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).
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23–26, NKJV).
Commitment. Jesus had it and was committed to doing the Father’s will to the point of death (“lifted up” John 8:28-29). Early Christians had it, losing their lives rather than denying the Lord (Acts 7:59-60; 26:10). Christians who faced impending suffering were exhorted by Christ to “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). This directive helps us understand what it means to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Even life itself must not be more precious to us than Jesus and doing His will. There is no benefit in gaining the whole world and forfeiting souls. Commitment to Christ eliminates being ashamed of Him and His words. We express faith that overcomes the world by our commitment to Christ (1 John 5:4). Commitment to Christ takes precedence over everyone and everything in the life of a disciple. May it be so with us today and each day that follows.
14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14–15, NKJV)
In contrast to the false teachers whose agenda included boasting in converted Gentiles who were circumcised (according to the Law of Moses, Acts 15:1, 5), Paul refused to boast in anything except the cross of Christ. Christ had crucified the world’s lustful allurements in his life through the power of the gospel (which included selfish, arrogant boastings). He had been crucified to the world, no longer driven to fulfill its enticements. Paul’s declarative statement in Galatians 2:20 stands as a rebuke and a call to repentance to the false teachers who sought personal advantages over others: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The new creation is undoubtedly the new person converted to Christ, “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24; 2 Cor. 5:17). With similar language, Paul had previously said spiritual profit in Christ is “faith working through love” (not in circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses, Gal. 5:6, 1-5). Living by faith actively obeys Christ. Glorying in position, power, preeminence, and prestige over others is not like Christ. If these things matter to us, we must put off the old person “with his deeds” of sin and put on the new person created in the image of Christ (Col. 3:9-10).
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 Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— 23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22–23, NKJV)
Christ came for the whole world (Jews and Gentiles). The apostles of Jesus testified what Moses and the prophets said would occur concerning the Christ was fulfilled in Jesus. Paul takes note of some primary things Moses and the prophets said about the Christ: 1) He would suffer (read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53). Peter said of Jesus, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). 2) He would rise from the dead (read Psalm 16:8-11). The resurrection of Jesus fulfilled this psalm (Acts 2:29-31). Jesus was the first – the beginning of the resurrection of all the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-22). 3) He would proclaim light to Jews and Gentiles (read Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:6). Through His gospel, Jesus lights the way of salvation for every soul on earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:34-35). God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to suffer death for our sins, to be raised to exaltation for our salvation, and to light our way to eternal glory.
1 Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. 2 Thus says the Lord: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.” (Jeremiah 10:1–3, NKJV)
The principle behind this warning against idolatry given to Israel by God’s prophet continues to be relevant: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles.” Christians must not learn the ways of unbelievers who are not the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Yet, the currents of social conformity and worldly lusts persuade saints to become “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). The temptation to fashion ourselves according to this age is strong (Rom. 12:2). The Gentiles are those who are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Christ in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Do not learn to follow their false gods. Do not assimilate their futile customs that ingrain sin into their hearts. Stand apart, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). Do not learn the way of the Gentiles. Learn the way of God (Psa. 18:21, 30; Jno. 14:6).
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17, NKJV)
The “world” of which John writes is the system of evil that opposes God. The world is the dominion of Satan and is antagonistic toward the Father, His will, and His love. Many stiffen their necks against God’s commands not to sin (like the command in verse 15, “Do not love the world…”). But, God has a reason for giving us “thou shalt nots” – He wants us to love Him instead of loving the world. God wants us to have eternal life instead of living under the control of Satan, and then dying eternally. Loving the world is set in motion by the things of the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Therefore, we must arrest the cravings of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life. From godly sorrow, let us repent of loving the world (2 Cor. 7:10). Let us redirect our hearts toward heaven (Col. 3:1-4). Loving the world gives momentary pleasure (Heb. 11:25). But, the things of the world will never satisfy the heart’s yearning for completeness, contentment, and comfort. Ultimately, the world brings desolation, despair, and death.
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (James 4:4–5, NKJV)
One cannot help but see the parallel of apostasy for the sake of covetous pleasures with the actual sin of adultery (Jas. 4:1-3). The inspired writer openly rebukes Christians who befriend the world (v. 4; 1 Jno. 2:15-16). They have conflicts with others, and their ultimate conflict is with God. The danger of unfaithfulness to the Lord and the blessing of faithful devotion to Him are described by the psalmist, “For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works” (Psa. 73:27-28). God is a jealous God who yearns intensely that we honor Him for His glory and faithfulness (v. 5; Gen. 6:5; Exo. 20:4-6). When we spurn Him for other pleasures (false gods) we provoke His jealous wrath. Yet, He will give grace and forgive us when we humble ourselves, submit to Him, resist the devil, and draw near to Him by purifying our hands and hearts (Jas. 4:6-8). We cannot be faithful to God while being unfaithful against Him with the world. Faithfully following God marks true friendship with Him, but unfaithfulness makes us His enemy (Jas. 2:22-23).
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13, NKJV)
Jesus had told His apostles to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19). The world loves its own, and hates the light that exposes its sins (Jno. 3:19-20). This comes as no surprise. Jesus is the light of the world; therefore, the world hates Him (and His Father) most of all (Jno. 15:18, 23-25). When we become Christians, we leave the dark world of sin to live as “children of light” and to walk in the light of truth (Eph. 5:8; 1 Jno. 1:6-7). Therefore, the world hates us, too. Note the irony. Jesus was not hated because He was a great sinner (“Which of you convicts Me of sin?,” Jno. 8:46; 1 Pet. 2:22). He was hated “without a cause” (Jno. 15:25). When people in the religious error and moral corruption of the world hate you for following Jesus and His truth, accept your cross and bear it for His sake (Lk. 9:23). Do not marvel. Their hatred is par for the course. Do not be distracted by the world from practicing righteousness and loving one another (1 Jno. 3:10-15).