In modern life we’re familiar with the idea of add-ons. Maybe you buy something big, like a car or a holiday, and discover that only a basic specification is included in the listed price: to get the exact one you want, you have to add on this or that or the other – all at extra cost, of course!
It’s not just products, either, where we see this approach at work in our culture – anyone who uses Youtube will very quickly be bombarded with ads from various entrepreneurs promising that they have some sort of special insight that ‘they don’t want you to know’, and that if you click on this link (and pay your money, of course), you can be healthier/more successful/make a small fortune/insert desired lifestyle outcome here.
Whether it’s commodities or something deeper about the way we live, the underlying idea is that the basic product is OK, but it could (and should) be better. We need add-ons. And even better if these ‘add-ons’ are some sort of secret or special knowledge that not everyone has discovered, making you part of an exclusive club, or group of people.
Sadly, we can apply this principle to the spiritual life as well – in fact, I fear that the subtle but pervasive effects of the culture in which we live have made us more susceptible to this way of thinking about the spiritual life than for many generations. We are encouraged to take a ‘consumer’ approach to the spiritual supermarket as well. Following Jesus is all very well, but there’s a whole lot of other great ideas and techniques out there. Why not add a bit of this or a bit of that, otherwise surely our beliefs are too ‘narrow’?
Part of the appeal is that these practices are often dressed up as ‘wellbeing’ or ‘health/leisure’ activities (and it’s always useful to ask if there is in fact a spiritual belief system hidden behind these innocuous-looking endeavours) – but today’s passage reminds us that this kind of temptation is nothing new. Our ‘ultra-modern’ society, ironically, looks very much like the world St. Paul and the church in Colosse inhabited. The tiny group of Christians who received this letter faced exactly the same challenges: a culture of wandering teachers and mystics offering spiritual add-ons and secret knowledge (for a price, obviously).
And Paul’s advice is direct: Jesus is all you need. He is the full revelation of God (v9) – not just a bit or even a lot, but ‘all the fulness of the Deity… in bodily form’. You don’t need to add on other bits of secret knowledge, which he describes as like being ‘taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy’ – such things are either just empty tradition or, more sinisterly, derive their power from ‘elemental spiritual forces’ (v8), which are certainly not forces which will bring us closer to God.
Although Paul is uncompromising in his advice, the point he is making is ultimately very good news indeed. In the spiritual life, Christ is all we need. We don’t need to add other bits and pieces – in fact any ‘upgrades’ are really downgrades, as we’ll see a bit later in the week. The path, therefore, to spiritual maturity is to go deeper into Christ. Since all the fulness of God lives in Christ, the deeper we go with Jesus, the richer our spiritual lives will be: (v10) ‘in Christ you have been brought to fulness.’ Today, let’s choose to trust St Paul’s advice and resolve to seek the Lord Jesus Christ more single-mindedly – and may God graciously grant us this beautiful desire of our heart.