Grace For The Journey
Some years ago I heard about a beautiful castle in Europe, a castle that one could see if sailing towards it from the North Sea. And the way I remember hearing about this particular castle was that it was such an impressive sight when you saw it from a distance. Approaching by ship and sailing towards the castle, the structure took one’s breath away – towering majestically over the coastline, tall and magnificent in appearance. It seemed to have a sort of spellbinding affect on those who saw it and it drew onlookers closer to it for a greater appreciation of its beauty.
But then, as one sailed closer to the castle—close enough to see it for what it truly was—the castle disappointed because it turned out to be nothing more an empty shell of an edifice; just a facade, impressive on the outside at first glance from a distance, but upon closer scrutiny, offering little more than emptiness.
In Colossians 2:8-10, the Apostle Paul warns against a kind of teaching that may well be attractive and impressive when we first look at it; a teaching that seems to promise so much but, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be nothing more than an empty shell of a philosophy, a teaching empty of any real meaning or power.
Let’s learn as we study these verses together:
Be Watchful for what Captures You
Verse 8 says, “Beware (or, watchful) lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” The word “Beware” or “Be watchful” means: “to look at; direct one’s attention to something, watch, beware, be on guard; The idea is “look out – guard yourself from this.” It is a command for a constant watchfulness, because of the dangers lurking at every corner. The word “cheat” means to “capture” or “take away” as in “taking away the spoils of war,” or “taking an enemy captive.” That no one takes you captive—seizing upon you and carrying you away by false teaching, teaching he describes as
Paul is concerned that the Christians in Colossae may be captured and carried away by the unbiblical teachings of false teachers. In the original language there is an article preceding the word “philosophy” so that literally the text reads, “the philosophy.” When Paul says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through the philosophy,” he is referring to what the false teachers called their special brand of teaching.
That is important because Paul certainly is not saying that there is no value whatsoever in philosophy, in general. He is not saying you cannot go to school and major or minor in philosophy. Philosophy in general has much to commend. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have taught us much and continue to teach us much. Paul’s own use of philosophically sound thinking, reasoning, and logic permeate his New Testament letters.
At the same time, however . . .
To love God,
Live for God,
Or worship God.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment period of history tried to understand God by pure reason alone – and this is the ultimate failing of the Enlightenment thinkers.
Apart from the gifting of God’s Spirit,
Man cannot fully understand
Or love the One True God of the Bible.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, , “No eye has seen, nor has any ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
The understanding of spiritual truth
Is a gift of God’s grace,
The impartation of heavenly wisdom
That human wisdom alone cannot attain.
Human philosophy, while good and helpful . . .
Is insufficient to bring us
To a full understanding of God,
Nor does human philosophy
Equip us with the ability
To know God in a deep,
Personal, and intimate way.
Human philosophy in and of itself
Cannot save souls; cannot forgive sinners.
That is what Paul has in mind in the word “the philosophy” in verse 8 – The principles taught by false teachers in Colossae, a teaching that maintained it was not enough for a person merely to have Christ. The false teaching suggested that one could attain to an even higher experience, a higher wisdom, that was found only in their mysterious teachings, including the false teaching that eventually came to be known as Gnosticism. Paul describes this particular brand of teaching as that which is “empty” and “deceitful.” It is empty, rather than full. It is empty of the true riches of Christ (Colossians 1:27) and empty of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
So . . .
Christians need to beware of
Any teaching or any human reasoning
That suggests that we need something more
Than that which Christ provides.
To embrace such teaching would be to be captured or carried away by these teachers, carried away from one’s freedom in Christ only to be enslaved by empty false teachings.
The phrase, “the tradition of men” in verse 8 suggests a man-made teaching that does not cohere with “God-made” teaching. The phrase suggests teaching that is outside the realm of Scripture; unbiblical teachings. The tradition of men suggests teachings man added to the Christian faith as though Christ Himself were insufficient for the Christian experience.
If you’ll allow for a rather rough and simple analogy, it’s a bit like the additives one uses in cooking that ruins the nutritional value of the natural product. Green vegetables, for example, are good for us. But when you cover up those green vegetables with a batter of cornmeal and fry them up in a pan full of oil they’re no longer as good for you as they once were (though admittedly tasty!).
Fruit is the same. Fruit by itself is a good thing and good for you, but when you pour mounds of milk chocolate over that fruit, it is no longer as healthy for you as it once was. An apple by itself is nutritious. Dip in a tempting batch of caramel and you have now added something to it and mixed something with it so that it is no longer as good for you as it once was.
So, taking that which is good for you and adding the ingredients of oil, chocolate, caramel, or sugar is to dilute that which is good of its nutrients, thereby destroying its benefits.
See the connection?
You are complete in Christ. To add something else to Christ or to say that something else is needed, is to take that which is good for you – indeed that which is absolutely essential to your spiritual health – and suggest more is needed in order to be really healthy. Mixing in the ingredients of false teachings is to take that which is absolutely indispensable to sound, spiritual health – The gospel of Jesus Christ – and dilute it of its nutrients, destroying it of its benefits.
Remember from yesterday’s post that Paul said Christians are to be “rooted and built up in Him and established [or strengthened] in the faith,” rooted in the true teachings of Christianity, strengthened by the Word of God, able to stand firm and unmovable when faced with the winds of false doctrine, rooted not like a flimsy flower, a pansy, but rooted like a box holly, a strong evergreen that remains vibrant through all seasons of life.
Such strength comes only by
Knowing Christ and being
Rooted in His teachings,
Knowing the Bible
And living the Bible.
Notice another important principle in verse 8, the phrase, “according to the basic principles of the world.” Some of the translations think the word “principles” should be translated “spirits.” We really do not know for sure which Paul has in mind. The original word could go either way. It could be translated as basic (or elementary) “principles” or elementary “spirits.” The word describes a number of items lined “in a row,” like letters or numbers: ABC or 1234, or the ordering things like planets and stars.
It may be that Paul has in mind, then, the kind of thing that is so popular today: looking to forces aligning the stars; the ordering of the stars, looking to them the way astrology buffs look, placing one’s faith in the reading of a daily horoscope; placing faith in powers and forces that are in opposition to Christ, demonic forces and powers.
One of the reasons we do not know precisely which false teaching Paul has in mind is because he never really names it. So. it’s probably wise that we not spend much time trying to figure it out here. If the apostle does not find it necessary to call it out by name, we will not try either. His method, of course, suggests that . . .
The best way to counter
That which is false
Is not so much
By knowing exhaustively
That which is false
But by knowing exhaustively
That which is true.
What is most significant for us to understand is what Paul says lastly in verse 8. He says that these teachings are “not according to Christ.”
Christians must beware of any
Teaching or any human reasoning
That suggests one needs something
More than that which Christ provides.
Beware lest anyone capture you, pull you away, from the freedom you enjoy, enslaving you to a form of reasoning or religion that is not according to Christ. Judaism, for example, does not embrace Jesus as a person in whom dwells all the fullness of God in bodily form. Judaism is largely a religion that is “not according to Christ.”
The false teaching of Islam is another. Islam is a religion which was not in existence in Paul’s day, coming over 500 years later. Islam believes in a Jesus called the Christ, but not a Jesus in whom the fulness of the godhead dwells bodily. Jesus is believed by adherents of Islam to be a prophet, but merely a prophet, and a man insufficient to save one from your sin. Do not be captivated by the false and empty teaching of Islam. It is a teaching that is “not according to Christ.”
The naturalistic teachings of humanism and the anti-supernatural teachings of Darwinian evolution – these are teachings that are “not according to Christ,” not according to the One by whom (recall Colossians 1:16-17) “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Beware lest anyone capture you away through false teachings.
Be watchful for what captures you, teachings that are “not according to Christ,” things you may read in books whose teachings are at odds with the Scriptures, be watchful so as not to be captured by the false teachings packaged in a secular documentary you view on the History Channel. There is nothing wrong with watching such a documentary – much can be learned by doing so – but remember that many documentaries are predicated upon an anti-supernatural worldview. So be watchful for what captures you.
Are there other teachings that are “not according to Christ?” Yes! We will discuss those in tomorrow’s post.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”