5a. Philosophy and..... not after Christ
We now come to the second danger that Paul alerts us to: Philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men.
The first point to note is that Paul says that we are to beware lest we are spoilt through these things. The word spoilt here means to carry off as a slave or prey.
The NIV translates this verse as: see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive Philosophy.
This danger has the ability to take and enslave us in its grip, taking us away as its prey. Whatever this danger is, and we will develop this shortly, it can overcome us and take us as a prey enslaving us, with the result that we no longer walk in the same way as we received Christ mentioned in a previous study.
This danger is a philosophy that is not rooted in Christ. This vain (=empty) Philosophy, of which Paul speaks, tries to provide a way of self improvement, what some would call salvation, a way of achieving spiritual life by means of the flesh; it rejects the all sufficiency of Christ and His redeeming work. Once it takes hold of a person they are no longer walking in the Spirit but in the flesh. Consequently they become slaves to a man made (or worse) system and are taken captive of it.
We have a similar warning in Galatians.
What we call Greek Philosophy spans a period from about the 6th century BC. It tried to answer the big questions of life. It did so by either genuine scientific enquiry, or in some mystical fashion, but in both cases without the revelation of the one true God. It challenged the conventions of the day including the Greek pantheon of gods. Originally it set out exploring the origin and nature of the universe but later this developed into looking into moral issues. Its ultimate end was seeking the secrets of life.
Its aim could be summed as self –realisation. Aristotle, for example thought that the human being has certain innate potentials that needed to be fully realised. This idea was taken up by Thomas Aquinas and introduced these ideas into what we loosely call 'Christendom'.
The Gnostics built on the Greek Philosophers, such as Plato and Pythagoras. Their basic thinking was: matter was evil, spirit good, and that people have ’a divine spark ‘within them; the soul being a prisoner inside the human body, and for its release secret knowledge must be obtained.
Similar ideas are around today, although maybe not in that exact form. The modern 'contemplative spirituality' movement is an example of such thinking to various degrees. Indeed it is alarming to realise that these ancient thoughts are today infiltrating evangelical circles. But more of that later in the series.
Paul when visiting Athens came across two sects of Greek philosophers: the Epicureans and Stoics. Acts 17:16-21. These two schools were rivals.
The Epicureans. They believed that pleasure was the greatest good and this is obtained by knowledge and living modestly. This in turn would lead to tranquility and an absence of pain.
The Stoics. To them the path to happiness was by accepting the moment, and not allowing one to be controlled by its desires and circumstances. Hence our word stoicism.
In this passage in Acts we notice that the city was given over to idolatry. So clearly the Greek philosophies that tried to do away with the paganism of Greece, during the previous five centuries, didn’t achieve their end. Philosophy in this respect was an abject failure!
Looking once more at Rom 1:20-25 we recall that idolatry is a result of rejecting God’s revelation in creation, and then men became vain in their imaginations ( = empty reasonings). Greek philosophy didn’t change that instead they (tried to) replaced one form of idolatry (idols) with another form (self).
The people of Athens wanted new things---their philosophy had been going for some 500+ years and there was nothing to show for it! It was empty, of no value, it didn’t satisfy hence the desire for new and novel ideas. Paul’s message was that of the RESURRECTION—something philosophy couldn’t give. Teaching us that man's philosophies may give ideas and ideals but they do not give the ability to live them. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, something that is foolishness to man's wisdom' I Cor.1:22
This danger is an ever real one for the believer. New (so it is thought) ideas emerge and some people are beguiled by these vain words, and get carried off and become prey to the latest thing. It may promise short cuts to successful Christian living, victory or whatever, but in the end takes the unwary away from the narrow path. All because they did not heed the basic truth that as you have received Christ so walk in Him.
After the rudiments of the world. These philosophies are based on nothing more that the elemental things of the world John summaries these elemental things as: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. I Jn.2:16.
Notice this is the same trio that entrapped Eve to disobey God. Gen.3:6 she saw the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh] and it was pleasant to the eyes [lust of the eyes] and a tree to be desired to make one wise [pride of life].
The vain philosophies of men tempt on exactly the same line. They see the philosophy is good for [spiritual ]food, what they see in it pleases them; and it is something to be desired. Just like Eve, trying to obtained something in the spiritual realm without God. The only answer to this is to know the crucifying power of the cross in our lives and be dead to the world and the world becoming dead to us. But we are running ahead of ourselves.
The philosophy that Paul warns of is that which is not after Christ. What we see in this epistle is that what philosophy was searching for is found in Christ and in Him alone. By rejecting that revelation of God men, as already noted, fall away into a downward spiral of unbelief and idolatry.
Just a note to say that according to Solomon in Ecclesiastes there is nothing new under the sun Eccl.1:9. Heresies that abound in this day were around in days past, the only thing that is different is the packaging. Later on we shall look at some of the contemporaneous errors that have crept in, and see that this indeed is the case.
This vain philosophy is after the tradition of men, it is a precept that has been handed from one generation to the next. This philosophy of the Greeks was not only handed down, but following generations added their own bits and thoughts. But they were all the ideas of men and nothing to do with Christ and His gospel at all.
Jesus had some strong words to say about the traditions of men. Speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees He revealed a general principal. After the leaders accused the disciples of breaching the tradition of the fathers, Jesus said to them: you have made the Word of God of none effect by your tradition Mk.7:1-13. Men’s traditions makes God’s word of no effect.
This revelation should make us sit up and take note! What traditions of men have we indulged in? Or even perpetuated. The tragedy is that churches throughout the ages have introduced man-made tradition and in doing so have made God’s word of no effect.
That which men and women are searching for is found only in Christ. In this section Paul goes on to explain what that is, namely that we are complete in HIM. Completeness is not found in man's empty philosophical schemes.
The fullness of Godhead dwells in Christ, if something is full it can not be empty. There is nothing empty nor deceitful nor of no value with Christ. All the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Him. This is opposed to the false ‘secret ‘knowledge philosophy of the Gnostics.
In I Corinthians Paul declares that Christ is both the power and wisdom of God In so doing he links it to the power with the cross. He states that man can not know God by man's wisdom. Not only are these Philosophies empty of wisdom, they are also devoid of power to deal with the deepest need of the human heart.
True wisdom is found only in God. Christ is both the wisdom and power of God, all our needs are met in Him and in Him alone.
Christ is the all sufficient one.
Have you, reader, received Christ and know that wisdom and power in your life?