1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 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. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:1-10)
I asked that Andrew read beginning in verse 1, although we will look primarily at verses 8-10 today. The reason is because the context of what we will look at today is really important. Paul has already in this chapter expressed his deep love for the Colossians and his affection for them. He wants to be with them, he wants to encourage them. He wants them to attain this elevated place of understanding and full assurance, he wants them to know that all of God’s mysteries are in Christ, that all the treasures of wisdom are in Christ. He is lifting up Christ Jesus in their minds, showing the reality of who He is. He commends them for their firmness in the faith. He goes on to press them to walk in Christ, reminding them that they have been rooted in Him and built up in Him. He makes Jesus central to life, to their lives, and not just to them but also all creation.
He builds Jesus up in their minds – and I hope he has in ours too – before he goes on to say, “Now you know who Christ is and to whom you belong, don’t be held captive, don’t be taken captive by anything, anyone.” To be held captive would be to turn from Jesus Christ and all that is true.
A desire that humanity shares all over the world is to be free. We have an ugly past here in the U.S. that included slavery. All over the world and in every period of time there are people who are or have been enslaved, their freedom lost. In times of war, the defeated enemy is often times taken captive, a loss of freedom. Even here at home we take steps, precautions against those who may try to take advantage of us or a family member that could result in a loss of freedom. Captivity is a scary and an ugly thing. Who wants to be held captive?
And so when Paul says, “see to it that no one takes you captive,” it is easy for us to buy into that. Why? Because no one wants to be held captive, right? When we think of captivity we probably think mostly in the physical realm, but Paul here of course is talking about the spiritual. While “captive” here literally could be read “kidnapped,” it is a spiritual kidnapping that he has in view. So while we lock our doors, look out for strangers, are discerning in where we travel at night, all so that we are not taken captive, are we as diligent and aware of the spiritual dangers that lurk around us? This is what we will talk about today.
Don’t be taken captive! Don’t allow your mind to be controlled by anything, any ideas that are counter to the wisdom and the glory of Christ. We have been delivered, miraculously delivered from slavery to sin, to all that is opposed to God, and yet our tendency is to venture back into what had held us captive. Paul says, “Don’t do that.” In Galatians he says it this way…
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
This yoke of slavery is a yoke that sits around our minds, our thinking. Jesus gave very similar warnings…
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6)
Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy”
Philosophy comes from Greek words meaning “to love” and “wisdom,” or to love wisdom. It was known in Paul’s day to include secular thinking and ideas as well as various religious ideas. So it really encompassed all the major world views, whether totally anti-God, or ideas that at least had an appearance of godliness.
The admonition is, “Don’t be taken captive by any of the myriads of ideas floating around out there.” These ideas are hitting our minds daily. There are philosophies regarding parenting, marriage, relationships of all kinds, how we are to interact with one another in business, social norms of relating, how to present our bodies by how we dress. How we think about life – are we purposeful beings or are we random beings? How are we to view the poor, different races, our neighbors? What is our responsibility toward others in this world – to criminals, to politicians, to extended family, to liars, to professing believers living in unrepentant sin, to the lost? Philosophies are out there driving thought and behavior.
Is it okay to judge, and what does that mean anyway? Are we to love all people? Does God? Did Christ? Where do we go for answers to all of these questions? To CNN, Fox News, Oprah, self-help books, family members, pop psychology? Every imaginable philosophy can be found out there, and every one of them can potentially grab us and take us captive. They can enslave our minds. They can leave us in a place of demands and standards under which we were not designed to live. Most of the people in this world are slaves, slaves to philosophies that are anti-God. If someone is preaching a new philosophy to us, trying to convince us of a way to live or think, or that their way is right, we can always ask, “Where do you get that idea? Where does that come from? Explain to me why you think the way you think.” And listen to the answer to those things. Often times the answer will distill itself down to, “It is just what I think! It is what I want to believe.” These can then become personal philosophies of living created by me. And we can then become slaves to our own broken down, weak, anti-God ways that will lead us to competition with God and His ways. Competing with God is not a good place to be, nor is it a place in which we will find true joy. Wouldn’t it be awful to get to the end of life and realize that my life has been dedicated to living under philosophies of lies? Many will come to that realization.
These false beliefs are also full of empty deceit. Deceit simply means that they are fraud and trickery. Slick though, and plausible, but they are lies. Empty deceit may be truly believed by those who spread it. We don’t have to judge other people’s motives. It is not necessarily purposeful lying. I suppose Darwin bought into his own philosophies of deceit. The deceiver is often also deceived. But we know and can only know and call out deceit as we compare it to the truths of the Bible. What does the Bible say, what does God say in His Word?
Now, how might these get to us? How might we be subjected to worldly philosophies and empty deceit? Paul mentions two ways: ”according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world.” We can buy into and be captive to philosophies and empty deceit through human tradition and elemental spirits of this world.
First, human tradition. This is a powerful form of passing on ways of thinking and even behaviors. Tradition is something that is given from one person to another. You get the idea of passing on information through generations of people. You may hear someone say, ”My dad always said…” And usually when that statement is made it means, “This is a true statement that dad always said.” Information is passed down through people.
We can be crazy regarding traditions. You may have asked, or your kids may ask, “Why are we doing this?” And the answer, “Because that is the way we have always done it.” In this way tradition can be so engrained in us that it becomes a part of who we are. But as Christians we must remember that just because something was once believed, and that belief is handed down over the years, that does not make it true. Just because dad said, and granddad said before him, and great granddad said even before him, that doesn’t make it true. Even if that same thing is believed by most of the population around us, that does not make it true. It may make it hard to ignore and difficult to think rationally about, but it does not make it true.
John MacArthur could have said it, and Charles Spurgeon before him, and John Calvin before him, but even that does not make something true. Now, they all said a lot of truth, but what they said regarding living was true only if it was biblical, it was not true because they said it or even because they all agreed on it.
Even in churches this holds true. Just because a church has had a tradition for many years or even generations, that does not make it true. We see Jesus address religious traditions in Mark 7…
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“ ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (Mark 7:1-9)
In this case traditions were being held to the same level as Scripture. So much so that the religious leaders were willing to condemn others who would not follow their traditions. Tradition had become their religion, tradition had replaced God.
We don’t throw things out because they have been a tradition, it’s only that we examine them under the light of Scripture to see if they are true. What does God say, what has He told us in His word? There is nothing wrong with tradition as long as it does not stand in opposition to God’s Word and it is not raised to a level of Scripture. God speaks to us through His Word, not through tradition or other ways, He gives us what we need from His Word.
Another way Paul says they could be taken captive is by the elemental spirits of the world. This is a difficult phrase to understand. There are at least a couple of different ways to understand it. It could be that Paul is talking about reverting back to very basic things spiritually after they had once been more mature. Like they had gained significant spiritual understanding, and now they are leaving that behind and settling for more simplistic approaches to the faith, instead of growing they were shrinking back. Perhaps they were being encouraged, “Don’t take things so seriously, things aren’t so bad, here is some light teaching to enjoy, don’t get so caught up in defeating sin or admonishing a brother or learning to love Christ more.” This can happen, you know. Sadly, I have seen this most often in middle aged adults, many times after the kids leave home. A relaxing of conviction regrading serious things, almost a retirement from church and godly pursuits. It is like, “We’ve done the hard things, now let’s coast in these later years. Maybe settle for a church where the teaching is light, not real serious, an easier pace, not so much conviction or challenge in the faith.” This is complacency, and it’s even church sponsored at times.
Another possibility is that Paul is referring to spiritual beings that the ancient world associated with the stars and planets. People strongly believed in astrology. They believed that life was governed by the stars and destinies were set by them. In this sense, all things are already predetermined, God did not need to be sought after, whatever will be will be, no one is responsible for anything.
Either way we understand this, they are consistent with the teachings or truth of Christ.
8b and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:8b-10)
Verses 9 and 10 are awesome! We see the majesty of Jesus Christ that puts to shame all that is false. We have Christ! We don’t have to be captive, slaves to anything or anyone else. We have the one who possesses the whole fullness of deity. Everything that is good and holy and wise, all is in Him. The whole of divine essence and power resides in Jesus. He is the one, all-sufficient intermediary between God and man, and possesses all the attributes of God, and all are in Him.
Why would we seek answers anywhere else? Why do we seek answers anywhere else? Why don’t we test all things against what He has said to us? Why do we settle for lesser things, why do we want to search elsewhere?
Here is the picture. All the fullness of deity is in Him, and you, if you are a Christian, you have been filled in Him. John said in John 1:16, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” And Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:4, “by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” We have become partakers of His divine nature.
Verse 10 ends by reminding us that He, Christ, is the head of all rule and authority! He rules over all, He is head of all, nothing can stay His hand, nothing can stop His plans, He is the ultimate authority with all power. And He is all wise and gracious toward us.
If this is true, and it is for every Christian, then why would we choose to chase after what is not from Him? What are we thinking? To follow human wisdom is to be a slave to the world. To follow what is deceit is to be captive, alienated from what is true. To insist on traditions of men and to embrace elemental truths alone is to not reflect the fullness of the wisdom of Christ Jesus.
Are we insisting on following Christ, who holds all deity in Himself, and who graciously shares with us His wisdom?
Here’s the thing about being held captive by the philosophies of the world. The Bible is not just a book of “don’ts.” It has those, but that’s not what it’s all about. What happens when we begin to follow the philosophies of the world? When you get down to the basics of that, what is really happening? We’re missing the joy of following Christ. We’re cutting ourselves off, voluntarily, from the joy of following Christ.
Where is your hope? What is your source of truth? Is it Christ whom you are holding to tightly? Are we delighting in Him?
8 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. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10)