“Let No Man Deprive You of the Prize”
“Let no man deprive you of the prize who takes delight in a mock humility . . . [and is] puffed up without proper cause by his fleshly frame of mind.”—COLOSSIANS 2:18.
1, 2. How have many worked against the eternal interests of fellow humans, and can you cite further examples of this from the Bible?
2 Eve was the first of a procession of individuals whose urgings, if heeded, would have worked against the eternal interests of fellow humans. Listen as their words echo throughout the Bible! Potiphar’s wife to Joseph: “Lie down with me.” (Genesis 39:7) Job’s wife: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) The Israelites to Aaron: “Get up, make for us a god who will go ahead of us.” (Exodus 32:1) Peter to Jesus Christ: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.”—Matthew 16:22.
3. What warning did Paul give at Colossians 2:18, and what questions arise as a result?
3 All too often such urgings have worked to the ruin of one of Jehovah’s servants. So while it is true that Christians “have a wrestling . . . against the wicked spirit forces,” it is often fellow humans who pose the immediate threat. (Ephesians 6:12) The apostle Paul therefore warned: “Let no man deprive you of the prize.” (Colossians 2:18) What is this prize? And why have some of Jehovah’s servants lost it by yielding to the influence of imperfect humans? In answer, let us examine the circumstances in Colossae prompting Paul to give this warning.
4, 5. (a) What religious influences existed in Colossae? (b) What was Gnosticism, and what dangerous effects might its influence have produced?
4 Colossae was a religious melting pot. The native Phrygians were an emotional people deeply immersed in spiritism and idolatrous superstition. Then there was the city’s Jewish populace, still shackled to Judaism. Colossae’s proximity to a major trade route also resulted in a steady stream of visitors. Likely, these foreigners loved to spend their leisure time telling or listening to something new. (Compare Acts 17:21.) This led to the spread of new philosophies, among them slowly emerging Gnosticism. Says scholar R. E. O. White: “Gnosticism was a climate of thought as widespread as evolutionary theory is today. It probably came into prominence in the first century or earlier and reached its zenith in the second. It combined philosophic speculation, superstition, semi-magical rites, and sometimes a fanatical and even obscene cultus.”
5 In such a climate, religion in Colossae seems to have become a kind of ongoing experiment—a hybrid mixture of Judaism, Greek philosophy, and pagan mysticism. Would Christianity, too, be cast into the same melting pot?
‘Deprived of the Prize’—How?
6. (a) How would Paul’s words have counteracted the influence of pagan philosophies and Judaism? (b) Why was there a need for Christians to “look out”?
6 Paul’s powerful letter to the Colossians would have counteracted the influence of any who might have wished to fuse Judaism and pagan philosophy with Christianity. Repeatedly, he called attention to Christ. Paul wrote: “Carefully concealed in him [Christ, not any Judaizer or pagan philosopher] are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” The Colossians were urged to “go on walking in union with him [Christ], rooted and being built up in him and being stabilized in the faith.” Otherwise, they might be led astray. So Paul warned: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.”—Colossians 2:3, 6-8.
7. (a) Why might the teachings of pagan philosophers and Judaizers have appealed to some Christians? (b) Why were their teachings really “empty deception”?
7 Perhaps some new followers of Jesus Christ missed the awe of mysticism or the stimulation of philosophy. Certain Jewish Christians may have had a lingering fondness for the obsolete traditions of Judaism. The teachings of pagan philosophers and Judaizers would therefore have had a certain appeal to such individuals. Yet, however convincing or eloquent these false teachers may have seemed, they offered nothing more than “empty deception.” Instead of expounding the pure word of God, they were merely parroting “the elementary things of the world”—useless philosophies, precepts, and beliefs. Embracing those erroneous ideas would spell disaster for a Christian. Hence, Paul said: “Let no man deprive you of the prize.”—Colossians 2:18.
8. (a) What was “the prize,” and what scriptures support your answer? (b) How could anointed Christians be deprived of “the prize”?
8 “The prize” was immortal life in the heavens. It was likened to the reward given the victorious runner after an exhausting footrace. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8; Revelation 2:7) Ultimately, only Jehovah God through Jesus Christ could disqualify someone from the race for life. (John 5:22, 23) Nevertheless, if a false teacher brought a Christian under his tutelage, this could have the effect of depriving him of the prize. The deceived one could veer so far from the truth that he could fail to finish the race!
Personality of the False Teachers
9. What four things characterized the false teachers among the Colossians?
9 Was there any way, then, of identifying a person who was intent on ‘depriving a Christian of the prize’? Yes, for Paul gave the personality profile of the false teachers at Colossae. Such a man (1) “takes delight in a mock humility and a form of worship of the angels”; (2) is “‘taking his stand on’ the things he has seen”; (3) is “puffed up without proper cause by his fleshly frame of mind”; whereas (4) “he is not holding fast to the head,” Jesus Christ.—Colossians 2:18, 19.
10. How did the false teachers ‘take delight in a mock humility’?
10 What a clever ruse! Ignoring Jesus’ condemnation of ostentatious fasting, the false teacher presented an appealing facade of humility. (Matthew 6:16) Indeed, the false teacher ‘took delight’ in making a show of fasting and other forms of religious self-denial. (Colossians 2:20-23) His sad-faced appearance was carefully designed to emit a false piety. Indeed, the false teacher was ‘practicing his righteousness in front of men in order to be observed by them.’ (Matthew 6:1) But all of this was a sham, “a mock humility.” As The Expositor’s Bible puts it: “A man who knows that he is humble, and is self-complacent about it, glancing out of the corners of his downcast eyes at any mirror where he can see himself, is not humble at all.”—Italics ours.
11. (a) What was the worship of angels? (b) What evidence is there that the worship of angels persisted in Colossae?
11 Nevertheless, this sham humility added seeming credibility to an otherwise absurd practice—the “worship of the angels.” Paul does not explain exactly how this worship was performed. The evidence is, however, that it was a form of false worship that persisted in the area of Colossae for centuries. A fourth-century council at nearby Laodicea found it necessary to declare: “Christians ought not to forsake the Church of God, and . . . call upon the names of angels. . . . If any one, therefore, be found to exercise himself in this private idolatry, let him be accursed.” However, fifth-century theologian and scholar Theodoret indicates that “this vice” of angel worship still existed there in his day. To this day, the Catholic Church “encourages the faithful to love, respect, and invoke the angels,” promoting “Masses and Divine Offices in honor of guardian angels.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia, volume I, page 515.
12. How might the false teachers have reckoned that the worship of angels was acceptable?
12 Using a basic line of reasoning similar to that of Catholic theologians, the false teacher may have said: ‘What a marvelous privilege the angels have! Was not the Mosaic Law transmitted through them? Are they not close to God in heaven? Surely we should give these mighty ones their due honor! Would this not show true humility on our part? After all, God is so high, and we humans are so low! The angels can, therefore, serve as our mediators in approaching God.’
13. (a) Is the worship of angels acceptable? (b) How did the false teacher ‘“take his stand on” the things he had seen’?
13 Worship of angels in whatever form, though, is wrong. (1 Timothy 2:5; Revelation 19:10; 22:8, 9) But the false teacher would try to waive this objection aside by ‘“taking his stand on” the things he had seen.’ According to The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, this expression was used “in the mystery religions to denote the climax of initiation, when the mystês [initiate] ‘sets foot on’ the entrance to the new life which he is now to share with the god.” By using pagan phraseology, Paul mocked the way the false teacher prided himself on having special insight—perhaps even claiming to have had supernatural visions.
14. How were the false teachers ‘puffed up by a fleshly frame of mind’?
14 Though claiming to be spiritual, however, the false teacher was really puffed up without proper cause by his fleshly frame of mind. The sinful flesh tainted his outlook and motives. “Puffed up” with pride and arrogance, his mind was “on the works that were wicked.” (Colossians 1:21) Worst of all, he was not holding fast to the head, Christ, for he was giving more weight to the speculations of worldlings than to the teachings of Jesus.
Still a Danger?
15. (a) What attitudes are noted among some Christians today? (b) Where do such attitudes originate, and how do they compare with the counsel of the Bible?
15 The prize of everlasting life—be it in heaven or on a paradise earth—is still held out to Jehovah’s servants. True, the Gnostics and the Judaizers have long since been gone. Yet there are individuals who might now hinder a Christian from gaining this prize. They may not do so deliberately. However, because they have allowed themselves to be unduly affected by this system’s “philosophy and empty deception,” they may remark:
‘You mean you’re still just a housewife? Times have changed! Why not get a job and do something with your life!’ (Compare Proverbs 31:10-31.)
‘I know my job cuts into meetings and the field ministry quite a bit. But it takes a lot of money to support our life-style. And what’s wrong with having a few nice things?’ (Contrast this reasoning with Luke 21:34, 35; 1 Timothy 6:6-8.)
Materialistic and fleshly reasoning is part and parcel of “the elementary things of the world”—the fundamental precepts and beliefs of worldlings! Yielding to it can cause irreparable spiritual damage.
16. How might some today become hypocritical judges?
16 Self-appointed judges and teachers pose yet another danger. Like those in Colossae, they may make issues of purely personal matters. They are often characterized by “mock humility.” (Colossians 2:16-18) Their holier-than-thou attitude betrays a wrong motive—a desire to elevate themselves above others. They are often “righteous overmuch,” quick to go beyond what the ‘faithful slave’ has said or published. Thus they may ignite controversies over such matters as recreation, health care, styles of dress and grooming, or the use of alcoholic beverages. (Ecclesiastes 7:16; Matthew 24:45-47) Attention is thereby diverted from spiritual matters and focused on fleshly desires.—Compare 1 Timothy 6:3-5.
17, 18. (a) How have some ‘taken their stand on’ personal views, and why is this dangerous? (b) What will our next lesson discuss?
17 Today, some even go so far as to ‘take their stand on’ personal views of Scripture, or they claim to have special insight. One woman, who had been baptized only a year, claimed to be of the anointed and thought that this gave her opinions added weight. Thus she expressed a strong desire to “teach and encourage others” in some official capacity. (But see 1 Timothy 2:12.) Since Jehovah hates “self-exaltation and pride,” Christians should have a modest view of their own opinions. (Proverbs 8:13) They avoid the snare of being “puffed up without proper cause by [their] fleshly frame of mind.” (Colossians 2:18) Any who advance their personal ideas and put the counsel of Christ’s appointed ‘faithful slave’ in a poor light are not holding fast to the head. Surely, then, Jehovah’s loyal witnesses should guard against ungodly influence that could rob them of the prize of life.
18 Satan still uses man to hinder fellow humans from gaining life. What are some other ways in which the Devil employs this stratagem? And how can a witness of Jehovah tenaciously hold on to the prize?
3. (a) What situation existed at Colossae that could have prevented Christians there from finishing the race? (b) Was it advisable for Christians at Colossae to study philosophy and mysticism?
3 Later, when writing to the Colossians, Paul warned of yet another potential danger—men who would ‘deprive them of the prize’ of life. (Colossians 2:18) So how could Christians ‘run in such a way as to attain it’? Did the apostle suggest that they study philosophy and mysticism in order to debate successfully with false teachers? No, for Christians had ‘died toward the elementary things of the world’ and should have wanted nothing to do with its philosophies and traditions.—Colossians 2:20.