By Gordon Lyons
In Colossians chapter 2 verse 8, the apostle Paul warns believers against the misleading claims, teachings, and practices of certain teachers. These men had been telling the Colossian believers that they should augment their faith in Christ and the teachings of God’s Word with their teachings, thus enhancing their spiritual experience.
Was this teaching correct? Should Christians seek to enhance their faith in Christ in the manner suggested by these teachers?
Paul answers these questions clearly in verse 8 below:
COLOSSIANS 2:8 ESV
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Paul comes to the first issue at hand—false teaching. The Colossians had received the true gospel message, responded to it, adhered steadfastly to it, and applied its teachings to their lives. Recently, however, several individuals in their midst had been suggesting to the Colossian saints that they could gain further spiritual enlightenment and fulfilment by accepting and applying the teachings that they were offering.
The exact nature of these teachings is unclear. However, they seem to be twofold: firstly, they appeared to add certain Jewish rites and ceremonies to the Christian faith and practice, and secondly, they appeared to add some philosophical or pagan principles and practices.
Whatever the precise nature of the false teachings, they amounted to a gross distortion of God’s pure and holy Word. Accepting these teachings would have meant adding to God’s Word—expressly forbidden in Deuteronomy. (Deut. 4:2) More generally, there was no need to add to the gospel or the Scriptures. Everything these believers needed spiritually had been provided in Christ Jesus and through the gospel message. The apostles would expound these Scriptural truths to the church, and the Holy Spirit would lead the believers by stages into all the truths of God’s Word—everything necessary to godly or holy living.
To add anything to the truths the Colossian believers had received already was to imply that these truths were somehow deficient. To accept the proposition that they could achieve even greater fulfilment or higher spirituality through believing and applying either philosophical principles and practices or Jewish rites and ceremonies was to imply that the gospel proclaimed by the Lord Jesus and his apostles was incomplete or inadequate. It was insufficient for practical living and for worshipping God fully and acceptably.
These were very subtle and plausible suggestions presented to the Colossian believers. However, they were entirely erroneous, deviously misleading, and essentially evil. Had the Colossians accepted any of these false teachings, they would have been contaminating the pure message of the gospel. Similarly, they would have rebelled against the Lord Jesus’s clear teaching and that of his Holy Spirit-inspired apostles. Thus, Paul warns these believers not to be led astray by “human tradition” (the teaching or wisdom of unspiritual, uninspired or worldly ‘church leaders’ (so-called)) or by the “elemental spirits of the world”. (The elemental spirits of the world included the teachings of unspiritual, uninspired, and worldly philosophers, often including pagan or heretical worship of spirits or angels).
Let us heed Paul’s clear warnings. We do not need to seek further or higher spiritual experiences. Christ has provided us with everything necessary for life and godliness. He himself is fully sufficient for all our needs and the Word of God is fully sufficient for teaching us all that is necessary to honour and glorify him. The Holy Spirit teaches us—from God’s Word—everything that God wants us to learn.
Beware of those who would add to the teaching of God’s Word or who exhort us to seek higher spiritual experiences by accepting their teachings and methods. These men and women are not from God. Flee from those who would lead you away from the eternal and all-sufficient truths of God’s Word and of the full experience of salvation and life found in Christ Jesus.
Adapted from the author’s NT Expository Notes: Colossians, chapter 2 verse 8 (forthcoming). © 2022 Gordon Lyons