Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Have You Been Taken Captive?

When I was in seminary preparing for ministry, I never imagined what I've encountered since then as a counselor. So many times I've sat with confused and discouraged people, people who had made regrettable personal decisions that further complicated their travels through this broken world. They would sit with me and wonder aloud why things happened the way they had, and what in the world they should do about it all now. Usually they were hoping there might be some rare, hidden wisdom that would clear things up for them. They craved a revelation, a solution, a magic bullet. And as I listened I would think, 95 percent of what this person is seeking is right there in God’s Word.

These people did not need any new revelation or special insight. They needed to submit to what God had already written. They needed to trust what is sure: the clear words of the Creator of it all, found in the pages of his book, the Bible. The apostle Paul does a good job in Colossians 2 of diagnosing this endemic problem.

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ"(vv. 6–8).

If you, as a resident of this fallen world, are to follow in the vein of what Paul is teaching here, you must embrace two realities. The first is this: as a person made in the image of God you do not live life based on the cold, objective facts of your experience, but on your interpretation of your experience. Everyone living is a philosopher and a theologian. We are always stepping back, taking a look at our lives, and turning our situations and relationships over and over in our hands for further inspection and understanding. The sense you make out of the events of your life will form what you do and say in response to them. As you interpret new events and reinterpret old events, time after time after time, your interpretations will begin to form into a worldview that will function as an organizing structure not only for what you think, but also for how you live.

Here is the second reality: you are always being bombarded by the opinions of others. The world around you is not silent. You live in the middle of a constant cacophony of interpretations of reality. Whether its the opinion of a friend, the lyrics of a song, the words of a text, an article from a newspaper, the plot of a sitcom, some information on a website, or the worldview of a great movie, your eyes are receiving and your mind is being influenced by a thousand voices every day. Each is telling you how to think, and in telling you how to think, is telling you how to live. We never interpret the events of our lives on the basis of pure objectivity; we are always influenced by a myriad of cultural and interpersonal influences.

Now, keep these two realities in mind as you consider Paul’s diagnosis. He is saying that Christians, people who really do know the Lord, can be taken captive through “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” In this phrase we find a stinging criticism of the limits of human research, experience, and interpretation. Here’s what Paul is telling us: understanding that is merely human, continually claims that it can provide a reliable basis for daily living, yet its hollow (empty) because it doesn't provide this reliable basis, and its deceptive (false) because it cannot. The authoritative truth and wisdom you need to guide you through your situations and relationships simply can’t be obtained from any human source.

Then Paul points us to the fatal flaw of human understanding. Such understanding will ultimately fail because it looks to “human tradition and the basic principles of this world” rather than to Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v. 3). This is exactly what often makes our lives so difficult. We're relying on some basic tradition of human understanding for guidance in daily life. Some of us are relying on the power of the human intellect: our own. Others are relying on a popular mystical notion we've clearly absorbed somewhere along the line: that a benevolent orderliness in the nature of things will simply guide you into goodness. Both have forgotten about the Fall, about the reality of this broken universe.

Human “wisdom” that cannot be aligned with Scripture simply is not wisdom at all. Because many of us have embraced fallen imitations of wisdom, we live stressful and disappointing lives full of unexpected problems and confusion. We've been taken captive and didn’t know it, even as we hold in our hands the only truly reliable source of understanding and direction: the Word of God; written guidance from the One who supplies every treasure, insight, wisdom, and truth.


At 8:56 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I am not a person who knows the scriptures well. For a person like me, then, where do I begin? How can I possibly pick up a bible and find the answer to deal with the anger I feel for the unfair treatment that has been heaped upon me at work? Answers for dealing with my oldest son who is having a terrible struggle after failing out of college. For the anger of my youngest son toward me for all of my failings as a father?
Where do I find the answers to becomimg a loving husband, father, son, brother, friend, employee, etc? How do you pick up the bible and find the peace of forgiveness that I have desparately searched for my entire adult life?

It's not that I don't belive what you are saying here, Paul. In fact, I have very passionate feelings of firm agreement with today's blog post. It's just

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous CY said...

I agree totally with you,Paul. But the difficulty is how to walk the talk. I believe in the holiness and love of God. I also believe human ways and reasoning are futile. But yet, I keep going back to these ways especially in stressful and fearful moments. So I end up failing to live according to my belief every so often. And after a while, I start to seriously doubt my belief or doubt the reality of God. If I am a true believer, why does it happen so often that my actions are inconsistent with my belief?

At 4:28 PM, Blogger AnnMetcalf said...

Human wisdom is misleading, it leads to sin, and the wisdom we have from scripture may look crazy to the outside world but it is the obedience to that wisdom that brings joy. Thank you for the post.

At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is all so true - the bible DOES have all the answers but how do you move into knowing and even understanding the truth to living it out and making it happen in your life. I tried to set boundaries with a friend and she completely misunderstood me and took it all personal and said I don't want to be her friend, I don't have time for her when I was really just asking to text less as she texts me multiple times a day every single day...soemthing I was at fault for allowing to go on for so long but at some point I needed to say, Hey I love you but I can't keep up with this amount of texting and in an effort to not be trained by my phone I am setting boundaries on myself in an effort to use my time wisely as God calls me to serve my family first and live a quiet life. But she sees it as I don't like her now and I don't want to be her friend...ugh! I hate friendships that demand things you can't be. It is messy as your other book puts it and I feel so drained by social media, texts, Facebook, people whatever! Please write a biblical answer devotional about texts and social media and communication! We would not call someone twenty times a day but texting someone with constant interruption must be okay...not!

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Tom said...

My wife and I got the DVD of your message Preaching the Gospel To Yourself. We have really been encouraged by it. Now when I read the Psalms I often read of the Psalmist often preaching God's own truth to himself. Thank you. Tom Blackham

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Tom said...

My wife and I got the DVD of your message Preaching the Gospel To Yourself. We have really been encouraged by it. Now when I read the Psalms I often read of the Psalmist often preaching God's own truth to himself. Thank you. Tom Blackham

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Chris, my heart went out to you as I read your comment. At what point does the Spirit step in and overcome the flesh? Praying to God and not getting the help can be frustrating. Paul & Tim's "How People Change" small group Bible study helped me in this area. I encourage you to start a group (it comes with DVD's. Or if you can't to read the book. I learned so much and it transformed my Christian life to one of joy and hope. You are right, Chris, we bring nothing to the table. It is ALL Christ. That is why we fail on our own or feel we are alone. John chapter 15 talks about abiding in Him, this too was transformational in my walk.

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