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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Religion Without Results (2:20-23)
Religion Without Results (2:20-23)

Once again Paul uses the difficult but important catchword stoicheia, translated "basic principles," to call attention to his opponent's preoccupation with the four basic elements of earth (see 2:8), which make up the very things not handled, not tasted, not touched. From the beginning of his letter, Paul has underscored the importance of relating the material world to the spiritual: the one should always bear witness to the other. Indeed, in the next passage Paul will again admonish his readers to understand the "earthly" in terms of the "heavenly" (3:1-4). This integration of spirit and heaven with matter and earth provides the foundation for Paul's ethical program (3:5—4:1), where the moral emphasis falls on transformed relationships rather than the regulations of ascetic piety.

Perhaps it is prudent to point out that Paul's concern is not so much that a Christian's spirituality be abundantly "worldly"; rather, he is concerned that the rigors of Christian devotion not be viewed as means for acquiring God's grace. In fact, our devotion to God should include a measure of self-denial (compare Mk 8:34-38) coupled with a resolve not to conform to the norms and values of secular culture. However, these virtues are the fruit of participating with Christ in the salvation of God. Our rejection of middle-class materialism and our embracing of a simple lifestyle, then, constitute a positive response to Christ's lordship rather than a negative response to a world we suppose is inherently evil.

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