Questions by Joe Kovac
1. In verse 8, “philosophy” actually refers to a specific type of thinking called The Philosophy, which was predominant among the Colossians during the time when the letter was written. Think of a few popular philosophies or traditions that are influence our culture today.
2. Just like “The Philosophy” spreading among the Colossians, we can find small parts of truth among the lies. What truths can we find about our modern philosophies and traditions? Which claims are empty deceits?
3. Since Christ dwells in bodily form, what implications does this have in our daily lives? In other words, what is the significance that spirit and flesh co-exist?
4. Verse 9 explains that although Christ is a man, He is also completely and fully divine. What does it mean to you that God came to us as a man (namely, Christ)?
5. Following Christ’s lead, we put off our sinful ways through the help of the Holy Spirit. If you feel comfortable, share a time where you have successfully overcome sin.
6. What are the “powers” and “authorities” mentioned in verse 10? How are they manifested throughout the world? How are they manifested in our daily lives?
7. Baptism is the New Testament symbol of being in covenant and in relationship with God. Consider the terminology used in verse 12. How does this help us understand the fullness of Christ.
Questions by Rev. Matt Kennedy
8. Paul warns the Colossian Christians not to be taken “captive” by philosophy and empty deceit. Discuss some of the reasons a philosophy like Gnosticism or Jewish merkabah might be alluring to first century people. Are there any philosophies/ religions/ spiritualities today that bear resemblance to them? If so, why or how might people today be “taken captive” by them.
9. In the Greek text, it is fairly clear that Paul is not warning against “philosophy” in general but “the Philosophy” in particular. The teaching that threatened the Colossian church was probably called “the Philosophy.” Sophia in Greek means wisdom and “phileo” in Greek means love. This means “philosophy” is the love of wisdom. Given that Paul was not attacking philosophy in general, can you think of some reasons that the teachers of “the Philosophy” in Colossea might have adopted such a name for their teaching? What might be attractive about a teaching with such a name? Is there ever any danger in loving “wisdom”?
10. The first thing Paul says about “The Philosophy” is that it may be set alongside and understood as: “empty deceit”—the Philosophy is equated with “empty deceit”. Can you think of any reasons Paul might have used the word “empty”? Observe and discuss the significance of the use Paul makes of the contrast between “fullness” and “emptiness” in vv.8-10
11. The phrase “according to” in verse 8 is similar in meaning to the phrase “in the name of” elsewhere in the New Testament. So when you pray “in the name” of Jesus, you are praying “according to” him or his will. Knowing that, discuss the significance/meaning of Paul’s use of that phrase in verse 8. (He uses it twice.)
12. Paul writes that the Philosophy is according to “human tradition”. Define “tradition”. Jewish mystics believed that God revealed certain spiritual truths to Moses on Mt. Sinai that he did not write down but were instead passed down orally. How might Paul be addressing this idea in verse 8? What makes a “tradition” acceptable or unacceptable? Why do you think Paul describes this particular tradition as “human?” Does he imply that all “human” traditions are to be avoided? Why or why not?
13. Paul writes that the Philosophy is according to “the elemental spirits of the world”—the “stoichia”. What do you think Paul means? What are the “stoichia” as far as Paul is concerned?
14. Compare what Paul writes about the stoichia in v.8 with what he writes to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 10:20; 2 Cor 11:14; Ephesians 2: 2 and Ephesians 6:12. Might we, on the basis of these texts, draw any general conclusions about Paul’s view of the source of the Philosophy? What are these conclusions? Might we also on the basis of these texts draw any broader conclusions about faiths and spiritualities that are not “according to Christ?” What are these conclusions?
15. Compare and contrast what Paul writes about the Philosophy in verse 8 with what he writes about Jesus in verses 9-10.
16. How does Paul seek to address the desires and longings that might draw people to the Philosophy in vv9-10? In what ways might these verses inform our own engagement with people drawn to other religions, faiths, philosophies, or spiritualities?
17. Identify some aspects of Christian teaching, articulated in vv.9-10 which would have been particularly difficult to accept for people in the first century drawn to the Philosophy. Are these aspects of the faith any easier to accept now in our culture? Paul does not hesitate to declare counter cultural truths about Jesus Christ that might “turn off” his readers. Discuss some Christian truths that are “turn offs” in our culture.
18. If Paul were writing to Good Shepherd (or your home church) what philosophies, practices, or cultural beliefs might he confront and how might he do it?
19. What aspects of your faith do you find the most difficult to share? Why?