“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 NASB
The mind is a powerful thing that God has created as a reflection of who He is. The mind is able to perform the tasks that we see in creation; reasoning, calculation, creativity, communication, systematization, ordering the things that would otherwise be out of order. The mind can persuade and be persuaded. The mind is capable of learning and educating. The mind can conceptualize and comprehend other conceptions. It’s a marvel of sorts and one that uniquely distinguishes us all as creations of a mighty Creator.
Inasmuch as the mind is mighty and overwhelmingly complex, it is also very fragile. Much like a nuclear missile, it can serve as the greatest weapon of defensive action or the greatest disaster of malicious intent. The minds of many throughout all of time have persuaded and served as persuaders. They have educated and served as educators. When the mind is used for personal use and even for public use, it then becomes more than just an instrument of wonder, but an instrument of indoctrination.
Enter in the potential danger posed to Christians. Philosophy.
Philosophy: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.
Philosophy may be an old, academic term but it is still alive and used in the general arena of life every, single day. If there is a person around us, there is a mind in them. Each mind has a philosophy, and that philosophy is the filter through which they make sense of the world around them and even the world unseen.
Philosophical opinions and persuasion abounds in our world. People often try to pit philosophy against religious beliefs, but it is this young man’s opinion that they simply merge together, because the mind’s beliefs becomes the body’s practice. Nobody practices what they don’t already believe. If a person believes that money doesn’t buy happiness, then they will live a life free of anxiety over money and material possessions compared to one who believes that time is money. A person that believes that all people are created equal and shouldn’t be discriminated in the minds of others based on the color of their skin, then their life will reflect the same social conduct toward all ethnicities of people groups. Of course, a person who believes that people aren’t created equal, will live a life that reflects disdain and social suppression of certain people groups.
Philosophies inform precisely what we do on a daily basis, and that’s what can make them so valuable or so destructive.
Paul made it his clear ambition to ensure that Christians didn’t fall prey to bad philosophy. He recognized the power of persuasion and the chaotic results that would follow them. He knew that Divine Truth was not up for grabs for whomever would or would not want it. No philosophy could ever pass the acid test of truth like the gospel. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ could withstand the erosion and decay that time can pose toward any created thing or thought. The gospel, in the minds of some, can have the look and feel of a philosophy but it exists in an entirely different category; the category of eternal truth. That meant that anything other than the gospel and its included prescriptions was to be seen as erroneous, fading, temporal, artificial, superstitious thinking. It would be the equivalent of us as parents reminding our children of the dangers of playing in the street. “Yes, son, I know that there’s more room in the street, but that doesn’t make it safe for you.” We would say, but then comes the parents that say “hey, c’mon, there’s never any traffic down this street; give your kids come freedom, loosen up!” You can see the dilemma. This is why Paul refers to them as things that are “empty deception” and according to the “elementary principles of the world.” They are simply devoid of any lasting, eternal profit.
What philosophies pose threats to us and our children today? The same ones that affected the Christians in Paul’s day. Man-centered, man-exalting, man-pleasing, man-worshipping philosophies. Anything that poses to be authoritative, timeless, and proven must be accepted as gospel. Their influence creeping in through the influence of popular people, politicians, and progressive thinkers. They have clever, good-sounding phrases like “God is who you say he/she/it is.” Pushing a narrative that man governs his own soul, leads by his own sovereign choices, and regulates morality for his own benefit and agenda. Or, the most dangerous in my opinion, is the philosophy that bears good works and charity within it, to somehow validate itself based on the fruit that it bears for the common good of society. This type of persuasion can wear many masks; the mask of humanitarianism; the mask of the “social gospel“; the mask of counselors and healers. These all disguise themselves as great movements, with often times great works, and even believable philosophies because of their visible effects, but still cannot stand up to the scrutiny of one burning question: is what is being taught me timelessly true?
Is it true that, if I just believe in myself, I can be whoever I want to be? Is it true that whatever I think I am, I am? Is it true that if you do good to others, for goodness’ sake, do I get good in return? Is it true that the more good I do in this life, means more prosperity in the reincarnate life? Is it true that doctrine doesn’t matter, and it only divides? Is it true that the only person that I should care for is myself? Is it true that life consists of our possessions? Is it true that happiness is the sole pursuit of humanity?
Many people will continue to teach many things, including Christians who will add or take away from Scripture in order to generate something “new” to consider. But the question is will we be discerning enough to question its validity?