Of this world, not of Christ
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
C2.1 Taken captive
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, it can overcome us and enslave us, with the result that we no longer walk in the same way that we received Christ.
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.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
C2.2 Philosophy and vain tradition
Gnosticism had ancient Greek philosophy as one of its strands. This study is not meant to be a detailed look at this so here we shall confine ourselves to a general overview.
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 examining life, its morals and of good and evil. In both cases without the revelation of the one true God. It challenged the conventions of the day including the Greek pantheon of gods. Its ultimate end was seeking the secrets of life.
It must be noted that there were many different schools of Greek Philosophy and no summary such as this can do it justice. Our interest is the Gnostics take on these matters.
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.
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’.
C2.3 Two examples
There are two schools of Greek Philosophy mentioned in scripture. The Epicureans and the Stoics, which were two of the last great schools of Greek philosophy.
Paul when visiting Athens came across two sects of Greek philosophers: the Epicureans and Stoics. Acts 17:16-21. These two schools were rivals.
They believed that pleasure was the greatest good and this is obtained by knowledge and living modestly. This in turn would lead to tranquillity and an absence of pain. Its founder, Epicurus stated that the only source of knowledge was through the senses. Compare this to what we considered earlier regarding the temptation of Eve!
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. Its founder was Zeno in Athens about the 3rd century BC.
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.
C2.4 Of the world
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 only 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.
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 had 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.
C2.5 In Christ alone
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 hidden 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.
For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel: not with the wisdom of words lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness but unto us which believe it is the power of God…or after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God , it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe…but unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Have you, reader, received Christ and know that wisdom and power in your life?