So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. [Hebrews 2:1 (NLT)]
We had an elderly friend who frequently visited us at our lakeside cottage. An avid reader but a poor swimmer, she loved to relax and read in a small rubber raft while floating on the water. Inevitably, she’d drift off and, finding it difficult to paddle against the current and return to the dock, she’d call on the children to swim out and tow her back to safety. Eventually, tiring of their towing job on a breezy day, they took a length of rope and tied it to both raft and dock. The rope was long enough to allow our friend to float around but short enough that she never got too far away from home. I thought of her when I read the caution in Hebrews 2:1 to carefully listen to the truth lest we drift away from it.
Like the Hebrews, many in the church at Colosse were drifting away into dangerous waters. Rather than drifting into apostasy (the abandonment of their belief in Jesus) as were the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, the Colossians were drifting into the equally dangerous waters of heresy (adhering to a belief contrary to church doctrine). Sitting near the intersection of several major highways, Colosse was exposed to a wide variety of beliefs and philosophies. Rather than waves of persecution, these new Christians were being pushed along by the popular, but false, teachings of the day. Various un-Biblical philosophies and beliefs were being integrated into doctrine and wreaking havoc in the church. Just as my children brought my friend back to the dock, Paul’s letter was his way of returning the church to sound doctrine.
From Paul’s letter, it appears that some teachers were peddling something akin to Gnosticism—a belief that some people possessed secret superior knowledge that was hidden from most other believers. Thinking that all matter (including the body) was evil, they affirmed the deity of Jesus but denied His humanity. Others seemed to embrace a fusion of Christianity and Judaism that included Jewish dietary laws and the observance of Jewish holy days. Some Colossians espoused a spiritualistic teaching requiring them to worship angels before connecting with God. Still others adopted a legalistic version of Christianity with man-made requirements like pious self-denial, special rituals, and possibly circumcision. Calling them “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense,” Paul pointed out that those beliefs came from human thinking and demons rather than Christ.
When those false theories and ideologies were merged into the tenets of the new church, there was just enough of Scripture’s truth in them to make them sound right. Even in the 21st century, it’s easy to get caught up in new philosophies or trendy ideas and different “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense” continue to be preached today. As Tim Challies said, “This world is a murky madness of true and false. For every doctrine we know to be true, there seems to be a hundred pretenders.” Like the Colossians, we must be on guard for those pretenders—those who add to, ignore, dismiss, or edit Scripture along with any who are more interested in filling their wallets than saving souls, more intent on pleasing mankind than God, or claim to have been called by God to preach words outside of Scripture.
To avoid drifting away from the truth found in Jesus, rather than tethering ourselves to a dock as did my friend, we must tether ourselves to God; instead of using a rope, we use His word as found in the Bible. Simply put, sound doctrine comes solely from God. Its authority comes only from God’s Word and is consistent with all of Scripture (rather than a verse taken out of context).
Whatever is only almost true is quite false, and among the most dangerous of errors, because being so near truth, it is the more likely to lead astray. [Henry Ward Beecher]