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. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
(Colossians 2:8-15 ESV)
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit.” What a gracious warning to the church. And how brilliantly have we failed to observe it!
The dictionary definition of philosophy that applies here is, “A theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.” Anyone who has observed the church, even casually, in any age, knows that we, of all people, profane the sacred and make sacred the most common things. I have seen churches come to pieces over the placement of the Bible on the altar, and over the color to paint the sanctuary. And I have also seen us ignore the most basic things that are important to Jesus himself. As he reminds us, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8, quoting Isaiah 29:13).
Deceit is defined as “the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.” Romans 1:18-19 testifies, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”
The really awful thing about Romans 1 is that the people it is talking about are more likely to inhabit denominational headquarters, seminary professorships, and church pulpits than they are to inhabit bars, gambling halls, and brothels. Most of the people mired in those addictions aren’t suppressing the truth; they are simply ignorant of the truth. But we who claim the name of Christ suppress the truth when we leave our ignorant neighbor in the same condition we found him. We suppress the truth when we don’t go to the bar, the gambling hall, and the brothel and offer there the message that Christ is holding out the hope of salvation to all who will trust him. And those who should be teachers of Christ, who should be leaders of the church? Is the thing that is foremost on their lips and in their heart a passion to see the rest of us know Christ and make him known to the nations?
I had the profound blessing of having known as mentor a man who, at 83 and in frail health stood in a walker frame in a convalescent center and had the audacity to say, “You know, I could preach from here.” He never failed to ask me when I would show up to visit, “How’s your soul?” And as I departed he always told me, to “Go and give them Jesus.” Do your seminary professors, denominational officials, and pastors say things like that? If not, you’re probably in the wrong place.
I don’t know how many people actually read these blog entries every day. But if you are reading this and you are a pastor or are in some way involved in Christian leadership, be very careful to “stay on message,” as the politicians like to say. It is so easy to get caught up in everything from social agenda to building programs and church suppers, to frankly, injecting yourself and your own personal needs into all that you do, and forgetting the mission on which you were sent: to make disciples of all nations.
Paul is very quick to keep us on track, “For in him (in Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Do notice that for Paul, the fact that Christ has a body at all times since his resurrection is very important. He does not say, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwelt bodily.” Christ is incarnate in the world even after his Ascension. The confusion we feel because metaphorically we are the Bride of Christ and also the Body of Christ must not get in the way. In Ephesians 5 Paul clearly shows us that the Bride IS the Body, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” This isn’t commentary on human marriage so much as it is commentary on the fact that in marriage, the two become one. The presence of the Bride fully represents the presence of the Husband. Wherever she is, he is there in his full authority. Her body is his as surely as if he were present in the flesh himself.
The use of the image of circumcision is interesting here. We usually talk today about Christ covering our sin so that God will not see it. Far from it! In receiving Christ we are called to shed our sin as surely as the foreskin was shed in circumcision. Our sin is not covered over, it is done away with. That’s what Paul means when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
You and I have all the power we need to live Godly lives today. We don’t have tomorrow’s power, and we can’t rely on yesterday’s power. The power that raised Christ from the dead is only available in the moment. The AA people have it right: “One day at a time,” they say. So when you go out today, go and give them Jesus. As you do, he will uncover what needs to be uncovered in you, shedding what needs to be shed, that Christ in you may be fully seen and fully known.