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. Colossians 2:8
This one verse is so packed with words and concepts that I want to understand. I was going to break this into two posts but it all ties together as one rather large misstep I can make so easily in my walk with God. So I shall unpack these words and see just where God leads.
properly, love (and pursuit) of wisdom; used in the Greek writings of either zeal for or skill in any art or science, any branch of knowledge. Once in the N. T. (Col. 2:8), of the theology or rather theosophy* (see below for definition), of certain Jewish-Christian ascetics, which busied itself with refined and speculative inquiries into the nature and classes of angels, into the ritual of the Mosaic law and the regulations of Jewish tradition respecting practical life.
- empty, vain, devoid of truth
- of places, vessels, etc. which contain nothing
- of men
- empty handed
- without a gift
- metaph. destitute of spiritual wealth, of one who boasts of his faith as a transcendent possession, yet is without the fruits of faith
- metaph. of endeavours, labours, acts, which result in nothing, vain, fruitless, without effect
- vain of no purpose
deceit, deceitfulness; the lusts excited by deceit, i. e. by deceitful influences seducing to sin, (others, ‘deceitful lusts’)
- any first thing, from which the others belonging to some series or composite whole take their rise, an element, first principal
- the letters of the alphabet as the elements of speech, not however the written characters, but the spoken sounds
- the elements from which all things have come, the material causes of the universe
- the heavenly bodies, either as parts of the heavens or (as others think) because in them the elements of man, life and destiny were supposed to reside
- the elements, rudiments, primary and fundamental principles of any art, science, or discipline
- i.e. of mathematics, Euclid’s geometry
I spent about ten years of my adult life (before I knew Christ) following after philosophies of New Age and Eastern religions. I read and pondered things that turned into empty deceitful ways. Very little fruit, if any, grew on me-trees, on and in me, planted by these “religions.” Elemental spirits of this world, of satan, pulled me into a web which was difficult to pull and push my way out. These were the makings of human traditions, of this world and the underworld. They were surely not of Christ. Yet I remained blinded by them for, oh, so long!
There is so much that can ensnare us and then hold us tightly in its grasp. Our focus must be on Christ or we will not be able to discern much once we are in the midst of these elemental spirits, these basics of life yet are not life-giving. O Lord, hold me fast. I must “see to it…see to seeking You, my Lord.
from Matthew Henry’s Commentary of Colossians: “The fair warning given us of our danger: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. There is a philosophy which is a noble exercise of our reasonable faculties, and highly serviceable to religion, such a study of the works of God as leads us to the knowledge of God and confirms our faith in him. But there is a philosophy which is vain and deceitful, which is prejudicial to religion, and sets up the wisdom of man in competition with the wisdom of God, and while it pleases men’s fancies ruins their faith; as nice and curious speculations about things above us, or of no use and concern to us; or a care of words and terms of art, which have only an empty and often a cheating appearance of knowledge.”
“After the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world: this plainly reflects upon the Jewish pedagogy or economy, as well as the Pagan learning. The Jews governed themselves by the traditions of their elders and the rudiments or elements of the world, the rites and observances which were only preparatory and introductory to the gospel state; the Gentiles mixed their maxims of philosophy with their Christian principles; and both alienated their minds from Christ. Those who pin their faith on other men’s sleeves, and walk in the way of the world, have turned away from following after Christ. The deceivers were especially the Jewish teachers, who endeavoured to keep up the law of Moses in conjunction with the gospel of Christ, but really in competition with it and contradiction to it.”
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 2 Peter 3:17
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? Galatians 4:8-9
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23
O Father, I pray that I keep my eyes, my ears, my heart focused upon You, and You Alone. May my heart and mind be so attuned to Your Word, to Your Son, that I would know the Truth all of the time. I pray that I would know the way in which I should go as the Holy Spirit directs me each and every minute of each and every day. May I see to it that my understanding of You will continue to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of You, not of this world for it is not Your‘s. I pray for my sisters and brothers in Christ to know Your ways for them as well. My desire is to be wholly Yours in all my ways. Please direct, and redirect, my paths, Lord, for I stray. I am so sorry for I do not intend to wander, yet I do…I have. The world seeks me yet I desire to see to it that I find shelter under the cleft of the Rock. Only in You will I be safe. In the precious and Holy Name of Jesus I pray. Amen.
Graphic of Colossians 2:8 @ Young Disciples International
Colossians 2:8 license plate @ Josh McKibbon on Pinterest and Flickr
Matthew Henry’s words come from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Colossians.
* definition of ‘theosophy’ ~ “any of a number of philosophies maintaining that a knowledge of God may be achieved through spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations”