The Fox, The Hedgehog, and Colossians 2

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

Bobby Gilles preaching -colossians-fox-hedgehodListen in the audio player below or on iTunes, or read the manuscript of my sermon below.

Preached March 13, 2016 at Sojourn Community Church (New Albany, IN).

Colossians 2:4-15

Good morning, by name is Bobby Gilles. When I began studying today’s scripture text, I immediately thought of the ancient story of “The Fox and the Hedgehog.”

In “The Fox and the Hedgehog,” a clever, cunning fox wants to eat a hedgehog, and spends hours plotting the perfect attack. He’s smart enough to grasp the complexity of the woodlands around him, and consider every angle, every possibility.

The hedgehog is a simple, slow creature. It’s the mismatch of the century. But when the fox ambushes, the hedgehog rolls himself into a thorny, impenetrable ball, safe from the fox.

The fox keeps re-strategizing all day long, trying new things. But over and over, the hedgehog rolls into his thorny ball and is saved. It’s a good thing it works because it’s all he can do – it’s his only tactic, his only hope. But it’s enough. The story’s famous concluding line is,

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

Today’s text is a warning about foxes and all their tactics. It screams, “Danger!” – even to a good church.

See, Paul begins by expressing concern that “No one deceive you by fine sounding arguments.” But he doesn’t say this because the Colossians are a bad church. He’s not warning them because he thinks they’re lazy, or wishy washy, or they don’t believe in Jesus. On the contrary, he says:

I … delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. – Col 2:5

You know who it sounds like he’s describing? You. Sojourn Community Church. I look across this room and am reminded of reconciled relationships because of Christ. Some of you have recently come to Christ. Some of you have shown faith that has moved mountains in your life and the lives of those you love.

More of you than ever before have recently begun saying, “Yes, I’ll serve the future of this church with SojournKids every Sunday. Yes, I’ll show hospitality on the Connect Team.” Several of you have recently become community group leaders.

We sent our first full-time international missionaries a few months ago. We sent an intern to be the Lead Pastor of a church in Michigan. Many of you are giving sacrificially, generously and consistently to the church, like never before.

Some of you are foster parenting; some have adopted children in need. Some are serving the needs of this neighborhood regularly in our Seed ministry. In fact this coming Saturday we’re hosting our first free Empowerment seminar, where anyone can come and learn from Sojourn members who are skilled to teach things like renter’s rights, resume tips, job interview skills, how to set up a will, and how to further your education.

And before you know it, this school year will end, another will begin, and we’ll host our Back To School Bash, where all of us here will provide free school supplies for hundreds of neighborhood kids, and throw a big party with free food and great music, because of the mission God has given us and the love for our neighbors that he’s given us. These are all just some of the tangible ways that your pastors can look at you and boast about how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. You’re a good church.

But in today’s text Paul says even a good church is in danger, because there are foxes out to eat you. He’s concerned that these foxes don’t “deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” Because of this, Paul encourages us in verses 6 and 7:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. – Col 2:6-7

This is what Pastor Jonah has poured out his heart about to you, so many Sundays: a relationship with Christ, deeper and more abiding than any relationship. Not just hand-in-hand but a union, where our lives are in Christ. Look at the language in these verses again:

… live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him.

Now we’ll flesh this out in just a bit, but first, let’s consider how serious Paul takes this. In these two verses Paul is telling us what to do, right after he’s warned us what to avoid. And then in verse 8 he immediately goes back to stressing what we must avoid:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. – Col 2:8

Now he’s expanded on his original warning, to tell us where these “fine sounding arguments” and this “hollow and deceptive philosophy” is coming from. These Christians are hearing a message that they need something other than (or in addition to) a relationship with Christ. But while they’re hearing it from human teachers, the teaching ultimately comes from “the elemental spiritual forces of this world.”

To translate more succinctly, that means “demons.”

Paul is saying, “I love you guys, but you’re hedgehogs. And these demons are like crafty foxes. They’ve been around for thousands and thousands of years, and they’re expert students of human nature. They know how to beat you – the fox knows many things.”

Scholars have speculated a lot about what this false teaching might have been, to have gotten Paul so worked up. And the truth is, no one knows exactly what these teachers were claiming. But what’s clear is that Paul is saying any teaching, any idea, any philosophy that says you need a relationship with Jesus plus something else in order to be safe, secure, and happy in God’s kingdom forever is demonic. And while most of us would agree with that in our minds, we’re often unaware how much we’re following the advice of the foxes – worthless advice that will only allow them to catch us.

If a nonbeliever hung around you for a week, would they say the gospel is primarily about having certain political leanings? Or that it’s about keeping rules? Would the unbeliever think the gospel is about what you wear, or what music you listen to?

Maybe you’ve made it about being the smartest Bible student in the room, and showing everyone how much doctrine you know.

I struggle with the temptation to elevate the importance of getting things done for the kingdom, and the importance of learning more ideas for how to get more things done next time. A short time ago I sat down in my car, about to drive home from work. I started thinking how I should spend my time in the short drive home.

I could listen to podcasts that will help me become a better preacher, or a more effective manager, or a more productive or creative employee.

Or I could listen to music, which could ultimately help me be a better songwriter.

In the midst of all these thoughts the Spirit of Christ said to me, “Why don’t you turn everything off and just spend some time with me?”

And before I realized it, my mind was already thinking, “But this is all for you. This is for your kingdom.” That would be like if I came home and saw my sons, hard at work building a fence in the back yard. And I say, “Hey, tell me about your day.” And they say, “Nope. We’re building this fence for you.” That might be great the first time, but what if every day is like that, where they’re constantly doing things for me but they never want to spend any time with me? I want them more than I want the things they do for me.

Do I value the sense of accomplishment more than I actually value Jesus? My mouth says, “No,” but my actions say, “Yes” to that question too many times. This is what Christ has been showing me.

He’s let me get sick for a few days so I’d have to slow down and listen to him. He’s had my boss send me on a forced vacation that anyone but a fool like me would have flipped out at the chance to get. He’s given me so many opportunities – sometimes by tying my hands behind my back – to slow down, realize he doesn’t need me to always try to accomplish things, but spend time in his presence.

Maybe that doesn’t resonate with you because you have different weaknesses. The foxes know what to suggest to you. They know how to distract you.

For example, maybe it’s not just about “getting things done for the kingdom” in general, but a specific kind of “getting things done.” Maybe it’s social justice and mercy ministry. Earlier I mentioned our upcoming Empowerment Seminar and Back To School Bash. Our church family is making great strides in neighborhood involvement, whether it’s through those kind of big events or things like Mercy Monday and our Community Garden.

But it’s important to do these things out of thankfulness for Christ, and as signposts that point others to what the good life in the kingdom looks like, where people love and care for each other, and not as an end in themselves.

We do this stuff because we want Jesus. Serving helps us know him, and we serve so others may know him. There’s a big difference between just doing stuff for Jesus and knowing Jesus, though.

So, what do we pour most of our time and resources into? Sharing the gospel with each other and our neighbors as we worship God together. Otherwise we could help you with your landlord but the fox will still eat you. We could help you get a job but the fox will still eat you. We could give you free school supplies but the fox will still eat you.

The fox knows many things. He isn’t above tricking us into being so captivated by good deeds and social work that we end up only helping people in the 0.0001% of their lives that occur before they meet their maker. And along the way we become disconnected from our own source of life, which is Christ (not our good deeds).

What our neighbors need is the same thing we need – the “one big thing” that will give victory to us simple, slow hedgehogs:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. — Col 2:9-10

He’s saying, “Remember where the power lies. Remember the only way to beat the fox.”

It’s not by listening to the fox’s own strategies, no matter how attractive they seem. Those strategies are a trap – the fox isn’t really going to tell you how to avoid being eaten by him!

Paul is telling us “Jesus is fully God. He has power over everything and everyone, including those scheming foxes. And in Christ you are fully safe, secure, and vibrant with life.”

Remember that language we were looking at back in verses 6 and 7, that I said we’d come back to?

… live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him.

We’re like a tree, where Christ is the root, and the ground, and the rain, and the air, and the sun.

God’s Word gives us so many metaphors for this one-of-a-kind relationship: he is the vine; we are the branches. He is the cornerstone; we are the building. He is the head; we are the body. He is the groom and we are his bride. Later in Colossians Paul will say that our lives are “hidden” in Christ – one of our most famous hymns uses this language:

Rock of ages, cleft for me / Let me hide myself in thee

Paul continues, in verses 11-12:

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. – Col 2:11-12

Circumcision was a sign that you belonged with God’s special people. It was performed on male babies of one race – the Israelites. Paul is saying that Christ has set us apart as his own special people in a “spiritual circumcision,” and the visible sign for that is baptism. And baptism is for everyone – Jew, Gentile, black, white, male, female, rich, poor, young, old, every nation, every language.

Thank God for all of you who have obeyed Christ by participating symbolically in his death, burial and resurrection as you went under the water and came up out of it, while the rest of us applauded. This is the symbol that represents this spiritual circumcision by Christ. It’s the ultimate symbol of power – life over death.

It’s the symbolic entry into a union that goes much deeper than Checklist Christianity: Read my Bible for X minutes today? Check. Say grace before meals? Check. Bedtime prayers? Check.

If you’re a new Christian or if you don’t know much about the gospel, you need the structure of a regular Bible reading plan, and regular prayer times. In fact sometimes we all need to bring structure to our time with God, because it’s easy to slip into bad habits. But when we don’t experience life with Christ as a union with a friend who will never leave us or forsake us, then these structured activities can become lifeless things – the boring parts of our day, like that unpleasant chore or homework you keep putting off.

Consider how differently it looks when we experience union with Christ. Years ago I read a story about an old revival preacher – a man known for his powerful preaching and passionate prayers for the sick and the lost wherever he held services. Someone asked him how long he typically prayed.

A crowd was gathered around to hear the answer. They expected to hear this prayer warrior say that his prayers went on until he was hoarse, or too fatigued to continue.

He said, “My longest prayer in a day is usually only a few minutes.”

The crowd gasped. A few minutes? Really? This mighty man of God?

Then he said, “But I never go more than a few minutes without prayer.”

The old man knew something. It’s not that he had an iPhone that beeped every few minutes, reminding him to pray. Talking with God had just become so natural to him that it resembled the intimate fellowship of spouses or life-long friends, where even if they’re apart for awhile, when they come together again the conversation seems to pick up as if they haven’t been apart.

And this old man, who knew the secret to joyful living, would never be taken captive through the hollow and empty philosophies of the demon foxes of this world. He knew that nothing that the fox whispers can do for you what God did for you. Verses 13-14:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. — Col 2:13-14

This passage is talking about what we call the “atonement” – Christ died to pay for our sins, taking upon himself the punishment that we deserved. And this is a glorious thing … but it is not the point of this passage.

The point is what Paul introduced back in verses 6 and 7, about being in Christ. The atonement is what makes that possible; it’s not an end in itself. Because Christ has paid for our sin and canceled the record against us, we can enjoy the full benefits of union with him. God the Father looks at us and sees his perfect sinless son. He adopts us into his family where we’ll live forever as sons and daughters, joint-heirs in his kingdom with Jesus.

Because of this, defeating death is a given. Avoiding hell is a given. Thwarting the schemes of all the pesky foxes is a given. When Jesus willingly took the beating and the whipping for us, the nails of the cross for us, the crown of thorns for us, and then rose from his own grave by the power that will raise us too, then nothing remained that could stop us from enjoying abundant life with him forever.

Nothing but the blood of Jesus can do that for us. No other strategy makes sense. The schemes of all those foxes are nonsense. Don’t listen to them. The secret is to hide yourself in Jesus, so when the fox bites, he tastes the crown of thorns.


This is a hard life. We’re going to leave this building in the next few minutes, and I have no idea what each of us will face before we come together again next Sunday. I don’t know how many tactics the enemy will try against you this week, or what kind of temptations he’ll whisper in your ear, or what kind of suffering he’ll create.

The fox knows many things.

(picks up the communion bread) But you know One Big Thing.


On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took a loaf of bread like this one, and after giving thanks he broke it, and said, “This is my body, broken for you.” Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me, until I come again.”

Christ’s death on the cross not only defeated the foxes, but made a mockery of them. Our final verse today tells us,

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. – Col 2:15

Another translation says God “stripped them naked and marched them through the streets.”

He not only beat the foxes, he shaved them bald, painted yellow stripes down their backs, and tied strings of tin cans to their tales before marching them around the circus ring so all the little hedgehogs could laugh at them.

And that means nothing trumps your One Big Thing: not life, not death, not angels, not demons, not fears for today or worries about tomorrow, not height, not depth, not all the powers of hell, nothing, nothing, nothing in all of creation can ever separate you from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. And he reveals it so well every Sunday when we come forward after we pray, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into either wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine will have strings of twine tied around them. And we’ll have a gluten-free station here on my left.

If you’re not a Christian we ask that you don’t come forward to take communion, because it symbolizes a union that you haven’t chosen yet. Instead pray at your seat to receive Christ as your One Big Thing, to hide yourself in him. Then tell a pastor about it, or our volunteers at the Welcome Table, or the Christian who brought you here. Then we can prepare you to be baptized and to share in this meal, in the weeks to come.

Let’s pray.

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