Today’s passage is Colossians 2:16-23. Let’s go!
Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV)
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
On verses 16-17: Apparently some members of the church in Colosse were teaching others in the church that they needed to: practice the dietary regulations found in the Old Testament and/or refrain from eating food sacrificed to idols; and
observe the Jewish holidays prescribed in the Jewish law.
These “Judaizers” were judging and condemning those in the church who failed to follow those rules. Paul tells the church not to give in to these legalistic practices, which God had already repudiated earlier. He says that such legalistic practices were at best “a shadow of the things that were to come” (v17), pointing us toward a greater reality. Now that that greater reality – Jesus – has come, let our focus be on Him.
Colossians 2:18-19 (NIV)
18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.
19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
On verses 18-19: It seems at least one person in the church was teaching a form of angel worship. Their focus was not on Jesus but and was all about that person’s own mystical, spiritual experiences. Paul tells the church not to get distracted or side-tracked by the false teacher, saying he has lost connection with the Head, that is Jesus (v19). Paul tells the church to keep their focus on Jesus, “from whom the whole body…grows as God causes it to grow”. What can we learn from this, if you really want to grow spiritually, keep your eyes on Jesus more than on your feelings and experiences.
Colossians 2:20-23 (NIV)
20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:
21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"?
22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.
23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
On verses 20-23: In verse 21 Paul quotes the false teachers who were saying “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”. These false teachers taught their followers to observe some very strict dietary rules (thus “their harsh treatment of the body” (v23)) and religious festivals. All of this was done in an effort to curry favour with God and/or to become more spiritual. Paul tells the church in Colosse not to submit to these false teachings for 2 reasons.
First, Christians are to trust in Christ and His work, not in themselves and their effort. Paul reminds the Colossian church that “you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world” (v20). What “basic principles of this world” is Paul talking about? At its core, “the basic principles of this world” is the belief that somehow through my own effort I can reach God. It’s the idea that “if I fast enough”, “if I can control my body or mind enough”, “if I work hard enough”, then “I can reach God by myself”. Every false religion is founded on this basic principle: that I can reach God by my own effort and merit.
Paul reminds the church in Colosse that by trusting in Christ, we have died to the notion that we can reach God by our own effort. Paul warned the Colossian church that to follow these false teachers was to go backwards and become enslaved to an old “I can reach God by my own effort” kind of thinking that they had already died to. This was not wisdom from God, but rather man-made rules that were destined to fade away (v22). They were nothing more than a form of “self-imposed worship” and “false humility” (v23).
Second, Paul tells the church in Colosse not to submit to these false teachings because they simply don’t work. While these teachings might “have an appearance of wisdom” (v23), they were not effective. The false teachers’ emphasis on dietary restrictions and religious festivals did not cause those who observed them to become more holy, loving or self-controlled. As Paul says, “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (v23). Paul wanted the Colossian church to focus on what works, which is simply a relationship with Jesus Christ.
What can we learn from all this? After receiving salvation as a gift by faith, don’t mistakenly fall back into thinking you need to earn God's love and blessing again. Don’t get caught up in a type of false spirituality that focuses on controlling your body and mind as a way to reach God instead of relying on Christ and what He has done for you. It is Jesus alone who saves, not our own effort or man-made rules.
Heavenly Father, thank You that it doesn’t all depend on me. Thank You that I can rest in what Jesus Christ has done for me. May I not get caught in the trap of believing I can earn my way to You, when Christ alone has already made a way for me. Thank You that Jesus Christ has set me free from trying to earn Your favour on my own. Help me to continue to work out what You are working in me. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!