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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Don't Be Taken Captive!
Text:Colossians 2:8-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say 

Christian, Dost Thou See Them?

There Is a Redeemer

O For a Thousand Tongues  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
04/12/2015 – a.m.
Don’t Be Taken Captive!”
Colossians 2:6-15

It is not unusual for our neighborhood to be canvassed by Jehovah Witnesses. We see the cars pull up and park; well-dressed people start walking through the neighborhood ringing doorbells and leaving literature.

If you talk with them, they will undoubtedly leave you a copy of the Watchtower magazine and tell you how the teaching of that magazine is necessary for you to understand your Bible. They would also tell you that your Bible isn’t accurate, but they have a special translation which is.

What they are doing is adding the teaching of the Watchtower Society – which is a cult – to the gospel.  And in a sense, that is what was happening in Colossae with the false teachers Paul had to warn the Colossian church about.

Their teaching was different from that of the Jehovah's Witnesses. But the concept was the same. The concept was, “You cannot understand the gospel unless you have this additional teaching that only we have. And we are here to give you that additional teaching that will change your life and help you really understand the gospel.”

But those who follow that type of teaching, whether in the first century in Colossae or today in our neighborhood, are being taken captive. Verse 8 warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.”

In my early twenties, I had a friend who was taken captive. He and I both worked together at a gas station. I was working there because I had nothing better to do with my life at the time; he was working there because he was working his way through college. He was a straight “A” student, a conscientious, honest, hardworking young man.

He had so much potential. But then he was taken captive. He got caught up with the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He quit school, he quit the Texaco station, he got a job as a janitor with some other people who were Jehovah’s Witnesses and he waited for the end of the world to come because that is what he was being taught at the time by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

That was quite a few years ago. As far as I know, he is still captivated by the teachings of a cult which serves to reinforce the importance of what Paul is teaching here when he writes, See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.

When Paul speaks of hollow and deceptive philosophy, he uses the word “philosophy” differently than we use it today. He is not speaking about the philosophies that were popular then by the so-called great thinkers, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and others. In the first century, philosophy could be used to describe almost any teaching. As the ESV Study Bible notes: “The term ‘philosophy’ was used much more broadly in the ancient world than it is today. Josephus, for instance, could call the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees ‘philosophies.’ Even a magician could be called a philosopher."

Hollow and Deceptive Philosophy

Although the term “philosophy” is used in a broad way by the apostle, he defines what he means very specifically there in verse 8. This philosophy, the teaching of the world, which often invades the church, is described as hollow and deceptive philosophy.

Hollow and deceptive philosophies will always disappoint. When someone first hears some new teaching, especially when it comes into the church, they may think that it really sounds worthwhile. Some people are always looking for new teaching, but by doing so they set themselves up to be taken captive first of all, and then to be disappointed and deceived.

Even you children know how disappointing something hollow can be. We all know that Easter is not about chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs and all the other decorative things that the world puts before us. But we might enjoy some of those things. I remember as a child looking forward to getting a chocolate Easter bunny. I was a chocoholic already then.

But do you know what was so disappointing? Often the chocolate bunny was hollow. You unwrap the colorful tinfoil, you break off a leg, the head, or the tail, and you discover everything’s hollow. You are hoping for some solid chocolate or maybe a cream-filled delicacy. But instead, you have a thin veneer of chocolate on the outside, and nothing but air inside, it’s another disappointing hollow chocolate Easter bunny!

You children should be able to relate to that, and all of us should be able to relate to the spiritual truth that the apostle is teaching. He is saying, “If you listen to the philosophies of the world and think that they offer more than what the gospel offers, you are going to be held captive by a deceptive philosophy that is deeply disappointing.”

I don't know what ever happened to my friend who became a Jehovah’s Witness. But everything that the Watchtower Society was teaching back then about the 144,000 being taken to heaven, and Jehovah restoring this earth with His witnesses as the only survivors, never came true. Is my friend still a janitor? Pushing a broom, waiting for the teaching of the Jehovah Witnesses to become a reality?  If so, he is indeed deceived, disappointed, and held captive by a cruel teaching.

And that is true for all false teaching. The Jehovah Witnesses are only one example. There is a lot of teaching in the visible church that is hollow and deceptive, and some professing Christians run after that teaching and become held captive by it.

Based on Human Tradition

A second description of hollow and deceptive philosophy – this false teaching – is that it is based on human tradition. The apostle will say more about this at the end of the chapter, and in a couple of weeks, when we close out the chapter, we will look more closely at the danger of worship that is based on human traditions. In verse 20-23 the apostle writes: Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

The false teachers in Colossae had a number of rules that they wanted to impose on people. One of the rules, we gather from verse 11 and 12, is that they may have wanted to have all the males circumcised as was required in the Old Testament. But in these New Testament times baptism takes the place of circumcision, and baptism shows that we and our children belong to the Lord.  So the apostle was saying, “Watch out for hollow and deceptive philosophy. It is not based on a proper understanding of God’s word. It is not based on the truths of Scripture, rather it depends on human tradition.”

Based on the Principles of the World

The third characteristic of the false teaching, listed there in verse 8, is that it is based on the basic principles of the world instead of on Christ. The ESV renders it: according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

The false teachers at Colossae taught the people that they should be worshiping angels as well as Christ. They were legalistic and wanted to reenact some of the Old Testament rituals that are done away with in Christ, since He fulfilled them. The false teachers may have also taught principles of astrology, that we can guide our lives by the placement of the stars in the sky.

As such, this passage has a contemporary warning in several areas, including astrology. There are people who determine what type of decisions to make on any given day depending on their horoscope. They are held captive by a deceitful and hollow philosophy that is based on human teaching and the basic principles of the world – elemental spirits of the world – rather than on Christ.

But the point that Scripture makes to us is that we have no need for that type of teaching. In verses 9 to 15 the apostle gives us at least three reasons why we are not to look for new teaching to shed light on the gospel.

The Fullness of the Deity in Christ

First, the fullness of the deity dwells in Christ. As verse 9 states, for in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. This is one of the main themes of the letter to the Colossians, namely that Jesus Christ is truly God. We read in the first chapter that beautiful description of Jesus Christ and His preeminence, of how He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation... For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Colossians 1:15,19).

Now if all the fullness of God the Father dwelled in the Son, but we had no access to Him, then certainly we would be looking for ways to gain access to Him. We might be tempted to do as the false teachers were telling the Colossians to do, to look for some other method, some other way to truly know and worship God.

But Paul’s next point is that we are given the fullness of Christ by faith in Him. Verse 10: And you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority. Verse 11 and 12 go on to describe how our unity with Christ is symbolized by baptism. Since we have all the fullness of Christ by faith in Him, we don’t need new teaching about Him; we just need to understand and live out the teaching of God’s word which reveals Christ to us.

A third truth that the apostle points out in this passage is that Christ has redeemed us and forgiven us through His triumph on the cross. Verse 13 describes how when you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. What a beautiful statement that is!  Being dead in sin describes every person who has ever been born, except for the Lord Jesus Christ. But as Paul wrote to the Romans, in Romans 5:8, God demonstrates His love to us in this while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Since He died for us, He also regenerates us through the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives us birth from above. We become new creations in Jesus Christ and our sins, though they be as scarlet, are washed whiter than snow. That is the heart of the gospel; the reason why gospel truly means good news!

Verse 14 describes how Jesus Christ has forgiven us of our sins. It says: having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us. The written code is referring to the law. We still strive to keep the law, but we understand that as sinners we cannot perfectly keep God's law as he requires.  But Christ has, and because He has perfectly kept the law the written code of the law, it no longer condemns us but leads us to Christ in repentance and faith.

As verse 14 goes on to say, He took it away, nailing it to the cross. On the cross Jesus paid the penalty for your sin and for mine. Every failure to obey the law of God that you have made, and every transgression against the law that you have committed, Jesus has covered by His shed blood on the cross of Calvary. Again, that is the heart of the gospel! No wonder gospel means good news!

However not only did Jesus, by his sacrifice on the cross, cleanse us from all of our sin, but He also on the cross demonstrated his power over Satan and all of his forces of evil - his demons. Verse 15 points that out by saying, And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

The powers and the authorities refer to the evil spirits. It is perhaps relatively easy for us to understand that on the cross Jesus disarmed Satan and his minions of fallen angels. But to understand the last part of the verse you have to understand the procedure of the Roman army whenever they captured their enemies. They paraded their enemies before the people to prove that they had been successful in battle. First, they would parade the generals and the best warriors before the people, then would come the opposing kings, in shackles, held captive. Then would come a whole long line of opposing soldiers, the prisoners of war.

The Romans did that to prove that they had been victorious. They wanted the Roman people to see that the enemy was defeated, and the Romans were triumphant. And it is that imagery which verse 15 uses about Christ when it says, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. It reinforces the complete victory of Christ, and the total defeat of Satan and all the hosts of evil.

No wonder the apostle tells us, just as he told the Colossians, not to be led captive by the hollow and deceptive philosophies of this fallen world. This passage is one more reminder that the Scripture is indeed sufficient in and of itself. In the Scripture we are taught all that we need to know about our sinful condition and the only way of salvation which is through faith in Jesus Christ.  In that way, the message of the Bible is an old message and not a new message.

When my wife asked me how my sermons were coming along, last Monday or Tuesday, I said, “I have them both outlined, but they’re both the same.”  Her look was one of surprise. So I explained that even though this evening we are reading from the prophecy of Isaiah, that passage points us to Christ and our need to believe in Him just as this letter to the Colossians does. 

It is not a new message but an old one, and if someone comes to you with a new message, take that as a warning sign. Do not allow yourself to be taken captive by some new teaching. As the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6:16).

Unfortunately, the people in Jeremiah's day did not listen. The Lord went on to say, "But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I appointed watchman over you and said, ‘listen to the sound of the trumpet!’  But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ Therefore... I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to My words and have rejected My law."

By contrast, may you and I always be people of the Word, greatly rejoicing that we are made alive in Christ by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power, have our sins forgiven through the victory of our Lord over Satan and all his powers and authorities, as He made a public spectacle of them on the cross. Amen.


                                       - bulletin outline -


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. 
                                                                                                                    Colossians 2:8
                                 “Don’t Be Taken Captive!”
                                         Colossians 2:8-15
I.  Scripture warns us not be captivated by false teaching, described as:
      1) Hollow and deceptive philosophy (8b)
      2) Rooted in human tradition (8c)
      3) Based on basic principles of the world instead of on Christ (8d,e)
II. We have no need for that type of teaching because:
      1) The fullness of the deity dwells in Christ (9)
      2) We are given the fullness of Christ by faith in Him (10-12)
      3) Christ has redeemed and forgiven us through His triumph on the cross (13-15)     


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Ted Gray

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