"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)Just as in Paul's day, today there are many who start out well only to end up as the prisoner of someone else's thoughts, teachings, and ideas. For the first century church, the leading competitors for the hearts and minds of men were the Jews, who sought to restore the believers back to obedience to their traditions and the Law of Moses,. There was also the various Gnostic heresies, who proclaimed a higher knowledge than the Apostles and deeper revelation into the number and realms of the Gods. In my youth, one of the main challenges of new believers was a liberal education that sought to elevate philosophy about religions faith and knowledge. Today, we face new challenges stemming from other forms of spiritualism and new interest in old religions like Mohammedanism (the Muslim religion). All these forces are seeking to take us captive unto themselves and to lead us away from Christ and His teaching. The Greek word used here for "captive" means to be taken as one's spoil or prize. We are the prize that people people and religions are fighting over. However, in this fight, we get to choose who's captive we will be.
It is important to note that what is of concern here are not ideas and teachings, but those peddling those ideas and teachings. Paul warns us not of ideas that might take us captive but of those who would use ideas to take us captive unto themselves. Ideas don't ensnare people, people ensnare people! In this contest, those who seek to lead us astray will use two appeals against us. First is philosophy. The Greek word for "philosophy" is a concatenation of two Greek words. The first is philos which means brotherly love, from which we get Philadelphia being the city of brotherly love. The second word is sophos which means wise or wisdom. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and certainly there is nothing wrong with that. However, Philosophy can only assent to the extent of our mind while the Gospel descends from God's mind. Philosophy is good but never perfect. We must love wisdom but, better still, we should always defer to the mind of Christ over the mind of philosophy. God's word is true and it teaches what wisdom cannot attain. This is evident in that, "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God." (1 Corinthians 1:21) We need God's wisdom for life, not just our own.
The second appeal that men will make in an attempt to dissuade us from Christ is out right error. There are those who will teach what is false in an attempt to cheat us out of the blessing of a life lived for Christ. How can we defend ourselves against them unless we know and believe the message of Christ. Many believers are deluded because of their lack of knowledge of both the history of God among men and the message He is seeking to communicate to them. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He fought back with knowledge, "It is written..." (Matthew 4:4) We must know God and His word if we are to remain steadfast in our faith.
In making their appeal, they will draw evidence from two sources: tradition and creation. Tradition and creation are valuable teachers and give us many similes and lessons we can learn. However, we are called to be people born from above and we must learn those lessons above all others. Why learn how to live below while our home awaits us in heaven? Why learn how to be carnal people of the Earth when we have been made new as spiritual people of Heaven? This Earth serves our natural life but our eternal life is in Heaven with God. One day, this Earth and its traditions will pass away and there will be a new Heavens and a new Earth which will be our new home. Then, what good will those things be to us in which we once depended? Life is too short to be trapped in empty and worthless traditions and life is too valuable to leave it to the beggarly teachings of this world and this creation. Let us learn to live by higher truth, a greater teaching, and a more perfect example. Let us not be cheated!