Colossians 2:16-23 | Freedom from Rules
16Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
- Since we have received fullness in Christ (2:10) we should not be taken captive through human tradition and basic worldly principles (2:8), which Paul now extends upon here with practical application.
- The trap of human traditions and basic worldly principles is that they induce a false sense of obligation to fall in line and comply with them. If we do not comply with them then it can elicit judgement from others.
- Paul gives the examples of food and drink, festivals, new moons and Sabbaths, all of which carried a lot of religious and cultural weight. Note that Paul even groups the Sabbath with these things, showing that living under the law and according to the old covenant was just as futile as worldly customs.
- Parallel examples of modern day traditions could be as follows, for which not complying may elicit judgement from others:
- Having Santa at Christmas
- Home-schooling your kids (particularly for British people)
- Being environmentally conscious
- New Year’s Celebrations / Valentine’s Day
- We do not live according to these things for they are just shadows, whereas the substance of life is Christ. We live according to him. So whether we comply with these habits and traditions or not is of little significance (unless they detract from our walk of faith), however living for Christ is of eternal significance.
18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [false humility] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
- To not comply with human traditions may present an attitude of stubbornness or arrogance to the non-believer, suggesting that we will do what we want. This is matched by a want of false humility, as if we are under obligation from higher powers.
- This suggests why people of old (and even today) worship angels, for there is something innate in us to be conformed to a higher power. People may conclude (knowingly or not) that we are under the higher power of fate, the universe, angels or even humanist ideologies.
- Our desire to be conformed by a higher power, and so be ‘mastered’, leads some to be obsessed with visions and be puffed up without reason. We look for patterns and signs in the world, even attributing them to God, distracting ourselves from the call of Christ and his kingdom. These things have the appearance of meaning and value, but are simply puffed up, lacking nothing of spiritual value.
19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
- We may be tempted to follow futile and dangerous paths, such as worship of angels and puffed up ideologies when we do not hold fast to Christ, who is our head. Just as a body without a head is lifeless, so a church without Christ is truly dead!
- We are nourished (supplied) and knit together (united/taught) by Christ, who causes us to increase. There is nothing lacking from him, he supplies us and unites us. We do not need anything additional in life to help us succeed/grow as humanity, for he supplies the growth which is from God.
20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?
- Paul challenges the Colossians, that though they have died to the basic principles of this world, why they still conform. It is not known why they were still conforming to these human and futile traditions, perhaps for fear of what would happen if they no longer conformed.
- Likewise, we must ensure that we have not erected for ourselves regulations which are not according to Christ, otherwise we are serving the wrong master. Examples of this could be gambling, smoking, drinking, language, whereby we erect concrete walls between right and wrong, and not out of obedience and want to please Christ.
23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
- Man-made regulations have the appearance of wisdom and portray the ‘right way to live’. They appear good, noble and right however they have no value in stopping the indulgence of sinfulness. It is simply sinfulness in a different form, in internal pride, boasting in self-righteousness and vain glory.
- The Christian is not to live by empty man-made regulations but to throw himself upon the mercy of Christ, depending on Christ to lead and guide him daily.
- Throw out of your heart your man-made rules, and erect a passion to pursue and follow Christ.