The church at Colossae was under intense pressure from the society around it. Heresy was making inroads into the church. Forms of gnosticism, asceticism, and sophistry were popular in the city.
- Gnosticism combined ideas from Greek philosophy, oriental mysticism, and Christianity - a classic example of syncretism, combining elements of different religions. Some of the "new" doctrines in the church have followed this philosophy.
- Asceticism taught a person to lead a life of contemplation and rigorous self-denial and abstinence. As the church taught a proper enjoyment of life, the Christians at Colossae stood out as being different. Some members still desired to be accepted by the world around them. Elements of an attitude of wanting outside acceptance have been evident recently in the church.
- Sophistry concluded that there is no such thing as objective truth and the highest act of man was "civic excellence." Both of these ideas, moral relativity and civic duty, have been present in certain churches of God today, as well as in Paul's time.
So what is Paul's advice?
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. (Colossians 1:9)
He tells them to "continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast" (verse 23). To them has been revealed a mystery hidden from the ages - and from the philosophers (verses 26-28). This is precious truth, and Paul worries for the Colossians (and interestingly, the Laodiceans; Colossians 2:1; 4:16) that their minds might turn away to worthless ideas. In God the Father and Jesus Christ are contained "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," and Paul warns them not to be taken in by any man speaking enticing words (verses 2-4). In effect, he is saying, "When others are saying, 'Wow!' beware! We have a way to check it out. If we compare it to what Christ teaches us, we can judge its worth."
In verse 18, he speaks of men "vainly puffed up by [their] fleshly mind," or as the Lamsa translation reads, "intellectual powers." Lying among the members was a problem in the church at that time (Colossians 3:9). It seems that bending the truth or telling outright falsehoods to convince others to accept one's philosophy was normal in Colossae. Such a one gained a reputation for "wisdom" and became proud.
Beware of Philosophy