Football is a big deal in our local high school. And with the increase in the dedication to football has come a greater focus on weight training. When you see the difference that this weight training makes, it becomes easier to understand why some young people begin messing around with anabolic steroids. Imagine being told that this little pill would make you stronger and more intimidating yet.
But there is a problem. Doctors have discovered that these steroids can have a rebound effect. The same pill that at first made you stronger will eat away the body you thought you were developing. You consume them, and they consume you. Not just for a few years, but for life. If you give in to the salesman who is peddling muscles in a bottle it could kill you.
In Colossians 2 the Apostle Paul warns the people of Colosse that those who sell bottled doctrine may sound good and look harmless . . . but in fact they are peddling spiritual death.
In chapter two the apostle encourages the Colossian church in their spiritual maturity. But even in the midst of this discussion he says that he is telling them these things so that “no one would deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (2:4). He comes back to this idea again in verse 8. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Error was surrounding the Colossians. False teachers were ever-present and Paul wanted to guard these trusted followers.
Never has Paul’s warning taken on a greater measure of urgency than the present. There has never been a time in the history of our country when there has been more diverse teaching going on. The mixture of religious ideas has become much more pronounced as Eastern Religions are mixed with many man-made ideas. You might be at an event with a follower of Islam on one side of you and a New Age devotee on the other. This is a difficult issue and I encourage you to work hard with me this morning as we try to think through this important command. This is not easy stuff . . . but it is important stuff.
Paul warns us to beware of hollow and deceptive philosophy. Now please notice that Paul does not tell us to beware of Philosophy in any form. The word “philosophy” means “lover of wisdom”. This is a good thing. There are a number of people who will hear Paul’s instruction and distrust anything that smells like a philosophical discussion. Paul was not against education or the discipline of philosophical inquiry. In fact, in the book of Acts we see Paul engage in philosophical debate of his own with the Greeks.
What Paul does say is that we must beware of HOLLOW and DECEPTIVE philosophy. He is cautioning us that not every idea is a good idea. Not every new thought is a true thought. In this age of information it is increasingly important that we sort through the information and distinguish between that which is true and that which is false. Our times are much more dangerous than ever before. People are now experts on how to sell an idea. We are experts at packaging and presentation. And at this same time the discipline of logic has been abandoned and people are much less qualified to examine the propositions presented in such a slick fashion.
Paul further identifies this hollow and deceptive philosophy as that which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. The point is clear: a false teaching will always present itself as a new discovery of some hidden truth but is really something that comes from the mind of men. It has a common characteristic: it leads us to depend upon something or someone other than Christ. False teaching will always encourage us to be more dependent on ourselves, or our systems. They will always turn us gradually away from complete dependence on our Savior. But discerning false teaching is difficult. But there are some things that are usually true:
It will be subtle
False teaching is not a blatant disavowal of accepted belief. It is usually an exaggeration of some kernel of truth. It is one element of truth taken to an extreme. As Steve Brown has said, “truth taken to the exclusion of other truth, is error”. Most false teaching will not stand up and scream “This is a Teaching Which Contradicts the Bible”. Instead it will take a portion of the Bible and mis-use it. It will take one element of the truth to an extreme that discounts the rest of the truth. It is distortion.
It will be attractive
No one will follow something they find abhorrent. So, false teachers will package their teaching in very attractive terms.
- They will emphasize man’s potential to achieve
- They will focus on material and personal benefit
- They will appeal to man’s inner desire to be “as God” (the same desire of Lucifer in Isaiah 14, and Adam and Eve in the Garden).
- They will promise to give us something more than simple faith in Christ can give. Gnosticism, a heresy that may have been the focus of Paul’s concern, emphasized a “deeper experience”. They promoted a “secret truth”. Notice that Paul follows up his caution with the words, “for in Christ ALL the FULLNESS of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given FULLNESS in Christ . . . ” We don’t need anything else. God has given us everything in our Savior.
It will often be “Bible-quoting”
The deceptions that are most dangerous today are those that take parts of the Bible to reinforce their own beliefs. This makes them sound “biblical”. Beware of those who quickly quote a series of verses. Look those verses up! Check to see if they were used in context. See if they really said what they were purporting to say. As I have said many times, you can use the Bible to prove anything if you don’t care about context.
Have you observed the new marketing strategy of the Mormon church? One of the latest commercials has a man talking in soft tones about the guide of his life, The Bible. He tells how he learned about Jesus in the Bible and how Jesus told his disciples about “other sheep” (which most likely referred to those outside of Judaism who would respond to the gospel). This nice man goes on to tell us that these sheep were the Mormons. And then he tells us how we can get a copy of the Book of Mormon, the “other testament”.
This is a blatant attempt to deceive weak believers into thinking that Mormonism is really just a more developed form of Christianity! The goal is not to get you to read the Bible . . . but to read the book of Mormon. It is an attempt to draw people away from Christianity. It is hollow philosophy depending on human tradition and the whispers of demons.
But this kind of thing doesn’t just come from non-Christian sources. Just a couple of days ago I listened to a well known Christian speaker. He was telling his audience that the key to Christian victory was to “speak the truth”. He said, God will not bless us unless we confess the blessing we desire. For proof he turned to Numbers14:28 which says, “As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say.” He repeated these words and had the people repeat them over and over to “prove” the principle he was proclaiming. But if you read the passage you realize that this was a teaching in search of a Bible text rather than a teaching from the Bible!
The passage relates how the Israelites refused to obey God by going into the promised land. They were afraid to trust God. They were afraid they would be killed. God became angry and considered destroying the entire group. Moses interceded for the people. Then God says, “As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall-every one of you twenty years old or more . . . ” God was not giving a principle . . . He was giving a punishment!
The man was a well-meaning teacher but he was not teaching the Bible at this point. He was using the Bible to teach his own philosophy.
So, how do we guard against such error deceiving us?
First, We Must learn to think clearly and critically
A book by Thomas Gilovich called “How We Know What Isn’t So” makes some valuable observations about human nature and how we respond to things that are taught. There are several things we need to remember when we are evaluating what others are proclaiming.
- We tend to be attracted to information that will confirm something we want to believe. If we like it, we don’t evaluate it very carefully. We must guard against this tendency.
- We will tend to reject anything we don’t fully understand or don’t like. We will look for any excuse (even a poor one) to reject these things. We must resist this tendency.
- We tend to be swayed more by personality or presentation than reason. A presentation stirs us and so we accept it as true. We say things like, “but, they are so sincere!” You must not accept something just because some celebrity says it is true. Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls is a big follower of Zen Buddhism but the fact that he is a successful coach doesn’t make his beliefs true. By the same token you should not accept something just because I say so. And we should not believe something just because it is written by Max Lucado, R.C. Sproul, or Chuck Swindoll. We must evaluate what people say on the value of what is said . . . not by who said it.
- Much information given is second hand which means it has been changed or embellished to make it more “interesting”. That means we often aren’t getting all the facts, or aren’t getting accurate information.
- Much deception is stated in the form of self-fulfilling prophecies or circular arguments.
- For example, someone says, “you can’t help a person until they hit ‘rock bottom'”. How many of use have even repeated this adage? But what does it mean? What is “rock bottom”. Rock bottom is never defined. We are told that if the person responds to intervention then they were at rock bottom . . . if they don’t, then we conclude they are not there yet. This is a circular argument. How do we know that these people don’t respond to intervention for some other reason?
The same kind of thing is happening in the Christian world today. We are told that you will be healed if you have “enough faith”. But, what does it mean to “have “enough faith”? How do you know if you have enough faith? The answer is simple: if you are healed you had enough faith, if you aren’t, you didn’t. This is another circular argument or self-fulfilling prophecy. How do we know that some people are healed and some are not, for some other reason?
So, the first thing we must do is work to think clearly in all areas of our lives. We need to discipline ourselves even in daily conversation to make sure that we have heard correctly and not simply heard what we expected or desired to hear.
Second, And most importantly, We Must Use God’s Truth as a Reference Point
Paul moves from this caution about hollow philosophies and immediately begins focusing on the true nature of Christ. In other words, he underscores what is true. We cannot defend against error unless we can distinguish it from the truth.
Friends, we need to know the Word of God as an intimate and close companion in our lives. I know I don’t devote as much time as I could to studying Bible. I suspect you don’t either. There has never been a time when knowing the truth was as essential as it is now. Every television show, every magazine, every book you read is tainted with hollow philosophies. Sometimes these things are even spoken in church.
I want you to understand. I care about truth. I work hard every week to weigh the things I say by God’s Word. However, I know that some hollow and deceptive philosophy surely creeps into what I teach. And it also creeps into what you teach and believe as well. Our only safeguard is a careful and thorough knowledge of God’s Word. We must take EVERY thought captive to the Word of God. It is time to adopt a ruthless attitude toward the truth. For the moment we let our guard down, we are in trouble.
Max Lucado gives this chilling example,
No one ever expected it would happen the first time. Especially with this church. It was the model congregation. A heated swimming pool was made available for underprivileged kids. Horses were provided for inner city children to ride. The church gave scholarships and provided housing for senior citizens. It even had an animal shelter and medical facility, an out-patient care facility, and a drug rehabilitation program.
Walter Mondale wrote that the pastor was an “inspiration to us all.” The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare cited the pastor’s outstanding contribution. We are told “he knew how to inspire hope He was committed to people in need, he counseled prisoners and juvenile delinquents. He started a job placement center; he opened rest homes and homes for the retarded; he has a health clinic; he organized a vocational training center; he provided free legal aid; he founded a community center; he preached about God. He even claimed to cast out demons, do miracles, and heal.”
Lofty words. A lengthy resume for what appeared to be a mighty spiritual leader and his church. Where is that congregation today? What is she doing now?
The church is dead . . .literally.
Death occurred the day the pastor called the member to the pavilion. They heard his hypnotic voice over the speaker system and from all corners they came. He sat in his large chair and spoke into a hand-held microphone about the beauty of death and the certainty that they would meet again.
The people were surrounded by armed guards. A vat of cyanide laced Kool-Aid was brought out. Most of the cult members drank the poison with no resistance. Those who did resist were forced to drink. . . all was calm for a few minutes, then the convulsions began, screams filled the Guyana sky, mass confusion broke out. In a few minutes, it was over. The members of the Peoples Temple Christian Church were all dead. All 780 of them . . . And so was their leader, Jim Jones. [And the Angels Were Silent p. 64,65]
Could this happen to you? You don’t think so. But it could. Hollow and deceptive philosophy can come from people intent on destroying us, or it could come from people who love us. We have the responsibility to be alert and aware. Your spiritual life depends on your heeding these warnings.
Are you headed in the wrong direction? Are you trusting your abilities, or your systems for eternal life and enjoyment? Friend, what you are looking for can only be found in Jesus Christ. I know you have been told that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. But it does matter.
The Bible is clear: we have become God’s enemies by the way we have disregarded Him in our living. Unless something changes, we will remain his enemies even after our death. The Bible is also clear that we can do nothing to undo our past. And it is at this point that God has done something for us. He sent Christ to earth, God in human form, to experience what we experience and to show us that it is possible to live for God. But He came for a much more significant reason. He came to die in our place. He came to pay for the sin that we had committed. When Jesus rose from the dead He finished a bridge that would make it possible for you and I to return to God.
The message of the Gospel is this: You matter to God! He sent His Son to die for you. Now He invites you to trust and receive Him as your Savior and your Leader for life. It is a matter of saying “Yes”. “Yes, I will trust you to cleanse me, to remake me, and to bring me home.”
That’s the gospel. It’s simple. It’s profound. It’s life-changing. And though there are lots of philosophies that are attractive and seductive, none of them can do what this simple act of faith can do. There is only one way to where you really want to go. That way is Christ. Everything else is just a dead end. Choose your course carefully.