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).
3 Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose… (Nehemiah 8:3–4, NKJV)
They built a wooden platform on which Ezra read the Book of the Law to the people. It had a functional purpose, to gain and keep the people’s attention so they could hear God’s word. God’s word can be preached anywhere, not only from behind a pulpit. It can be preached in a chariot (Acts 8:29-35), in a home (Acts 10:24-25, 33-43), by a river (Acts 16:13-14), in places of worship, a marketplace, and a hillside (Acts 17:17, 22). The list goes on. Wherever the preaching occurs, the listener should be attentive to God’s message, and the preacher must “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). From the pulpit and everywhere else, God’s word must be proclaimed, not people’s opinions (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Rom. 1:15). Gospel preaching uses the word of God to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2, NASB95). The pulpit is for gospel preaching, so use it for that purpose. Leave political policies to the politicians and the public square. Leave psychology to the therapist’s couch. Leave philosophy to the halls of academia. When it comes to preaching, “give me the Bible.” It is truth, and the only message with the power to save the soul (Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-25).
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)
This warning is equally relevant and applicable to us as when given to the Colossian saints. Consider dissecting this warning in reverse. 1) The source of the danger. False teachings originate in the “basic principles of the world” and the “tradition of men” formed around those principles. We are taught not to love the world (1 Jno. 2:15-17). False teaching grows out of misplaced love, impure lusts, and human pride. 2) The means used to spread false teaching. The philosophical systems and sophistry of men (the wisdom of men) inject doubt and “empty deceit” into unsuspecting minds (Col. 2:3-4; Rom. 16:16-17). The gospel is foolishness to the “enlightened” minds of unbelievers. Professing to be wise, they become fools (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Rom. 1:22). 3) The effect of false teaching. It captures souls and plunders our spiritual treasures. In Christ, we have “all riches of the full assurance of understanding” because “all the treasures of wisdom and understanding” are in Him (Col. 2:3-4). Truth is in Jesus, and error is of the evil one (Eph. 4:21; 2 Cor. 4:3-4). 4) The warning. We must “beware,” carefully watching for false teachers and their deceptive teachings. You see, it matters to God what we believe and teach. He does not accept every “wind of doctrine;” therefore, we cannot (Eph. 4:14). Because there is truth, there is also error. We strive to speak the truth in love because the truth frees us from sin (Eph. 4:15; Jno. 8:31-32).
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:” (Acts 17:22–23, NKJV)
On Mars Hill, not far from the Athenian Acropolis where the Parthenon stands above the city (the temple dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens), the apostle Paul proclaimed the true God to Greek philosophers – the intellectuals of his day. Despite their daily intellectual adventures of telling or hearing some new thing, they worshiped in ignorance – they did not know the One true God. Trusting in human wisdom, intellectualism and eloquence results in spiritual failure. Salvation in Christ does not depend upon scholarly achievement and academic prowess, but upon the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Honoring the true God calls for utter humility on our part. Without shame, Paul proclaimed the One God who could save them from their misguided philosophies. Today the same God continues to offer the same salvation from the foolish philosophies of human weakness and sin. The question is, will we be wise enough to believe and follow God rather than men?