“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Three times the prepositional phrase “according to” occurs in this verse. This is the preposition of norm or standard. There are two norms that are incorrect and one that is correct. This is the second false norm for living the Christian life.
“according to the basic principles of the world”
The second system the Devil uses to propound his philosophy is “the basic principles of the world.” “Basic principles” are elementary principles. It is any first thing from which others in a series, or in a composite whole, take their rise. It is an element or first principle. This term was used for the letters of an alphabet.
This passage uses the “tradition” of the delusive speculations of Gentile cults where they presented worship of angels as superior to faith in Christ. They viewed the constellations as animated and governed by heavenly beings. This might refer to elementary spirits or evil spirits who inspire heresy. The Colossian enemy was demonic.
In other passages “basic principles” refer to the rudimentary principles of religion (Colossians 2:20; Galatians 4:3,9). Finally, Hebrews 5:12 uses it of the elementary principles of the Old Testament.
The world has an inferior system of belief. The world functions on a much more restrictive scale of understanding than Christianity. The world system speculates; the Christian system comes to conclusions. They hope; we have actuality. We have advanced knowledge of the ultimate (God) through the Bible.
Christians march to a different drumbeat philosophically. The world struggles to appreciate people who know what they believe. They believe Christians are speckled birds. That makes us odd or queer. They view us as eccentric. We do not play according to their rule book, “Morality? That is mid-Victorian, prudish!” They laugh at cheating. That is standard procedure for our culture. They wink at dishonesty.
The ABCs Paul warns against here is any system that seeks to understand God by human systems of understanding.
We inevitably move to dependence upon limited human systems to cope with reality. If the “basic principles” are the ABCs, why do Christians not move on to the higher learning of the Word of God? If we are working on a Ph.D. in the Word of God, why revert to the ABCs of dependence upon self? Why descend back to the mere alphabet if we have gone on to learn many languages?
Why should a Christian revert to ritual ceremonies if they have established a dynamic fellowship with God by grace? Why should a Christian who has gone on to the graduate school of spirituality sit in an elementary (Galatians 4:3,9)? It is the same as if a person is able to encompass the heavens and measure the distances between bodies in space, and then forego that capacity to sit in first grade learning two plus two equals four.