Today we wrap up chapter 2 of the New Testament book of Colossians in our series entitled Colossians Remixed. We are half way through the book with 2 more chapters to go (and about 3 more weeks to do it in) until we start Lent with our new series entitled Circle Maker: Praying circles around your biggest dreams and greatest fears.
So let’s jump in Colossians 2:16-23 and unpack this text, what Paul was getting at while writing it, and how it impacts the way we live our lives today two thousand years later. And remember that much of what we have been talking about over the last 4 weeks about the 2 fold purpose of the book (the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the gospel) will again play itself out in Colossians 2:16-23.
Colossians 2:16-23 says, “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. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have 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. Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 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.”
So Paul, in this text, is seeking to combat the Colossian heresy that cropped up in the Colossian church, and I believe that even today the Colossian heresy is alive and well in the modern church, just in different forms. Paul is getting at the difference of freedom in Christ and legalism of religion. Jesus frees us, in every sense of the word, especially from the legalism of following man-made rules and regulations that actually get in the way of following Jesus. So let’s walk through these verses some more and see how Paul is calling us to freedom in Christ, the preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the gospel.
The first thing we see in verse 16 is Paul going straight out what people were telling the Colossian church that they had to add to the Gospel in order to truly be “saved”. To truly follow Jesus. It could best be described as Jesus +. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus+ not eating or drinking the wrong thing. Jesus + this religious observance. Not too different than today. What are those things that we add to Jesus and the gospel? Maybe it is Jesus + voting Republican. Jesus + not drinking alcohol. Jesus + this certain theological view. Jesus + this certain ritual that we need to do in addition to trusting in Jesus. Jesus + only listening to this certain kind of music and only dressing a certain way. Paul is trying to tell the Colossian church and also by definition, us sitting here 2,000 years later that is actually Jesus + nothing. That we need Jesus and only Jesus. Paul is saying that don’t let people entice you into particular styles of piety and devotion other than single-minded devotion to Jesus. Nothing can be added to Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Religious observance will not liberate you like the gospel. Following rules and regulations of what you can’t eat or drink will not liberate you. In fact, just the opposite it will bind you and put you in chains, just chains of a religious nature. All you need is Christ the King. If you ever come under pressure from any Christian or any church to “add” to your Christian experience, walk away. It is not the gospel if it needs to be added to. A religion that focuses purely on the details of things that you are allowed or not allowed to touch or eat- obviously referring to the Jewish food regulations, is dealing with perishables and if you want to do business with God, you have to get beyond that. The things that Paul mentions in verse 16 are typical of the way Jews- no least out in the Gentile world, tried to order their life of worship: festivals, new moons and sabbaths.
Paul then in verse 17 says that the things that people are judging the believers at Colossae on (whether they follow the rules and regulations, whether they observe the religious festivals, the new moon celebration or the Sabbath Day) are what he calls shadows. They are not the reality. Just like your shadow points to you not the other way around. You are the reality, your shadow just points to you as the reality. Jesus is the reality and all these things are shadows. Don’t cling to the shadows when the reality is here now. Reminds me of Chapter 1 about the image (Eikon) of the invisible God. Why follow the “image” known as Caesar when the true Lord, redeemer, true savior, and true King is here now in the person of Jesus? Why buy the knock-off, so to speak, when you can have the real thing?
Paul then attacks the teachers of the Colossian heresy because they were seeking to disqualify anyone who didn’t follow their belief system and their way of religious observance. Because Paul is saying, that when it is all said and done, that this belief system is not actually about God but about the person who was teaching the belief system. That these people were arrogant, puffed up, and were putting on false humility in order to be seen as most important. And if they were most important, that they had the secret knowledge (that we talked about before), than if you didn’t follow their rules, their regulations, and their way of doing religion, than you were disqualified from the race. They were playing umpire, and judge of who was in and who was out. And anytime you have someone playing judge and deciding who is really a follower of Jesus and who really isn’t there is a disconnect with Jesus, who could be the only right one to judge, but didn’t.
And Paul plays that out in verse 19. He says that those who disqualify others are themselves disconnected from the head. The head being Jesus and no doubt Paul is referring back to Chapter 1 verse 18 when he says, “He is the head of the body, the church.” And so in other words, the people who were leading the Colossian heresy were just a body without a head. Those who were propagating the teaching that Paul is opposing were Christians who had become misguided, or who never really understood their faith in the first place, or maybe they hadn’t even grasped Christ and his preeminence (and his supremacy over all things) in the first place. The central error, the major issue that Paul had with the Colossian heresy was their defective view of Christ in which he was believed to be less than God. And when you disconnect from the head, when the church doesn’t view Jesus as preeminent and supreme and doesn’t understand the gospel, the church ceases to be the body of Christ, the church ceases to grow, and it eventually dies.
And so Paul is calling the Colossian church back to the head, back to Jesus and away from all those things that attached themselves to the church and to following Jesus. He calls them to remember, in verse 20, that when they came to know Jesus that they, “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” Why are you submitting to the old rules and regulations and rituals when you have taken on the new life in Jesus? Why, now that you believe the gospel of Jesus, are you continuing to submit and follow the things that, while they promised life and liberation, actually promise death and bondage, Paul is asking them (and also us). Those rules and regulations (do not handle, do not taste. do not touch) are all pointing to what the belief system that was cropping into the Colossian church was teaching. Paul in mentioning these things, is focusing attention on the appeal to pagans of Judaism’s high moral codes and heavy demands, a kind of religious fundamentalism. You see, often when people are sick and tired of the murky, immoral world, they are glad to embrace a way of life which offers clear, bright, clear lines. And these rules, regulations, and rituals were what the Jewish people defined themselves by. And how they were different than the pagan neighbors.
The good news of this text is the reality that Jesus is the one who leads to freedom from bondage, liberation, and a new life. All the other beliefs, rituals, “gods”, and rules/regulations lead to bondage, and a return to the old life. And Paul is calling the Colossian church, and all followers of Jesus who have come after them that it is all about King Jesus. The Colossian Christians and all who have come after can breathe a sigh of relief that we are complete in Christ and don’t need anything else. We just need Jesus. We need to make him preeminent and supreme. We just need the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Again it is Jesus + nothing.
And so let’s unpack the Scripture and it’s implications in our world today. Let ’s talk about the idea of Jesus + and what we tend to add to Jesus and his gospel. Let’s talk about the rules, rituals, and regulations that define us and our faith. Let’s talk about how we have let external things define our relationship with the world. And let’s bring it all back to the supremacy of Jesus and his gospel.
1. What insights, questions, comments, ideas, applications, etc.. do you have in regards to the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. In your experience what things have you seen that has been added to Jesus? Jesus + what? What things have you added to Jesus and his gospel?
3. What rules, regulations, rituals do people let define their faith? How do these things get in the way of our relationship with Jesus? With other followers of Jesus? And with people who aren’t followers of Jesus?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?