19. Superficial Religion (2)

Meditations in Colossians 2: 19:  Superficial Religion (2)

Col 2:18    Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.

When we arrive at this sentence we clearly come to Paul poking at the Gnostics who we have referred to before and, among other wrong teaching, believed in ‘special’ knowledge, mystical knowledge coming from mystical experiences. They were another of the ‘add-on’ cults for whom the basic Gospel and the apostolic teaching was insufficient. They need something more, special experiences and special knowledge that came through such experiences. Paul warns against such people and says, Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.”  Although they make out that they are spiritual Paul says they are unspiritual. ‘Spiritual’ comes from accepting the Gospel as it is revealed in the New Testament. If you fail to accept that, you are unspiritual despite whatever spiritual noises you might make!

You see these people can appear so spiritual and with an appearance of humility but in reality it is false and a show put on to deceive you. These people even went on about angels and how we ought to worship them, and yet angels are simply revealed in scripture as servants of God.

Paul’s worry about these people is that they will come to the Colossians and “disqualify you for the prize.” Paul expanded this when he wrote to the Philippians: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)  A prize is given at the end of the race. The prize Paul has in mind in these instances is the right to live in heaven with God in eternity and that right is only given to the children of God who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Although Paul is always so positive in his teaching, this is one of those rare times when he hints at the negative, the possibility of losing that right to a place in heaven, hence the word, ‘disqualify’. Some people object to the idea that someone can lose their salvation and suggest that a person who wholly backslides was never properly converted in the first place, but this instance shows us a way whereby that can happen in a very real way. Consider what Paul is warning against.

First he is warning against wrong thinking because that is what is at the heart of this warning. These Gnostics, who he is warning the Colossians against, were not born again believers. They did not believe in the God of the Bible that the apostle John describes as love (1 Jn 4:8,16). They did not believe that Jesus was the unique Son of God, begotten of the Father, who died for the sins of the world. They did not believe that salvation came through faith but by special knowledge. As a result their lives had not been transformed at conversion and they did not have a living relationship with God through Jesus and did not know the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Now what we must realise is that wrong thinking leads on to wrong behaviour and that has been included in a measure in the paragraph above. But if these Gnostics rejected all the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament it was because of their wrong thinking. This thinking said that man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil and is contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit and therefore good. Since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly. This ascetic form of Gnosticism is the what Paul will be speaking against in the following verses.  Paradoxically, this dualism also led to licentiousness. The reasoning was that, since matter – and not the breaking of God’s law – was considered evil, breaking his law was of no moral consequence. So bizarrely in these people we find a mixture of harsh asceticism on one hand but amoral licentiousness on the other, both of which are seen in their behaviour. Both are person-centred and both reject the New Testament apostolic teaching. If the Colossians rejected the Gospel and the apostolic teaching as it came to them and went on to accept the teaching of the Gnostics, then clearly any talk of relationship with God would be quite unreal and as they have abandoned the Gospel they have utterly abandoned their salvation, present and future. This is a very real and genuine loss, hence Paul’s concern and his efforts to warn them.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves, do we realise how our behaviour is linked to our thinking? Then  can we be honest about what we genuinely believe for, to go the full circle, what we believe will be revealed by the way we live. A serious thought.

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1. We Know

Meditations in 1 John : 1 :  We Know!

1 John  1:1   That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

I like the opening of 1 John in the same way I like the opening of Luke 1, for both of them are so down to earth. Luke wrote, Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account.” (Lk 1:1-3) Luke spoke of eyewitnesses who had passed on what had happened involving Jesus. John goes one step further and is  basically saying, “I was one of those eyewitnesses!”

After the first chapter, John uses the word ‘know’ 33 times! John writes near the end of the first century and if persecution was often a problem for the early church in the first three hundred years of its life, the growing presence of heresies in that part of the world was possibly even a greater enemy to be resisted. Truth was thus a primary currency of the early church and they considered it vital to pass on the truth about Jesus and to resist the perversions of the truth that a variety of heretics sought to bring.

One particular group of heretics were the Gnostics who majored on having special knowledge. For them knowledge was all important but their knowledge declared that matter was evil and because of that God could not have existed in a sinful human body, i.e. the incarnation could not have happened. Their knowledge was that of a special group, not given to the world at large. John combats this by declaring all these things in his letter openly, for anyone to see and know. Christianity was to be a faith open to all; all it needed was repentance and submissions to God.

And so, even with the opening of his Gospel, John has this slightly mystical  or philosophical feel to his writing which would appeal to many of his era: “that which was from the beginning”. This beginning was not merely the beginning of Christianity but the beginning of everything. In his Gospel he had begun, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn 1:1-3) For John there was no doubt about Jesus: he was with God and was God and had been God from beginning of time, and had been part of the godhead bringing creation into being.

Although he does not name Jesus in these verses it is clear that this is who he is referring to. At the end of verse 2 he calls him “the Word of life.” Referring to Jesus in his Gospel he declared, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) and to make sure no one misunderstood, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). A word is a part of communication and this ‘Word’ was God’s communication to us, His Son.

But with John there is nothing mystical in all this. Their experience of the Son of God had not been some weird experience induced by drugs. No, it has been in daily experience: “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”.  This is why I said this is all so down to earth. God isn’t found in strange and mystical experiences. Eastern religions are so often like certain modern philosophies that demand some ‘special out of body type of experience’ to authenticate or make sense of life. In his book Kim, Rudyard Kipling has his young hero, Kim, encounter a holy man in India who is seeking some such experience. Eventually the old man, short on food and drink, falls into a water-filled ditch and has his ‘experience’. That is the sort of weird and wonderful deception the enemy seeks to bring to the world and it is a far thing from Christianity which is based on factual history.

This is why we have the Gospels, factual accounts of the things that happened in time-space history. John, writing near the end of that first century, is aware of the tendency of human beings who like the strange, the weird, and the spectacular. Yes, there is the divinely supernatural at the heart of Christianity but it is not to exalt man; it is simply the working of Almighty God. The same sort of thing was seen in unbelieving Naaman when he was sent to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy and was told by him – via his servant! – to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman was furious: “Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:11,12)

No, our faith is based upon facts of time-space history and we respond to the God who brought all things into being and who, in the course of time, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. It all happened back there in history and John saw it, John had been there with Jesus and had travelled with him for three years. Oh yes, John knew, and he wants to pass that knowledge on to us to act as a foundation for our faith. Let your faith be built as you read God’s word intelligently.