Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world…
While thus abiding and walking in Christ (vers. 6, 7), the Colossians still needed the warning, "Be on your guard;" "Take heed," etc. In the words that follow we find -
I. A SUGGESTIVE SKETCH OF THE FALSE TEACHING THAT ASSAILED THE COLOSSIANS.
1. It came in the garb of philosophy. Real philosophy is nowhere condemned by the apostle. The term itself warns against its abuse. It is attributed to Pythagoras, who taught that no man was truly wise but God only, but he claimed to be a lover of wisdom. The false teaching at Colossae was rather a theosophy than a philosophy. As such it was "vain deceit" (Job 11:7-9; 1 Corinthians 1:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:18-20). It was part of that "knowledge which is falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20).
2. It claimed respect because of human authority and antiquity. It was "after the tradition of men." So far as the error was of Jewish origin, we can imagine something of its nature from the references to it in the Gospels (Matthew 15:2-9; Mark 7:3-5). These traditions had an attraction for many religious minds (Galatians 1:14). Grafted upon the genuine commandments of God, they had a semblance of authority, and some of them an undefined antiquity. The false teaching that was of Gentile origin could bring forward in its support names eminent in the philosophical world. But the authority was merely of men and could not appeal to "Scripture inspired of God."
3. It prescribed services and ceremonies pleasing to the unspiritual mind. The rite of circumcision (ver. 11), the strict observance of feasts or fasts, and the distinction of meats (ver. 16), might form important parts of a religion which would be easy to a mind religious but not truly spiritual (Romans 14:17, 18).
4. It was probably recommended by the personal influence of one or more popular teachers in their midst. This is an inference from the words, "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy," etc. (Revised Version). A devout and pure heresiarch is a source of peculiar peril. Hence the vehement warning in Galatians 1:8, 9:5. But it was alien from the doctrine and Spirit of Christ. "Not after Christ." Paul had absolute confidence that the good news he proclaimed was Christ's own gospel, by which he was prepared to test any teaching, and if needs be to condemn it as "a different gospel which is not another gospel" (Galatians 1:6). There are points of resemblance between the heresy at Colossae and the most prominent errors of the present day that are suggestive. Rationalism, in its various degrees of anti-supernaturalism, bases itself on philosophy and science (so-called); it speaks in tones of authority, and teaches as truths the thoughts and traditions and alleged discoveries of men quite irrespective of whether we have a revelation of the thoughts of God. It is recommended by the personal influence of exemplary men. "Science and Christ have nothing to do with one another except in as far as the habit of scientific investigation makes a man cautious about accepting any proofs" (from a letter by the late Charles Darwin to a student at Jena, June 5, 1879). But it is "not after Christ," the Christ of history and of apostolic doctrine. Sacerdotalism boasts of antiquity, bases itself on the tradition of the early Fathers and the "development" of apostolic doctrine rather than on "the Scriptures of truth." Its ritual, though helpful to some devout minds, involves the danger of spiritual truths being hidden behind sacramental symbols and religious ceremonies. It makes religion easy to an unspiritual man. And sacerdotal errors are commended to us by the influence of men illustrious both in talent and character, Nevertheless, the most attractive sacerdotalism is "not after Christ."
II. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE FULNESS OF CHRIST CAN SUPPLY ALL THAT WE NEED, (Vers. 9, 10.)
1. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in the eternal Word from the beginning. This is one of the superhuman truths revealed by God's Spirit and which stands or falls with Christianity (John 1:1; 1 John 1:2).
2. That fulness now dwells in" the Man Christ Jesus," "the Word made flesh," "bodily." The Incarnation is the grandest supernatural fact in the world. It is a "present truth," for Jesus Christ still lives, and the "fulness of the Godhead dwelleth in him" still. No wonder that mysteries and miracles should gather around our incarnate God. The transfiguration and the resurrection are natural to him. His dying rather than his rising is miraculous.
3. His sufficiency as Mediator renders us independent of all other mediation. His one sacrifice as an atonement takes the place of all the elementary lessons of Jewish symbolism, and makes the sacrifices of a so-called Christian priesthood a practical denial of his work on the cross (Hebrews 9. and 10.). Since he is" the Head of all principality and power," we need neither saints nor angels as intercessors (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25), nor can we degrade ourselves to receive God's absolution from an intrusive priest.
4. The fulness of blessing that flows direct from Christ can satisfy all the necessities of the human heart. Let us not make light of churches, ministries, sacraments, or other means of grace. But let us hold fast to the truth that Christ himself can immediately supply all our needs, so that we may be "in him made full." We are thus reminded of man's emptiness and need (John 15:5; Revelation 3:17); of his capacity for receiving blessings indefinitely great ("filled with all the fulness of God"); of "the exceeding abundant grace of our Lord" (John 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 3:17-21; Philippians 4:13); and of the need of union with Christ by faith ("in him")as the necessary condition of spiritual life. - E.S.P.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.