Sermon 2011 05 22 AM

22.05.11 AM Sermon            Christ and the Christian Experience # 2

Fulness in Christ (Col 2:6-15) - Freedom through Christ (Col 2:8)

 

Again, a reminder of why we are considering the letter to the Colossians.

I believe that it is vital that we as a church are reminded to ensure that Jesus Christ is our focus, particularly in times of change and challenge.

We considered last week Paul’s reminder to the Colossians that their faith was founded on the rock of Christ.

We now come to verse 8 which tells us explicitly for the first time what problem Paul was dealing with.

(v8) “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.”

Paul is calling the Colossians to “see to it” – to wake up, to watch out, to be aware, to make sure they are not taken captive.

The word he uses for ‘captive’ is sylagogeo which means“to be taken off as a prize of war.”

You see, Paul wants the believers to enjoy the fruits of freedom found in Christ Jesus.

But in the midst of the great spiritual war they are in danger of becoming captivated by that which leads away from Christ.

One of the difficulties that long-term prisoners face when they leave the confines of their prison is something called “gate fever” – the fear of freedom. They have been institutionalised for so long, that they fear what would make them feel free.

So many Christians, having been set free by Christ, sometimes yearn to return to the captivity of other religious answers and ideas - like the children of Israel who longed to return to Egypt where they had been captive, and from which they had been set free.

In verse 8, Paul describes the prison bars behind which the Colossians were beginning to hide - “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world.”

 

1. Hollow & Deceptive Philosophy

This, Paul says, is the overall problem the Colossians face.

The word ‘philosophy’ here, in Paul’s day, covered a much broader term than it does in our language.

It referred not simply to the speculative thinking about life and meaning, but also to groups, tendencies and points of view and magical and religious practices.

Perhaps it could more accurately in our language be translated ‘philosophies, ideologies and religions’.

Paul is referring to the ideas, the ideologies, the beliefs, the concepts, the understandings of life, the universe and everything, seen and unseen, which some Christians were taking on and substituting for Christ. 

He holds the ‘hollow and deceptive’ philosophy up in contrast to the truth of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

Paul’s world was full of those who would stand on the street corner or hire a hall and peddle their beliefs.

Much like the media commentators of our day or the TV chat host, the philosopher was considered both entertaining and educative.

You get a glimpse of it in the NT when Paul visits Mars Hill in Athens and speaks to the meeting of the Areopagus - Luke comments that “the Athenian and the foreigners who lived there spend their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

Colosse would have had its fair share of philosophers.

They would have made persuasive speakers, but Paul calls their teaching hollow and empty.

Our own culture has an abundance of philosophical ideas – which is equally as hollow and empty – and yet countless people live their lives by such teachings.

Paul is making clear that Christians are to not blindly follow the philosophies they are presented with and grow up amongst, however popular or appealing. Rather they are to regard Christ Jesus as Lord over all.

 

I could rattle off many philosophies that we are exposed to and sadly, as church in this nation, we have bought into, but I highlight three:

Individualism

We substitute the gospel of Christ – with its covenantal and community emphasis – for an individualism – where it is all about me and my wants and my desires.

We come to Sundays wanting to get rather than being willing to give.

We approach the Bible, prayer, worship, even fellowship in a “me and my needs” centred way.

Derek Tidball in his commentary on this passage describes the individualism that is rampant in our culture.

“We have our being in relationship with others and we breathe a common air. There can be no articulate “I” without a coherent “we”. We have replaced a covenant belonging to one another with a contractual using of one another. And from this rampant individualism all manner of evils follow. Individuals are isolated and lonely. The family no longer serves as ‘the crucible of character’. Children roam in a moral wilderness seeking revenge on an older generation who seem to have neglected them. We have become a ‘rights’ society where everyone makes demands but few are willing to give. Choice has become addictive. A true morality has given way to moralising. ‘We suffer from the privatisation of morality and the nationalising of responsibility.’ How can we care for people in the community when there is no community? And so the disturbing analysis of a society based on the philosophy of individualism gone mad goes on. Yet we remain hooked on this deceptive philosophy.”

 

Relativism / Pluralism

We set Christianity alongside other ‘faiths’ or belief systems and we seek to dumb it down for fear of causing offense. We equate being tolerant of other beliefs with adopting those beliefs as equally valid.

We give up our exclusive claims for Christ Jesus – that he is God incarnate, that he is the only way to be saved – and present him as one whom you can take or leave as you wish.

We avoid talking about the danger of Hell and prefer to concentrate on fluffy heaven or on feeling good in worship or on doing good.

This nation does not need an apologetic wishy washy Church – it needs a church that will courageously speak the truth, and perhaps suffer the consequences.

 

Consumerism/Materialism

We succumb to the temptations of money and possessions, and lose sight of the poor in the world.

Many Christians place their hope in winning the lottery, rather than in Christ Jesus to provide all they need.

Christians in our land gather much to themselves and then find it hard to let go of stuff – there is a great need to de-clutter their lives and figure out once again what is truly of value.

 

These are three of many philosophies which can detract us from Christ and send us down unproductive and wasted lives.

 

2. Human traditions

Paul goes on to say that the deceptive and hollow philosophies of his day were dependant upon human tradition and the basic principles of this world.

Later, in verse 16 he spells out the features of the false teaching that the Colossians are exposed to and succumbing to.

We can, so easily get sidetracked by human traditions, by man-made rules and regulations which though perhaps developed with the intention of leading us towards Christ, in fact serve to do the opposite, and cause us to be entangled and hindered in our pursuit of Jesus.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day encountered his rebuke because they were seeking to obey the letter of the law and leave aside the heart of the law. Jesus referred to Isaiah the prophet, through whom God said (Is 29:13)“These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

The modern day Hassidic Jew has something called the Mitzvot – 613 laws that they must obey to enjoy God’s favour. www.jewfaq.org/613.htm

Likewise, Christians, perhaps subconsciously, have their rules and regulations that they feel that they must obey in order to gain or keep God’s favour. I wonder what rules you are trying to obey so that God will be pleased with you?

 

You know, there is a difference between being a follower of Jesus and a fans of Jesus?

Some have a fish sticker on the back of the car, a worship song set for their mobile’s ringtone, books by a popular Christian author on their bookshelf, and religiously watch the GOD channel on TV.

One of the symptoms of a fan is that they think they are a follower.

Jesus doesn’t want fans, he wants completely committed followers.

Fans don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in their lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. He perhaps wants to ruin what we have built for ourselves that gets in the way of us getting to him. 

Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch up work, but Jesus wants a complete renovation.

There are people who have been raised in church, but they haven’t been raised in Christ.

Some hide behind church rules and rituals, rather than cultivating a relationship with Christ.

Rules and religious rituals are measureable; you can point at them and say what a good boy or girl am I.

It allows us to feel prideful and superior because we can see what we are doing and what others are not.

Can you imagine approaching the covenant of marriage in this way – having a list of rules to follow to ensure a happy marriage? Jesus wants us to be in committed covenant relationship with him, not to have in on the wall of our life as a poster.

Calling yourself a Christian means that you are to be a follower of Christ, not a fan.

And that means getting close to Christ which requires commitment and sacrifice.

 

3. Basic principles.

The word Paul uses here for “basic principles” is stoicheia – meaning “to set out in rows”

There is much discussion about what Paul is referring to here, but nearly all commentators agree that, given the general thrust of the letter and the details of the false teaching he is opposing, Paul is almost certainly using it of personal spiritual beings, like astral deities, angels or spirits who were thought to exercise control over the universe and over individual lives.

He is tackling the belief that there were supernatural beings who were bringing about sickness, misfortune, war and conflict or prosperity and good luck.

Nigel Wright says that the word “refers consistently to genuine power realities which are heavenly and earthly, divine and human, spiritual and political, visible and invisible, good and evil.”

The Colossians were being taught, falsely, that they had to put Christ Jesus to one side, in order to appease these other beings also. However, by doing so, they were becoming ensnared by fear.

Paul makes it clear to them that only Christ Jesus, who had triumphed over all powers is able to grant the  freedom that the Colossians crave.

 

There are plenty of people today who enslaved by false philosophies.

Many who submit themselves to astrology, mediums, clairvoyants, crystals and other occult practices.

Such things are on the rise in our land, and the church is not untouched.

Barclaycomments:

“There are still people today who take astrology seriously. They wear signs of the zodiac charms and read newspaper columns which tell what is forecast for them in the stars. But it is almost impossible for us to realize how dominated the ancient world was by the idea of the influence of the elemental spirits and the stars. Astrology was then, as someone has said, the queen of the sciences. Even men so great as Julius Caesar and Augustus, so cynical as Tiberius, so level-headed as Vespasian would take no step without consulting the stars. Alexander the Great believed implicitly in the influence of the stars. Men and women believed that their whole lives were fixed by them. If a man was born under a fortunate star all was well; if he was born under an unlucky star, he could not look for happiness; if any undertaking was to have a chance of success, the stars must be observed. Men were the slaves of the stars. There was one possibility of escape. If men knew the right pass-words and the right formulae, they might escape from this fatalistic influence of the stars; and a great part of the secret teaching of Gnosticism and of kindred faiths and philosophies was knowledge which claimed to give the devotee escape from the power of the stars; and in all probability that was what the false teachers of Colossae were offering. They were saying, “Jesus Christ is all very well, he can do much for you; but he cannot enable you to escape from your subjection to the stars. We alone have the secret knowledge which can enable you to do that.” Paul, sufficiently the child of his age to believe in these elemental spirits, answers: “You need nothing but Christ to overcome any power in the universe; for in him is nothing less than the fullness of God and he is the head of every power and authority, for he created them.”

Superstitions, and folk religion have also invaded the church.

I hear Christians using phrases such as “Good luck” or “Cross fingers” or “Touch wood”.

Subtle rejections of Jesus as Lord over all – as though the god of fortune were also to be appeased.

When people sneeze the common response, even within the church, is “Bless you” – continuing the superstition than evil spirit has been expelled from the sneezer.

 

The Colossians had seemingly become entrapped by hollow and deceptive philosophies.

However, Paul says that the bars they portrayed were illusion for the prison gate was no longer locked.

They kept people under constraint when they had neither the right nor the power to do so.

Believers have been released from their clutches by Christ, who had exposed their deception and disarmed them from whatever power they might have been able to muster.

It is foolishness for believers to voluntarily put themselves back behind bars when there was no reason for doing so for the one who is correctly founded upon Christ can genuinely experience freedom through him.

 

This letter to the Colossians teaches us as church to sift everything through Christ.

Every new teaching or “deeper truth" or “new techniques" to see whether it matches up.

Christ is the yardstick by which to measure philosophy and all human knowledge..

 

STORY: There was once a woman who became seriously ill and was taken to the hospital. In the evening her husband asked how she was doing, and he was told that she was improving. For several days her doctor gave the same report. Then one day she unexpectedly died. When the man saw the doctor, he asked, "Well, what did she die of – Improvements!?"

It is said that the only remnant of the church at Colossae is a plaque with the name "Epaphras"!

That church may have eventually "Died of Improvements."

There's always room for the right kind of improvements in our churches, but let's make sure they are guided by the life-changing principles of God's Word, not the deadening philosophies of this world.

Christ is all we need, His truth complete—
The world will try to add, subtract, distort;
Cling to what you know, and trust God's Word,
Don't let yourself believe a false report. —Carbaugh

“Feeding on God's truth will keep you from swallowing a lie.”

“God put the church in the world; Satan tries to put the world in the church.”

 

 

Questions to ponder

22ndMay 2011

 

Reading Colossians 2:8

 

1. How does the Christian ensure that they are not taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy”?

2. How are Individualism and Pluralism and Materialism affecting the church and wider society detrimentally? How can we combat their negative effects practically in our own lives? Is ‘playing’ the National Lottery incompatible with following Christ? (see Ecc 5:10, Matt 6:24)

3. Why are occult practices forbidden by God? (see Deut 4:19, 18:9-12, Isaiah 8:19, 47:13-14) Do they have a hold in your life? Why are horoscopes not ‘just a bit of harmless fun’?

4. Are you superstitious? How do superstitions deny Jesus as being Lord over all? (see Isaiah 65:11)

5. “Feeding on God's truth will keep you from swallowing a lie.” How well are you feeding on the Bible? In what ways can you make improvements? How do you assess whether a particular practice that you are engaged in leads towards or away from Jesus?


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