PHILOSOPHY AND VAIN DECEIT
Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
In many of Paul's writings, as well as those of other inspired writers of the bible, Christians are given warnings. Paul starts the lesson text with a stern warning beginning with the word "Beware." It means to keep watch, to be on guard, to be wary of, or to be careful of. Just as a sentry is to watch vigilantly for the enemy, so the Christian is to be watchful and alert to the dangers that threaten their obedience to God. Here the warning is to beware lest any man spoil you. "Spoil" is not used here as parents or grandparents spoil a child. Neither is it used in the sense of exposed foods that may spoil. Rather it carries the same meaning as an invading army spoils its foe. Here the word "spoil"means to pillage, plunder, and rob; to take, by force, the possessions of others; as used here, it refers to the work of Satan.
Just what do Christians possess that Satan desires to take from them? The answer is, the hope of salvation, that is promised by God, to all that obey Him; to all that are in the body of Christ; to all that follow after Christ. Although the "wiles of the devil" are many, the one Paul warns Christians about here is the peril of being led astray; to quit following Christ, and follow after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world. One way Satan uses to accomplish this is through philosophy and vain deceit of men.
Philosophy is a system of principles, including ethics, morals, and logic that govern human character, and behavior. On the surface, philosophy appears to be a lofty and noble doctrine, designed to guide one's conduct of life. Then where is the problem that warrants Paul's warning? The philosophy of men is an excellent guide for one's conduct as long as it is in harmony with the will of God. However, this is not the case when philosophy is administered through vain deceit. When a person places their trust in someone or something other than God's will, the result could possibly be one of vanity - a life that is empty, worthless, and without direction or meaning. Trust in the erring philosophy of men, could very well lead one to compromise God's will, betray His trust, and abandon eternal salvation, that is found in Christ Jesus.
Considering the 2004 Olympic Games, which were played in Athens, Greece, reminds me of the philosophers that prevailed in this city, during the days when the gospel of Christ was being carried into this part of the known world - during the time of Paul's ministry. When he first visited it, Paul saw Athens as a city wholly given to idolatry (Acts 17:16). It was there that he encountered certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics (Vs. 18). Accompanying him to Mars' Hill, they desired to know what this new doctrine he was teaching (Vs. 19). Paul used this occasion to teach them about the unknown God; the true God of heaven that was unknown to them; the God that offered eternal salvation to all nations of the earth, through His Son, Jesus Christ (See Acts 17:22-31). Eternal salvation is not part of worldly philosophy. This is what Paul faced as he preached the gospel of Christ in the city of Athens.
Zeno who taught in a covered portico called a "stoa," by which they derived their name, founded the Stoic philosophy. The fact that they protested against moral indifference was good. However, they sought to "live in harmony with nature," disregard pleasure, pain, and all external forms of good and evil. In error, they relied on supreme egoism - self-pride, rather than relying on God, the external guidance of the true Supreme Being. The philosophy of the Epicureans was equally in error to Christianity, and was the exact opposite of Stoic philosophy. Founded by Epicurus, he and his followers, sought happiness in pleasure, which resulted in their highest emphasis being placed on materialism; self-satisfaction was their aim rather than seeking truth. Both of these philosophies were prevalent in Athens, Colosse, and all parts of Greece and Asia Minor, and both were sustained by the worldly wisdom of man, totally excluding the divine wisdom of God. They, indeed, taught philosophy and vain deceit.
Notice the similar warning Paul gives the church at Ephesus, Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience (Eph. 5:6-7). The philosophies of men, as well as Jewish tradition, have no place in Christianity. Where taught and followed, they pervert the gospel of Christ, compromise the truth of God's word, and spoil, or steal, from each Christian, their hope of eternal salvation. Examine your religion! Is it based on God's word alone, or have the philosophies and traditions of men crept in? Is it founded on the wisdom of God, or that of worldly wisdom? Beware, be not deceived, be always found in Christ, and be saved!