Living for the Glory of God ~ Vivir para la Gloria de Dios

False Teachings that Mislead (Colossians 2:18-19) ~ A Devotion for October 21, 2014

“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, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” ~ Colossians 2:18-19

Explanation of the Text: In a like manner to his statement in verse 16 (‘let no one pass judgment on you’) Paul uses a similar phrase (‘let no one disqualify you’). However, the instruction here is a bit different, even though it is related. To disqualify someone is meaning to judge against a person in a game-type setting, however, more specifically it means to do so through deception, or to mislead someone.[1] Therefore, the instruction is to not let the false teachers mislead them, and instead remain in Christ.

This misleading of the saints there in Colossae occurs in four primary ways. The first is through an insistence on asceticism. The word ‘asceticism’ quite literally is the same for humility. Humility, when grounded in Christ and done for the right reasons is admirable and desirable. However, the indication here is that this is not a true humility at all. There are some that suggest this is referring to being rigorous on the body, disciplining it through extreme fasting, body beatings, or whatever it may be. This would make sense because during the time in which Paul writes, humility, when taken to the extreme, would refer to an ascetical practice that would supposedly open in individual up for the possibility of having visions from the Lord.[2] This would make sense in the context of the rest of the verse. I would suggest that perhaps this extreme form of discipline of the body may produce a false humility in a person, in which a person may think they are a good person, a humble person, because of what they are doing to themselves. However, the action lacks the motives of Christ and is instead focused on what the person can do, not on what Christ can do through that person. Therefore, it is not a true humility at all, but rather simply gives the appearance of humility.

A second form of misleading is the worship of angels. Rather than seeking Christ, who is head over all the angels, they seek knowledge and understanding elsewhere. According to Revelation 19:10, John was even rebuked for trying to worship an angel. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude this as false teaching that was misleading people away from the true source of faith and true object of faith.

Thirdly, Paul writes that they go into detail about visions. “Like many heretics and cultists down through the ages, they claimed support for their aberrant teachings in visions they had supposedly seen.”[3] In Revelation 22:18-19, John closed Scripture. While we do not have time to go into the details, the verses literally read ‘words of the prophecy book.’ If we looked at the verse, what we would understand is that in verse 18 John is writing to say the only way to add to the Bible is through revelation, but in verse 19 he is saying that revelation has ended. As such, nobody can add or take away from the book. The issue is when people teach and cannot find support for that teaching in the Bible, it is easy to say “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord gave me a vision…” This is what was going on during Paul’s time. We see this in many of the false teachers of today as well. In essence it is saying, “Scripture is not sufficient enough, and I now have more information on what God was trying to say.” These visions are not of the Lord and cannot be thought of as such. Paul was warning them against this type of teaching during his time, and it is a similar warning we must be on guard against today. It may be reasonable to conclude that these false teachers were claiming that through their humility (which was false) and the angels they worshiped, they were receiving visions and extra Revelation. While that would make logical sense, especially understanding that people of the time thought that the humility of self-abasement and angels would all lead them to visions, this is speculation on my part and I can’t say for sure this is the connection between Paul mentioning both in the same sentence. “Whatever the precise spiritual experiences and proponents claimed to have passed through, their exploitation of these experiences to their own advantage stands in contrast to Paul’s apologetic account of the unusual circumstances to him when he ‘was caught up to Paradise.’”[4] Even if this was how God was working at that particular time, the comparison to the experiences of Paul, proving the manner in which God works, were not in agreement. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume they were false.

Finally, the fourth area we see in the false teachers is their arrogance in their own teaching. Because they had a higher knowledge, the false teachers thought themselves higher than the others. Because of the visions they were supposedly receiving, they conveyed themselves as being higher than others. Indeed, instead of humility that was earlier being taught, these teachers were puffed up, but they had no reason to be.

Because today’s devotion has already gotten so long, I believe it is appropriate to stop here and return to verse 20 tomorrow and discuss further its implications.

Examination & Application of the Text: In this verse alone, we see two things that are important in our own lives. The first is that of having true humility. A true humility allows us to be teachable and moldable by God. It is a recognition of who we are without Christ and thus an allowance of Him doing the work. Inevitably, false humility leads to works of self-righteousness in which one is always working and advertising their humility to those around them in a manner of works. Ultimately the difference is through whose power are you working? With your own or with the power of Christ? One leads to Him, while the other leads away from Him. One is genuine, and one is deceitful.

A second aspect is to be on guard against false teachers. The false teachers will use whatever means necessary to mislead and gain followers. One of the best ways to find out who is a false teacher is that they will always tell you what you want to hear. They will never challenge you with the truth of God’s word and confront you in your sin. This suggests a need to be in the word and know its teachings.

There may be some confusion in these two teachings (humility and being on guard) working together. Being humble means being teachable. This does not mean you blindly accept what someone else says, because you are being humble and acknowledging you might be wrong. Being humble is to say, I might be wrong, because I am fallible, but because I must be prudent and on guard, I will take what a person says and examine it in the light of Scripture. These two traits work together, not against one another. Therefore, be humble but stand firm in the truth.

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000), #2603.

[2] Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Colossians 2:18.

[3] John MacArthur Jr., Colossians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 119.

[4] Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, Ed. Bruce M. Metzger (Columbia: Word, Incorporated, 1982), 145.

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