The book of Colossians introduces another issue that Christians must face—that of not allowing philosophical ideas and thoughts of men to influence one’s commitment to Christ and the righteous behavior required of those who follow Him. This is why Paul emphasizes the necessity to be holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in God’s sight (Col. 1:22). But how is this accomplished? The answer: We must ” . . . continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard . . . . ” (v. 23). The philosophies and ideas of men generally oppose the keeping of God’s commandments and obedience to the Law of God.
In Colossians 2, this issue is addressed head-on. Here is how Paul described it: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 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” (Col. 2:6–8).
What did Christ say about the traditions of men?
. . . Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. (Mark 7:6–9)
Considering the religious deception that exists today, one should ask what is the origin of these ideas, or more specifically, why do they persist? The answer: They are the result of religious traditions based on Greek philosophy—traditions which crept into the visible church within the first few centuries of the Christian era. Even the Protestant reformation failed to purge many of these ideas, and they are the underpinnings of both Catholic and Protestant theology. They are the heart and core of what is called Christianity. In both cases, the persistent view is that the Law of God is done away, and while the commandments should be kept “in principle,” keeping them literally is not required for salvation. In spite of what Christ taught, they say that the fourth and seventh commandments do not apply to Christians.
Paul warns in Colossians 2:20–23 what these traditions lead to. In emphasizing that they should not affect Christians, he wrote: “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”
Notice how this passage is rendered in the New International Version:
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.
What Paul states is that philosophical reasonings and human traditions are of no value in overcoming the pulls of the flesh. Only the Spirit of God can enable men to do this. As Paul wrote to the Romans: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24–25). “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
Again, Paul stresses what Christian living entails. He wrote: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1–2). Then following in this chapter is what God expects us to overcome. All are important principles of Christian living.
Mortify [put to death] therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds. (Col. 3:5–9)
There is a tremendous amount of information in these few verses. We are made to realize that overcoming must include sexual lusts of various kinds, as well as coveting, which is idolatry. In addition, we must control anger as many of the misdeeds of the tongue are generated by it. Also, lying is another abuse of the tongue. In reality, the tongue mirrors what is in the heart and mind. This is why Jesus said: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45). So serious is the misuse of the tongue that its abuse can lead to condemnation. “But I say unto you, That every idle word [that is used lightly, without substantiation] that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37).
Overcoming and, therefore, Christian living means putting on the new man. What we read above is part of that requirement. Christian living means to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:12–14). These qualities do not come naturally. The carnal thing to do when hurt or insulted is to “get even.” But what does the Bible say? “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). What is important for the Christian is to apply what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:15–16, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
About half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The vast majority of Americans and even professing Christians do not really understand what should be done in order to have a proper marriage. Paul gives a very brief summary of the principles involved. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parentsin all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:18–21). So, husbands, wives, and children all have duties. How many couples lack the understanding of these duties? Who is to blame? God holds the clergy responsible. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (Hos. 4:6). The vast majority of the clergy have failed to teach the importance of the Seventh Commandment. As a result, many couples seek what they think is the easy way out rather than to face the problem and then to overcome it. They do not realize that the marriage state includes applying Christian-living principles. When divorce follows, children are left without a father or mother, and often the financial condition, especially for the mother, becomes drastically worse.
Christian living requires using wisdom. Paul wrote: “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace [acceptability], seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:5–6). Wisdom is called for in all of life’s situations. But what is wisdom? Wisdom means one has the ability to put facts (knowledge) together and then is able to make a correct choice based on those facts. The Bible says this about wisdom: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). One’s speech is an important part of employing wisdom. It goes hand in hand with wisdom. What is the source of wisdom? “For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (Jas. 1:5–6). Christian living absolutely requires the exercise of wisdom, and God is the Source of that wisdom.
Lets consider the book of Thessalonians. The Macedonians had different problems and difficulties to face. These difficulties included persecution. Thessalonica does not appear to have been exposed to the kind of traditions as had Colossae. The main problem encountered in Thessalonica was the need to strengthen the brethren in the faith and to encourage them to truly practice Christianity. Of great importance to Paul was his emphasis on the Source of the Truth they had received. He wrote: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). Walking worthy of that calling was a necessary part (v. 12). Paul told the Thessalonians of his need to establish their hearts ” . . . unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13).
The immorality of the pagan world was rampant in Macedonia, as it was in much of Greece. The Thessalonians could not walk worthy of God unless they avoided this vice.
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. (1 Thess. 4:2–7)
This passage is made very plain in TheLiving Bible, which is a paraphrase of the Greek text but certainly captures the meaning in modern English.
. . . You know the commands we gave you from the Lord Jesus himself. Now we beg you—yes, we demand of you in the name of the Lord Jesus—that you live more and more closely to that ideal. For God wants you to be holy and pure and to keep clear of all sexual sin so that each of you will marry in holiness and honor- not in lustful passion as the heathen do, in their ignorance of God and his ways. And this also is God’s will: that you never cheat in this matter by taking another man’s wife because the Lord will punish you terribly for this, as we have solemnly told you before. For God has not called us to be dirty-minded and full of lust, but to be holy and clean.
America is rapidly becoming more secular and pagan, with increasing immorality of all kinds. What Paul wrote the Thessalonians many years ago regarding the Source of their faith and the need to live up to Christian principles is just as appropriate today, as it was when he wrote to them many years ago.