Not too long ago, I watched a show that focused on older women getting scammed by online relationships. I mentioned this in a previous lesson, noting a woman who went to the point of selling her home to help her “fiancé.” Many in this world seek to cheat others out of what is theirs. The saying goes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Back in the early church days, they had to be vigilant when it came to those who would craftily seek to dissuade them from their newfound hope in Christ. This dissuasion happened in the church at Galatia, where some believers were turning “to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Paul exhorted them, saying, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free…” (Galatians 5:1). The Judaizers were not denying Jesus, only saying that He was not enough. They needed the law of Moses. The urgent nature of his concern is found in Galatians 6:4, “If you try to be made right with God through the law, your life with Christ is finished-you have left God’s grace” (ETRV). So it is with the church in Colosse. Paul urges them to be aware and anchor themselves to Christ.
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the
tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
The word “beware” is not found in most translations; instead, the words “see to it.” Here, the Greek word means to look, see, perceive, and discern. Strong’s translates this word as “beware” as well. However one wishes to translate it, Paul encourages these early Christian to pay attention. Paul urged the church in Ephesus, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Why such a posture? There are people out there looking to cheat you! Your translation most likely reads “takes you captive,” where the ETRV uses the words “led away.” The Greek word means make victim by fraud, i.e., seduce. Jesus warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Paul would warn the church at Corinth regarding how Satan “changes himself to look like an angel of light” and how his servants “make themselves look like servants who work for what is right” (2nd Corinthians 11:14-15, ETRV). Paul does not intend to cause the church to cower. Instead, to be aware of their surroundings and deceptive teachings.
So, what about this idea of deceptive teachings? First, Paul mentions philosophy and empty deceit. What is philosophy? This philosophy would be Jewish sophistry, that is, the use of fallacious arguments, especially to deceive. Thus, the words “empty deceit” need not be viewed as something different from philosophy but rather that which describes it. With the eloquence of words and clever arguments, these false teachers can plant doubts in the minds of believers concerning what they have come to learn about Christ and His redemptive work. Remember, these false teachers in Colosse suggested that knowledge is above Christ and did so with seemingly persuasive arguments. Something sounding reasonable does not necessarily make it good. Evolution seems plausible to many, but is it? Scholars and scientists speak about the validity of its teaching. But what does God say about creation? Paul would declare in 1st Corinthians 1:20, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1st Corinthians 1:20, NIV). What may seem foolish to many makes complete sense to the believer who puts their trust in God.
Next week’s lesson will dive a little further into what exactly Paul was cautioning them about, and it all centers around Christ. Today we can walk away with two critical things. First, let’s always be fervent in our walk with Christ. Be aware that there will always be people looking to cheat you out of your freedom in Christ. Second, be mindful that their arguments can sound reasonable. Paul writes, “We destroy people’s arguments; we tear down every proud idea that raises itself against the knowledge of God” (2nd Corinthians 10:4-5, ETRV). We do this not in arrogance but with confidence in the truth that we find in His word. Blessed be the church.