Meditations in Colossians 2: 7: Beware Deception
Col 2:4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments
In two previous meditations we have commented upon the struggle that Paul and other Christian leaders would have had against heresies in the first century. It is well to be aware of these although Paul never refers to them directly.
One of the primary heresies that arose in a variety of forms was that of Gnosticism. For the Gnostics, salvation came through gnosis, knowledge – a mystic knowledge revealed by the God of the New Testament (the good God, as against a bad God of the Old Testament) to the teacher of the sect. This is why Paul and other New Testament writers so often emphasise knowledge coming through Jesus, e.g. “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” (1:9,10) and “the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (2:2,3) and “since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (3:9,10)
When Paul starts this verse, “I tell you this,” the ‘this’ refers to the struggle he is involved in (2:1) to bring full understanding to the church of Christ who is the expression of God’s knowledge and wisdom in operation. (2:2) It isn’t some vague mystic knowledge that only comes through mystical experiences but it is publicly displayed for all to see – the plan of redemption through the Son of God, formulated from before the foundation of the world.
His warning is against those who “may deceive you“. Deception is one of the main weapons in the enemy’s armory. We see deception in the earliest pages of the Bible when the serpent deceived Eve and, yes, it was “by find sounding arguments”. Remember – “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) and “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4) Arguments that involved lies (you will not surely die) but sounded so right with partial truths (you will know good and evil).
A few verses on Paul says, “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.” (Col 2:8). We’ll look at that more fully when we get to it, but the warning is again there to beware deception. As we noted in an earlier meditation, teaching in the church is essential to have right understanding and to counter the errors which come up again and again throughout history, the same old ones again and again. There is no such thing as a new heresy; it will always be found in the past.
Jesus himself brought the same warning: “Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (Mt 24:4,5) and, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.” (Mt 24:24)
Paul wrote to the Romans, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Rom 16:17,18) To the Ephesians he wrote, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Eph 5:5,6)
See the means of deception in these verses: hollow and deceptive philosophy – that which does not have its origin with God; claiming to be Christ – you’ll know him when he comes in the clouds (Rev 19); signs and wonders – not everything comes from the Holy Spirit; smooth talk and flattery – appealing to your pride; empty words – words that appear to convince but fall under scrutiny. In a whole variety of way we can be led astray, led away from the truth into error and once in error, into unrighteousness. The counter to all these things is twofold: first to hold firmly to the word, to read it and study it in God’s presence to come to the understanding that Paul talks about in this letter; second, to maintain a real relationship with the Lord through the Holy Spirit where we know His grace and His peace. When something lacks the grace of God, question it. When your peace goes, check with the Lord why.
We are in a battle as Paul told the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” (Eph 6:10-14) The battle is to hold the ground of truth, the truth, the truth of the Gospel of grace. The enemy will use the strategies of fear and doubt, of temptation and of deception. Our role is simply to resist by being wide awake to the possibilities, and equipped with the word and the Spirit. May we stand strong in Him at all times, resisting anything that would seduce us away from Him and from what we know to be right.