Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8, NKJV).
Paul’s warning against deceivers who would plunder our spiritual treasures in Christ is not new (2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15). Let us give attention to “the basic principles of the world” that are not according to Christ and fuel this deception. The basic principles of the world are not the chemical elements that constitute the physical realm (2 Pet. 3:10, 12). They are the fundamental evil elements that oppose God, His purposes, and His truth. They enslave souls to the service of sin (Gal. 4:3). Consider four basic principles of the world: (1) Unbelief. It plunges souls into darkness, ignorance, and alienation from the true and living God (Eph. 4:17-19). Without faith, we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). (2) The traditions, commands, and doctrines of men. Human philosophies appeal to the intellect, often seem plausible, yet are “empty deceit” that cannot save us and protect us from sin (Col. 2:8, 20-23). (3) Carnality and its works. The evil world is composed of the lusts of the flesh, of the eyes, and life’s pride. These stimulate all manner of works of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17; Gal. 5:19-21). Carnal-mindedness opposes God and causes spiritual death (Rom. 8:5-8). (4) The will of men instead of the will of God (1 Pet. 4:2-3). Elevating our cravings and will above God is a fundamental element of the world. Be encouraged and beware; Do not let anyone plunder your spiritual treasure in Christ (Col. 2:1-3).
11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11–12, NKJV).
God’s prophet gives us a plain warning not to speak evil of one another. “Speak evil” translates the Greek word katalaleo, “to be a traducer, i.e. to slander:–speak against (evil of)” (Strong’s Greek #2635). Words that belittle, defame, and libel other Christians (or anyone, for that matter) are sins against brethren, against God, and His law. James does not negate the accurate, appropriate judging of sin. For example, the apostle Paul said we judge unrepentant Christians (“those who are inside”) by applying corrective discipline and putting away the evil person from ourselves (1 Cor. 5:12-13). James is condemning unrighteous judgments that are void of divine truth. He addresses and exposes the sinful “wars and fights” that arise among Christians in this context (James 4:1). Divisive, factious words and actions are worldly and prideful (James 4:1-6). We “become judges with evil thoughts” when we quickly think the worst, grumble and complain against one another, and show partiality in our treatment of one another (James 2:4, 12-13; 5:9). We become the law or standard by which we judge others. James cautions us to remember God is the Lawgiver to whom we are all answerable. He saves and destroys; therefore, we give place to His judgments. Let us not become judges of one another to our destruction.
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! (Philippians 3:1–2, NKJV)
Identifying enemies of the truth and warning against those who destroy souls with their false doctrines and sinful conduct is not pleasant. Undoubtedly, that is why many refuse to do it. They prefer to let others do the hard work of exposing “the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18; Eph. 5:11). Yet, Paul said doing so was necessary for the spiritual safety of the Philippian Christians. He did not see this work as bothersome, and he would not neglect it (v. 1). He gives three warnings concerning those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame—who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:20). 1) Beware of dogs. Isaiah described the irresponsible watchmen (leaders) of Israel as “dumb” (silent), lazy, and “greedy” (Isa. 56:10-11). There are still people who scavenge for the souls of the innocent, like pack dogs. Jesus warned of these “dogs” (Matt. 7:6). 2) Beware of evil workers. You will know the false prophets who speak in the name of the Lord by their fruit when they stray from the commands of God (Matt. 7:15-21; Psa. 119:115). 3) Beware of the mutilation. Those who bound physical circumcision on Gentiles for salvation were mutilators who put confidence in the flesh instead of the Spirit (Phil. 3:3; Gal. 6:12-13; Col. 2:11-12). That is what error always does and why it must be resisted (Jude 3).
21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, NKJV)
Evil comes in different forms, and we must not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11). False prophets come in sheep’s clothing but are devouring wolves (Matt. 7:15). False apostles and deceitful workers appear as “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Worldly wisdom is an imposter posing as truth (1 Cor. 3:18-20). Immorality presents itself as the answer to our longings but delivers death (Prov. 6:24-29; Gal. 5:19-21). False teachers bring in “destructive heresies” while endearing themselves to the naïve (2 Pet. 2:1-3; Rom. 16:17-18). We must test (examine) everything to approve what is excellent and abstain from evil in every form it takes (Phil. 1:9-11). That requires a standard by which to test all things. The “word of the truth of the gospel” is the only objective and verifiable standard of divine teaching and holiness that impartially judges right and wrong (Jno. 12:48; 17:17). Inspired Scripture must have the final say in “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). Learn God’s word and examine “all things” by its truth (2 Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11-12). Then, confidently cling to “what is good” and refuse “every form of evil.”
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2, NKJV)
The effectiveness of prayer was not an afterthought to Christians of the New Testament age (Jas. 5:16). The apostle Paul often asked brethren to pray for him, and he repeatedly prayed for his fellow Christians (1 Thess. 3:10; Eph. 6:18-19; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:3, 9; 4:3). In today’s passage, Paul asked for specific prayers, something we ought to do, too. First, he asked for prayers that God’s word would triumph in its purposes (saving the lost and strengthening the saved, v. 1). The gospel was achieving these purposes in their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-9; 2 Thess. 1:3-4). We are confident they joined Paul in praying the gospel would win the race and be honored as other souls believed and obeyed Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17). Second, Paul asked them to pray for mutual deliverance from faithless, unreasonable, and wicked people (v. 2). Like the currents of a flowing river, forces of evil try to sweep us away and drown us in error and sin’s corruption. The Lord is active and faithful to rescue us and guard us against the evil one and his cohorts as we do what His apostles command (2 Thess. 3:3-4). May we offer such prayers daily.
18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (2 Peter 2:18–19, NKJV)
With empty words that promise pleasure and freedom, the voices of error and evil use fleshly lusts and sinful abandon to bait, capture, and enslave souls. With swelling words, they offer people alcohol as a social beverage to mix and mingle, to relax, and to have a good time. What they do not advertise is the drunken stupor and addiction it causes (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35). With swelling words, they offer people sex (from an early age) without shame and (supposed) consequences. Telephone apps make hooking up easy. The morning after pill, chemical abortions (RU-486 pill), and surgical abortions are the worldly person’s “get out of jail free” cards. Casual sex outside of marriage not only defiles what is holy in marriage, but it also erodes moral boundaries, often becoming just as addictive as alcohol (Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:28-29). Those who urge you to defile yourself are “slaves of corruption” already (and misery loves company). The remedy for the spiritual, mental, and emotional trauma caused by sin’s enslavement is Jesus Christ. But it requires a determined faith to trust and obey Jesus instead of following the empty and deadly teachings of men that indulge the flesh and darken the soul (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Acts 18:8; Rom. 6:17-18; 12:1-2). Take God’s way of escape; it is there for us all (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
12 I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion. 13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate. (Proverbs 8:12–13, NKJV)
Wisdom is the insight and discernment that applies knowledge sensibly and carefully. Solomon will go on to say that wisdom begins by fearing the Lord: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psa. 111:10). We cannot miss the point that wisdom hates evil because it fears the Lord. Wisdom does not love, endorse, or promote evil. Instead, wisdom knows and despises the evil of pride, arrogance, the path of sin, and the profane, perverse mouth. The contrast is vivid: Should we make life choices out of pride and arrogance, we are not fearing God, we are not doing His commandments – we are not wise. The gospel says, “See then that you walk circumspectly (carefully, JRP), not as fools but as wise” (Eph. 5:15). Today, choose wisdom as your companion. Live carefully by fearing God and doing His commands, and it will be so (Matt. 7:24-25).
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. 102 I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. (Psalm 119:101–102, NKJV)
Self-discipline is essential in keeping the word of God. Discipleship requires discipline, both to order one’s life after the Master’s teachings and to refrain from conduct that is against the Master’s instruction (Lk. 6:40; Jno. 13:13-17). Pride is ever ready to puff up our confidence in ourselves. It deceptively assures us we could never deny our Lord (Matt. 26:35; cf. Prov. 16:18). Therefore, since “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” we must continually “watch and pray, lest (we) enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Utter commitment to God’s judgments (determinations) must governor our choices to refrain from evil and pursue good (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 3:8-11). When we argue with God’s word to justify our sinful choices and conduct, we have allowed personal judgments to control us instead of the decisions of God. (That’s pride at work.) Jeremiah said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). God does not delight in those whose evil (sin) is called good (Mal. 2:17). Self-disciplined faith in God helps us guard against reversing God’s judgments and calling good evil, and evil good (Isa. 5:20-21; Prov. 17:15). God is our teacher, and His word shows us what is evil and what is good. Walking in God’s word is how we “watch” and avoid entering into sin.
3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. (1 Peter 4:3–4, NKJV)
Jesus taught that seeking the praise of men at the expense of truth produces spiritual grief: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26). Seeking praise from peers tempts us to compromise truth for the sake of approval. Today’s passage also reminds us we are not defined by what others say about us. Here we have evil people speaking evil things about Christians who are not sinning, but who are doing the will of God (1 Pet. 4:1-2). We cannot expect people in the world to always think well of us. When they do not, it does not necessarily mean we have done something wrong in God’s sight. Jesus was hated without a cause, and He explained that will also happen to His disciples (Jno. 15:25, 18-20). We will be spoken against when we separate ourselves from worldly people and their excessive sins. It is unrighteous to judge a Christian guilty and reproachable merely because a worldly person has something evil to say against him or her. God’s approval is our goal. Therefore, “who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed” (1 Pet. 3:13-14).