Tonight, we’re going to look at Colossians chapter 2, verses 8-10 in our study. Colossians chapter 2, verses 8-10. Really this is just the first part of a look at verses 8-15, which should be taken as a composite. You might title our discussion tonight, our study tonight, Philosophy or Christ, because really that’s what Paul is dealing with in this passage. The word philosophy which appears in verse 8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy,” the word philosophy is from two Greek words phileo and sophia. Phileo means to love and sophia means wisdom. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. And throughout all of history, man has pursued this fascination with wisdom, and that is simply an etymological meaning of the word, the love of wisdom. But philosophy itself really boils down to the effort of man to determine the ultimate causes in the earth and the universe, the effort of man to determine ultimate causes.
Throughout all the history of the world, man has pursued an understanding of what caused what is and why it is what it is and where it’s going and what its intent and purpose is. Man has sought to explain the reasons for existence, the purpose of living. All of the phenomena of the universe is really one great mystery that man has tried to solve. There have been many, many solutions offered by many, many different philosophers. There have been tens of thousands of philosophers and a different philosophy for every one of those as well as millions upon millions of homespun philosophies and philosophers. Everybody with his own explanation of the universe.
I remember when I was in college one of the most frustrating and depressing experiences I ever had was a course I took in European philosophy. I’ll never forget the course because of one particular student who just loved philosophy. He loved it. He was a very interesting fellow. He couldn’t spell at all; that’s why I always remember him. He couldn’t spell anything. He had some kind of a dysfunction in what he saw getting translated to his thought patterns, and everything got inverted and twisted and put upside down. And he couldn’t spell anything, I mean anything: “The” or “and” or “but” or “for” or “any”, “dog”, “cat”, nothing. Cat came out TCA, and the T would be upside down. It was an incredible situation.
And one day he came to me and he said, “I think,” – this is only the first year I’d been at this particular college. He said, “I think you ought to run for student body vice president.” And I said, “I don’t want to run for student body vice president. I’m not interested in all at that. I have enough to do playing sports. If I want to get through college and have any time to study, I can’t do that.” And so he said, “Well, I’m going to do it for you anyway.” And so he proceeded to do an entire campaign for me all over campus and not one time was my name ever spelled anywhere near correctly. And naturally as a result I won in a landslide. It was the most hilarious thing that occurred on the campus during the whole year. So I was stuck for the next year with being the student body vice president, much against my will.
But I always remember the class because he was in it, and he used to write – we had an exercise where we would have to respond to the professor by writings answers on the blackboard. And he would write these absolutely-incoherent answers. And I used to think to myself, “That to me is the ultimate picture of philosophy.” None of it made any sense at all. I hasten to add he got an A and I got a B. I think I got a B on the basis of attitude more than anything else. But it was very frustrating to study philosophy because of the fact that it was an exercise in the frustration of a degenerate mind trying to determine ultimate truth without the help of God. And some of the solutions that people came up with were absolutely unbelievable, and no two of them ever agreed.
Most philosophers deny the existence of God. Those philosophers who do allow for the existence of God usually allow for his existence only as a general cause perhaps in a deistic fashion that somewhere back there some place sometime God kind of spun it all out. But most of them deny the existence of God altogether and try to explain everything in the universe in terms of their own rational thinking patterns. Very hopeless.
First Corinthians chapter 2 and verse 9: “I hath not seen,” – you can’t discover truth by empiricism – “nor ear heard, neither have entered in the heart of man,” – you can’t discover truth by rationalism – “the things that God has prepared for them that love him. But God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” The Spirit is the one who searches the deep things of God. Science, that’s empiricism. Philosophy, that’s rationalism. According to 1 Corinthians 2:9, neither of them will ever discover ultimate truth.
No wonder Bertrand Russell at the end of his life, 90 years of age, the vast majority of his life, at least 70 of those years, being spent as a philosopher, his last words were, “Philosophy has proved a washout to me.” That’s a long washout, 90 years. Thomas Hobbs, the famous English atheistic philosopher who fostered materialistic psychology and what is called utilitarian morality, when he was drawing near his death said this, “I’m about to take a leap into the dark. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of this world.” David Hume, the deistic Scottish philosopher was an immoral man in every sense of the word, totally indecent, completely dishonest. His biographers tell us that he was a teacher of immorality, a denier of God. And his death was so tragic that his attendants at his death said he agonized to the point that he shook the entire bed and demanded that the candles be lit all night, that he never be left alone for one moment, and his lips were filled with cursing and remorse until he died.
And so it goes with philosophers, so it goes with people who want to eliminate God and then in their own minds by their own human effort attempt to discover truth. Now the city of Colossae had its philosophers. The city of Colossae had its Hobbs, its Humes, its other philosophers, as every society does, famous ones and backyard ones. And the little assembly of believers, the church at Colossae was in danger of being captured by them, of being corrupted by them, of being infiltrated by them, of being duped by them. Now remember a little background about Colossae. It was a little town. It was a little town in the midst of the Lycus Valley. The Lycus Valley was so named for the Lycus River. It was approximately 100 miles from Ephesus, located in Asia Minor. And in that lovely little valley were three cities: Colossae, Hierapolis, and the most famous because of the indication in Revelation, the city of Laodicea. Those three little cities occupied that territory.
Now one of those three, the city of Colossae, had a church. As far as we know, so did Laodicea and perhaps Hierapolis as well. But it was a typical pagan city in that it was occupied by Greeks, Romans, and a population of Jewish people who had left their land. Now Paul had been in Ephesus for three years.
During the time in which he was in Ephesus, he was instrumental in founding the church at Ephesus and the other churches in Asia Minor. And all of those churches mentioned in Revelation two and three are in Asia Minor, and most likely all of them were founded during that three-year period, as well as some other churches, namely Colossae. And what probably happened was that while Paul was ministering in Ephesus, a man came there by the name of Epaphras, and Epaphras was won to Jesus Christ under the ministry of the apostle Paul. He’s mentioned in chapter 4, verse 12. He was won to Christ by the apostle Paul. He returned to Colossae and became the founder of the Colossian assembly.
Now six years have gone by since the church at Colossae was begun. Paul has finished his three years in Ephesus. After that, he spent a winter in Greece, from which he wrote perhaps Romans and Corinthians. Then he returned to Jerusalem. When he got there with his offering to give the poor saints in Jerusalem, it turned out that he was arrested. He was then taken to Caesarea and he was left in prison there. When his imprisonment was completed, he was brought to Rome to await his trial. That’s what happened during those six years, and we pick the story up now as he’s already in Rome waiting his trial.
Epaphras visits him in Rome, and Epaphras unburdens his heart about the Colossian situation, and Paul sends him back with this letter to try to help straighten it out. Now basically what Epaphras told him apparently was mostly good, because there aren’t any really serious, critical defections occurring in the congregation. Rather, there is warning lest that should occur. And the letter is mostly about warning them relative to letting any false teaching, false philosophy infiltrates their congregation. Colossae had its false teachers; every place does. It had its philosophers with their human wisdom loitering at the doorstep of the church ready to enter in and vie for control, and Paul simply warns them about it.
Now this is always to be expected. It is always to be expected that the church in every city in every culture in every country in every century will have to fight to hold its doctrinal purity. It will have to fight to keep its spiritual equilibrium. It will have to defend itself against errorists and maintain the truth, always, because Satan will always endeavor to topple the church, to drop it down to the level of false doctrine. And that’s Paul’s great concern and it becomes the heart of the letter to the Colossians.
Now, as we come to chapter 2, verse 8, we come to what is frankly the heart of the epistle. This is the heart of the epistle. Really from chapter 2, verse 8 through verse 23, that one section there, Paul gives the main message of this letter to the Colossians, because here he deals directly with the false teaching that is on the border of the church that is possibly to threaten the church in Colossae. Now just to give you an overview of the book, Paul has already confirmed the truth relating to Christ in the great doctrinal section. Chapter 1, verse 15 through chapter 2, verse 7 is the doctrinal section. It presents the great doctrine of Jesus Christ and salvation. The first 14 verses are introductory. The great doctrinal section is 1:15 to 2:7. The practical session is 3:1, chapter 3, verse 1 he moved into the practical clear to the end chapter 4, verse 6 really, and then some personal words closing out. So you have a doctrinal section at the beginning naming Christ and clarifying who he is and what salvation is. You have a practical section dealing with what should characterize the lives of Colossians and all believers.
Now, in the middle of that, you have what I could possibly call a polemical section. Polemic means a dispute. Here is the argument of the book. Here is the dispute. Here is the dialogue of Paul who says, “Now let me get at this issue. I’ve talked about Christ. I’ve talked about salvation. I’ll talk about your practical life, but let me attack those false teachers.” And he does it in the heart of the letter. And that’s where we are.
Now we’re going to notice something interesting. There are four aspects to the false teaching that threatens the Colossians. We have a very hard time, incidentally, putting this heresy together because Paul never names it officially. He only flirts around the borders of it, and it’s hard for us to crystallize just exactly what it is. But it may become somewhat clear as we go through this section in the weeks to come. But this we do know, it had four elements. One, it had the element of philosophy according to verses 8-15, and that’s what he talks about in 8-15. That whole section deals with this whole problem of human philosophy. Secondly, it had in it an element of legalism. You might say number one was humanism; number two was legalism. Verses 16 and 17 are relative to legalism. Thirdly, it had an element of mysticism. In verses 18 and 19, it talks about a rather mystical worshipping of angels. And fourthly, it had an element of asceticism, a monastic kind of thing, a false kind of humility and withdrawing from normal patterns of life like some kind of recluse or monk.
So here is a conglomeration of human philosophy, legalism, mysticism, and asceticism. And in my little computer all of that goes in and clicks out the word Essenes. We saw in our introductory study of the book of Colossians that it is very likely that the influence could have come from the community of Jews known as the Essenes, and they were a community of Jews that seemed to fit this pattern. Now that may be the case. Perhaps it was a form of that Jewish sect; perhaps it was just a coincidentally-similar series of things that really embody all of the possible kind of heresies that you could imagine.
Now, Paul has already called the Colossians to maintain pure allegiance to Jesus Christ in verses 1-7. He says, “I have great conflict for you and I want you to hang on to Christ and the truth about Christ and him and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He’s made this great positive statement, “I want you to hold on to Christ. I want you to commit yourself with pure allegiance to him.” And now he moves away from the positive to the negative and here’s what I want you to avoid, chapter 2, verses 8-23. Here is the polemic, here is the argument.
Now false teachers, as we’ve learned already in our study of Colossians, were claiming, as they have been continually claiming in the early years of the church, to have a superior knowledge. And they continue to do that even today. They come along and say, “Well we know what you don’t know. We have a system that is higher than yours. We have knowledge and insights beyond yours, a higher, truer system than Christians have.” And from the time of the New Testament, they all came along and said, “We have a superior gnōsis,” the word for knowledge. “We have a higher knowledge. We have a higher revelation. We have a higher apprehension of God's truth.” And so Paul, in this section, counterattacks that. And what he’s saying is there is no higher truth. There is no nobler knowledge. There is no greater insight. There is no superior revelation, no matter what they claim. And against the enticing claim that a higher wisdom was offered by this new teaching, he emphasized that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, against the doctrine of aiōns, the doctrine of the series of emanations, intermediate spirit beings through which the divine essence was distributed until it finally reached man in the diluted form.
Paul sets forth Christ as the only single embodiment of the fullness of God, chapter 2, verse 9. There aren’t a whole lot of aiōns and angel beings between us and God through which God filters his personality. There’s only one representation of God in human terms, and that is Jesus Christ. Against the idea that those spirit intermediaries should be worshiped by men who must approach God through them, Paul shows they are nothing but demons who have been conquered by Christ. And he says in verse 15, “He has spoiled the principalities and the powers.” Against the idea of self-denying asceticism and false humility, Paul shows that we are no longer attached to any fleshly thing since we have come to know Christ. We have moved into a spiritual dimension, and fleshly abstinences have little significance.
Now I think, and I’m just giving you some overviews, I think it is important for us to see here an excellent example of how you deal with heresy. And as you look at what Paul is doing here, he’s lambasting these four areas of heresies, all coming at the Colossian assembly; whether in one form or multiple forms we’re not sure. But you’ll notice it is not a matter of bitter denunciation of the heresy. He doesn’t name the heresy and then tear it apart piece by piece by piece; he doesn’t do that. It is not a detailed discussion of the false teaching. It is not a fiery blast at the heresy. The thing that he does all the way through here as he deals with heresy is positively affirm the truth. He just positively affirms the truth again and again and again and again. One commentator says this: “When he now reaches the very heart of his letter, the apostle dwells so eloquently upon the deity of Christ and the dignity and completeness of believers that the reader is left in some uncertainty as to the exact system of error against which the Colossians were to be on their guard.” I think the point is obvious: If you know the truth, any system of error is going to collapse in the face of the truth. And so it’s vital that Paul present the truth.
Now these four things Paul will be dealing with: Philosophy, legalism, asceticism and mysticism. But only one for tonight we’ll begin to look at, and that is philosophy. Now as we look at verses 8-15, and actually we’ll only get 8-10 tonight, we see a simple contrast. Let me just give you two points, and we’ll just look at them simply. Captured by philosophy as opposed to complete in Christ. And this is the story of every man, because every man is either captured by human philosophy or he is complete in Christ; that’s all. Pretty simple. A man either becomes a victim of human wisdom, human reason, human logic, or he becomes complete in Christ. That’s the choice of every human being. You will choose man’s wisdom or God's.
First of all, notice verse 8, captured by philosophy, and let’s see what happens. “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.” Now, Paul is warning them and he’s saying this essentially: “Beware, lest those of you who were rescued out of the domain of darkness and have already been translated into the kingdom of the Son of God's love should be carried off like captives and enslaved again.” It is similar to Galatians 5, “Don’t be entangled again in the yoke of bondage.” For freedom Christ has set you free. Don’t get tangled again in the yoke of bondage. Don’t go back to a former human system, legalism in Galatians. Here don’t go back to a former human system, human philosophy or wisdom. So the warning is introduced by a call to vigilance in its present tense. Continually being beware, a constant watchfullness lest we be led astray. Be continually being aware. It never lets up. The church is always under siege by false teachers. Our Lord warned us.
Going back to Matthew chapter 7, verse 15: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 16 and verse 6, Jesus says, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” The leaven of the Pharisees, what is that? Legalism. Beware of those false philosophies. Paul warned also, the twentieth chapter of Acts, 29th verse, in speaking to those who are the Ephesian elders: “I know this that after my departure grievous wolves will enter among you not sparing the flock. Of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore, watch. Therefore, watch.” The apostle Paul in Philippians 3:2, “Beware of dogs. Beware of evil workers. Beware of the concision,” the mutilation party, those who want to circumcise.
Peter warned as well. Second Peter chapter 3, isn’t it, verse 17: “Beware, lest you being led away with the error of the wicked fall from your own steadfastness.” Jesus said, “Beware.” Paul said, “Beware.” Peter said, “Beware,” and it behooves us to hear the echo, “Beware, there will ever be an effort to woo you away from the truth.” You say, “Well what am I supposed to be aware of?” Look at verse 8 again: “Lest any man spoil you.” Now that’s an interesting verb; that is a very rare verb. There is an interesting combination. It’s a combination word. The word agō is there, and agō means to carry off, or to carry away, agō.
The word sulē is there. That’s interesting, because that word means booty, not baby booty but booty that you take in a robbery or booty that you take in a war or whatever. And the word simply means to carry off booty. It was used in later nonbiblical Greek writing to speak of kidnapping, plundering a house, or raping a maiden. He’s saying, “Don’t let anybody kidnap you. Don’t let anybody plunder your treasury of truth. Don’t let anybody rape you with their falsity.” There’s real danger that somebody’s going to carry you away, make you prey, make you a captive, lead you off like a war prisoner. And that’s the thing Paul is warning them against. Beware.
Second Timothy 3:6, in the latter days, it says, “There are those that creep into houses and lead captive silly women laden with sins led away with various lusts.” Same idea exactly, leading somebody away captive. And the word can be used of a slave dealer who carries away the people of a conquered nation to sell them as slaves. To Paul it was unthinkable that those who had been ransomed, those who had been redeemed, and those who had been liberated could submit to that old slavery again. Every once in a while, somebody says to me, “Well, I used to go to Grace Community Church.” I’ll meet them in the market or somewhere, “Oh you used to go? Where do you go now?” “Oh, we’ve left there because we discovered that Grace Community Church did not have the truth, and we have found the truth at the Church of the Living Word or at the whatever this thing is down here with no name, or at the so and so society, whatever it is, the royal order of goats.” I don't know what it is. People are always coming along and saying, “We found the truth.” And the truth of the matter is they have forsaken the truth for slavery, to human wisdom.
How is it that they’re going to lead you off? How is it they’re going to capture you? Verse 8: “Be continually being aware that they don’t carry you off like spoil or booty through philosophy.” And then you have an equivalent there: “Even vain deceit,” and philosophy equals vain deceit. The means of capturing people is philosophy, high-sounding knowledge and theory, but it’s all human. Incidentally, this is the only use of the word in the New Testament. Philosophy is human wisdom, human wisdom that sounds like it’s divine, human wisdom that’s supposed to be greater than anything else that you’ve ever heard. That’s what the cults always offer. “You don’t really know the truth until you know what we know.”
One writer says, “Everything that had to do with theories about God and the world and the meaning of human life was called philosophy at that time, not only in pagan schools but also in the Jewish schools of the Greek cities.” Now that historian, Schlatter is his name, says that the term philosophy was used of every single theory about God and the world whether Jewish or Greek in that era. That was the common term. So anybody coming along with any new theory about God or new theory about the world, its origins, its meanings and its destiny constituted a philosopher with a philosophy. Joe Cephus, the historian of that day, has shown that any elaborate system of thought, and he says, “any moral or disciplinary thought pattern,” was called a philosophy. Joe Sephus even says, and I quote, “There are three forms of philosophies among the Jews, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes.” That’s a quote from Joe Cephus Jewish War Number 2. And that helps me to think maybe it was the Essenes who were propagating their philosophy, but whatever it was it was a lie. And he calls it vain deceit. He links this term with philosophy to describe it. Philosophy is empty deceit. It doesn’t give you what you expect.
The word deceit is interesting in the Bible. One of the words that is used in 2 Peter 2 is guile, or deceit, and it is the original meaning of the word is fish hook. And the thing that’s interesting about a fish hook is that is not what a fish expects. What you see is not what you get in that circumstance. And he’s saying philosophy is the same thing, it’s a baited hook. You think it’s going to be wonderful; it turns out to be deceiving. For all of its claims, philosophy is an empty illusion, and that’s why Bertrand Russell says after 90 years of it it’s a washout. And that’s why Hobbs and Hume lie on their deathbed panicky without answers. It sounds good. It seduces the mind because it plays into the hands of pride, but it deceives. The truth is in the revelation of God spoken finally and clearly in Jesus Christ. There is no value in speculative human philosophy.
I think Herbert Carson has a good warning at this point. He says this: “This does not mean that he should come with a blind, unreasoning faith. But it does mean that instead of bringing philosophical presuppositions which will color his study of Scripture and so prejudice his interpretation, a man comes as one conscience of the finiteness of his intellect and aware that his mind also is affected by his sinful nature. Thus, he is willing to be taught by the Holy Spirit and acknowledges that it is the Word of God rather than his own reason which is the final arbiter of truth.” So Paul says, “Beware of philosophy. Beware of some human mode, some human theory about God, about the world, whatever.” Stick with the Bible.
Where do human philosophies come from? Well he gives you two sources in verse 8. “Philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men,” that’s source number one. Source number two, “after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Two inadequate sources. Number one, tradition. “It’s always been the case. People have always believed it.” Do you know that that does? That just perpetuates inadequate, depraved human thinking patterns. Tradition doesn’t mean anything. Just because it’s handed down doesn’t mean it’s true. If you’ve got error to start with and hand it down, it doesn’t make it any better than what you started with. Here he’s saying, “Philosophy comes after the tradition of men.” One of the things that’s so interesting, and we don’t have time to really develop this, when you study philosophy is that almost all philosophers build upon other philosophers. There’s an incredible sequence that flows through the history of philosophy. And one guy goes this far and the next guy chops off a little bit of philosophy and develops in the next guy and the next guy. So what you have in philosophy today can go all the way back, and almost all philosophy finds its roots in Aristotle and Plato. It’s all just a changing and a variation in the flow of the tradition of man. The errors are perpetuated, perpetuated, perpetuated, perpetuated.
Look at Judaism. By the time Jesus arrived on the earth, the Jews had built up such a monstrosity, such a mess of human wisdom, that they were unable any longer to tell what the traditions of man were and what the Word of God was. In Matthew chapter 7, is it verse 5 – oh, Mark 7:5, yes. Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders?” They had developed a sophisticated system all on the basis of tradition. In verse 8, Jesus said, “Laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.” Verse 9, “Full well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your own tradition.” There’s nothing honoring about tradition. There’s nothing sacred about tradition. It’s just perpetuated human ignorance. And so the Jews had their tradition. The Gentiles had tradition, did you know that? They passed their same old philosophies on. First Peter, “For as much as you know you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold from your vain manner of life received by tradition from your fathers.” We’re all victimized by it! We’re all victimized by a passing on of error.
I see my little child go off to school and come home and say, “Hey, dad, we didn’t really come from monkeys, did we?” I said, “No, we didn’t come from monkeys.” “But everybody said we came from monkeys, and the book said we came from monkeys. And I asked the teacher why everybody says we came from monkeys and she said, ‘Because that’s what scientists have always believed.’” And I said, “Well that’s good proof that no matter how smart you are, without God and his revelation, you never get away from error to truth, do you?” So where does this philosophy come from? It comes from all the philosophies before; it just perpetuates the same old stuff.
Second source, rudiments of the world. You say, “What are the rudiments of the world?” That’s not an easy term to figure out, but there are several possibilities. Let me just give you a general idea of what Paul has in mind. The term in its literal sense refers to the basic elements of learning. Rudiments would be ABCs. It literally means things in a column or things in a row, the one, two, three, ABC. He says, “This just comes from the ABCs of the world. They think it’s a graduate work but it’s goo-goo.” You know you go to philosophy and you’ll get a doctor of philosophy, and Paul says, “That’s ABC.” Rudimentary principles of instruction for childhood not adequate for mature adults, that’s rudiments. The thought then is that to return to philosophy would be to cast away the mature teaching of the Bible for the infantile, poverty-stricken opinions of an immature religion drawing its being not from God but from this world.
In Galatians chapter 4, find the same phraseology. Verse 3, “Even so we were in bondage when we were children to the elements of the world.” The elementary teaching of human religion is what he means. And in Galatians he’s talking about the Jews’ religion, and perhaps in Colossians he’s combining it with the Gentile religion as well. But what he means here is just the basics of same-old human religion, and what is the same-old basic in all human religion? Salvation by what? Works. Same-old deal. Same terminology is used also fifth chapter of Hebrews. It just means basic human religion. Where does all this stuff come from? It comes out of tradition, perpetuated error. Where else does it come from? It comes from man’s own infantile primer-type religion. It isn’t giving you some advanced, deep, new, profound, spiritual knowledge. You hear these guys advertising this. I opened a Saturday paper yesterday and there’s “weird people promising new insights, new knowledge.” This guy with beady eyes, his name is Norvell or something you know, and going to “transcend anything you’ve ever known.” All he has to offer is infantile human religion based upon the tradition of men that’s been unable to find God because of its depravity.
You want to know who the really advanced folks are? Look around, you’re sitting with them. People who know the Word of God. The word also, interesting thought, Colossians 2 again. The word rudiments of the world has a second possible meaning in the ancient world, and I would guess that the one I just gave you is probably the one Paul primarily had in mind, but it’s possible that the elusion could be broadened to include this. And that was it referred to elemental spirits, spirit beings. Especially the people of that day were bound up in associating the spirits with the stars and the planets. That’s astrology, and they were into it heavily. And it’s amazing today that people think they’ve got a whole new thing. Astrology, that is not new. That’s the same-old rudiments of the world. Did you know Julius Cesar was an astrologer, astrology buff I should say, and governed his whole life by what the stars told him? Did you know Alexander the Great did the same thing? Devout believers, both of them in the influence of the stars.
People who believed in this kind of stuff, the elemental spirits connected with the planets, were in the grip of a rigid kind of determinism that was set by the stars, and the influence of these spirits through these stars dominated their lives. And they used to say there was only one way of escape. You were absolutely a prisoner of the stars and the spirits of the stars unless you knew the right passwords and the right formula so you could escape the fatalism built into the stars. You had to have, they said, a secret knowledge, a secret teaching, and along come the false teachers who say, “We have the secret teaching, can relieve you from the fatalistic determinism of the stars. Jesus Christ can’t save you from the spirits in the stars and planets. We have the secret information for that!”
And some of the people in the Colossian church had probably been in that kind of system, and when they were saved out of it, they still had lingering thoughts about it and the temptation may have been there to say, “Well what if they’re right?” But Paul warns them and he warns us to be constantly being aware of the false truth, that that stuff is just human tradition. It is perpetuated ignorance. It is infantile, inadequate human religion of the past being revived, and it’s nothing more. We have Christ, that is enough. And that moves him to his second point, complete in Christ. He says at the end of verse 8, “Not after Christ,” and then he shifts gears, “for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him who is the head of all principality and power.”
You don’t need to be captured by philosophy; you can be complete in Christ. You can chuck all that human philosophy. You can throw away all the traditional religions of the world. You can throw away all the manmade forms and theories. “For in him alone dwells the fullness of the godhead bodily. And you are complete in him.” The word dwelleth in verse 9, “in him dwelleth,” continuous present tense, still dwells. Jesus Christ is still the fullness of the godhead, still.” The word God incidentally is the word for the essence of deity. He is still deity. He is still the fullness of deity, just like he was in chapter 1, verse 19. It hasn’t changed. He’s the Father that in him should all fullness dwell. The whole plērōma, the whole fullness of God dwells bodily. The one who at Bethlehem took human nature is in heaven now and still retains that humanity and will retain it throughout all the ages of eternity.
I believe that verse 9 may be the greatest statement of the deity of Jesus Christ in any of the epistles. “In him,” modifying Christ in verse 8, “continually dwells.” Doesn’t come and go like the Gnostics taught. All, the plērōma, the fullness of deity in a body. I don't know how you can deny it. Some hair-brained character comes along and says, “Christ is not God,” what are you going to do with it? And the result of that reality to us? We don’t need philosophy. Why? Because verse 10 says, “If he is all there is of God, then ye are complete,” – where? – “in him.” The one who is the head of all other spiritual beings, all other angelic beings called principalities and powers. His fullness, beloved, is imparted to us. I don't know if you can understand that. Let me see if I can help you.
Same terms are used. He is the plērōma of God, and we are the plērōma in Him. God literally passes Himself to us through Christ. You are complete in him. That’s a perfect tense. We have been completed in him with eternal results. When you think about the fall of man, you think about what happened, it’s pretty sad. When man fell, he fell into a sad state of incompleteness. An unsaved man is spiritually incomplete for he’s totally out of fellowship with God. He is morally incomplete because he has no standard of conduct, and if he did he couldn’t live up to it. He is mentally incomplete because he’s incapable of knowing the truth. So you have a spiritually, morally, mentally-incomplete man. And Jesus Christ enters the scene and Paul simply says, “And ye are,” – what? – “complete in him.” Second Peter 1:4, Peter says, “You become partakers of the divine nature.” Think of it, you become a partaker of the divine nature. A man instantly becomes spiritually complete. He has fellowship with God. The life of God is in him. He becomes morally complete, not because he’s perfect practically but because he recognizes the authority of God's will. He has a standard and the energizing Holy Spirit to give him the strength to obey it. And he is mentally complete, not in the sense of knowing everything but in the sense of having the truth and the resident truth teacher the Holy Spirit.
Christians are partners of the divine life. What an incredible truth. When you became a Christian, you received everything you needed. Everything. Peter said, “We have all things that pertain to life and godliness.” You don’t need any higher knowledge. You don’t need the words of Mary Baker Eddy. You don’t need the words of Joseph Smith. You don’t need the Book of Mormon. You don’t need the words of Annie Besant and Adam Lovatsky, Judge Rutherford or anybody else. You don’t need Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore to add to what you have. You don’t need apostle so-and-so to tell you anything other than what – you don’t need Sung Yu Moon to come along and add to what you have. You don’t need anybody, because you are complete in him.
I don't know about you, but as a Christian I have a sense of that completeness, don’t you? My truth search is over. Is yours? I’ve found it. I can’t even conceive of ever needing anything outside of Jesus Christ. Can you? What would it be? Every man has a choice. You can choose human philosophy, which will capture him and carry him off in incompleteness to a spiritual, moral, and mental sentence of doom. You can follow human wisdom which seems so high and so lofty and so fancy and is nothing more than the same-old hack-kneed tradition passed down century after century, the same-old ABCs of human religion. Or he can come to Jesus Christ and be lifted from out of this world to a spiritual, moral, and mental completeness. The song, and I used to love to sing this song, says this: “He is all I need. He is all I need. Jesus is all I need.”
Father, thank you for our time tonight. We’ve just kind of scratched really the surface of these thoughts. We’re going to do more justice to them next time as we really dig into the following verses and describing what that completeness means. Complete salvation, complete forgiveness, complete victory. And we’re going to dig deep into all that that completeness means. But just for now it’s so exciting to know that we are complete in him, nothing missing, the life of God in us, the Spirit of God in us, the Word of God in us, the power of God in us. All the fruit of the Spirit manifest, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. All those graces that you’ve given, faith and hope and love. And by the Holy Spirit wisdom and truth. Everything that could be conceivable to make life and eternity meaningful. Thank you for the words of Peter: “You have all things pertaining to life and godliness. You are partakers of the divine nature.” Thank you, Father, for taking us who aren’t necessarily the brightest, smartest, who don’t have the doctor of philosophy degrees, who maybe have never been educated by the brilliant minds and fancy systems of our world. Thank you that you hid those things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto us, the babes, because you get glory from simple trust.
Father, it’s my prayer tonight that somehow in our fellowship you might speak to that struggling heart, that one life that is hanging in the balances between making a decision relative to being captured by philosophy, or complete in Christ. I just pray that your Holy Spirit will minister to them, motivate them, convict them, that no one would leave this place with a commitment to human wisdom, no one would leave this place trusting in logic, trusting in education, trusting in the most brilliant of philosophers. But that they would know that only in the Word of God is there truth and only in the Christ of God is there completeness. Do your work, Father, in their hearts and in all our hearts. If we already are complete in you, make us thankful and help us to live our lives to the level of that perfection that pleases you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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