7. Beware Deception

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.

42. Be at Peace

Meditations in 1 Peter : 42 : Be at Peace

1 Pet 3:13-15 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

The ways of life are very obvious when you think about it. For example, if you want a life of trouble and difficulty all you have to do is be nasty to people, cheat on them, lie to them, deceive them, be spiteful to them, steal from them, do your work badly, fail to pay your debts, borrow but never give back and so on. If you are a student you skip classes, never hand work in and be casual about your learning.  If you are married you be unfaithful to your partner and be unpleasant to your kids. Now all that is so obvious that you might wonder why any of us do any of these things. Surely we want a good life, a life without stress? So why do people act like this? Because of the stupidity of sin!

Peter is painting a very different picture. He is putting up some pointers to help us live the good life and has just used the Old Testament to act as a guide. He assumes we want a life that is peaceful and free from upset. OK, he says, Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” i.e. do good and that will stop most people from being nasty to you. People don’t feel threatened generally by goodness so they won’t attack you. If you constantly do good, you are not going to attract hostility and upset.

But Peter is a realist and he knows that in the world in which we live, although it is generally like that, there will be people so given over to the enemy that they will come against you: “But even if you should suffer for what is right.” This suffering means persecution and opposition from others; that is clear by what follows. Yes, as good as you may be there will be those along life’s way who will oppose you, just like they did Jesus for his goodness. But look what he goes on to say:But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” How will you be blessed for suffering persecution?

He doesn’t say but perhaps he has in mind his master’s teaching: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10,11)  Yes, Jesus taught that you were blessed in such circumstances because it showed that you were a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and as such heaven will reward you. That reward may be a sense of peace that passes understanding or it may be a sense of the Father’s approval or it may be His blessing that brings further goodness into your life.

But then he seeks to reassure us: Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” This would appear to be a quote from Isaiah: “do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear.” (Isa 8:12,13) i.e. do not fear the plotting and scheming of people. The only one to ‘fear’ is God because He is all-seeing and all-mighty. We live, as children of God, under the watchful eye of our Father and He will provide for us and protect us: “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psa 121) That IS the truth. We would do well to memorise that psalm for it reminds us of the truth.

Then Peter takes the Old Testament teaching and brings it up to date: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” The Old Testament was ‘fear the Lord’. The New Testament was ‘Jesus is Lord’. They are the same things expressed at different times with different levels of revelation. Today our submitting to God is expressed through our submission to His Son, our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. So today, when we are facing opposition and wondering how we will cope, remember that Jesus is Lord and is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling in heaven over all things.(see Eph 1:22, 1 Pet 3:22, Rom 8:34, 1 Cor 15:25, Psa 110:1). Faith means we respond to these truths and the outworking of it will be peace. We will live in peace and live out peace. Yes, sometimes there will be opposition but Christ will be there and his grace will be sufficient as he works out all things for our good. Rejoice in this and be at peace in this! 

41. Spiritual Warfare

Meditations in James: 41 : Strategy for Spiritual Warfare

Jas 4:7    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

It has been said that Christians, in respect of Satan, tend to veer towards one or other extremes of belief. The one extreme is to see demons in every situation, and the other extreme is to ignore Satan and even deny his existence. Jesus put it in perspective in the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ when he instructed us to pray, deliver us from the evil one (Mt 6:13), but that came late in the prayer and was only one small part of it. A balanced perspective is to acknowledge the existence of Satan but to keep him in his right place. Let’s examine this verse as it stands.

Submit yourselves to God. Isn’t this the primary call of the whole content of the Bible?  Isn’t this the call to a right perspective, which sees and recognises God as The Lord, the One who is over and above everything?  If, as we read the Bible, we start to catch a picture of who God is, then our only response is to bow before Him and submit to Him. Paul declared that God’s ultimate purpose was that, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil 2:10,11). Awareness of greatness, ultimate greatness, causes a response of submission and worship. That is our starting place.

Resist the devil. There is first an implicit recognition of Satan’s existence here. He’s given no great fanfare; we’re just told to resist him. There is also an implicit recognition that he requires resisting, which means he comes to us to do wrong. Now that wrong, the Bible tells us elsewhere, may be to tempt us into doing wrong, or it may be to sow doubts in us, or deceive us with lies, or even to come against us with physical hindrances. So, says James, don’t let him tempt you to do wrong, don’t let him sow doubts in you or deceive you to believe lies, and don’t let him bring illness or infirmity upon you. We have repeated that list of things that he does to ensure you take note of his strategies which we are told to resist. Why are we to resist them? Because God is jealous for us and is zealous to help us overcome anything which would draw us away from Him.

And he will flee from you.” Have you seen the certainty of that? He will flee! It’s not he might flee, but he will flee.  Now in saying that, we have to point out the order of things here to ensure that. There is no question of you going against Satan on your own, because on your own you are not big enough or strong enough to deal with him. No, the order is submit yourself to God then resist the devil. You need to go to God and re-establish contact with Him, to put yourself in His hands, and to know His grace and strength before you stand against Satan. It is God’s presence and God’s grace that will enable to you resist him. It is when he sees God’s presence in you that he will flee for he knows there is no point coming against you now.

But there is one little important word that we have left out so far: then.  Did you see it?  Submit yourselves, then, to God. This means that this verse is a direct follow on to what has gone before. The full meaning of it, the full significance of it, can only be seen when we see what has gone before.  Remember what we have recently considered in this chapter. A call to take sides, to side with God against the ‘world’, because God is jealous for us, and is zealous for a relationship with us, and so He looks for us to crucify pride and come in humility to Him to receive His grace. How do we do all this? Submit yourselves, then, to God. This verse sums up all that has gone before it. We come to God, we side with Him, we reject the ‘world’, and we kill off pride and come humbly to God in submission, for he is our Lord. As we’ve said numerous times, it is the natural response to all this, and as we do it, we resist Satan and his works, for he only seeks to bring things that will pull us down, that will pull us away from God.

God’s objective is to bring us into relationship with Him, and when that happens and we ‘see’ Him, then our natural response is going to be to submit to Him. Part of submitting is to be open to the Lord for whatever He wants. A beautiful expression of this was seen in the case of Isaiah. He recorded, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” (Isa 6:1). He had an awesome sense of the Lord’s presence and holiness and was ministered to by the heavenly creatures (v.5-7), but then, I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8). He didn’t need to think about the response; it was automatic. In the presence of the Almighty, Holy God, there was only one response possible: I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (v.8) In God’s presence there can only be that one response that basically says, “Lord, whatever you want I will do it.” That is submitting to God. In doing that we reject all the ways of the ‘world’ and we reject Satan’s overtures. In doing this we put ourselves in the most secure place possible – right in the centre of the Lord’s will.  May it be so for each of us!