Paul’s warning to the church in Colossae is just as pertinent to the church today, if not more so, and carries with it two implications. The first is that we can be taken captive. Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word sulagógeó with words and phrases like “plunder,” “lead captive,” and “make victim by fraud.” But we don’t need to explore the Greek to know that being taken captive is not a good thing. Yet I fear that many of us never think about the possibility. A common picture of the Christian life is that of a ship. Many of us—Christians and non-Christians—view life as a cruise through the Caribbean. We look forward to warm breezes, panoramic vistas, plentiful buffets, maybe flirting with good-looking members of the opposite sex, and otherwise living a life of utter relaxation. I know I fall into that line of thinking, and to be clear, Scripture doesn’t outright condemn any of those behaviors. The problem is, there be pirates in these waters. And they are hostile toward us, seeking to plunder and lead captive. While we’re looking forward to second desserts and shuffleboard tournaments on the lido deck, they’re plotting our demise. What’s interesting is that we are not actually on a cruise ship. We’re on a battleship, only we’ve ripped out the gun mounts and replaced them with soft-serve ice cream stands. We’ve retooled the elevator to make it a fun ride for kids. We’ve stopped using our radar to detect enemy positions and tuned it to locate the next tropical paradise where we can temporarily make port.
Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking I’m overstating this or are wondering who this “they” I keep referring to is. Paul gives us the answer in his letter to the Ephesians: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Strong’s defines this enemy as the “ruler of this world, that is, of the world as asserting its independence of God; used of the angelic or demonic powers controlling the sublunary world.” The Apostle Peter clarifies this for us: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” In short, we’re talking about spiritual warfare. Frank Peretti’s novels give us a fictional, perhaps sensationalized, albeit probably more realistic than we’d like to believe picture of this battle, and it is one that spills over into the physical, tangible world. Just ask Christians who find themselves embroiled in legal battles for trying to live out their Christian beliefs. Or the Christians who find themselves at the tip of the spear or point of the sword for professing the name of Christ.
However, if we turn our focus back to Colossians 2, we see it referring to another casualty of battle—the mind. We can be taken captive “through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” We can start to buy into the devil’s lies. We can start to stray from the truth of the Gospel. Just look at what some Bible-believing Christians think about abortion, marriage and the family, social justice, or the sufficiency of Christ. Heretics—those teaching doctrine contrary to Scripture—are a dime a dozen, and many of them are well-meaning Christ-followers who have been made “victim by fraud”—who have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie,” perhaps without even knowing it or meaning to.
The first implication of Colossians 2:8 is that we can be taken captive. The second implication is that we can do something about it. Note the verse does not say, “Hope that no one takes you captive,” or even “Pray that no one takes you captive.” Rather, it says, “See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis added). Paul is commanding the church to be on its guard. Peter warned “Be alert and of sober mind.” We are not on an 80-year vacation aboard the MS Paradise of the Seas; we are to man battle stations aboard the USS Sanctification.
That naturally raises the question of how do we see to it that no one takes us captive? If we are commanded to be on guard, what do we do? One of the things my dad used to tell me, and that annoyed me at the time (as did many things he said) but for which I am now grateful (as I am for many things he said), was in relation to the focus of one’s thoughts. He would say, “Don’t think about a pink elephant.” I’ll ask you as he asked me, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Likely, a pink elephant. His point being, if you dwell on what you’re not supposed to think about or do, it often makes it harder not to think about it or do it. Instead of not thinking about a pink elephant, think about something else. Reorient your focus. Scripture uses this method as well (and I suspect it may be where Dad picked it up). Rarely—if ever—does Scripture command us not to do something without also redirecting our focus toward what we should do:
“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.”
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Get the idea? To use vernacular from the military or the world of sports, the best defense is a good offense. To that end, Paul gives us four strategies to see to it, and I’ll touch on each briefly. We find them in the preceding verses: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
One of the key points my pastor has stressed over the last few years is that the gospel is not just a message we need for salvation, but rather we must continue to live gospel-centric lives. We don’t receive Christ, stick our salvation in our back pocket, and then ignore God or His ways of living. This was a key theme of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, summed up in Galatians 3:3: After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
The word “rooted” is one my church has also picked up on for our children’s ministry. The idea is that we are deeply grounded. When we look at a large tree, we see what is above ground. With the exception of when it intrudes upon our sidewalk, we are unaware of what is below ground—a root system that rivals that which is above ground in size. This serves as an anchor for the tree when storms come blowing. Paul writes that we are to be rooted in Christ. He is to be our anchor, and we are to be built up upon that foundation—not on any other.
Carrying on that thought is the idea of being strengthened in the faith. Consider an athlete who continues to work and train at his or her discipline. They will grow bigger, stronger, faster, more skilled. If they never train, never practice, never keep their bodies in shape, they will start to perform poorly in actual competitions. The same is true for Christians. If we are not learning and studying and growing in our faith, we will fail when the rubber meets the road.
Paul also instructs us to be “overflowing with thankfulness.” This seems like an odd strategy until we consider for what we are thankful. We need only back up a chapter to discover what that is: . . . and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. This brings us back full circle, reminding us of the fight we face and in which we are combatants, whether we like it or not.
There is a final point to make, and it is one which I wish I could unpack more fully. We are warned against “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” In the next verse, we’re reminded “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Our focus needs to be on Jesus Christ, the Almighty God of the universe, and His Word, His truth, His standard. The opposite is that which is hollow—“having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”—and which is based off human traditions and worldly ideas instead of Scripture. This bad theology is deceptive, and we can be deceived. But we have been given warning, we have been given strategy, we have been given power in the form of the Holy Spirit so that we can avoid being taken captive.
See to it!
 Colossians 2:8
 Ephesians 6:12
 I Peter 5:8
 Romans 1:25
 I Peter 5:8
 Romans 6:13, emphasis added
 Romans 12:2, emphasis added; see also Romans 12:16-21
 Galatians 5:13, emphasis added
 Ephesians 5:18, emphasis added
 I Peter 4:16, emphasis added
 Colossians 2:6-7
 Colossians 1:12-14
 Colossians 2:9
 II Timothy 3:5, ESV