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The Stoichea (Measure Out Things)


The key concept in this chapter is the "stoichea" often translated as the "elemental things" in modern translations but probably better translated 'the measured out things". This latter usage is retained in Chemistry where "stoichometry" is the ratio between elements in compounds - the art of balancing equations. The stoichea are the measured out "abc" building blocks of the spiritual realm.

In terms of day to day practice the BIG difference between OT and NT is the end of the "stoichea". The end of having to have a faith that is measured out, regulated and precise. In the OT everything was precisely allocated. Judah lived in this bit of land, Simeon over there, only people from Levi could be priests, this bit of temple furniture went here, the other over there, behind the curtain was certain death, this food was clean, that was unclean etc.

The cross ended that "measured -out-ness" and we can now move the church furniture and eat pork and lobster. To us that seems very ordinary but it was a revolution back then. In fact it was one of the hardest lessons the early church had to learn. There were no more add-ons, no circumcision, no taboos, no lists, no 613 laws.

Taboos, Fear and Dread

The "stoichea" - the taboo things, the measured out things, were spiritually enforced and a certain dread and awe accompanied them. People had fear and trembling about them and would say "You CAN'T do that." The stoichea were enforced by angelic beings in Judaism and demonic beings in Gentile religions (more on that soon). For instance if you intruded on the temple of Diana of the Ephesians and broke her taboos you were in great danger. For a fascinating read try the Idylls of Theocritus which is filled with the dread of breaking minor taboos e.g a shepherd would never play his pan-pipes at noon as Pan rested then and to wake him would arouse the god's wrath and cause great harm.

Taboos ruled the life of Jews and Gentiles alike. Quite a few times in the NT we hear the phrase about "the law that came through angels" e.g.

(Acts 7:53 NRSV) You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."

(Galatians 3:19 NRSV) Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. The role of angels in enforcing the taboos is shown in:

(Exodus 23:20-21 NKJV) "Behold, I send an angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. {21} "Beware of him and obey his voice; do not provoke him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in him.

This even applied to where they should go to the toilet!

(Deuteronomy 23:12-15 NKJV) "Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; {13} "and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. {14} "For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.

These verses imply that God would turn away from them if they did not cover up their excreta! Full relationship was very conditional. It was a world of regulations, taboos, and limitations.

The main religious systems are "angelic" in origin. Both angels and demons operate in similar ways because, before the Fall, they were the same category of creature. The pagan religions had temples, and priests and tithes and taboos, and festivals and laws and ceremonies etc - and so did the Jewish religion. They had very similar modus operandi because they were both under the angelic (good or fallen) realm and its dominion. Everyone was a slave of the system from the High Priest to a commoner and the system was run by spiritual beings who inspired dread and awe. In the New Testament the authority of the angelic and demonic realm over human beings is broken. A key concept here is the "heavenly realms" and our new place in them so I will take a paragraph or two to explain that.

The Heavenly Realms

Heaven is a plural word. In fact it should be "heavens" because there are at least three levels to Heaven. Paul in 2 Cor 12 ascends to the "third heaven" and heard mysteries from God. The angels in Revelation fly in mid-heaven or the Second Heaven which is also where the great battle with Satan takes place. The first heaven is where the "birds of the heaven" fly . Satan started out in the Third Heaven as a guardian cherub then was "cast down" to the second heaven (Isaiah 28). During the ministry of the disciples Jesus saw another fall "Satan fell from heaven like lightning" this was further enforced by the cross and resurrection and by the time Ephesians was written Satan was now "prince of the power of the air" down another notch. Satan tries to move up back from the first to the second heavens and a great battle against Michael and the angels takes place in Revelation 12 . Satan loses his place in the first heaven and is "cast down to earth" where he incarnates as the Anti-Christ in Revelation 13. After Christ returns he is taken down a notch further and cast into the Pit. After 1000 years Satan again tries to claw his way back into the heavenly realms and comes to earth to deceive the nations and Armageddon takes place then Satan has his final downfall into the lake of fire. So we see that there are multiple levels to the spiritual realms and spiritual beings can move up and down between them but God is ultimately in charge of who goes where.

After His resurrection Christ ascended "through the heavenly realms" and we ascended with Him and are placed in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus(Ephesians 2:6) and there we receive every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (Ephesians1:3) and can wrestle against the very same powers and principalities that once dominated life (Ephesians 6:10-18). Captivity (domination by spirits and their taboos) is taken captive and spiritual gifts are lavishly distributed (Ephesians 4:10-12). A clear sign of the change in status is the common casting out of demons by Christians. This did not happen in the OT because we were under the angelic realms. We can do it easily in the NT because we are over the angelic and demonic realm. One day we shall judge angels ( 1 Cor. 6:3) and they are our servants now (Heb1:14). Their power over us has been broken.

Along comes Jesus and breaks the power of the spiritual beings on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). He introduces a new way of being where no-one is a slave of the system any more. Taboos are gone and so is fear and dread. Our position in the spiritual realms is so high and the power of taboos so completely broken that we are "dead" to any requirements to live by superstition and taboo.

(Colossians 2:20-23 NKJV) {20} Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world (the stoichea), why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations; {21} "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," {22} which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men? {23} These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

The Perils of Paul

Attempts to reintroduce the stoichea aroused such great concern in Paul that it caused him to accuse people of apostasy over things that at first may seem to us to be minor such as observing a religious calendar. He saw such things as placing us back under the authority of minor spiritual beings such as angels and demons.

(Galatians 4:8-11 NKJV) But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. {9} But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (the stoichea), to which you desire again to be in bondage? {10} You observe days and months and seasons and years. {11} I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.

We can see that Paul saw "observing days and months and years" as so grievous that it involved enslavement to "those who are not gods" and "bondage" and he was "afraid for them" lest they had become apostate. Letting traditions and ceremonies and Sabbaths and diets govern life was a huge backward step.

It was stepping out from the heavenly realms where we were placed in Christ and back under angelic or demonic dominion. It was spiritual disaster. In Colossians when Paul writes of Christ's triumph over the demonic powers he notes that it had, as its first and foremost outcome, release from having to observe dietary regulations and feast days!

(Colossians 2:15-17 NKJV) Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. {16} So let no-one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, {17} which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

We are not to live in the "shadows" - of ritual observances but in the reality which is Christ. To the Greeks this was a striking analogy to Plato's cave illustration where a person chained (for life) to a cave wall and looking away from the entrance saw all reality as shadows cast upon the wall by the fire. Pagan or Jewish religion is just these shadows - the substance is Christ. Thus Paul pits stoichea-enslaved religion against Spirit-empowered Christianity.

This even applies to the "good bits" of the Old Covenant. As we saw in the last chapter to observe ANY of the practices of the Old Covenant was to place one's self under a curse and cut oneself off from Christ. (Galatians 3:10-14, 5:1-4) The old religious system of stoichea operated via "curses" for disobedience and "blessings" for obedience. When the Jews agreed to the Law at Sinai they also agreed to the curses and blessings that were listed in Deut 26-28. However Christ put an end to curses for disobedience (Galatians 3:10-14) and gave us every spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3, Romans 8:31-32). Therefore under the new Way in Christ there are no taboos, no curses and no striving for blessings. The old religious system is killed stone dead.

The New Way is not the way of effort and earning but the way of faith and trusting. It is no longer "if I am good and keep the rules God will bless me" but it becomes "as long as I abide in His love I am abundantly blessed".

To summarize

Religion is bondage to the stoichea and systems. Its being a servant of a system ruled by a spirit. Christianity is sonship, freedom and Spirit-led and joyous. There is NO system. There is only faith worked out in love. Praise the Lord!

To wind up this chapter lets look at a few observations and questions for further discussion.

    1. When we create taboos in church we are re-instituting the yoke of bondage of the stoichea. According to Galatians that seriously imperils the salvation of people. It is in fact "anathema".

    2. When we teach that ANY part of the old Jewish law is binding on believers we imperil them - and that includes Sabbath keeping, tithing and religious festivals.

    3. Christmas, Easter and Sunday worship are not required of believers in fact their current form is a carry over from the stoichea. All feasts days, religious calendars, days, months, seasons and years -not just those on the dates of ancient pagan festivals - are "stoichea".

    4. Church formalism with spiritual overtones is "stoichea". This includes robes, furnishings etc where such formalities are given clear spiritual overtones. If you like robes - wear them, there is nothing wrong with that per se. However if you have to have a robe on before you can minister - then that is "stoichea" - subjecting yourself to elemental things. That would be going back to the days of Aaron, high priestly garments and immovable furnishings. It is nothing like Jesus ministering to a hill full of people or Phillip sharing the gospel in a moving chariot in the desert.

    5. There is no blessing for tithing or cursing for not tithing. We give freely as God leads. If you have a release of conscience when the coin drops into the bag or plate you have put yourself under the stoichea and enslaved yourself to a ritual. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses your conscience not a gold coin. God's pleasure cannot be bought, it is given freely in Christ. The fear and dread that some people experience regarding their giving is thus sub-Christian.

    6. Alcohol and tobacco may be foolish, unwise and addictive but they are not spiritually unclean or taboo. This calls for wisdom. Paul told the Corinthians to be cautious around idols temples not because they were in danger spiritually but because it could mislead people into idolatry. Even the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth was not taboo and off limits spiritually - it was just the wrong place to be seen! It could hurt someone's faith. I live in a house with a recovering alcoholic therefore I do not drink. Not because it is "unclean" , taboo or unspiritual or because I will incur the wrath of some minor deity but because it would harm my house-mate and not be an act of Christian love.

    7. Don't import superstitious "second heaven" principles into the Christian life which is lived above that. Some Christians read books about pagan religions and spells etc and become enamored of things like holy water and things to repel demons and sometimes make statements like "drums attract evil spirits". This may or may not be true. However it is living in fear when we have all the power we need to deal with those things in the name of Jesus Christ. We have left those pagan concepts behind. "God has not given us a spirit of fear". Canberra, the capital city of Australia was planned and laid out by Masons - yet I visit there and enjoy my visits. We don't need to run around fearing a pagan symbol on every corner. We can be grieved by it as Paul was in Athens but we do not need to be fearful of it.

    8. There are no "six keys to blessing in the Christian life" - practices we have to do in order to be victorious. There is only one - faith in Jesus Christ outworked in love. We have the blessings in Him already. We have EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (and by implication the earthly blessings that are subsumed under that) simply because we are "in Christ", "in the beloved" and with Him God freely gives us all things. In Christ we have them, by faith we appropriate them, in love we live them out. There are no "keys" , no technique we must follow, no teacher that we must slavishly imitate, no denomination or particular church we must join, in order to be blessed. We are blessed, already, and completely, in Christ. Mind you it will take all eternity to plumb the depths of those wonderful blessings!

     

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.