Thursday, September 1, 2011

Don’t Be Plundered

Beware 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. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:8-10)

“Beware.” The Greek word behind it literally means “to see,” but Paul uses it here to warn the Jesus believers at Colosse: “Be careful that nobody spoils your faith through intellectualism or high-sounding nonsense” (J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English). “Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything” (The Message). There are people who would “cheat” you — literally, to take you captive and carry you away as spoil — to plunder you!

Paul does not mean that all philosophy is “vain deceit,” he has a particular one in mind. The Greek word philosophia literally means “love of wisdom” (philo, love and sophia, wisdom). The false teachers Paul warns about presented themselves as possessing a special, secret wisdom not available to everyone. They learned to speak persuasively but their philosophy was hollow and deceptive, a toxic mixture of Jewish and pagan folk religion, mystical tradition and occultic teaching that was very strong in the region.

“Tradition of men” and “basic principles of the world” (stoicheion) is how Paul calls it. The “basic principles” are elemental spirits of nature, the worship of which is what these false teachers were promoting (as we will see later). The Message puts it this way: “They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings.”

Paul chided the believers at Galatia over the same sort of issue: “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements [stoicheion], to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Galatians 4:9). These were pagan ways of thinking, dressed in Jewish garb and presented as Christian faith. But they were seriously out of alignment with who Jesus is and what He came to do.

That is how such false teachers would plunder us, by pulling us away from Jesus. They cannot pull Him away from us, because He will never deny His own. But they can waste our lives away — our life with Him — by “high-sounding nonsense” and “endless arguments that never amount to anything.” That would be a great tragedy, because it is in Jesus, not in human traditions or elemental spirits, that all the fullness of God dwells. And it is in Him alone that we are “complete,” literally, have been made full. In other words, we share in His fullness!

Be very watchful, then, and don’t let yourself be plundered and pulled away from Jesus as the center of your faith and life.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

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