Foundations: Colossians

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8 NIV-GK)

Deception is a very strong and powerful word, and it speaks of trickery, fraud, and cheating. Basically, not telling the truth!

Over the last few days, we have seen it on our television screens, we have read it, and it is what most of us are talking about! The deception of some politicians and tragically of the Prime Minister. As well as doubts about Prince Andrew’s Truth, he has lost his Royal Titles and military honours; this is hard for someone who fought at the Malvinas War! But also see this with sports personalities like Novak Djokovic, who apologised for not telling the truth about meeting people outside Covid quarantine, who was deported from Australia on Sunday.

We are not here to judge; however, our responsibility as the body of Christ is to affirm our culture when its values are in the line up with the Gospel of Grace and Truth.
But as well to speak out, to be that prophetic voice that calls a government to account, to call influencers to account and to sports personalities to account.

Jesus did that before he went to the cross before Pilate. In the Gospel of John, we read:

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37–38 ESV)

This is important! What we have here is a mighty clash of ideas, concepts and absolutes!

Jesus, the one who is truth challenges Pilate’s relativism, he asks what many today are asking, but many are articulating: What is Truth? Indeed there are many truths, your reality is different than mine, and therefore I can believe anything I want, even I can accept a lie and still think it is true!

I want us to be aware of the powerful motives behind deception, and now it comes with so many levels, all under the banner of relativism and conspiracy theories!

What has not changed is the Truth of the Gospel. Jesus is truth, and he is the Word and what He says we follow!!

The problem nowadays is that there are more and more Christians being influenced by conspiracy theories than sound doctrine, which is found in the Scriptures.

Things like:

• Vaccinee theories
• End of time
• QAnon is a wide-ranging, utterly unfounded theory that says that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.
• New World Order

The problem is that so many of us have been influenced by cults, secret societies that appear to be of sound doctrine, but they are not! And people fall prey to the great deception that says that to be safe, you need Jesus’ plus, yourself, plus a secret code, plus belonging to a specific order.

The Battle of the Mind – Ideas

Paul is now trying to battle with this, and he is so vehemently adamant that no one falls prey to deception.

We need to convince the very core of our being that Christ is the truth. Last year I preached about Jesus Christ Supremacy of the Gospel. I said that Christ is Sovereign and holder of the only one truth, that without him, there is no salvation. But, instead, the devil has tried to come up with semi-truth confusing, manipulating, and lying about Christ resurrection, about Christ being the Son of God and about God’s grace and love towards us.

The enemy behind the so-called truths has compelling and clever arguments sowing doubts and ideas that are entirely opposed to the Truth of the Gospel. we are advised to pay attention:
“I say this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.” (Colossians 2:4 NAS20) or “I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.” (Colossians 2:4 MESSAGE)

There is one secret and one mystery that has now been revealed, and that is Christ Jesus Supreme over creation, church and Truth Paul said it: “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, so that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom have hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2–3 NIV11-GKE)

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”(Colossians 2:8 NIV-GK)

The Warning

This is very straightforward:
• See to it
• Watch out
• Be careful
• Don’t let anyone take you captive
• Be aware lest anyone cheat on you

Verse eight introduces us to the three places we are urged to be in our guards.

  1. Don’t let anyone kidnap you! (verse 8). “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 NLT-SE)
  2. Don’t let anyone condemn you! (verse 16). “So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.” (Colossians 2:16 NLT-SE)
  3. Don’t let anyone disqualify you! (verse 18). “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,” (Colossians 2:18 ESV)

What Paul is saying is what Jesus said:
“And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.”(Matthew 24:4 ESV)

Epaphras told Paul that the planted church was in danger of different philosophies. These human traditions were compelling and dangerous to the church and the new Christians in Colossae.

The Kidnapping

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 ESV)

I don’t believe that Paul is against the love of wisdom. On the contrary, the Bible encourages that we love knowledge. Also, we need to be aware that Paul was ministering in a very different world from ours!

Philosophy was not just regarded as the pursuit of rational thinking, supernatural and spiritual understanding, and more profound enlightenment.

There are still places where this understanding of the love of wisdom is prevalent. Types of philosophies only enhance the mind, but it is a holistic experience. This is where the new age movement has captivated many’s minds, hearts, and spirits.

Paul says that these philosophies are expressed in a new way of experiencing reality and are deep in human tradition. This is important because it refers to our culture, the way we live according to the values we hold dear, things that we are not necessarily Gospel centred.

Jesus exposed these kinds of human traditions that appear spiritual, but they were hollow and empty in reality.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
(Matthew 6:5 ESV)

We in the Presbyterian Church have more than one tradition born from culture rather than the Gospel or Scriptures. There have been man congregations that have battled and gone into a war about replacing the organ, removing the pews, and getting comfortable chairs.

The Killing

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 ESV)

Jesus said to be aware, to watch out for the one who can kill your body and soul.

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
(Matthew 10:26–28 ESV)

Jesus is warning that there is a power that can cause lasting damage to our lives. This is developed by Paul here in Colossians.
Paul addresses human traditions and philosophies that can dangerously persuade brothers and sisters in the Lord. But Paul goes further than that!

The threat of new teaching coming against the Body of Christ was substantial. These teachers not only appeal to the mind, but as I said, their understanding was that it also reaches the Spirit by appealing to the elemental principles of the world.

There has been a significant amount of writing and theories about what Paul means by
“The elemental principles of the world” as the NIV translates or “the elemental spirits of the world”.

The word “Elemental spirits or principles” has a different meaning. It could be translated just as essential elements of the natural world; it can also mean the alphabet letters, not the grammar but the spoken sounds. Paul uses this phrase ta stoicheia tou kosmou, Gal. 4:3
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” (Galatians 4:3 ESV) Referring to heavenly bodies, because times and seasons, and so sacred seasons, were regulated by the course of the sun and moon.

So how are we to understand this sentence?

I prefer to understand this as the “elemental spirits of the world”, why? Because of the context of the letter. We have this exact phrase repeated in verse 20. “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations” (Colossians 2:20 ESV)
Christ death was so that we would live forever, our spirits were dead in our sins, and now Christ has died so that we are alive in him. Christ died defeating the power of the evil one, death and restoring us to the Father.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

These rulers, these authorities, these cosmic powers, these spiritual forces of evil dwell in the heavenly places.

Who is behind every lie?
Who is behind every act of evil committed by men?

I know how subtle this is; if we are not aware, we can get entangled and confused, and it can lead to those who are not in Christ an eternal death and those who are in Christ totally and completely confused and powerless.

We need to discern that there is a gift of the Spirit called the Gift of Discernment of Spirit. So it is that grace to us to become aware by an act of the Holy Spirit to see through the manifestation of spiritual entities influencing and directing men. So it is also given to us to discern the presence of the Spirit of God.

But this is not just at the level of each person. This is systematic. In many cases, it is reflected in our culture as symbols of human traditions.

I have seen this at work; living in Brazil, in the north of Brazil, it was customary to see forms of Christianity mixed up with African spiritual practices, and they are so common that they have become parts of the culture like Candomblé and Umbanda. They are everywhere, and every culture has them. We have masonic lodges!

The good news is that nothing can challenge the supremacy of Christ Truth!
Not even philosophies, human traditions, cosmic spiritual powers!
The last words of this verse are:

He is our cornerstone of truth! We need the fulness of Christ in us.

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