Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. " Colossians 2:8-10
As in other parts of Colossians, Paul begins this passage with a warning not to be taken in by other beliefs and traditions that are not of Christ. One of the key messages from Paul here is that we need to turn away from the beliefs of the world and turn to Christ.
The philosophies of this time were a mix of early Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, local mystery religions and Jewish mysticism. All of these presented great danger as any of it could easily sneak into their lives because it had a sound of great intelligence.
To get a bit more specific, here are a few of the beliefs the Paul was trying to warn of:
* Gnosticism taught that God could never be in direct contact with anything or anyone of this world. If this were true, God would not have created the world (Gnosticism taught that God worked through lesser spirits or angels to create the world), Jesus would never have walked this earth and we would have no personal relationship with God (Gnosticism taught that God deals with us through mediators/angelic beings).
* The Jewish influence emphasized dietary laws and specific days that must be observed.
* Both Gnosticism and the Jewish influence taught that traditions were very important, but Paul warned against the "tradition of men" and guided them the authority of the word of God.
* Both Gnosticism and the Jews also believed in "cause and effect". In other words, I did this bad thing so I deserve to have this other bad thing happen to me as punishment. Paul pointed out this behavior as being "grace-eliminating". God is a God full of grace and mercy not of "cause and effect".
As we follow God and His authority, we find there is no need for these philosophies and traditions. If we read verses 9 and 10 again, we see we are complete through our connection in Him. The gift Jesus gave to us on the cross takes care of everything. There is no need for anything else.
As I read thru the common beliefs held during the time Paul wrote to the Colossians, I was amazed at the similarities we see in our world today. We may not call them the same things, but they are there. How often do we hear people speak about "deserving what they get because of their behavior" or "if I'm a good person I'll go to heaven"? What about those beliefs that Jesus was just a prophet or a good person? Lines up a bit with believing the God could never have contact with this world, doesn't it? And, I could go on and on.
We encounter the same things today as the Colossians did so many years ago. The world has changed, but the same basic beliefs and principles still exist. We must still be careful today. It is just as important for us today to heed Paul's warnings as it was for the Colossians so many years ago.