Colossians 2:6-8 ESV
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Introduction and Review:
As we began Colossians we found that Paul was writing to a church that had been established in the gospel under the minister of Epaphras. But, we learned, that this church had been exposed to teaching that threatened to lead them to look away from Christ to other things in order to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
It seems that they were being told that true knowledge and wisdom and maturity and a life pleasing to God could, in fact be pursued by things other than Christ.
So Paul writes to this church in order to reorient their thinking, to show them the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ for all their needs. Christ in the beginning, middle and end of all our pursuits of knowledge, wisdom, maturity and a life pleasing to God. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him (Colossians 2:3).
Recall, that Paul showed us just how valuable and significant the Son truly is in verses 15-23: The Son is in fact the Creator of all thing, both visible and invisible and so preeminent over all creation. All things were created through him and for him and in him all things hold together! Nothing exists except what He has created and what he even now sustains.
And this same Son, is the head of the Church. It was He who died and rose victorious over the grave. It is this very Son who has finally established peace in heaven and on earth, triumphing over sin and Satan, by the blood of His cross. In verses 21-23 Paul explains the effects of the Son’s person and work for the Colossians personally:
They, who were once alienated and hostile in mind doing evil deeds, Christ has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present them holy and blameless and above reproach before him, that is, if indeed they continue clinging to Jesus by faith.
The king of glory has triumphed over sin and death and we are connected to Him and receive all the benefits of His work by faith in Him.
And finally, we walked through the section where Paul was trying to establish these believers in the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ by described the shape of the ministry that grows out of the foundation of the gospel.
Paul gave the Colossians the contours of genuine Christian ministry. He did this in order to guard the Colossian believers from counterfeit distracted, distorted ministry. Christian ministry is about Christ. Its aim is to present everyone mature in Christ. It toils and struggles to make the glories of Christ known through preaching and teaching and warning and admonition. Christian ministry is empowered by the Spirit of God within us. It is marked by humility and a heart of service and follows Christ in suffering and dying so that others may hear, believe, and live.
We must fix our eyes upon Jesus.
Summary of this Text:
In the next section (2:6-15), Paul will unpack the truths of the gospel out of which ministry and the Christian life grow. Paul is arming the Colossians with gospel truth so that they will not be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
It is the knowledge of Christ that Paul is here laboring to place before them so that they will cling to Him and grow toward maturity in Him and not abandon Him. In Christ is found all that we need to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to Him and apart from Him we have nothing.
In the time we have here, we are going to unpack the first three verses of this section (2:6-8). These verses summarize Paul’s aim in this section, and really the aim of the whole letter. So I want to make sure we understand what Paul is saying here.
Let’s now move on to consider Colossians 2:6-8
The big question is: what is your philosophy of life? What are your guiding principles? What informs your walk, your way of life.
What principles inform how you make choices and decisions in your life? What moves you to live like you do? What drives you to act like you do? What are the principles with which your life accords?
We are going to start in verse 8 and wrestle the meaning out of that verse and then we are going to go back up to verses 6 and 7 and apply Paul’s command to walk just as we have received Christ the Lord.
Empty and Deceitful Philosophy:
So, as we look at verse 8 we find Paul telling the Colossians to “Watch out! Be careful! Be on the look out!
See to it (Watch out!) that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit…
Paul tells these beloved Colossians believers that they need to stay awake and keep their guard up against people that might take them as captives.
What Paul is talking about in this letter is serious business. Paul is not talking about being physically carried off. It is far more dangerous than that.
There is a war for your soul going on. There are so called Christian teachers who are promoting what looks like wisdom and light and knowledge and they may even be using the bible, but who are only serving to carry you off as plunder, to capture you and make you a slave by their teaching.
What does Paul mean by “philosophy and empty deceit”?
It seems that Paul is describing, not two distinct things, but two aspects of one thing. This could be rendered “empty and deceitful philosophy” or “philosophy that is empty and deceitful.”
Paul is saying Christians need to watch out for people who are using a certain type of philosophy, that is, people who are promoting systems of thought to guide behavior that end up being empty and deceitful. These teachers promise fullness and power and effectiveness by these philosophies but their teaching turns out to be empty and unable to deliver what it promised.
Paul gives three descriptive phases to help us identify such philosophies:
“(8)See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit…
(1.)…according to human tradition,
(2.)…according to the elemental spirits of the world, and
(3.)…not according to Christ.”
First, the philosophies that we are to watch out for find their origin and source in human tradition and not from God.
This is a call to be students of the Word, brothers and sisters.
Do you know your Bible’s well enough to determine if what someone is saying (on the TV or radio or in a book or article, or in this pulpit) finds its origin in human tradition or from God? The philosophy we need to keep on the look out for finds its source in human tradition. And do not think that just because someone quotes from the bible that they understand what God is saying. The Jewish leaders in Jesus day used the Bible, but they used it according to their human tradition and not according to what God had intended. We must always be growing to understand the precious Word of God.
Second, the philosophy we need to keep on the look out for is “according to the elemental spirits of the world.”
What is that? Paul will use this word, translated “elemental spirits” or “elementary principles”, again in verse 20. In Paul’s day this word was used to refer to the fundamental components of a thing. So, for example, you could use this word to talk about letters as the fundamental components of the alphabet or you might use this word to talk about notes as the fundamental elements of music.
But what is Paul talking about here in Colossians when he says that this philosophy which is empty and deceitful is according to the fundamental elements or elementary principles of the world?
Helpfully Paul uses this same word and phrase in the letter to the Galatians. Paul sheds wonderful light on this phrase in Galatians so I think we need to go to Galatians and see what Paul is saying there.
Galatians is a letter with a different tone from Colossians. Paul writes with extreme passion in Galatians. It seems that there were some in the church that were not only exposed to false teaching but who were actually deserting Christ and going back to the Old Covenant, the covenant of Law.
In Galatians, Paul is contrasting reliance upon the law to achieve life (Gal 3:21) and righteousness (Gal 3:21) and the inheritance (Gal 3:18) with reliance on Christ for all those things. In other words he is contrasting works with faith. These are two totally and completely different principles. The first only produces sin and condemnation and death, the second produces righteousness and justification and life.
Paul asserts in Galatians 3 that God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his Offspring based only upon God’s promise (Gal 3:15 – 18).
15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.
16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
So God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his Offspring based only upon God’s promise.
Paul says the law that came 430 years later didn’t and couldn’t change that covenant of promise (Gal 3:17). Very simply Paul states that if the inheritance comes by law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise (Gal 3:18).
Paul is talking about different governing principles, different philosophies. One, pursuing the blessings of God by works. The other, pursuing the blessings of God by faith.
So When we come to Galatians 3:19 Paul is answering a question about why God added the Law. If it was not through the law that the inheritance would come, then why the law?
Paul says in 3:19 it was added because of transgressions and in verse 21 he says the Scriptures imprisoned everyone under sin. In verse 23 Paul says that before faith came, we (that is those under the law) were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
So, the law was added because people are sinful.
In fact, it was added to demonstrate sinfulness, not as the means of receiving the promised inheritance. In fact, 2 Corinthians 3 calls the Law Covenant the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation.”
Yes, God added the law, to serve His people. But, not as the principle that would bring life. Quite the opposite. The law was added in order to demonstrate that through the principle of works, we cannot attain life!
The only principle, through which life and blessing can be obtained, was introduced 430 years before the law. The promises to Abraham and his Offspring are received by the principle of faith.
What does any other this have to do with our passage in Colossians 2?
Paul goes on in Galatians to contrast the person under the Old Covenant and the person under the New Covenant. The person under the Old Covenant, under the law, was imprisoned, held captive, under a guardian.
Then, in chapter 4 verse 1, Paul says that even the true believer, the heir according to the promise, when under the Old Covenant was no different from a slave! The saints under the Old Covenant were like children waiting to grow up and receive the inheritance from their father, waiting for the day they would not be under guardians and managers.
So here it comes Galatians 4 and verse 3:
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.”
What has Paul been talking about? He says the Old Covenant saint was held captive under the law, imprisoned, a slave and now he says they were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. That is the exact same phrase that we find in Colossians 2:8:
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
In both cases Paul is talking about the principle of works: “Do this and live! Fail, and you will surely die.” That is the basic principle of the universe. The fundamental principles of the world have to do with justice. The basic principles in the universe have to do with just consequences.
I think we know this. When we hear about a heinous murder or rape or a mass shooting something in us cries out for justice. When we fail to do what is right and just our consciences stab at us, bearing witness to our failure. If you start digging down into the religions of the world and you find this basic principle: do this and live, fail and suffer the consequences.”
Before we take up Colossians again let me just finish the section in Galatians.
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “ Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Do you remember that Paul told us, in Colossians, that the content of New Covenant ministry is Christ? He said it is Christ in you, the hope of glory!
Do you remember that Paul was not satisfied to leave Christ a mystery in his ministry? Here is why: when Christ Jesus came on the scene God was making good on His promises, not according to the basic principles of the world, but according to the glorious principle faith. God was not treating us according to what we deserve. He was doing everything necessary to give to us, as a gift, according to the promise, the blessings of the inheritance.
The New Covenant in Christ has a fundamentally different principle from the elemental principles of the world!
Faith: that looking away from ourselves to God’s perfect provision in Christ.
How God was going to make good on His promises was a mystery hidden for ages and generations, but now has been revealed! It is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
We do not go to the world, publishing the law and saying: do this and live! We go to the world, publishing the gospel and saying: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and live!
And so we have come back to Colossians 2:8 and the final phrase that describes the philosophies that are empty and deceptive is this: they are not according to (dependent upon) Christ.
Paul is asking these Christians to watch out for those who would enslave them to the principle of law. In this New Covenant we have been freed from that principle and been given a new one: Faith in Christ.
Any life philosophy that does not rest solely upon Christ for life and righteousness and peace and the blessings of God, but introduces a different principle – is empty and deceitful.
The principle of works will not be able to deliver on its promises! Read the history of the nation of Israel for one giant illustration of that!
Look at verse 6 and 7 now.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
How did we receive Christ Jesus the Lord?
Was it by works? We received Him by faith. We looked away from ourselves and we clung to Jesus as the prefect and sufficient Savior. We recognized our sinfulness and inability to measure up and in brokenness we trusted him to fully deal with our sin problem.
Well, this verse says that, “(just) as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so(in that way) walk in him.”
The Christian life never moves beyond the principle of faith. The Christian life is founded upon and grows out of the principle of faith. We never move beyond our need to cling to Jesus, to look away from ourselves and to trust Him to give us everything we need!
This verse says that the Christian life is a life rooted to Christ like a branch to the vine. Walk rooted to Him.
This verse says the Christian life is a life built up in Him like a living stone that finds its stability because it is laid upon the great corner stone.
This verse says that the Christian life is established in the faith.
What principle governs your life?
Are you messing around with the elemental principles of the world: laboring by your own strength and trusting in your own merit to achieve a life pleasing to God? Is the principle that moves you fear of consequences? Does the fear of God’s whip moves you to action?
Or have you heard the good news?
Have you heard, understood, and embraced the good news: God has introduced a new governing principle! This new principle, God has introduced by pure grace. Here it is: all the ones believing in the Son will have life eternal (John 3:16). In Christ, the Lord we have been set free from sin and fear and guilt. We have been given, freely, all we need for life and godliness, hope and glory, joy and peace, forgiveness, righteousness, and pleasures forevermore in fellowship with God … not by works, but by faith in Christ.
Just as you were brought into fellowship with God through faith in Christ, so, in that same way, walk every moment of your life in Him.
The life you now live is in Him and upon Him. Feeding off of Him.
The governing principle of a Christian, the thing that moves you, the governing principle is not the external threat of the Divine whip. Rather, it is believing that God has done in Christ all that was necessary to rescue you from sin and death and is now and forever more for you and not against you in Christ. You have, already, been given, as a gift, the life you once thought you must attain by your own running. You have received it, not by the labors of your hands, but by faith in the labors of the Righteous One, the Lord Jesus Christ. And in Him you have been given everything you need for life and godliness. Live out of that gospel. Walk by faith.
And so the great pursuit of our life and ministry must be to walk in Christ Jesus the Lord, just as we have received Him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as we were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Are you living out of this gospel? Are you living upon this foundation? Is the life you live governed by the principle of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Is the good news about God’s work in Christ central in everything you think, say, and do? Let us put Christ before our eyes this week and live out of the truths of the gospel. Set your minds upon these things and be filled and over flowing with thankfulness.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.