Summary: Sermon 9 in a study in Colossians
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;”
We have noted several times in our study so far, that in this letter Paul is combating the influence of the false teachers who have come into the Colossian church and are undoubtedly confusing many and thereby bringing division and doubting.
There were the Judaizers, who taught that believing that Jesus was the Messiah was right, but in order to be saved the Christian also had to follow the Law of Moses, be circumcised, adhere to the tenants of Judaism and so forth.
Then there were the Gnostics, who sought to combine basic Christian beliefs with Greek philosophy, teaching that since all things pertaining to the material universe, including the flesh itself, were bad, therefore Christ must not have been flesh, but was a spiritual manifestation acting out certain things, including the crucifixion, in order to teach certain truths.
Their emphasis was on wisdom and reason and higher thinking in order to rise above the flesh and keep it under submission. We will talk more about how these teachings attack true Christian beliefs and the relationship of God to created matter and so on.
But as we come to the verses of today’s study we find the most direct assault so far in this letter on these teachings, and we will see that for the true believer there is no place for worldly philosophy or worldly reasoning, that the true believer must not put his trust in higher learning or the voices of great scholars, putting the Scriptures in second place or even abandoning them altogether.
There is a tendency toward this error in the church; it has always been there and is still around today, and we have to be aware of this tendency and guard against it. This is Paul’s message to the Colossians and therefore to us in the 21st century church.
PHILOSOPHY AND EMPTY DECEPTION
Webster’s dictionary defines the word, philosophy, as all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts, of medicine and law and theology.
Another definition it gives is “a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means”
In other words, philosophy is fundamentally a search for wisdom through the thought processes of men and speculation about what cannot be discerned with the physical senses.
In other words, philosophical reasoning arises out of the sin corrupted mind and heart of the fallen nature and can never lead to Godliness.
John MacArthur addresses this in his commentary on 1 Corinthians.
“Neither externally nor internally, objectively nor subjectively, can man discover God. His external searching is empirical, experimental – represented by seeing and hearing. God’s truth is not observable by the eye or the ear, no matter how many sophisticated instruments we may use. We are just as helpless in trying to discover His truth subjectively, through our minds (heart). Rationalism cannot reason out God’s truth. Man’s two greatest human resources, empiricism and rationalism, his observation and his reason, are equally useless in discovering divine truth. They will always, in fact, eventually turn men against divine truth. Ultimately they lead men to crucify Christ.” “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – 1 Corinthians” John MacArthur, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1984
Here are the verses he was commenting on:
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” 1 Cor 2:12-14
What Paul is warning the Colossians against is teachers among them who win them over with strong arguments and what would seem to be logical presentation of facts. They were not using the Scriptures nor depending on the things taught by God or done by God, and we need this warning in the church today as much as they did two thousand years ago.
Now I am not discounting the validity of these works – there is a place for them. But when I think about Josh McDowell and his “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”, for one, and the books written more recently by Lee Strobel, such as “The Case for Faith” and “The Case for Christ”, and other works like these, I feel obliged to say that while they are very helpful for the studious Christian they should not be used to bring people to faith by their accumulation of facts and strong arguments for the historicity of Jesus and the events recorded in the Bible.