Guarding Against False Gospels (Colossians 2:8) ~ A Devotion for October 7, 2014

“See to it that 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

Explanation of the Text: It is here that Paul issues a strong warning. The original text conveys a sense of urgency. It is as though Paul is literally saying, “Watch out!” or “Beware!” or “Be on guard!” This is not simply a passing moment in which Paul is trying to address an issue and make people feel good, but rather he is telling them that there is a grave danger in their current situation and they must take care that they are not mislead and must stand firm in what is the truth.

In looking at the text, the verb element ‘takes you captive’ literally means ‘to carry away booty.’ Some translations word this text as though there are thieves out there to rob the Christian of something, when in actuality Paul isn’t saying that at all. What he is suggesting is actually far worse! “Here the force of the threat is not so much to rob the Christian of something as it is to kidnap him.”[1] At issue was not simply to mislead the Christian and rob them of a true joy found by living in the Father through Christ, but instead it is to take them completely captive so that they may never see their heavenly Father again. Therefore, it can be understood that Paul’s concern was that the Colossians be on guard so that they are not taken away.

What is it that is so concerning, so deceitful that one must be on constant guard for it? It was philosophy and empty deceit. The Greek text wording here uses both a single preposition and article that qualifies both nouns, and therefore, it is understood that what appears to be two different things is actually the same concept being named.[2] To simplify  this what this refers to is the fact that the first part of the text could be reworded to say something such as “beware that no one takes you captive by hallow and deceptive philosophy. Paul then mentions the character of this philosophy. Aside from being empty and deceitful, it is also according to human tradition and the world, and ultimately it is not of Christ. It is interesting to think about what many had issue with during the life of Christ was not so much that he and the disciples violated the law, but that they had violated the traditions of men (cf. Mark 7:5-13). In the accusation in Mark 7:5-13 Christ retaliates that the people hold higher regard for the traditions of men than they did for the law of God (verse 8). Paul’s concern was that these people were going to be misled by the traditions of the people, by the ways of the world, and therefore, he tells them to be on guard otherwise the philosophy founded in those things will take them captive.

At issue with this philosophy was not so much that it was philosophy, but that it was philosophy that was not grounded in Christ. “He was not the source nor its content…….The heretical teachers had substituted ‘human tradition’ and ‘elementary practices’ in place of Christ.”[3] What is not found in Christ is not of Christ and what is not of Christ will fail. The only solid foundation one can have is through Christ. The only standing that one can have is in Christ. If you take Christ out of the teaching and ways, everything else will break down. The way to measure teaching is by evaluating Christ’s prominence in it. This is the measuring stick of God…..as verse 3 indicates that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ, therefore it can be reasoned that wisdom that is contrary to God’s very own word is in error, and it is in error because it is not according to Christ, who is THE way, THE, truth, and THE life.[4]

Examination & Application of the Text: Paul issues a similar warning in Philippians 3:2 where he tells the Philippians to watch out for the dogs. In Jewish culture, dogs were considered the lowest of all, because they were unclean. Likewise, they often used this terminology to refer the philosophers, who were the charlatans of the day. Therefore, this is a serious topic. One must always be on guard for the false teachings and ways of the world. This means that we must be firmly grounded in the Word. If we do not understand the Word of God, the Bible, we are in danger of being led astray. This is especially scary to think about because in today’s society, people often declare things that twist what is true. While in actuality what they are declaring is untrue and against God’s word, it is so close to the truth that it sounds good. Therefore, if we are not firmly rooted in the word (cf. Psalm 1) then we can be easily swayed, broken, and taken away as captives. However, in order to have a relationship with the word of God, one must have a relationship with the Word of God. To have a relationship and understanding of the Bible, one must have a relationship with Christ, who is also the Word (Revelation 19:13).

Second, Christ must be the central focus of all things. Again, the issue with the philosophy was that it was not centered on Christ and thus contrary to His teachings. We must make sure that Christ is central in all things, from the music that we sing to the words we say. When we lose Christ, we have lost everything. When we take away Christ, we take away truth. When we replace Christ, we replace the church. A church without Christ is not really the church at all. Therefore, all things must be centered on Him and Him alone.

[1] Robert G. Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom, An Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 99.

[2] Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, B&H Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 83.

[3] Homer A. Kent, Jr., Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 82-83.

[4] Alden A. Gannett, Christ Preeminent: A Commentary on the Colossians (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998), 61-62.

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