Avoiding Capture by Philosophy – Colossians 2:8

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

September 19, 2010

Avoiding Capture by Philosophy

Colossians 2:8


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: Paul’s 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 context.

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 Christ.

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 / blepô) 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 / sulagôgeô) is a compound word formed from the word for plunder (sulaw / sulaô) and the word for lead, bring or carry (agw / agô) 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 Jesus.

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).

Dangerous Philosophies

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 / apatê ) 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).

Dangerous Traditions

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 (paradosiV / 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 they do.

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 save ourselves.

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 complete.

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


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 Christ”

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 _______

Avoiding Capture

Diligence to Be On Guard “See to it that no one take you captive . . .”

blepw / blepô = 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 / sulagôgeô) 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

Dangerous Philosophies

General Philosophy is not what Paul has in mind here

Philosophy (filosofia / 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.

Deception (apath / apat̻ ) Рa _____________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

Agnostics claim they can’t know, but God has ______________ Himself (Psalm 19; Rom. 1:18-20)

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 not _________

Dangerous Traditions

Tradition (paradosiV / 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 ______________ (Matthew 15:3)

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 3:10,12)

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 religious rituals & the law were _________of the substance (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1)

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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