It is interesting how tempting it is to take this passage and spend a lot of time thinking about what the phrases “philosophy” and “empty deceit” mean. Many of us spent many fruitful hours studying different philosophies in college and after. And most of us have known and been duped by the deceit of human traditions, but we don’t need to be rocket scientists to understand that the basic point of this passage is that thinking the way the world around us thinks will lock us up in a sort of prison. The world’s way of thinking will capture us and enslave us and drive us into Hell with its empty promises of life, joy, and happiness.
But Paul wants something better for us. We are to diligently study Christ because in him is all the fullness of deity and we have been filled with him. There is a passage in the Gospels where Jesus says the student becomes like his teacher (Lk. 6:40) and this is Paul’s desire for us. Study Christ in order to become like Christ. We have been filled with him, why do we constantly want to be like the world around us? Be like Christ.
Notice that in this passage, at least, this growth, this maturity begins in the way we think. Philosophy, deceit, traditions, elemental spirits of the world are all areas where people think. It is a battle carried on primarily in our minds. Consequently we are commanded to take our minds back and submit them to the mind of Christ. We are to study Christ so that we will learn to think like him and to so live out the life that has been poured into us. But we can’t do this unless we think like he does.
So the next time you see a flashy guys standing on the street corner wanting to sell you a fancy new watch, just walk on by. And when the guy is much more subtle, train yourself to recognize the subtle sin and avoid it. Don’t let the world around you, with its flash and glitter, capture you and make you its slave. It starts in your mind. Train yourself to think like Christ by spending time with him in his Word. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. You have been filled by the one who is all the fullness of deity discipline yourself to think and thus live that way.