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God’s Word for You

Colossians 2:8 philosophy and empty deception

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 31, 2018

8 Make sure that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

This part of Paul’s letter is the heart of his warning against the false teaching that was happening in Colosse. There were many examples of philosophy throughout the Greek world at this time. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were known all over the Greek-speaking regions, and these were only the more famous examples of philosophers that we still recognize today. Paul equates human philosophy with “empty deception.” Words that seem highfalutin, pretentious, or pompous can be intimidating to many people, but if such words don’t really mean anything, then what good are they? Gnosticism talked about bizarre and (to us) completely unknown things like monads, the pleroma, emanations, aeons, a demiurge, and archons. These were useless teachings, but they were gobbled up by common people who probably had no understanding of what was being claimed.

Paul warns about human tradition, which is similar to what Jesus said about “the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5). Human traditions do not rely on the Word of God, but are always attempts either to nullify the Scriptures, or else they are foolish attempts to turn the gospel into the law or vice-versa. One example of this is the policy in Medieval times of forcing a couple of monks to stay awake all night chanting the Psalms at a certain tempo and using a specific tune so that when they were finished they could wake up the rest of the monastery for Lauds at 3:00 in the morning, all based on a legalistic interpretation of Psalm 119:148, “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” What the Psalmist said about his love for God’s word was turned into a command: the gospel becoming the law.

The “basic principles of this world” seem to change from generation to generation, depending on the whims of scientific discoveries and the insistence of the discoverers that everyone accepts what they claim as if it were the Holy Gospel itself. This includes things like the ancient claim that the world was flat, that lead, mercury and arsenic would be excellent bases for women’s makeup, the theory that the sun revolves around the earth, Darwin’s theory of evolution, the theory that earth, air, fire and water are the only four elements (Aristotle added a fifth element: ether) and so on.

It is the unchanging nature of the Word of God that comforts us. “I, the LORD, do not change” (Malachi 3:6). When man runs away from the Word of God, the Lord warns us: “My people have committed two evils. They have abandoned me, the spring of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water!” (Jeremiah 2:13, EHV). God is the source of all providence, blessing, hope, truth, forgiveness, and life. Anything else leads to want, waste, hopelessness, lies, guilt, and death. We turn to Christ and to his mercy, and if that means leaving behind all the philosophies and “basic principles” of the present world, we will be better off in eternity by far.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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