What do you think about when you think of false teachings
Do you think of any examples of false teachings in modern Christianity?
What is something that you were told about Jesus or Christianity that you NOW know is not true?
As we continue to look at Colossians, I hope that you will grow in your knowledge of God and discernment to spot false teachers.
Because the truth of the matter is, the things that will seep into false teachings won't always be big or glaring. They can't be if they are going to be passed off as truth.
Just like with counterfeit notes, it needs to appear as much as the real thing as possible.
How else are they going to fool people, especially those who are genuinely trying to seek Christ. It will always be the little things that set it apart.
Paul knew this. So as a result, he focuses this book on the Supremacy of Christ. Once when we start studying next week, I think you will notice this right away. It will be subtle at first, but we'll soon see Paul turn it up to full throttle. I can't wait to study that with you!
Why? Because we will see that this is something Paul is passionate about, and my hope is by the end of this study you will be too.
This week pray that God will help you recognise the supremacy of Christ.
Pray that He would give you discernment as you go into a world full of false teachers.