One of my favorite things to do is go on daddy-daughter date nights. If you are a dad and regularly plan these times, you know how significant they are for your little girl. Averie loves to dress up and try all kinds of new things. A couple of years ago we attended my first ever symphony and if truth be told I have always wanted to go!!! Its just now I finally have someone who can appreciate the finer things in life with me and more importantly help me not like a dweeb but rather a thoughtful dad.
Nonetheless, an interesting thing occurred before the orchestra began to play. A member of the orchestra come out on stage stood before the rest of the musicians and played a note, I believe an A, then the entire orchestra tuned to that note. The particular symphony Averie and I attended used a violinist, but I hear that traditionally it is an oboe. At first, I set there as a rookie attendee and thought to myself has this lady went rogue and flexing her musical muscles. It only took a few moments as the rest of the instruments joined in and finally hit that note to realize what was happening. They all synced to one person, to one note just before beginning to ensure no out of tune moments occurred.
Imagine how dreadful it would sound at a crucial moment for an instrument to abrasively be out of tune.
I wonder if that is how it sounded to Paul when Epaphras shows up and begins to tell him how the Church at Colossae was syncing to multiple beliefs. Each of which was far from that one single note that had been declared to them through Epaphras. That note that Paul had suffered for, that note, which is Christ, we set around last week. That is the single note we sync our lives up to. It is Christ that Epaphras had stood before the Colossians and played so beautifully and they originally set their lives with. So this morning, and next week, it is to those issues, deviations, and heresies we turn to…
The Set-up | Col 2:1-4
Paul’s aim in this letter is stated clearly here. In verse 4 Paul says, “I say all this in order the that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” What does he say? Well, may not be a surprise but it is yet another solid statement of who Christ is and what he has done. Once again to establish Christ as their foundation for everything, even practice and the ability to discern what is plausible or not.
What does he say in particular?
Assurance of God’s mystery, which is Christ and more specifically Christ in you (1:27) so there is a mysterious union, relationship, between them and Christ described by Paul many times as “in Christ." This, in turn, leads to the next statement to describe Christ further…in whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge—wisdom the capacity to understand and function and knowledge which is the comprehension or intellectual grasp of the world around them. Paul is saying since Christ is in you and he is wisdom and knowledge then you can discern right and wrong. The ability to know the nature of our existence. The ability to function properly, the ability to simply know, the ability to comprehend. In essences, since Christ is in you, and he is wisdom and knowledge, then he guards you against being deluded. Well, what is it exactly that is deluding the Colossians.
What is the heresy? Perhaps before looking at the particulars maybe it is worth some time to discuss…
What is heresy? Paul never actually uses the word heresy or false doctrine—like Peter does in 2 Peter 2:1—but rather calls it a philosophy full of empty deceit, that is according to human tradition, and that is according to elemental spirits of the world. But what is clear and why they are deemed heresy is because they teach doctrinal errors that reject the truth of scripture—namely Christ. They are false ideas about doctrine, about God, about Christ and his atoning work and the nature of things. That is a heresy, false ideas about God and, here particular, Christ.
Why is this important? Why should we care about false statements about God? All ideas have consequences. All thinking will naturally find its way into practice. Ideas are powerful and drive the way we view the world around us. They determine and define for us how things will happen and how we interpret events. Especially how we see ourselves and the world around us.
So still why is this important to know what ideas you have. For instances take magnetic north. A super helpful way to navigate but is still not true north. There are roughly 500 miles between the two points, that is not the same thing. Sure magnetic north will get you headed in the right direction, but it still does not make it accurate enough to navigate fully, such as planes. No one wants the pilot to come over the speakers and say, “Hey today I thought we would take our chances with magnetic north and see what happens.” You are banking on their ability, or the instrument's ability, to distinguish between magnetic north and true north. To calculate the difference and remain on course.
Most of us adopt, unknowingly, a philosophical idea about the world around us. What I mean is we have foundational truths that shape our lives, whether we know them or not. The unfortunate reality of most Christians is that we don't know them, we don't think. The old saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” is never truer than for christians—thinking is not an option. As one scholar put, “To not think, is unthinkable.”(1) We must do the hard work of examining our ideas about ourselves and the world around us and see if they are deviations from our true north—Christ. What is at stake? A life of frustration and ultimately living a life of a functional atheist.
Christ is our philosophy, he guides us about the foundational truths of the world around us and ourselves. Our knowing him, cognitively, brain and experiences give us the best understanding.
Well, what are these heresies in Colossae…
What we know:
This next section gives many details perhaps even direct quotes from these false teachers…so lets read 2:6-15. The false teachers are taking them captive through philosophy full of empty deceit, according to human tradition which is according to elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ—these things seem to be what is driving all the wrong thinking, and all are not according to Christ.
Philosophy would seem to hit at human’s understanding of the nature of things. Paul says rather directly that this particularly philosophy is according to human tradition. So the clear point here is that it is grounded on human understanding rather than Christ, who—as Paul set this section up with—is wisdom. Paul says this philosophy is full of empty deceit almost saying that its purpose is to deceive.
Human tradition, it would seem these false teachers were claiming their teachings were ancient and thereby giving it validity, a cunning deception to lure and entice the church to consider it’s “philosophy”—its understanding of things spiritual. But it is empty when it does not have the aroma of Christ permeating its every teaching.
Elemental spirits, a bit divided here if this means spiritual things (demonic, principalities, etc.) or earthly things (the basic elements earth, wind, fire, water, which we know from Greek Mythology they personified these things) but there is a sense that these false teachers are deriving their teaching from a source, whether supernatural or earthly, other than Christ. They have made created things their source of true understanding of the world around them, also the means by which they enter God’s presences, and unfortunately the means by which they are made well. This is why Paul says that God made them alive. They were dead, and nothing could revive them except God. He put off their deadness and made them alive together with Christ through forgiveness of sin. Another characteristic is they made this philosophy, human traditions and elemental spirits mediators between them and God. Perhaps this is why Paul goes to great lengths to establish Christ as the creator in chapter one. It would be best to worship and consult the creator rather than the creation—to take his word on these things, not man. Especially in contrast to how Paul sets up this entire section. There is no one more full of wisdom and mystery than Christ, who is God in the flesh. You want something chalked full of awe and is mysterious, look no further, Christ is!! If you are looking for the final say on things, the ultimate authority, look no further than the one who is superior to all the elemental spirits…that is precisely what Paul says in verse 9, "For in him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily!" He completely dismantles this human understanding by exalting Christ, and he concludes this section in verse 15 that "He [God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ]."
What are some applications for today…
Spiritualism / New Age…A few years ago Lauren and I went on a trip with her family to Sedona. We were staying at a hotel up by the airport. Upon finishing all the details of checking in one of the workers helping us asked if we would like a map of all the vortexes in Sedona. This was completely out of left field for me, and I was intrigued, so I said, “Sure!, What is a vortex?” He made an attempt to tell me that they are places of healing, good energy spots. I still was unsure exactly what he meant so I looked into it and here is a formal explanation from a website:
The energy from these vortexes saturates the whole area in and around Sedona, and can be noticed in a subtle but general way anywhere around town. If you actually go to one of the vortex sites, which is where the energy is strongest, it can be a very uplifting experience. The energy you take in at one of these energy centers can stay with you and affect you positively for days afterwards…The subtle energy that exists at these locations interacts with who a person is inside. The energy resonates with and strengthens the Inner Being of each person that comes within about a quarter to a half mile of it. This resonance happens because the vortex energy is very similar to the subtle energy operating in the energy centers inside each person. If you are at all a sensitive person, it is easy to feel the energy at these vortexes.(2)
This is typical of New Age Spiritualism and even more typical of a post-modern society that as one scholar put it, “wants spirituality, significance, belonging, and consolation against the impersonal nature of modern life. It frankly does not care how outlandish or irrational the answer might be so long is it fills this need.”(3)
New Age Spiritualism rejects the belief that God is distinct from His creation but equates the universe with God—which is no new idea but exactly what pantheist think. Therefore this implies that we all have a claim to deity and create our own reality. You see, ideas have consequences, and in this set of beliefs, there is no need for Christ. Matter of fact they believe…
That Jesus was a religious extremist and derived his teachings from spiritual masters in India or even that He survived the cross and journeyed to the East after the event. He was no more God than you and I but what he did do is attain the level of enlightenment known as “Christ consciousness.” So our task is to do what he did and become what he became. (4)
This is common around here, especially where beauty abounds in the creation around us. One can easily see the deviation that occurs when we exalt the creation over the creator. The best effort one can do to make things right is to connect with the creation in a powerful way to uplift the inner being to only feel better for a few days. They don’t account for sin and think it is an illusion, and really our problem is ignorance of our own divinity!! So center yourself with an energy source and acknowledge your inner divine nature. (5) Paul would have none of that for he has clearly stated that Christ is fully God and makes peace through his shed blood. Christ is the creator and far more worthy of our attention!!
Autonomy...Modernity began the notion that humans are self-governing and free to choose their own direction. Now we sit in a more post-modern world that says that people are the product of their culture and only imagine they are self-governing. Whether we imagine it or not the general temperature of the west is that we are only accountability to us. The nature of success is dependent on us and no one else. So, therefore, the nature of my spiritual understanding is left up to me. I am free to pull from whatever and whomever I please as it makes sense to me. I can even disregard some scripture while others I champion. So we come up with things such as, “God only helps those who help themselves.” Individualism and consumerism have deeply affected the Christian and deeply hinders growth. One who lives in autonomy trust their own emotions, self-understanding over scripture. They treat others how they have been treated rather than how they want to be treated. They become so enamored with self that it becomes a detriment to their relationship.
I was surprised to find that one can be labeled by a psychiatrist as a narcissist. Overindulgence in self is such a problem doctors label and treat it. You can become so autonomous that it is dangerous. Also, in this thinking one does not need to commit to the church, it is optional. This is no more evident that a billboard I heard of recently…Go to Church at Home—Time Square Church
Perhaps another issue for us today and our culture as I prayerfully considered this messages is the American Dream—though important and has a lot of good understanding about work ethic the tiny nuance and possible deviation that occurs is when it becomes our ultimate gauge of success. When it becomes our ultimate goal and drives all our actions rather than Christ. What do I mean? Well if I could be a little honest, here is what God has been doing in me...
Ultimately…Is what you are doing, or thinking, placing your trust and dependence on Christ?
Be vigilant about what you believe about God, who Christ is and what he has done!
- R C Sproul, Consequences of Ideas, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000) p. 10-11.
- Duana A. Garrett, Angels and the New Spirituality (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995) p 128.
- Garrett, Angels and The New Spirituality, 128-31.
- Garrett, 130.