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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 19, 2010
Avoiding Capture by Philosophy
What comes to your mind when you hear the statement, "we live in a dangerous
world?" Do you think of the threat of rogue nations with nuclear weapons?
Perhaps another successful terrorist attack on our nation? Maybe something more
personal comes to mind such as being mugged or suffering injury in an accident.
Some people have great fear of things that occur in nature such as lightning,
tornadoes and earthquakes. Then there are economic disasters. While they do not
cause physical injury, they do make life more difficult.
Yet any of these things, while potentially serious and life changing, are not
the more serious dangers we face in this world. Most people think death is the
most serious danger, but for the Christian, death is simply the transition from
this life into being in the presence of our Lord. Paul said for him to be
"absent from the body" was to "be at home with the Lord"
(2 Corinthians 5:8), and "For to me, to live is Christ,
and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Believers
should have the same attitude as Paul, and they will if they understand their
lives to be a living sacrifice in which they have died to themselves and it is
Christ living through them (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20).
What about disease or physical injury? Again, the Christian is to have a
different perspective on life. We understand that the world has been corrupted
by sin so that we suffer due to our sin, the sin of others and the curse of sin
in the world (See:
Paul – A Servant of the Gospel).
For that reason we will fight against them as our enemies and in compassion seek
to alleviate the suffering caused by them. However,
we also understand that God is able to use even our suffering to mature us
and bring glory to Himself (Romans 5:3-8; James 2:2-4). We
also have a hope, a confident assurance, that we have both an eternal future in
which there will be no suffering (Revelation 21:4) and
comfort in the present because our Lord is with us (Hebrews 13:5)
and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-39).
Because of these, we can be at peace and content though never complacent.
Disease and injury are not the greatest danger we face.
What about economic catastrophe? Again we find that because the Christian has
a different purpose in life we can respond differently when threatened by
financial disaster. First, we learn to be content just as Paul explained in
Philippians 4:11-13. Though Christians can enjoy a high standard of living as
much as anyone else, we can also be content just having food and covering
(1 Timothy 6:8). Economic loss and even poverty are not
the greatest dangers we face.
Death, disease, physical injury, and poverty are much more serious issues for
the non-Christian simply because those things can be the major factor in their
purpose for living. If this life is all there is, then dying is the ultimate
loss and facing it is devastating. If your purpose in life requires you to be
healthy and physically fit, then disease and injury can destroy all joy and
happiness. If success is dependent on economic well being, then poverty is utter
failure. All of these responses are dependent upon the philosophy upon which the
individual has built their life. If the philosophy does not adequately deal with
reality, the result will be tragedy when reality can no longer be escaped.
The final reality will be God’s judgment and for that reason neither death,
disease, injury, or economic loss are the greatest dangers for either the
Christian or the non-Christian. The greatest threat is any belief system that
blocks or hinders a proper relationship between man and His creator. For the
non-Christian, this will be all systems of belief that leave the individual
remaining under God’s just condemnation of their sin and destined for eternity
in Hell. For the Christian, this is any belief that hinders the individual from
walking in a manner worthy of the Lord and progressing in spiritual maturity.
Turn again to the book of Colossians. We have already examined chapter 1 and
Paul’s thankfulness for the Colossians’ response to the gospel in faith in
Christ and love for all the saints; his prayer on their behalf; the preeminence
of Jesus of creation and the church, and Paul’s stewardship of the gospel. (See:
Sermons on Colossians).
Two weeks ago we began our study of chapter 2 in which Paul begins to point
out his specific concerns for them. His desire was to present every man complete
in Christ (1:29) and to that purpose Paul labored and struggled on their behalf
seeking to encourage them and warn them. He did not want them to be deluded by
persuasive speech. He did not want any of them to be lead astray from the truth
by either false logic or the oratory skills of some false teacher. (See:
Desire and Struggle).
Last week we examined the means of protection from the false logic and
persuasive speech of the false teachers in Colossians. That protection is found
in walking in Christ. Because the Colossians had already believed that Jesus is
the Christ, the promised Messiah, and accepted His promises including the
forgiveness of sins based in His atonement which redeemed them and reconciled
them to God, then it was proper for Paul to call for them to walk in Christ.
Their manner of life should reflect the fact that Jesus is the Lord, God in
human flesh, who is their master. The reality of walking in Christ would be
demonstrated in four related ways.
First, their lives would show they were firmly rooted in Him. There was depth
to their faith and it would not be quickly shaken. Second, they would show they
were continuing to be built up in Him. They would continue to mature
individually and as a local church. The individual parts of the body of Christ
in that location would be working in harmony with one another so that the whole
group was becoming more reflective of the Lord living through them. Third, they
would continue to be strengthened in their faith just as they had been taught by
Epaphras. Over time they would continue to mature individually and as a group so
that they could resist in the evil day and stand firm against the schemes of the
devil and those he influences (Ephesians 6:10-13). Fourth,
they would be overflowing with gratitude. Thanksgiving to God would spill out of
them in daily life in the sacrifice of praise. (See:
The Superiority of Walking in Christ).
This morning we are going to continue our study of Paul’s warnings by
examining verse 8. Please follow along as I read Colossians 2:1-10 to set the
2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and
for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my
face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love,
and [attaining] to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of
understanding, [resulting] in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, [that is,]
Christ [Himself], 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 persuasive
argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in
spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7
having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in
your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude.
8 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
fulness 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;
Avoiding Capture – "See to it that no one take you captive . . ."
Diligence to Be On Guard. Paul begins his warning with a command for
the Colossian believers to be on guard. The word used here (blepw
/ blepÃ´) has a root meaning of "to look," "to see," "perceive," and
figuratively of "to beware," "be careful," "take care," "take heed." In this
context, it is to be watchful like a guard, and the particular grammatical
construction (present active imperative followed by a future indicative)
stresses the danger to be more imminent and therefore the warning to be even
more urgent. Though we know from Colossians 2:5 that they had not yet fallen
victim to the false teachers, their presence and activities in Colossae
presented a clear and present danger for which they need to be diligently on
guard. This is red alert status.
Interestingly, Paul does not name the particular person or persons they would
need to be on guard against even though it is reasonable to think that Paul may
have known who they were from Epaphras. By leaving the identity indefinite, the
warning is broader with a greater application that continues to this very day.
If he had told them to beware of Aristotle and the Greek philosophers, then the
focus would be narrowed to them and they would not be on guard against the
influence of the Pharisees or some other group. Because this is generic we must
be on guard against everyone that fits the description of Paul’s warning. The
danger will remain the same even if it comes from a different particular person,
group or idea in the future.
The Danger of Capture is a real one that we must be prepared to face.
The particular word used here (sulagwgew
/ sulagÃ´geÃ´) is a compound word formed from the word for plunder (sulaw
/ sulaÃ´) and the word for lead, bring or carry (agw
/ agÃ´) and hence the idea of being taken captive and carried away as
booty. It is not the idea of being cheated (NKJV), but the
old idea of being spoiled (KJV) as in carried away as
spoil (YLT) or being lead away as a prey (DBY).
Inherent in the idea of being captured and carried away as spoil is that it
is contrary to your will. Captives are taken from where they are to a place not
of their choosing. This verse is not speaking about people losing their
salvation. This is speaking of a person being overwhelmed by a powerful force
and then led away by it. Much of the false teachings occurring in Colossae were
not direct threats to salvation, but were additions that hindered walking in a
manner worthy of the Lord since they substituted their own system for true
holiness. The legalism and asceticism Paul corrects at the end of chapter 2 were
not issues of salvation in themselves but of defrauding them of their prize
(2:18) and doing things that were of no value against fleshly indulgence (2:23).
However, the captivity might also reveal the false profession of the one
captured. A captive who embraces the beliefs of his captor in contradiction to
his earlier professed beliefs only proves those earlier stated beliefs were mere
mental assents since they were not firmly held. To say you believe that Jesus is
the promised Messiah, the Son of God, God in human flesh, and then to later deny
these truths claiming Jesus was a lesser god or only human, only proves that the
earlier profession was false. It was made either as a mental assent to
insufficient information or an acquiescence to peer pressure or a combination of
both. These then are the apostates spoken of in 1 John 2:18-23 and Hebrews
6:4-6. The false teachers at Colossae did pose this threat because their
teaching could lead to a false understanding of the person and sufficiency of
The warning against being taken captive is a present, active, singular
participle showing that the danger was ever present. It is a reoccurring danger
and not something faced in the past never to be faced again. In other words, our
enemy does not put everything into one battle and if he loses he then gives up.
Our adversary does not give up but will continue to probe for weakness and then
attack again and will do so over and over again. Our enemy is a schemer who will
change means, methods and areas of attack to achieve his ends. If a frontal
assault does not work, then he will switch to a flank attack and if possible
even get saboteurs to work from the inside to weaken the defenses.
That it is singular gives warning that it is the individual that at risk.
Every individual needs to be aware of the danger and be prepared to defend
themselves against it. However, it is much more difficult to capture an
individual who is part of a group. When a person is part of a healthy local body
of believers, then he can be protected by the strength of the rest of the body.
There are others that can help and keep him from being blown about by every wind
of doctrine (Ephesians 4:11-16) and leaders that will seek
to protect him from the wolves that are around (Acts 20:28-31).
What is the danger that they need to guard against from having it take them
captive? Paul says, "through philosophy and empty deception, according to the
tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather
than according to Christ."
General Philosophy is not what Paul has in mind here. He is
specifically warning against those philosophies that are empty and deceptive.
There are those that have taken this verse and used it to support the idea that
all philosophy is bad, and to some degree I understand that if what Paul was
talking about is what is being presented in the average college introductory
philosophy class on a secular college campus. I don’t have any statistics for
this, but my own limited experience is that many of those teaching philosophy on
secular campuses – and liberal religious campuses – have come from some nominal
Christian background which they have rejected and their goal in life has become
to "free" Christians from the oppressions of Christianity. If that was all there
was to philosophy, then I would agree it is bad. However, that is not what Paul
has in mind here.
The term philosophy (filosofia
/ philosophia) is a compound word that simply means "love of wisdom,"
which Webster’s dictionary now lists as archaic. Philosophy now refers to an
academic discipline in "the study of the theoretical basis of a brand of
knowledge or experience" or the "study of the fundamental nature of knowledge,
reality and existence" or the "theories of a particular philosopher" or the
"theory or attitude that guides one’s behavior" (Oxford
Dictionary). We must be careful not to apply any of those definitions to
what Paul is saying here. At that time philosophy was used in reference to
theories about God, the world and the meaning of human life. It included not
only the ideas among the pagan Greek philosophers, but also the ideas within the
Jewish schools that existed in Greek cities. Josephus even referred to the three
major divisions in Judaism at that time – Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes – as
"philosophical sects among the Jews."
Empty & Deceptive Philosophies. Paul was not referring to philosophy
in general, but rather a very specific philosophy. He uses the article to
distinguish it as not just philosophy, but "the philosophy," which he then
further describes as being vain or empty deception.
Empty (kenoV / kenos) expresses the hollowness or
absence of anything. It is used to describe a person who has been impoverished
as being "empty handed" (Luke 1:53). It describes speech
that lacks any significance as "empty words" (Ephesians 5:6).
James uses it to describe the useless faith of someone "without" works in
keeping with the claimed repentance and belief (James 2:20).
Faith without, empty of, works is dead.
Deception (apath /
apatÃª ) is to give a false impression
whether by appearance, statement or influence. Riches are described as deceptive
(Matthew 13:22) because they give the impression of being
important, but they easily become a hindrance to eternal life. Sin is also
described as being deceitful (Hebrews 3:13) because it
presents itself as the means for gaining pleasure, but the pleasures are only
short lived and end up in tragedy (Hebrews 11:25; Job 20:5).
Paul combines these words to describe the philosophy he is warning about. It
is empty and deceitful. It gives the appearance of wisdom but in the end it is
void. Empty words giving a false impression. The false teachers in Colossae
advocated things such as legalism, ritualism, asceticism and angel worship as
the means to gain godliness, but in the end they are empty and of no value
against fleshly indulgence.
The description also fits the vast majority of philosophical musings that
enamor the academic world today. I spoke about this back in June in exposing the
underlying errors of atheism, agnosticism, empiricism, rationalism, and
theological liberalism (See: Philosophical Foolishness). Though some systems deny it, every philosophical system
is built off of presuppositions. There are things they assume to be true as
their starting point, but if those assumptions are wrong, then the whole system
will collapse in the face of the ultimate reality of God.
The foolishness of atheism is obvious in their claim that there is no God
(Psalm 14). Agnostics start with the premise that we cannot know, but God
has declared Himself in His creation and through His special revelation of
Himself so that men are without excuse for not knowing (Psalm 19;
Romans 1:18-20). Empiricists assume experience to be the basis for
knowing truth, but all men are of limited experience and even the sum total of
all human experience is still finite and so cannot know unless there is
revelation from God given. For example, no man was present through the first
five days of creation. No man has seen God the Father. We only know Him through
what He has revealed and especially through Jesus His only begotten son
(John 1:18). Rationalist assume they can reason their way
to truth, but even before the fall into sin human mental capabilities were
limited. They are much more so limited since then because sin and Satan darken
the understanding of man (Ephesians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Theological liberalism assumes that truth changes with time and that the church
must therefore adapt to the changes in culture. But God Himself does not change.
He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus said that not one jot or tittel will pass away from God’s law until all is
fulfilled. God’s standards of righteousness and means of salvation have not
changed, so liberals should not be surprised, yet they will be, when He condemns
them for their self-righteousness (Matthew 7:23).
Paul gives further description of these empty and deceptive philosophies by
listing two of the sources of them. The first is the tradition of men. Tradition
paradosis) refers to something that is handed down especially a practice, ritual
or teaching. A tradition is not necessarily bad, in fact it can be very good.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul praised them for holding firmly to the
traditions they had received from him. Paul told the Thessalonians to "stand
firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth
or by letter from us" and to "keep aloof from every brother who leads an
unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us."
Tradition can be bad when its origin is in something other than in God
Himself and His revelation. In this passage Paul specifically states that he is
warning about tradition that has its origin in men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees
because they would transgress the commandment of God for the sake of their
tradition (Matthew 15:3). The particular practices of legalism, ritualism,
asceticism and the worship of angels that Paul will correct at the end of
Colossians 2 all have their origin in tradition started by men. They were doing
it because it was handed down to them by their teachers who had received it from
their teachers, etc. The actual origin was probably forgotten, but they were not
doing it because God said it was to be so.
Tradition can still be good or bad in the life of the believer. We follow the
teachings of the Bible because they have been handed down to us by the prophets
and apostles who received it from God. We follow certain practices and live in a
particular way because they strive to follow the principles and precepts of
God’s word. At the same time, like the Pharisees of old, traditions can develop
that end up covering up and replacing God’s word. The practice may have started
as an honest effort to obey God’s commands, but the reasoning for the practice
was forgotten a long time ago and all that remains is a man-made tradition.
There is always danger when something is done simply because "it has always been
done that way." Find out the reason for the traditions you practice, and if they
do not have a godly origin or purpose, then either stop or change them until
Dangerous Worldly Basic Principles
The other source of empty and deceptive philosophy was "the elementary
principles of the world." The phrase elementary principles is from a word (stoiceion
/ stoicheion) which means "first things in a series" and so was used of
such things as the letters of the alphabet which are the elementary principles
of written language. Hebrews 5:12 uses it to describe the basic doctrines of God
saying, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need
again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God,
and you have come to need milk and not solid food." Peter uses the term to
describe the basic physical particles that make up the physical world stating
that "the elements will be destroyed with intense heat" and "the
elements will melt with intense heat" (2 Peter 3:10, 12).
In this passage Paul specifically connects this to the rudimentary things of
the world. He uses the same phrase in Galatians 4:3 stating, "So also we,
while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the
world." Then in Colossians 2:20 he uses a similar phrase saying, "If you
have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you
were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not
handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22 (which all [refer to] things destined to
perish with the using)– in accordance with the commandments and teachings of
men?" Paul then is speaking about foundational religious practices, and
perhaps in particular, the ceremonial aspects that are part of the means by
which the religion is instilled into its adherents. These things are often
presented as the means to godliness, but they are in reality worldly since they
are human efforts to achieve what can actually only be accomplished by the
spirit of God in a person’s life. Such elementary practices were part of both
paganism and Judaism.
Why are they elementary? Because as already noted from Galatians 4:3, we
train children first in behavior and then in understanding. We learn how to do
things before we learn why we do them, but if we never learn the why and then
act accordingly in understanding, we are left as children doing things out of
rote and in ignorance. Such ignorance can never bring us to maturity.
The false teachers were advocating some of the practices that occurred within
Judaism such as observance of particular days, dietary restrictions, and certain
ascetic practices such as fasts. It is not that these things were wrong, but
that they were being promoted as the substance of Judaism when they were
actually only the shadow (Colossians 2:17). Hebrews 10:1
describes the Law as only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very
form of things. The Law was a schoolmaster or tutor to bring us to Christ
(Galatians 3:24), so in coming to Christ we are to go
forward and not turn back to any idea whether arising out of Judaism or paganism
that we can somehow become righteous before God by our own works. The elementary
principles of the world were to teach us that we needed a savior for we cannot
Captured by Christ
The thrust of Paul’s last phrase in this verse – rather than according to
Christ" – is to not allow yourself to be taken captive by anything other
than the Lord Jesus Christ for the substance belongs to Him. It is in Him and
Him alone that the quest of philosophy can be fulfilled for He is the revelation
of God, not some theory about God. He is the architect, creator, possessor and
sustainer of the world and so the only one that can explain it and its purpose.
He is the redeemer and reconciler of man to God, so only He can give real
meaning to human life. He is the way, the truth and the life, there is no
deception in Him. He is the substance, not the shadow.
Next week we will examine what Paul says in verses 9-15 in explaining the
superiority of being in Christ to the philosophies of the world. Until then,
continue to be on guard not to be taken captive through empty and deceptive
philosophy which arises out of the musing of men that are then passed down by
tradition and only actually address rudimentary religious ideas that leave the
person immature at best. We protect ourselves by walking in Christ as we talked
about last week, so be careful that you are captured only by Christ for in
Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Hm you have been made
Sermon Notes – 9/19/2010
Parents, you are responsible to apply
God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children -
draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your
picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children - 1) Write down all
the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times there is a reference to Jesus 3)
Talk with your parents about the dangers of being captured by worldly philosophy
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing
the sermon with others. What do you think of when you read the statement, "We
live in a dangerous world" ? What is the Christian attitude toward death?
Disease or physical injury? Economic disaster? What is the final reality? What
then is the greatest danger we face? What was Paul’s desire for the Colossians
and how was he striving to see that desire fulfilled? What does it mean to walk
in Christ and how will that walk be demonstrated? What does it mean to "be on
guard?" How urgent is the warning? Why doesn’t Paul name the specific people who
were the cause of the danger? What does it mean to be captured? Why was this a
danger to the Colossians? To us? Why is being part of a group a good defense
against capture? What does philosophy refer to now? What did the term philosophy
mean at Paul’s time? Paul warns about the philosophy that is "empty deception" -
how did that description fit the false teachers in Colossae? How does it fit the
major secular philosophies of today – atheism, agnosticism, empiricism,
rationalism, and theological liberalism? What is a tradition and what determines
whether the tradition is good, bad or neutral? Paul describes the philosophy as
"according to elementary principles of the world" – what does he mean by
elementary principles and which of these are connected to the world? What
practical steps can you take to be on guard against being captured by these
things? How does his warning of being captured by philosophy contrast with being
captured by Christ?
Avoiding Capture by Philosophy – Colossians 2:8
Death, disease, physical injury, and economic disaster are
serious, but not the __________danger we face
Your response to tragic circumstances are dependent on
_________ philosophy of life
Since the final reality is God’s judgment, belief systems
that leave you _________are the greatest danger
Paul’s desire was to "present every man ______________ in
Our protection from the false logic and persuasive speech
of false teachers is found in ________in Christ
Walking in Christ is demonstrated in being firmly rooted,
built up & established & overflowing _______
Diligence to Be On Guard "See to it that no one take you captive . .
/ blepÃ´ = to "look," "see," "perceive," & figuratively of "_________,"
"be careful," "take heed."
The grammar stresses the danger to be more imminent and
therefore the warning to be even more ______
Paul leaves the specific identity _____________ giving us
a broader warning
The Danger of Capture
To be captured (sulagwgew
/ sulagÃ´geÃ´) is to be carried away as ______________ or booty
The danger is of being overwhelmed by a powerful force and
then ______________ by it.
The threat is not directly against ___________, but the
captivity may reveal a ____________profession
This an ever _______danger to each individual – but there
is greater protection in the body – Eph. 4:11-16
General Philosophy is not what Paul has in mind here
/ philosophia) = "love of ______________" – now an archaic definition
Philosophy in Paul’s usage referred to theories about God,
the world and the ____________of human life
Empty & Deceptive Philosophies
Paul is speaking about "the philosophy" and specifically,
the "empty _______________" one
Empty (kenoV / kenos) – the
hollowness or ___________of anything – empty handed, empty words, vain.
/ apatÃª ) – a _____________impression
whether by appearance, statement or influence
Paul is warning about philosophy which gives the
appearance of wisdom but in the end it is _________
This description also fits the vast majority of
philosophical musings that enamor the ____________world
If the presuppositions of the philosophical system are
wrong, it will _________before the ultimate reality
Atheists are ___________ by definition – Psalm 14
Empiricists claim experience as the basis for truth, but
it is ___________& cannot know the infinite God
Rationalists want to reason their way to truth, but
________has blinded and darkened their understanding
Theological liberalism assumes truth changes, but God does
/ paradosis) – something handed down especially a practice, ritual or
Tradition can be good when the source traces back to
___________ revelation (1 Corinthians 11:2)
Tradition can be bad when its origin is in ______________
Tradition that was honest effort to obey God becomes bad
when the reason and meaning are __________
Dangerous Worldly Basic Principles
Elementary principles (stoiceion
/ stoicheion) – "first things in a series" such as the alphabet
Used for basic ________(Hebrews 5:12),
for the elements that make up the physical world (2 Peter
Rudimentary things of this world – lesson for __________(Galatians
4:3), religious rituals (Colossians 2:20)
Elementary because we learn __________ to do things before
we learn why – but maturity learns the why
Elementary because the Law is a ___________ to bring us to
Christ – Galatians 3:24
Captured by Christ
Do not allow yourself to be taken ____________ by anything
other than the Lord Jesus Christ
Be on guard by making sure you are ____________ in Christ
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