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In the series Above All, Pastor Philip De Courcy highlights the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as presented in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Christ is above all powers and all things. To go beyond Christ is to leave Christianity behind. In Above All, Pastor Philip reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ is creation’s only source, man’s only Savior, and God’s only Son, and He must be understood accurately.
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We’re in an exposition of this great letter that has as its theme the preeminence of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re at the heart of the letter, Paul is unburdening his concern for them. That’s where he started at the beginning of this chapter, telling them of the great conflict, the struggle of soul he had over the Gospel in Colossae and the growth of the Christians in the Lycus Valley. He’s concerned that there are things that are undermining their belief in the sufficiency on the supremacy of Christ. They’re being assaulted by a doctrine that says, “There’s something more than the Lord Jesus and it comes in the form of intellectualism. It comes in the form of mysticism. It comes in the form of ritualism. It comes in the form of legalism.”
And Paul begins to address that issue verse by verse here in chapter 2. And I believe that this passage has so much contemporary application because you and I are living in a day when the exclusivity of Jesus Christ is being assaulted in our culture, “Christ is one among many. Christ is an option.” And this passage brings us to see that he is the Lord of all. He is the head of the church. He is the only mediator between God and man. He made a final and single and forever sacrifice for sin. The exclusivity of Christ has been assaulted in the society and the sufficiency of Christ is being ignored in the church.
It seems that Christians in greater and increasing numbers are seeking to add some vitality and victory to their faith through some kind of ecstatic experience, mystical vision, sign, wonder, miracle or some form of a second blessing as if what they got in Christ was not enough the moment they trusted Him. So I hope you understand my passion to slow down here, to really rake over these verses because they are so applicable to where we are in the culture and to where we are in the church. So we’re continuing this message this morning, “Everything you will ever want, and maybe we need to finish the title, “Everything you will ever want you got when you got Christ.” That’s what we’re looking at here.
So let’s take time to read Colossians 2:6-15, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in Him faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of man, according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him, you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead.
And you being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Just want to pause there. Just maybe it’ll help someone this morning. Do remember that your sin has been taken away if you have been indeed brought to a place of trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have repented sincerely of your sin, the Lord Jesus Christ by means of the cross. We’ve been singing about it all this morning, has indeed taken away that sin before the face of God.
And Corrie ten Boom was right. When He casts our sins into the depths of the sea, He put a little buoy on top of it which says, “No fishing.'” Don’t go fishing for sins that God has forgiven. This is the marvel of the cross. He has taken our offense before God, the dead of our sin before God’s holiness. He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Verse 15, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public speculation of them triumphing over them in it.” Well, we trusted God will continue to instruct us and sanctify us by the means of His word properly preached and properly applied to our lives this morning.
Let me begin by telling you a story surrounding the life of William Randolph Hearst, the late newspaper magnate and publisher. This was a man who had a love for fine art. He collected great works of art. He invested quite a bit of his fortune in that pursuit. One day, he was leafing through an art magazine and his eye caught a series of pieces of art that he thought he must add to his collection. And so he sent for one of his agents and he sent them on the pursuit of purchasing these pieces of art. Some months later, the man returned to tell Hearst that he had find the said items. Mr. Hearst said, “Where are they?” to which the man replied, “They’re in your own warehouse. You bought them a couple of years ago.”
It seems to me that story reminds us of where many Christians are at in their journey in Christ. They are ignorant of what they already possess in Him. They forget that Christianity is an all sufficient relationship with an all sufficient Christ. That the moment they receive the Lord Jesus Christ, they receive in Him all that is needed to live the Christian life vigorously and victoriously. There’s never something more than the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s everything we will ever need. He’s everything we will ever want. This is the message that Paul wants to get across here to the Colossians, because as I said, by way of introduction, there were those who were enticing the Colossians to look for something more than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet Paul, once the Colossians understand here in chapter 2 that, “In Christ is hidden all of God’s wisdom and true knowledge,” Chapter 2, verse 3. “In Christ dwells the fullness of Deity in bodily form,” Colossians 2, verse 9. “And through Christ, we are complete in Him,” Colossians 2, verse 10. And so Paul wants the Colossians to realize that there’s not something more than Christianity, there’s not something more than Christ that they need to be possessing or pursuing. And so we come to chapter 2 and we’re at the heart of his ladder. And as I said, we’re going to slow down and rake over these verses because they’re so applicable.
Because Paul is arguing here in wonderful language that I hope to convey to you, “All that Christ has achieved for them and all that they received in Christ when they bide in submission to Him.” And so you and I want to understand all that Christ has achieved for us and all that we received in Him. There are four things that Paul gets across here in these verses 6 through 15, there is their firmness in Christ, which I’m coming to look at again this morning and that’s where we’ll be. We’ll get no further than verse 8. And then we’re going to look at verses 9 through 15 and we’ll see there freeness in Christ, their fullness in Christ and their forgiveness in Christ.
So let’s return to the verses that are occupying us this morning, verses 6 through 8. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in Him the faith, as you have been taught abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world and not according to the Lord Jesus Christ. And verse 6 and 7, which we looked at last week, Paul reminds them to stand firm in the Lord Jesus Christ and he sets a challenge before them. They are to walk in Christ. They are to follow Him. They’re to be built up in Him. They’re to be rooted in Him. The Christian life was to continue as it commenced. They received Christ as Lord and Master and they were to continue to live under His lordship and His leadership.
Paul got that across to them in a number of similes or metaphors. They were to see themselves as a pilgrim walking in Christ. They were to see themselves as a tree rooted in Christ. They were to see themselves as a building built up in Christ. They were to see themselves as a merchant being possessed by Christ, to see themselves as a student studying Christ and they were to see themselves as a river overflowing with the joy of Christ. But that challenge is followed by a caution. And that’s where we’re at this morning. We’re moving into verse 8. Paul not only challenges them to walk in Christ, to be built up in Him, to be rooted deeply in Him, he challenges them to beware lest they allow themselves to be robbed and cheated of the fullness and the forgiveness and the freeness that comes through receiving the Lord Jesus Christ.
So let’s begin to look at the caution as we find it in verse 8. Here, Paul directly challenges some of the specific errors that are in danger of impeding their progress in Christian ministry and maturity. Having sat before them a challenge, he now sets before them a caution. Look at the beginning of verse 8, look at the verb, beware. This is where he sets before them a caution. He wants them to be on their guard. He commands them to be on the lookout. He wants them to be on their theological tiptoes, lest indeed they’d be robbed of the treasure they have in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a Greek word that at its heart it has the word blepo which means to see.
“Open your eyes,” he says to the false teachers and the false teaching. The Lord Jesus Christ warned his own disciples back in Matthew chapter 7 about the danger of false teachers. Matthew 7, verse 15, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ravenous wolves.” We have Paul leaving a charge with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 verse 28-31, that they needed to take heed and watch over the flock of God at Ephesus over whom God had made them overseers because there would be those who would rise up from among them and draw disciples after them and away from Christ.
So the church always needs to be on its theological tiptoes, testing those who claim to be teachers of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, this is in the present tense. It suggests a constant watchfulness. And so Paul tells them to be on the lookout, lest anyone should cheat them through philosophy, empty deceit, traditions of men, the basic principles of the world which are not according to the Lord Jesus Christ. This word cheat, we said last time, is a basic word that carries the idea of being robbed in its broadest sense, but there is a rather narrow and technical meaning to it. If you were to nail it down, it actually means to be carried away captive. It speaks of the spoils of war. It speaks of being plundered.
And so Paul envisions the possibility that these gnostic heretics, these false teachers with their false teaching could indeed invade the flock of Jesus Christ at Colossae and could ravage them, could slaughter them. And Paul is arguing that this would be tragic and this would be ironic because we’ll look at it the next time we’re together. Then on verse 15, Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ has disarmed principalities and powers. He has made a public spectacle of spiritual dark forces triumphing over them. The word triumphing there again will see as a military term that means to indeed take the spoils of war and lead a victory parade.
And Paul is by contrast saying, “Lord Christ by His death and buried and resurrection has paid for our sin. He has satisfied the law and he has trounced and trampled upon demons and devils and doctrines of demons. He has spoiled Satan’s grip upon the world. He has brought light into the darkness. He has brought life in the midst of death.” And Paul is saying, “Lord Christ is leading you on a march to victory. Why would you allow the enemy that Christ destroyed to take you captive? Beware, don’t give up your freedom, your fullness or your forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In fact, Paul is challenging them not to go back to that which Christ set them free from. They don’t need to keep the law. Christ fulfilled the law and he died an atoning death to remove the handwriting of the law that brought us into debt against God. Christ is the fullness of God. We don’t need some mystical intermediary spiritual agent to draw us to Christ and I could go on making the analogies. Paul tells them, “Beware, don’t be going back to something that’s last than what you have. Christ is the substance. These other things are the shadow. Christ is the light. These other things are the darkness.”
Just as old prisoners suffer from guilt fever, the fear of freedom when they’ve been institutionalized for so long. Christians too can be tempted even though set free by Christ to go back to something Christ sat them free from. I remember reading some time ago about a prisoner who had lived so long and so comfortably in an institution that when they set him free, he didn’t like what he saw outside the walls. And by nighttime, he had climbed back over the walls, back into the prison. And Paul was saying, “Don’t do that. You’ve been set free. Don’t be like the Israelites who were set free from Egypt, forgot what it was like back then, back there and even entertained the thought during a moment of discouragement where it might be better to go back there.”
And Paul is saying to these Colossians, “Look, don’t be going back to Judaism. Don’t be going back to empty philosophy and traditions of men. Don’t be going back to this synchronistic spiritual religion that marked the city of Colossae and the worship of angels and making contact with spiritual entities and astral deities. No, beware. Don’t go back to that. Christ is the fullness of God in bodily form. Christ has completed, you. Christ has fulfilled the law. Christ has despoiled all those spiritual powers. Why in the world would you sell the pure gold of Christ for the iron power right of heresy?”
So Paul then comes in verse 8 to talk of one of those things that were threatening their confidence in the sufficiency of Christ than it was an unbiblical intellectualism. It was a supposed higher knowledge that was not higher, but lesser than what they had and the one in whom was hidden, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And so Paul addresses the whole issue of philosophy, empty deceitful philosophy. Paul addresses world views that discard the Lord Jesus Christ. And if they have discarded Him, that’s reason enough for Him to discard Him.
If Christ is the touchstone by which we test all thinking about God and life, then the philosophy that was doing the rounds at Colossae was vain. It was empty. It was deceiving. It was founded upon reason and not revelation. It was demonic and not angelic or heavenly. Listen to me, I want you to think about this, any philosophy that leaves the Christian Christ-less is to be rejected out of hand. There’s an old hymn that John Newton wrote when he was the pastor of [inaudible 00:17:10]. I remembered it this week, I learned it as a young boy growing up at Rathkeale Baptist church, maybe you haven’t heard it for so many years. I’d love someone to get the words of it and put some new contemporary spin musically on it. The words are fantastic. Here’s the opening words of the opening verse, “What think ye of Christ is the test. To try both your stand and your scheme. You cannot be right in the rest, unless you think rightly of Him.”
That’s the test, my friend of any religion, any philosophy of life, “What do they think of Christ? Is He the fullness of God? Is He the one mediator between God and man? Is he wisdom incarnate?” And the Colossians were being insulted by a philosophy that didn’t believe any of that. Let’s see how far we can get into this. I’d like to cover the three points if I could, so we’ll need to motor here. There are three things about this philosophy that Paul warns them against and I think you and I want to learn from this. First thing about the philosophy that was doing the rounds at Colossae was that it was an empty philosophy, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit,” the terms there empty deceit qualify the whole issue of philosophy.
This is an empty deceitful philosophy that was doing its rounds at Colossae. There was nothing behind it and there was nothing beneath it. It was a purported wisdom like a movie set. When you get behind it, behind the facade, there was nothing that was really helpful to you. This was a worldview that was empty of real truth, vital power and solid hope. The word here philosophy means love of wisdom. It only appears here in the new Testament and it was a thought that was broad enough to include the issues of God, the world and the meaning of life and even through its hands around such issues as religious observances.
The philosophy that was doing the rounds at Colossae was supposed to be a higher knowledge of spiritual things, but Paul is arguing here that any philosophy of life that is not full of Christ is empty and this philosophy was not full of Christ. If you remember back to our earlier studies, if Christ was to be find in this philosophy of God and life, He was there as an ammunition. He was dying at the religious totem pole. He was an agent of God. He was not God. He was created. He was not the Creator. He was one means to a multiplicity of ends. And Paul is saying that kind of philosophy is empty and deceitful. That is not the kind of wisdom that the Christian can buy into.
The Apostle Paul is not condemning philosophy, per se, which is the pursuit of wisdom, but he is condemning a philosophy and theory of life and God and history that sidesteps the complete revolution of God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Connect the dots, who is Christ according to Paul? Who is Christ according to apostolic doctrine? Who is Christ according to Christian perspective? He is the fullness of God in bodily form. He is wisdom incarnate. And therefore, if something purports to be philosophy, the love of wisdom, there will be a consistent love for he who is wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So Paul is not against philosophical thought, but that philosophical thought must be pursued as a believer, not as a humanist, as a theist, not as a rationalist. Paul stands opposed to any reasoning apart from the revelation of God’s Son and His word. Paul wants scripture and the wisdom of Christ to inform our philosophical presuppositions, not the other way around. We don’t come to the Bible with our wisdom. We come to the Bible, we get God’s wisdom and we leave with His wisdom to go and live life as He has planned. And then we come back to the scriptures with God’s wisdom to find out more wisdom so that we can live a life after Jesus Christ, who was wisdom.
True wisdom then will always be rooted in Christian thought and biblical doctrine. Jesus, didn’t He say in Matthew chapter 7, “If you don’t build your life upon My words, My philosophy, My worldview, My vision and values, you’re building your house upon a philosophical sound pit, that when the storms of life come and ultimately when the judgment of God falls, it will crumble,” but Heaven and Earth will pass away, but not His word. And that’s why according to Paul in Second Corinthians 10, verse 5, “We must bring every thought in the captivity to Christ.” And the Colossian heretics were trying to take these believers away from Christ and make them captive to a philosophy of life and religion and God that undermined the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
Let me apply that as quickly as I can. Empty and deceitful philosophies of life still a bind. I hope you realize that. Every time you turn the television on, every time you switch the radio on, every time you click the mice and go onto the worldwide internet, you are going to fierce philosophies of life, popularized, satirized, dramatized, but there they are bombarding your Christian philosophy of life, challenging you at the very heart of what you believe, the presuppositions, the foundational thoughts upon which you build your attitude and actions. And therefore you and I need to be aware of worldviews that begin with man and not God, that begin in the campus of a secular university and not in the theological library of a biblical seminary.
Our culture is enamored with a number of philosophies, no less deceitful and empty as that which was doing the rounds at Colossae. Let me give you a couple naturalism. You’ll not hear the word naturalist or humanist, but I’ll tell you this, watch the sitcoms, watch whatever channel you want, watch what Hollywood is putting out, read the science textbooks that are in our public schools, it’s naturalism. What is naturalism? Naturalism is the view that man is the measure of everything in the world. There is no God. It’s evolutionary in its hypothesis, and therefore, man is the most defined and refined of all living creatures. At this moment, he is as he is, the last links in the evolutionary chain. Therefore, he is a moral entity onto himself. He is unaccountable to any higher authority because there is no one higher than man.
That’s naturalism and it’s affecting the way you and I live in modern America. It’s deceitful and it’s empty because it draws us away from the thought that Christ created all things and He made us in God’s image and we are accountable to one who is higher than us, whose thoughts are higher than ours, whose ways are [inaudible 00:24:44]. There’s pluralism. This is the view that says there is more than one ultimate principle. There’s more than one way to view life and morals and ethics and attitude and behavior. It rejects the suggestion that there is anything significantly superior, unique or normative about any one reality or religion. That means that there is no religion that can claim to be normative or superior. That means that there is no cultural or moral norms by which we all need to abide by.
Naturalism, pluralism. Pluralism denies the idea that there is one way, one truth, one life patterned after Jesus Christ and He alone is the only means to the Father. Pluralism denies that there is one name under Heaven given among men whereby they must be saved. Pluralism denies there’s one Lord and one baptism and one faith. Then there’s relativism. This is the stepchild of the other two philosophies. Life has no ultimate purpose. Life has no governing principle after all. We’re all here randomly, arbitrarily with a collision of living entities producing life in more refined, defined forms across millions of years. Therefore, there’s really no purpose. There’s really no governing principle.
As Jean Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, said, “We are all empty bubbles on a sea of nothingness.” And therefore, you’d have to conclude, if man is the measure of all things and there is no overarching truth or reality, there’s no one path to true knowledge or understanding, then what you believe is good enough for you and what I believe is good enough for me. And we shouldn’t try and convert each other. We shouldn’t try and challenge each other. At the best, we might try and learn something from each other. There are no absolutes. There are no rules for living there. There is no truth that you can take to Africa and Asia and Europe. There’s truth to be find in Africa, there’s truth to be find in Asia, there’s truth to be find in Europe and it’s all culturally conditioned.
And there’s certain philosophies of life that underpin those cultures and the norms of ethics and behavior that mark them. And so Western culture is no better than Eastern culture and Eastern culture is not better than Western culture, no absolutes. You’ll hear that a lot, young people once you’re on the campus of your school. This professor I heard about this week is no less different than most professors in North America when he said in front of his ethics and philosophy class, “You know what? There are no absolutes.” One young man in the class said, professor, “Are you sure about that?” to which he replied, “Absolutely.” Huh? Yeah, you got it. What a load of codswallop as we say in Britain. He just mute himself, the arbitrator of truth.
The fact that there is no truth must be a truth or it couldn’t stand as truth. Folks, I’m just alerting you. Put your thinking cap on. Don’t dillydally through life. Beware of the philosophies, young people, in the secular universities. God make you a witness, a bold witness for Him. You can study philosophy, but you need to study philosophy like a medical researcher who approaches the HIV virus. You need to study philosophy objectively and carefully to find out what is wrong with those philosophies that oppose Christ in whom is hidden all the wisdom and knowledge of God and not subjectively and personally, so that you catch the disease yourself.
“There are philosophies. There are intellectual strongholds says, Paul in Second Corinthians 10, “that rise up against the Lord Jesus, that deny His exclusivity, that deny the existence of God, that deny the reality of transcendent truth from the one who is overall and above all.” Philosophy only has value in direct portion to its adherence, to the truth of God’s word. That’s why William Lyon Phelps, his students for years voted him, Yale’s Most Inspiring Professor said without apology, “I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without a Bible.”
Jonathan Witherspoon, the first president of the College of New Jersey, later to be renamed Princeton University, one of the ivy league schools of America, operated the same school by this man. He had, “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ. Cursed be all learning that is not a coincidence with the cross of Christ. Cursed be all learning that is not subservient to the cross of Christ.” That’s Paul’s argument, isn’t it? In First Corinthians, the foolishness of the world, the laughs at the wisdom of God displayed in the cross and the incarnation of His Son by means of the miraculous virgin birth.
Oh, my beloved this morning, beware. Beware of empty philosophy. Secondly, beware of earthly philosophy. Earthly philosophy, look at what Paul says in verse 8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the traditions of man.” The second problem Paul identifies with this pernicious philosophy is that it finds its genesis in human tradition and not the commandments of God. The word tradition here is paradoxes. It means that which is given to one from another. It speaks of that body of truth, that form of signed doctrine and it’s passed from one generation to another, either orally or in written form.
And as you can imagine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of tradition. In fact, Paul encourages the Corinthians in chapter 11 of his first letter in verse 2 to indeed hold to the tradition that He give to them. The same thought is in Second Thessalonians 2, verse 15 where Paul admonishes Thessalonians to indeed hold to their tradition. What was that tradition? It was the Apostolic Gospel. It was the truth that Christ had given to His disciples. It was that which the Holy Spirit was revealing to those to whom Christ had promised that when the spirit has come, He’ll lead you into all truth.
Therefore, friends, you and I have a biblical tradition here that we need to treasure. There is a form of doctrine. There is defined duty that must be passed on from one generation to the other. That’s what you need to do at the Sunday school level. That’s what our Christian school needs to do just up the road. That’s what we all need to do in discipleship experiences with each other. There is a faith once delivered to the saints and we must deliver that faith to other saints. The word delivered during Jude 3 is the word [inaudible 00:32:13]. And so it involves a true passing of scriptural truth and apostolic doctrine, but here, there’s a tradition that’s not good. There’s a tradition that’s bad. Not all traditions are good.
“And so beware of philosophy that’s empty and earthly, according to the tradition of men and not according to Christ,” verse 8. Paul said there was a tradition that these false teachers with their false teaching wanted to hand onto the Colossians that was indeed rooted in reason and not revelation. That was patterned after the world and the thinking of men, not according to Christ, who came to the world from the other world so that we might know truth in a way that we would otherwise know. And so Paul warns them about the harmful of facts of tradition. The Lord Jesus had to deal with that, didn’t he? Remember back in Mark chapter 7, he’s dealing with an incident where the Pharisees and scribes are complaining that His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. They don’t be getting the idea that that was just a matter of hygiene.
That’s not what we’re reading about in this passage. It was a whole ceremony that they had to go through that was part of the tradition of the elders of that day. And Jesus is saying, “The Word of God doesn’t teach this. This is the tradition of men and it’s setting aside the commandment of God.” Listen to His words in Mark chapter 7 in verse 8 and 9, “‘For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men, the washing of pitchers and cups and many other such things you do.’ He said to them, ‘All too well, you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition.'” He said, “My man, my disciples haven’t violated anything of God’s law. You can’t hold them to this. This is empty. It’s a facade and it’s based upon the traditions of the elders.”
You see, let me just step into the world of Judaism of that time. They believed that the tour of the law of God was handed down in written form. That would be the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy, but it was also handed down orally. And that tradition of the law, those truths that were passed on from one generation to other generations were indeed policed and presented by the elders of Israel. And so there were a lot of traditions that grew up under the teaching of these elders that were ultimately codified at the end of the second century AD by a rabbi, by the name of Judah the Prince and all those laws, all those traditions that Jesus is dealing with here were put into what’s called a Mishnah.
But the Mishnah has no biblical authority. The Mishnah is not the law of Moses. It’s the traditions of the elders. It was a book divided into six sections. It dealt with agriculture, festivals, women, civil criminal law, secret things. In fact, here’s what the elders argued, “We need the Mishnah to put a fence around the Torah. And if you don’t keep the Mishnah, you’re violating the Torah.” And Jesus dealt with that. And here we have another incident, probably a mix of both Judaistic and Greek ideas that have no source in the Word of God but are brought to the Colossians by man, purporting to be from God, but whose teachings show they are not from God. And so Paul says, “Look, you do not listen. Beware, open your eyes, get onto your theological tiptoes and realize that these men are selling you an empty under earthly philosophy.
Remember what James told us, “There is wisdom that is from above and there’s wisdom from below.” And so Paul warns them here. What’s the point? The point is this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the notion of tradition. There’s nothing wrong with the idea that one generation of Christians live in the same way, worship after the same manner that another generation of Christians did. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, we could do with a little bit more of tradition in the church. The church of today, especially in North America, seems to be in love with novelty and creativity. That’s the word I keep reading in leadership manuals, creativity. What am I meant to create? I meant to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints and the saints meant to take that, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, pass it on to others.
Of course, we can look at our methods, we can look at our context, but let’s get out of love with this idea of creativity and newness and get back to the idea, “There is a tradition we’ve got to pass on.” That’s a good thing, but there is a tradition, if we’re not careful, that can come from the outside to the inside or can grow within the church. That takes us away from God’s word, that can obscure God’s word. If you want the best contemporary application to this and I’d love to have got into this, but time’s not going to allow me, Roman Catholicism is a modern expression of Ancient Judaism.
I tell you, maybe next time when together, I will read the quote from the new Catholic Catechism, they follow the same model as the Jews did. Catholicism teaches that the Word of God has been handed down to us in written form. That’s the Bible, but the Word of God has also been handed down to us in oral form. That’s the teaching of the bishops of Rome. And so if you ask the Catholic, what they mean by the Word of God if they know their doctrine and they know their catechism or if you talk to a Catholic theologian, he’ll tell you this, “The Word of God is the Bible and the traditions of the church.”
In fact, I’ll quote you one line from the Catholic Catechism. Here’s what it says, “As a result, the church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Bible alone.” We should be concerned about those who profess Christ and yet want to stay within the Catholic church because they are going to get exposed within that system to a manner of doctrine that is empty and earthly. I could go on and talk about what the traditions of the Catholic church has spawned in prayers for the dead, the idea that Mary was immaculately conceived, the idea that there’s a purgatory beyond this life and intermediary stage between Earth and Heaven, where you go and get punished for your sins to make up which is lacking.
It seems to me in the finished work of Christ, the idea that you can pray to Mary wherever you are in the world. Since when did Mary become omniscient? But just let’s get a little bit closer to home and be done. As Protestants, we need to steadfastly refuse to let the human tradition become invested with divine authority. We need to guard ourselves against earthly traditions. We certainly would guard ourselves against the doctrine and heterodoxy of the Catholic church. That would be one thing we would do. We thank God for our forefathers in the Protestant Reformation that cried across Europe sola scriptura, the Bible alone. The Bible alone.
Martin Luther looked at his life and what the Catholic church was calling him to do. He read his Bible and said, “These two things don’t square.” But folks, just to get a little bit more practical, we are always in danger of building our own fences around the Word of God. Just like the tradition of the elders, our personal tests or methods for doing something, well, we believe that’s the only way it can be done, and therefore, we decry anything or anyone who does that, which we do not approve of outside those boundaries and we call it unorthodox. But here’s the problem. That thing is a personal test. That method is something that we believe is a good vehicle for achieving a biblical end, but we cannot give chapter or verse for what we do.
And therefore, we, even in the church, are always in danger of making personal convictions or cultural conditions in the universal truths. I think that you and I would be surprised that if a believer was to come from some far flung field to our church this morning, walked its halls and watched what we do, how many things they would see that are things that help us in our ministry but are not necessarily biblical or you and I can’t give a biblical rationale for. There are simply man-made traditions of our church. There may be nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with those kind of traditions of methodology or thinking, so long, listen, so long as they don’t obscure the Bible or oppose it.
Folks, think about this. Let’s start to meddle a little bit just quickly. What about the issue of pants so many years ago, an issue that turned people off churches like this? I’ve met people who have told me to my face, they will never come back because they remember a day they were told to get out of it because they were wearing pants and not a skirt. That wasn’t a biblical tradition, was it? You can’t justify that in the Word of God anywhere, not then, not now, not ever. And yet there was a tradition of men that got in the way of the work of God’s Holy Spirit and hurt people and built fences and barriers.
Remember Alistair Begg telling the story when he was a boy, he was on a boat ride up the Clyde inlet in Scotland. He was on a Sunday school trip. And although a boy, he realized there was something going on because all the men in the church had gathered on the back of the ship and were talking about a young girl who had come on the Sunday school trip. And the issue was she’d come in trousers and not a skirt. He said, “The funny thing was all those men who were talking about this issue with such indignation were standing there in their kilts.” Hey, what about the issue of drinking? Of course, you and I can take a position of abstinence. I have. But as I’ve said here, many times, I don’t believe I can root that in one verse that says that what I have chosen is what everybody else needs to do.
In fact, the whole abstinence temperance issue didn’t come from the Word of God. If you study it historically in America, it came from the prohibition era. In fact, before that era, Christians drank happily. The puritans brought their flasks of wine to New England. I remember my dad going to work in Holland for a couple of years, being absolutely shattered coming from a rather confined and conservative church in Northern Ireland to find it straight after church in a Baptist church in Holland, the man lit up their cigars and by that afternoon were drinking their beer. But my dad realized, spending a year there, they were genuine God-loving, Christ-exalting Christians. And he had to step back and relook at the whole issue of traditions.
Have you [inaudible 00:43:26] recently? I haven’t. You say, “What’s that going to do with anything?” Well, why do we meet at 10:00 or 11:00 on a Sunday morning? Well, if you study your history, you’ll realize that was a concession that the church made the dairy farmers in rural America. But here we are in a suburban city where no farmers in sight hardly and we’re still meeting at 11:00 or 10:30, whatever the case might be. Is that wrong? No, unless we come to a business meeting, want to change the time and somebody wants to make an issue of it. That’s when it becomes wrong because it’s a tradition that doesn’t have biblical precedence or biblical sanction.
Hey, let me give you this story and we’ll pray and be done. This is a powerful passage, isn’t it? Have you ever get your little bottle of aspirins with that little piece of cotton wool in there, drives you nuts? Can’t get your finger down and you just smash the thing against the wall and then get your aspirins. I read recently that Bayer Pharmaceutical Corporation decided to take that thing out. You know why? It’s been there since 1914, but they did research. Number one, it bugged the life out of people. It made it really difficult to get to the aspirin. And number two, this whole urban legend that it kept the aspirin fresh and potent was complete nonsense. It did nothing for the aspirin. And so they set that tradition aside because it was an empty tradition based on folk law. It wasn’t really rooted in pharmaceutical truth and doctrine.
Same with us. Let’s put our guard against systems like the Catholic church and the traditions that bring us in the conflict with the Word of God concerning Mary and the Lord’s supper and the priesthood and the finished work of Christ. But let’s just be careful on the inside of the church that we don’t set up our own little traditions that get in the way of God’s Word and the freedom of the Holy Spirit and where we hurt each other for no good reason. That’s what it means to enjoy the sufficiency of Christ. We don’t need to set rules for each other that are not biblical because he has answered the law. He is all we need to live. Victoriously. He is indeed that which holds us all together.
Do you know the difference between tradition and traditionalism? Tradition is the living faith of dead saints. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living saints.