“Beware lest any man cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” – Colossians 2:8-10

One of the highest ranking blacks in the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a comment that was made following a cabinet meeting with the president. The discussion had ranged around government deficit, that painful word that defines a condition in which more money is going out than coming in. A member of the president’s cabinet said, “the government would do well if it could learn deficit spending as well as the African-American race has learned it.”

This was doubtless a flippant and graceless remark. What that cabinet member should have known was that black people, at least so many, have had an insufficiency of income. So, the only way of survival was to try to stretch what one had, borrow a little here, buy on the installment plan there, put this in  layaway, pay this bill two months behind rather than that bill one month behind. “Rob Peter to pay Paul,” was our way of explaining black economics.

With people so economically strained, life is all about insufficiency – not enough. I was told of women in my childhood who worked in kitchens for $3 a week. Some will say that this is exaggerated, but those who say such things show how young they are or how ignorant they are of what has gone on in this country. Insufficiency! Insufficiency, that’s what it has been all about.

Insufficiency – not enough – is something we came to know all about in this country.

In almost all of our relationships with those around us, we come upon this matter of insufficiency. “If only somebody understood me” is a cry often heard. Children complain that parents are insufficient in understanding them. Parents complain that children are insufficient in appreciating what parents are trying to say to their children and to do for them. Our friendships do not last because we expect from people more than they have in them. On the other hand, they expect more from us than we have in us.

Insufficiency! Insufficiency! Surely this is what is wrong in our believing and in our faith in God. If we can ever say, “Lord, I believe,” then surely our next words, uttered promptly must be “Help thou mine unbelief.” We need to find somewhere, somehow, someone who is sufficient, equal and more than equal to whatever may be our case.

Enter the writer of Colossians, possibly Paul! He announces that in Christ “dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” This statement was not an assertion of speculative philosophy; it was not a finely spun theory formed and fashioned in a mind devoted to setting forth new and intriguing notions. The writer is addressing a problem, a dangerous idea abroad in the church of Colossae.

The problem was one of false belief, the most dangerous thing that can happen in a church. We may claim that it is not so, but our lives are acted out on the basis of what we believe. We may never have been burnt by fire, but if we believe that fire will burn, always burn, we will stay away from it.

Wrong beliefs can destroy churches; wrong beliefs can destroy Christians. We are not told exactly what was the heresy, the error of belief that had afflicted the church in Colossae, but the Colossian Christians knew what the false belief was, and the writer knew. We may, however, put together some bits and pieces and end with a rather clear understanding of what harmful ideas were being spread like poison in the Colossian church. Paul, or whoever wrote the letter, speaks of what was being wrongly believed as a “philosophy.” It is the only time this is used in the New Testament and the writer hitches it to “vain deceit.” Did he not mean that a speculative, human groping at divine truth had produced some unsound, untrue, unfounded, beliefs?

Colossians 2:18 suggests that the “vain deceit,” the “philosophy” has to do with “worshipping of angels.” Now it begins to become clear…

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