The Flesh, The World, The Devil

The Christian has three enemies in this life. They are the flesh, the devil, and the world.


The Flesh

The "flesh" (or “self life”) arises from the fact that our bodies have not yet been redeemed and can be influenced negatively by the world-system (culture) —and by the spirit ruler of our planet, the devil, who "lures and entices,” thus causing the Christian to act on his own energy and strength rather than relying on the power and life of the indwelling Christ.

Andrew Farley writes, “The flesh is a way to think. The flesh is a way to walk. The flesh works against the Spirit. The flesh encourages self-effort. The flesh seeks identity and purpose. We choose to put confidence in the flesh.” (The Naked Gospel, Zondervan 2009)

“Christ is our life...” we have no other. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”

Satan is "the god of this present age," the ruler over the present world-order. He is a spirit being, ruling nations and cultures through fallen angels. This makes the culture and social order we live in "enemy-held territory." Acting on one’s own self-energy results in nothing of lasting value in the eternal scheme of things! We may instead be unwittingly serving our enemy!

Am I treading water but making no progress? Or attempting to row a small boat just upstream from Niagara Falls?

Adam was originally God's steward, manager, and overseer of the created order, but Adam abdicated this office and its authority when he disobeyed God in the garden back in Eden.

Hebrews Chapter 2, by the way, is about the divine program by which God is restoring Adam to his lost estate progeny through Jesus Christ, the one unique son of Adam who never sinned.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was tested physically, emotionally, and spiritually to the limit, as detailed in Matthew Chapter 4. His qualifications to save us from ourselves are unimpeachable. But we can not save ourselves! We have nothing to add to the equation.

The rule of creation, originally given to man was forfeited by Adam, (Genesis 3). Jesus, the “Second Adam” (also called the “Last Adam”) was sent into the mainstream of human life to buy back mankind, and to ultimately restore the ruined creation as well. This Jesus accomplished in full. We are yet see all aspects of His purchase, but it is all a done deal as far as eternity is concerned.


The World

The Greek word kosmos, meaning "ornament, decoration, arrangement" gives us our English word "cosmetics." When the Bible speaks about not loving the "world" the reference is not to nature but to the social order, the culture of the nations.

1 John 2:15-17 is a key reference:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever."

The "world-system" involves a concern for external appearances more than inner content and quality. As used in the New Testament, the world does not refer to nature, but to the organized world-system, to society and human culture. The world system is outwardly religious, scientific, cultured and elegant. Inwardly it seethes with national and commercial rivalries. Music, art, literature and philosophy along with art, fashion wear, paint and perfume conceal disease, malnutrition, starvation, murder and death. The appearance of things covers the hidden reality that we are out of sync with God. “Man looks upon the outward appearance but God looks upon the heart.”

The general characteristics of "the world" (as the term is used in the Bible when referring to the fallen "world system") may be described roughly as follows. The world:

* Produces conformity to cultural norms or traditions of men; stifles individuality.

* Makes use of force, greed, ambition and warfare to accomplish objectives.

* Offers financial reward at the cost of one's soul.

* Cares little for the worth of the individual or his uniqueness.

* Promotes myths and illusions which appeal to human vanity and pride

* Diverts attention from spiritual values by appeals to pursue pleasure, pride (vainglory), or to power.

* Permissive sexual, moral and ethical values to encourage self-indulgence.

* Superficiality of life and appeal to immediate pleasure rather than long-term goals.

* Ignores eternal values and invisible realities.

* Offers false philosophies and value systems to support its goals. The root problem is pride.

* Exalts man, his abilities and his supposed "progress"-for example, through the myth of social evolution.

* Glosses over and hides suffering, death, poverty the depravity of man, and our accountability to God.

* Seeks to unify mankind under an atheistic humanistic or pantheistic ("one world religion") banner.

* Emphasizes relativism and pluralism and denies Biblical absolutes.

* Teaches human progress and advancement through better education or social welfare.

 

A Fully Christian Society

“The New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are no passengers or parasites; if a man does no work, he ought not to eat. Everyone is to work with his own hands, and what is more, everyone's work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no 'swank' or 'side,' putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues, and the New Testament hates what it calls 'busybodies.'

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we would come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and in that sense, 'advanced,' but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned ­- perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine . We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about everything that is totally Christian: everyone is attracted to bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.” (C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Ch. 3).


The Devil

Satan is the “god of this age,” the “god of this world (order).” He is a fallen angel and his turf is earth. (Our earth is called “the Silent Planet” in CS Lewis’ space trilogy).

The original rebellion and fall of certain mighty angels after creation week is described cryptically in Isaiah 13–14, Jeremiah 50-51, and Ezekiel 27-28.

Jesus called Satan, “the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning” in a powerful conversation He had with the religious authorities of His day,

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”

Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”

Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (John 8:3–59)

The “Elements” of the World

A fascinating word occurs several in the Greek New Testament: It is stoicheion. From the context in which the word is used it can mean somewhat different things. The basic meaning is "the ordered arrangement of things." It can mean the ABCs, the line of soldiers marching in a row. It can mean the atomic elements—the building blocks of the physical universe. Stoicheion can mean "the first principles," the basic or elementary principles of life. It can also mean the unseen angelic forces and powers who control the cultures and social order of the world.

The New Testament uses of this word suggest, most of all, that the Christian has been set free from the control of the world system and all that is behind it in the unseen realm. This includes fallen angels and demons, "the elemental spirits." (More at the end of this page).

For example:

"And you (followers of Jesus) God made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Ray Stedman says the following about the dangers of the values and cultures of “the world” as an enemy of the Christian:

"In a final word on the subject of maintaining fellowship, the apostle deals with the supreme peril to fellowship, and, therefore, the greatest peril to Christian maturity. Here is a great enemy of the Christian, the siren voice that seeks to lure us aside, trap us, delude us and ultimately to defeat us, in our Christian experience.

‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.’ (1 John 2:15-17 RSV)

Surely this is a much abused passage. Each of us has heard it used to denounce everything from buttons to beer, from opera to operations, from the waltz to the Watusi. Anything that is currently the subject of Christian disfavor has been crammed into this passage, labeled "worldliness," and denounced. I am not interested in adding to that list. I am not interested in denouncing, but understanding. Surely there is something very clearly evident to us as we approach a passage like this and that is that the apostle desires to warn us that the world is dangerous. There is clearly something very dangerous about the world, otherwise he would not speak as strongly and as sharply as this: "Do not love the world or the things that are in the world."

Now what is it that is dangerous about the world? That is what we must discover. The first step in doing so will be to note that the apostle divides this enemy into two major divisions. "Love not the world," he says, "nor the things that are in the world." Now why does he make this distinction, and what difference does it make? Does it need to be said that the world which the apostle is talking about is not the physical world, the world of nature? There is nothing wrong with loving the physical world. God has given us the world of trees and mountains, of skies and seas There is nothing wrong with that world. Nor is this dangerous world the world of humanity, of people with their many different practices, customs and interests. We know it is not wrong to love that world because God himself loves it. That most famous of all Scripture texts says so, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16 KJV) That is the world of humanity, the world of people.

But nevertheless there is a world that we must not love and John evidently expects his readers to know what that world is. It is something he has evidently often talked over with them and described to them, and now he does not need to define it for he knows that they know what he means. This would suggest that the world which John has in view here is clearly defined for us in other parts of Scripture. We shall find it most clearly in John's previous writing, the Gospel of John. In the Upper Room Discourse John records our Lord's words, and he speaks in warning about the world:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18 RSV)

Here is a world that hated Jesus Christ. What world is that? Obviously, the representatives of that world were the enemies of Jesus. Who were they? It is most striking to recall that the enemies of Jesus were basically religious men. This world which the Christian is not to love is, therefore basically, primarily a religious world. It is not exclusively so for there was a secular world which hated Jesus as well. The representatives of the secular world hated the Lord Jesus, not with the hate of outright enmity, but, which is worse, with the hate of callous indifference. Our Lord said that the world would hate us because it hated him, and John says this is the world we must not love. We must not love that which hates Christ.

The world hated him because he constantly challenged its basic philosophy. He was in continual protest against that to which the world was irrevocably committed. Our Lord put the whole matter plainly one day when he said, "You are those who seek, not the honor which comes from God, but that which comes from man," (cf, John 5:44). There is the philosophy of the world, the world that John says we must not love. It does not look beyond this life, it is concerned only with the honor which comes from men and unconcerned about the honor which comes from God. It is a philosophy which is bounded at one end by a cradle and at the other end by a casket. It is centered only in this life and this world. Jesus challenged that concept wherever he went and whenever he spoke. Because he thrust so decisively against this, he was hated and men banded together to put him to death. It was this philosophy which was ultimately responsible for nailing the Son of God to a bloody cross.

Think about that for a moment -- this philosophy that says the only important thing is this life -- think how widespread that is today. Are we not constantly exposed to this idea? Does it not subtly penetrate everything we touch today? We see it underlying all of life. It makes its appeal in every magazine. It is blazoned on every billboard. It is shouted abroad by radio and television, every time we turn a dial. It can be summed up in this precise way. "There is nothing better, there is nothing higher, there is nothing more precious than what this earth can give you: its money, its pleasures, its fame. You had best eat, drink, and be merry, for there is no nobler life than that."

Now, John says do not love that idea, do not love that philosophy, do not think it important. Be careful that you do not give yourself to that way of thinking. If you do, you will lose out on the fullness of Christian experience. You will be eaten by the devil. You will be trapped, deluded. You will become the victim of the Big Lie, and your very humanity will be wizened and withered by that philosophy.

"Well," you say, "how do you battle this? What can you do about this? If it pervades everything around us, where does the battle begin?" The answer is: with "the things that are in the world." There is where we must fight this battle. It is not enough to say, love not the world. It must be brought down to specifics. It must be reduced to that with which we actually come in contact. So John adds, "the things that are in the world," and he defines these. He gives a list of them and says, "these are not of the Father but are of the world." That is what is wrong. To reject a philosophy we must do so in certain specific actions.

These constitute three things which the apostle now defines, three categories:

There is first, he says, the lust of the flesh. And we have already seen many times, in the Scriptures this word, flesh, is usually something other than the body. It is more than that. It is the sinful nature, the sinful tendencies of humanity, the fallen condition of man, which is present in the body. It is in this sense that the apostle uses it here.

What is this lust of the flesh? There are certain things which our body desires that are perfectly proper, God-given. God has made us, as men, to have certain urges and hungers, and to satisfy these is not wrong. But the flesh, that sinful propensity within us, that fallen part of our nature, always seeks to add something, to go beyond the satisfying of God-given desires.

For instance, God has so made our bodies that they hunger for food, in order to maintain life. This is as it should be. But the flesh goes beyond and craves special foods, delicacies. It urges to gluttony, more than we need. It demands the best, the softest, the most flavorsome. This is what John is speaking of. God has made us to have need of shelter, as human beings. But the flesh demands that it be luxurious shelter. There is a constant craving after ease and luxury. This is the lust of the flesh. God gives us the wonderful function of sex, which produces the most enjoyable sensation the body can experience. But the flesh wants to indulge this in any direction at any given time. It urges to license. This is the lust of the flesh.

There is a second division John sets before us, the lust of the eyes. What is this? The eye symbolizes that which pleases the mind or inner life. The lust of the eyes, like that of the flesh goes beyond simple needs. Our minds, for instance, were made by God to search and inquire, to take the great facts which revelation or nature set before us and to explore them, analyze them and systematize them. But there are certain limits to these. There are limits within nature, and there are limits within revelation. There are certain areas of knowledge of which God has said, we, as fallen men, are not to enter into because they are dangerous, exceedingly dangerous. But the flesh takes this basic permission of God and pushes it beyond God's will to extremes we are forbidden to follow. We demand to know everything. We will not accept facts unless we can understand everything about them. We seek to probe into the world of the occult, and the world of the future. We even give ourselves to superstition and the dark powers in order to explore these areas. This is the flesh, the lust of the eyes.

God has given us the gift of acquisitiveness, i.e., the desire to own things, to possess things as our own. But the lust of the eyes pushes that into greed that is never satisfied. We want more, more, more! This results in the common phenomenon of "keeping up with the Joneses," the desire to have things we do not need, bought with money we do not have, in order to impress people we do not like! God has given us a love of beauty, but the lust of the eyes perverts this into vulgarisms, the love of the erotic, pornography and idolatry, that covetousness of another's body which the Scripture labels outright idolatry.

There is still a third division which is the pride of life. What is this? Basically, this is the desire to awaken envy or adulation in other people. The first two divisions had to do with satisfying ourselves, not as God intended us to be satisfied, but beyond that. But they were directed toward us, and only incidentally involved others. The pride of life, however, cannot exist except as it relates to others. It seeks to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and burning jealousy in the hearts of others and gives us pleasure in doing this to them. It is the desire to outshine or to out rank someone else.

Perhaps the chief symbol of it today is the automobile, with its shiny exterior, its luxurious cushions, its beautifully designed interior, and its tremendously powerful engine, these instant horses that can be released with a touch of the toe to send us flying down a highway. What a thrill it gives us! You only have to study the habits of a human with an automobile to see how it is far more than simply a means of transportation. It is a symbol, a symbol of pride. Why do we trade our cars in every two years? Well, of course, we have very carefully designed rationalizations that can show, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it is much cheaper to do it this way. But actually do we not do it because we want to be admired? We do not want to fall behind in the race. We want to have that which is new and excites admiration in others, even envy and jealousy. Now that is what John calls the pride of life. The automobile is not the only expression of this, but it is certainly one.

Now notice again the warning. What does John say about this? Notice he does not say, touch not, taste not, handle not. Writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says, such an attitude is legalism, and it is this which has made this a verse so abused in the past. John does not say, "do not have anything to do with any of this." But what he does say, what he wants to bear home to our hearts in living, flaming language is this one phrase, do not love these things, do not set your hearts on them, do not think of them as important. Do not give yourselves to amassing things, do not love luxury and ease, and do not strive to outshine others. God help you, keep from that at all costs. Oh, the subtlety with which this whole philosophy makes its appeal to us! When the love of these things, the importance of them, occupies our major interest; when we find them using up most of our money; when we find them looming large in our thoughts so that we are constantly dreaming of that new "something" we hope to get, then we are in danger, terrible danger. This is what the apostle wants to make clear

Why must we not love the world and its things? John gives two very searching and important reasons:

First, because love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive. You cannot do both, it is one or the other. Man is so made that he is designed to love, and therefore serve, but one master. Remember how Jesus put it? "No man can serve two masters," (Matt 6:24 KJV). He is not stating a moral choice there. He is not saying, no man should serve two masters. It is an impossibility! It cannot be done. We only delude ourselves if we think we are doing it. No, we are made to be mastered by a greater power than ourselves. This is the underlying, elementary function of humanity. But that master is either the world, as the channel and activity of the evil one, or it is God. It is God or mammon. Therefore John says, "if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him." You cannot do both.

If we give ourselves to loving the world, we are utilizing all the potential of our humanity to a false and grievous end. There are two powerful forces constantly making their appeal to us. Both of them offer to fulfill us, to satisfy us, to make life rich for us, but one is a lie and one is the truth. You must decide which is the lie and which is the truth for you cannot do both. This is where we fail so often. Many of us say, there must be a way of having the best of both worlds. But the entire testimony of Scripture and experience is, it is impossible. That is why the Apostle Paul writes that the mark of the last days is that men would be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. These are two absolutely antagonistic ideas.

This love of the world can get into the heart even of a dedicated Christian, and let us not forget it. Godly companionship is not enough to defend against it. Even the companionship of the Apostle Paul was not enough, for the Scriptures record that Paul himself had to write in sorrow these revealing words, "Demas has deserted me, having loved this present world," (cf, 2 Tim 4:10). That is how subtle, how deceitful this thing can be.

Now there is another reason we must not love this world. Not only does it exclude the love of God completely, but it is an utterly foolish choice, because the world, John says, is passing away, it is only a temporary thing, but he who does the will of God abides forever.

Martin Luther wrote, "I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God's hands I still possess."

How true that is! We all know the glory of this world is rapidly turning to dust. The power of it soon passes from our nerveless fingers into the hands of another. Nothing lasts very long, everything is changing. "Change and decay, in all around I see." That is the characteristic of the world.

Shall we give ourselves to that temporary, fleeting, ephemeral thing? Must the best issues of our life be built on that kind of a shaky foundation? No, John says, it is he who does the will of God who abides forever. One of these days the world and all that we see in it and all that history records of it, will have been forgotten, will have passed into the silent dust of the centuries. But according to the Scripture, one day the Lord shall stand with his own and view a universe where all things have been brought together and reconciled in Christ, made one in Jesus Christ. What a thrilling thing it will be to stand there and see that come to pass and say, "Thank God, I had a part in that, in the reconciling of all things in Christ."

Our Lord divided the issues of life into two words. He says there are two things, and only two things, you can do with your life. "He that is with me gathers, but he that is against me scatters,"(cf, Matt 12:30).

Now which are you doing? Are you gathering, or scattering? Are you uniting and reconciling, or are you dividing and breaking up and severing?

All the issues of life funnel down into those two things. This is also where John puts it. If you are living for the world, loving its glory, seeking its fame, counting important the things it can give, clinging to these desperately, letting your emotions get wrapped up in them, you are scattering, you are breaking up, you are dividing. But if you are walking with Christ, if the things that he loves are most important to you, if a cup of cold water given in his name is of far more value than another dollar in the bank, if time is spent in comforting or encouraging some lonely person is to you a far greater treasure than a killing in the stock market, then you are building, you are gathering, you are building that which will endure, which will last forever, you are laying up treasures in heaven.” The Enemy Around, by Ray C. Stedman. (RayStedman.org)
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See also: Developing Christian Priorities in Life, http://ldolphin.org/priorities.html

Developing Christian Priorities in Life, http://ldolphin.org/priorities.html

In Conclusion

The majority of people living on earth want no part in God’s ownership of all things. We act indistinguishably on squatters rights when we run our lives and pay neither room nor room, not even earning our keep. Many of us become “religious,” though this fails to impress God either. Driven into a corner by the statements in the Bible, our own recourse should be to flee to Jesus for help. He is available. What an insult it is to ignore His offers to liberate us.

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

But fornication (porneia) and all uncleanness (akarthesia) or covetousness (pleonexia), let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:1-22)

Only Jesus Christ can live “the Christian life.” We constantly believe we can make it on our own!

Or perhaps we deceive ourselves by supposing He is on our side and will empower us to succeed or manage life on our own. Not so! This is the great lie behind the facades and illusions of this present life.

Jesus is the owner and heir of all things!

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

For to which of the angels did He ever say:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”? And again:
“I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
“Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And of the angels He says:
“Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.”

But to the Son He says:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
And:
“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.”
But to which of the angels has He ever said:
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1)


Notes: ELEMENT; ELEMENTAL [Gk. stoicheion, pl. ta stoicheia]. The Greek word occurs seven times in the NT: Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20; He. 5:12; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12. The various translations given to the word by the AV, the RSV, and the NEB show the need for careful study to determine the precise meaning intended.

In Gal. 4:3 the AV has "the elements of the world" (mg. "rudiments"); RSV and NEB "the elemental spirits of the universe" (NEB mg. "elements of the natural world, or elementary ideas belonging to this world").

In Gal. 4:9 the AV has "the weak and beggarly elements"; RSV "the weak and beggarly elemental spirits"; NEB "the mean and beggarly spirits of the elements."

In Col. 2:8 the AV reads "the rudiments of the world" (mg. elements"); RSV "the elemental spirits of the universe"; NEB "the elemental spirits of the world" (mg. "rudimentary notions").

In He. 5:12 the AV has "the first principles of the oracles of God"; RSV "the first principles of God's word"; NEB "the ABC of God's oracles."

In 2 Pet. 3:10,12, the AV, RSV, and NEB all render the word stoicheia as "the elements."

I. Greek Literature: Outside the NT. The following six meanings show how diversified is the use of this word: (1) It designates the lengths of shadows. (2) As an ancient linguistic term it refers to a syllable or constituent part of a word. (3) It refers to cosmic or elemental substances. (4) It is a descriptive term for the elementary details of music instruction or the basic matters of mathematics. (5) It designates the stars or heavenly bodies. (6) It refers to spirit beings or elemental spirits of the stars. (For all of these meanings and related aspects see TDNT.)

II. Meanings and Theological Importance in the NT. In 2 Pet. 3:10-13 the word stoicheia occurs twice (vv. 10, 12). Here it means "the elemental substances of the universe." In the day of the Lord the heavens will pass away with a roar, and these elemental substances, being on fire, will break up into their component parts (v. 10), or melt (v. 12). Thus, says Peter, there is no permanence or stability in material things. Because Christians are expecting these catastrophic changes, they are to make every effort to be spotless and without blemish. They want to be found by Christ in peace (2 Pet. 3:14). Since all things will be in the process of being dissolved, Christians are to be persons of quality in a holy manner of life doing godly acts (3:11).

The use in Hebrews is in the context of the writer's concern about his readers. They had become sluggish in their hearing. They had not matured. They were not able to be teachers but needed someone to teach them the initial elements of God's oracles (He. 5:11). The NEB renders the term ta sloicheia as "the ABC of God's oracles." These initial elements are listed in He. 6: 1 f. The basic principles referred to here certainly parallel the basic principles of mathematics or the elemental principles of music.

Any agreement about how to translate ta stoicheia disappears when we consider the use of the term in Gal. 4:3, 9. The context in 4:1-11 must determine what meaning is given the word, At the close of ch. 3 those who are Christ's are Abraham's offspring and heirs according to God's promise. In the legal system of Judaism an heir was controlled closely by his father. He did not enter into the rights of manhood until the date set by his father (4:2). When the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son to redeem those who were under the law (4:4) and thus made it possible for all men to receive sonship (5:5).

In this context the idea that Paul is referring to "the elemental spirits of the universe" does not make good sense. The context surrounding Gal. 4:3 favors the idea that when the readers were children and when Paul was younger, they were all part of a Jewish or gentile religion. In their former states they were in bondage to a way of life that did not give them freedom. Judaism, the religious expression of Paul and his contemporaries, was not a pure interpretation of the OT. Legalism had replaced law. The Gentiles knew neither God nor the law of the OT in its right meaning. They were tied up with idolatries 51 (4:8). To return to any type of legalism would be to return to the weak and miserable religious expressions that preceded Christ and His freedom (v. 9). The "elements of this world" here are the constitutive elements of man's existence prior to God's sending His Son in the fulness of time. Christ's life and deeds made a radical change in how man's existence is to be constituted. Hence, as Delling has pointed out, "the elements of the world" is a Pauline term not that of the Galatian readers (TDNT, VII 684f.). For Paul, it summarized fife before the fulness of time, before Christ's coming.

The phrase ta stoicheia occurs twice in Col. 2 (vv. 8, 20). In v. 8 it is parallel to the phrase "the traditions of men." It is contrasted with "being according to Christ." Paul is concerned about the Colossians. Living in the world, they have become subject to rules and regulations (v. 19). In this context, the "elemental spirits of the universe" is too specific a translation. Rather, if we translate ta stoicheia as "the elements of the world" (vv. 8, 20), the passage would seem to teach that religious activities not centered in Christ are judged by God to be invalid. To die with Christ is to be set free from these elements of the world (v. 20). They come under Christ's judgment because they are only commandments and teachings of men (v. 22). Those Colossians who may have been involved with worship of angels (v. 18) needed to break with this as well as with any of the other elements in their existence. But there is never any explicit connection between the elements of the world and the worship of angels. In Colossians, "the elements of the world" is again a broad term for human existence apart from Christ.

III. Creativity of Paul. The expression "the elements of the world" in Galatians and Colossians is a vivid description by Paul of elements that characterize man in revolt. These elements show man's busy activities in which allegiance to God and Christ is absent. They denote a way of life that is not according to Christ. They designate the busy round of activities that discloses man's estrangement from God and from which man is set free when he genuinely identifies himself with Christ's death, Functioning in this way, the phrase "elements of the world" stands for all that is involved in bondage as contrasted with the freedom that comes in Christ. Bibliography: A. J. Bandstra, Law and the Elements of the World (1964); TDNT, VII, (Delling). (ISBE)


September 30, 2018.
December 30, 2018


Lambert Dolphin