Let me begin this morning by sharing with you some strange laws that can be found in several of our states.
Young girls are never allowed to walk a tightrope in Wheeler, Mississippi, unless it's in a church. In Blackwater, Kentucky, tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she's in church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail. No one can eat unshelled, roasted peanuts while attending church in Idanha, Oregon. In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is permitted to carry a slingshot to church except police.
No citizen in Leecreek, Arkansas, is allowed to attend church in any red-colored garment. Swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited in Studley, Virginia. Turtle races are not permitted within 100 yards of a local church at any time in Slaughter, Louisiana. [Odd Laws Still on the Books, Citation: Robert W. Pelton in The Door. Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 5.]
Those are humorous until you stop to think about the fact that all of those had something to do with church. The sad thing about all of this is that there probably were some fierce arguments about such ridiculous things (with church people involved) before these laws passed. So the question is, Why do people who call themselves believers get so tied down in rules and regulations? Why do believers in Christ insist upon living by some set of man-made rules and regulations and then imposing those rules on other people? The non-Christian community wouldn't care if someone wore red to church. It had to be church-goers who decided there needed to be a law against wearing red to church. It wasn't non-Christians who decided that playing cards was a sin. Why do believers in Christ insist upon living by some set of man-made rules and regulations and then imposing those rules on other people? I think the only answer is that the flesh loves legalism. Regulations about food, bodily disciplines, special religious observances with their regulations make many people "feel spiritual."
Understanding that legalism is always a threat to the church, Paul says to the Colossians, "Let no one act as your judge" (2:16). This is a present active imperative forbidding them from allowing others to judge them in areas of Christian liberty. How do we stop people from acting as our judge? Do you remember what we said last week? We do this by ignoring their judgement. I think the only way to truly ignore those who are condemning us is to know that they are wrong. It is knowing the truth that sets us free from judgement.
Now Paul moves from legalism (2:16-17) to mysticism in verses 18-19 and then to asceticism in verses 20-23. These verses are difficult to translate, many of the Greek words are only used here. Commenting on verse 18, Colbrien says, "This verse has been described as one of the most contested passages in the NT, presenting great difficulties in language and content." Although translation is difficult, I think the overall meaning of these verses is quite clear.
Colossians 2:18 (NASB) Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,
There were those in Colosse teaching a certain kind of mysticism. By that I mean an emphasis on the subjective and experiential in their faith. Mysticism may be defined as the pursuit of a deeper or higher subjective religious experience. It is the belief that spiritual reality is perceived apart from the human intellect and natural senses. It looks for truth internally, weighing feelings, intuition, and other internal sensations more heavily than objective, observable, external data. This irrational and anti-intellectual approach is the antithesis of Christian theology. The false teachers claimed a mystical union with God.
Paul opens this section by saying, "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize." Commenting on this verse, one man writes, "Paul says man-made rules and regulations will disqualify you from the prize. The prize that Paul is referring to here is clearly heaven. Paul is saying that human rules and regulations will disqualify you from heaven. Following merely human rules and regulations will keep us out of heaven."
Who is Paul writing to? Christians at Colosse. Is he telling these Christians that human rules and regulations will disqualify them from heaven? After all he has just said about them being complete in Christ is he now saying that they could lose their salvation? Not at all!
The Greek words translated here as "defrauding you of your prize" is the word katabrabeuo. It is used only here in the New Testament. It is a word which was employed with reference to the distribution of prizes at the Grecian games, and means: "to give the prize against anyone, to deprive of the palm." It literally means: "to act as a judge or umpire." Therefor to decide against one, or to declare him unworthy of the prize.
I see this as a continuation of the idea of judgment in verse 16, "Let no one act as your judge." Here he literally says, "Let no one give judgment against you". The attitude of the false teachers would involve their sitting in judgment as to the future reward of those who refused their doctrine. Paul speaks from the standpoint of their claim. The false teacher judges as a referee that the Colossians were not worthy to receive a prize. They disqualified, condemned and judged them as not worthy of a reward.
So Paul tells the Colossians, "Let no man sit as an umpire in your life." So the idea is not "Don't let them rob you of your prize or reward," but "Don't let anyone tell you that you are disqualified from obtaining the prize of spirituality because you haven't reached the level of self-abasement, or understood the worship of angels, or haven't had the right visions." The words, "Let no man" are the Greek word medeis, which means: "not even one (man, woman, thing):--any (man, thing)".
Listen, believers, don't let even one person sit as an umpire in your life telling you that you are disqualified of spirituality, because you don't live up to their standard. How do we keep people from acting as an umpire in our lives? The same way we keep them from acting as a judge. We know the truth, and we ignore their false judgement.
Paul now gives us several traits of these false teachers. He says they are,
"Delighting in self-abasement" -
We could render this "delighting in humility," which is a rendering that can be well supported by its use in the Septuagint. "Self-abasement" is the Greek word tapeinophrosune¯, which is usually rendered: "humility." The NKJV translation emphasizes the negative use of the term in the present context. There is nothing in the word "humility" to indicate that it is false. The context indicates that it is a false humility.
The word tapeinophrosune is in direct relation to God alone, it is a recognition of our creaturely dependence upon God and our true condition in His sight. Humility is dependence upon God. Man lives in dependence upon God, and understanding this is humility. Pride is self-sufficient. True humility focuses upon God and his grace (provisions) to us. False humility draws attention to self. By the context we see that the Colossian errorist was not humble - dependant upon God but was quite proud.
This false humility was manifest in "The worship of the angels."
William Hendriksen says that there is evidence that angel worship was rather prevalent in the region of Colosse at that time. We know that the Essene community leaned toward angel worship. One of the writings of the Essenes says to carefully guard the names of the angels. Hendriksen notes that in A.D. 363 a church synod was held in Colossae's sister city of Laodicea. It declared, "It is not right for Christians to abandon the church of God and go away to invoke angels" (Canon 25) (cited in Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], p. 126). The early Church Father, Theodoret, commenting on Colossians 2:18, wrote, "The disease which St. Paul denounces, continued for a long time in Phrygia and Pisidia" (cited in Hendriksen, p. 126). The archangel, Michael, was worshiped in Asia Minor as late as A.D. 739. He was also given credit for miraculous cures.
They viewed the worship of angels as a display of modesty or humility as if they were unworthy to talk to God themselves. In its assumption that humanity, debased by the contact with matter, must reach after God through successive grades of intermediate beings. It was a humility of their own making, not a humility commanded from God. These notions were purely the inventions of men and not from the Bible. Therefore, this whole thing was phony. Religious pride makes man presume upon the Word of God.
Their worship of the angels denied the truth that there is "one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). When John tried to worship an angel, he was rebuked for doing so:
Revelation 19:10 (NASB) And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
Angels are created beings:
Psalms 148:2 (NASB) Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!
Psalms 148:5 (NASB) Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.
This means no one should worship them. We do not worship created things, we only worship the Creator Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:16 (NASB) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him.
The next thing Paul says about a false teachers is that he is:
"Taking his stand on visions he has seen".
The words "taking his stand" is from the Greek word embateuo, translated "intruding" in other versions. It means primarily: "to step in, or on". This is the only occurrence in the New Testament.
Metaphorically, "taking his stand" means: "to frequent, dwell in". This word could mean: "to invade, to enter on." Because Colossians argues against Gnosticism, it probably means the entrance of the initiated into the mystery religions. The mystery religions used this word as a term of ecstasy. This person took a stand based on what he saw in the mysteries when he was initiated into the religion.
Like many heretics and cultists down through the ages, they claimed support for their aberrant teachings in visions they had supposedly seen. Today this brand of mysticism is most commonly seen in the charismatic movement - where Scripture is a distant second in importance to visions and revelations. Some of the worst excesses in the modern-day charismatic movement are derived from such visions. There is no need for extrabiblical revelation through visions, because:
2 Peter 1:18-21 (NASB) and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Believers, we don't need visions - we have the Word of God.
The contrast intended in our text is between humanly generated ideas and divine revelation. Such ideas gave those who had them a false sense of pride. Rather, Christians should get our direction from Christ by divine revelation, and enjoy growth that He brings to pass rather than growth that is not genuine.
When someone comes along with a notion, however spiritual it may sound; a vision, however authentic it may seem, if it contradicts the plain teaching of the word of God, we have to say they were tuned to the wrong channel that day. You have to always judge the experience by the word of God.
They are all very intimidating - the superpious, hypocritical, self-humiliating people who have deeper experiences with angels, see visions, and receive special revelations, while the rest of us are sitting around at the Bible studies just trying to understand what it says on the page. We must come back to the cry of the Reformation: Sola Sriptura! That means that the Bible alone is the standard and measurement for everything else.
This ancient heresy appears widely today under the name of the New Age Movement. The New Age Movement makes a great deal of visions, of psychic experiences with spirit beings, of taking trips outside the body and seeing things that others cannot see; and thus being gradually introduced into strange teachings and ideas. We all remember the claim made by Oral Roberts that he had seen a nine hundred foot vision of Jesus who told him to build a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Roberts told the media that unless people send him four and a half million dollars by March, God is going to take his life! This ridiculous claim has turned many people off to Christianity.
Paul says the false teacher is: "Inflated without cause by his fleshly mind" - "Inflated" is a present passive participle of phusioo, late and vivid verb from phusa meaning: "a pair of bellows". We see this same word used in:
1 Corinthians 8:1 (NASB) Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
This is a powerful picture of the self-conceit of these bombastic Gnostics.
"By his fleshly mind" - literally, by the mind of his flesh. The intellectual faculty in its moral aspects as determined by the fleshly nature. The teachers boasted that they were guided by the higher reason. Paul describes their higher reason as carnal.
Colossians 2:19 (NASB) and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
"Not holding fast to the head" - this is the heart of the error! The headship of Christ is the keynote of this Epistle to the Colossians and the heart of Paul's Christology. Speaking of Jesus Christ he said:
Colossians 1:18 (NASB) He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.
Our relationship to Christ is a living union - He is the Head, we are members of the body. A body functions through nourishment, not legislation. Who can say to his stomach, "Start digesting! Stop hurting!" That's foolish! Yet people think the Christian life personally, and the church collectively, can be made spiritual by fleshly regulations and disciplines.
Spiritual growth comes from union with Christ. All errors of believers relate to this as well. If the believer does not have a healthy relationship to the head, the life that flows from the head will be anemic. Fruit depends upon a healthy fellowship with the head:
John 15:4-5 (NASB) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.
We, like the Colossians, must not be intimidated by those who would make something other than knowing Christ through His Word a requirement for spiritual maturity.
"From whom the entire body being supplied and held together" - this passage is almost word for word the same as in Eph. 4:15-16. "Held together" means: "to cause to join or knit together, to bring together, to unite, to combine". It is often translated: "teach" or "instruct." It means to bring a number of ideas together to come to a conclusion.
"Being supplied" means: "to supply fully, abundantly, to provide something besides what already exists to make available whatever is necessary to help or supply the needs of someone - to provide for, to support, to supply the needs of, provision, support." This was a term of the ancient drama. This is the word from which we get our word "chorus." In the ancient Greek world a wealthy benefactor supplied all the money needed for the expensive chorus to function. He gave everything needed. He defrayed expenses for training, costuming and staging. Great dramatists, like Euripidies and Sophocles, presented plays at the great festivals. The play would often train for a year before it opened. Usually they performed a play in memory of the gods. It is like someone is generosity supplying all the up front money for a Broadway play. It is a word of grace.
God is the benefactor here. He provides everything we need to live the Christian life. He defrays any expenses we may face to live before him:
2 Corinthians 9:10 (NASB) Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness;
Another problem with this kind of mysticism is that it ends up just like legalism. A legalistic approach always ends up in a judgmental attitude. A mystical approach always ends up with a condescending attitude, whereby some look down their spiritual noses at those who have not yet arrived at that place in their spiritual walk that they have. This is just judgment from a different perspective. Don't be subject to it for a minute. They have nothing you do not have, if you know Christ.
If you've come to know Jesus Christ, I want to tell you that all that you need, you already have. The reason why so many Christians are not living in victory is because they don't know what they have in Christ. They don't write checks on their spiritual account because they really believe there's nothing there and that the checks will bounce. They don't realize that God has made the deposit already, and we're overflowing with riches. And that's the message of the New Covenant. The message of the New Covenant is that you have all that you need in Christ. You just need to learn to step out and walk in what you have.
So, Paul has dealt with legalism and mysticism, and now in verses 20-23 he deals with asceticism. An ascetic is one who lives a life of rigorous self-denial. In addition to practicing legalism and mysticism, the Colossian errorists were attempting to gain righteousness through self-denial:
Colossians 2:20 -21 (NASB) If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!"
Asceticism is the twisting of a good principle. Asceticism focuses on self-denial. When this self-denial is then elevated into a Christian virtue that becomes mandatory, this is where you begin to have problems.
The good principle is that we, as Christians, should be disciplined. If we are going to be disciples, we need to be disciplined. And that's the good principle. A disciple is a disciplined follower of Christ. We need to focus on the basics, and there are a lot of Christians who are not disciples, because they refuse to be disciplined. They refuse to focus on the basics. They refuse to set up devotional time with God where they read and study the Scriptures and pray. They refuse to minister. They refuse to order their lives in a disciplined fashion to follow Christ.
But when you take it to the extreme and then put that extreme on everyone as the only true path to holiness, you're walking down a path that becomes oppressive. That's what Paul is saying here. He talks about the harsh treatment of the body how it seems spiritual but in fact has no power, no value in restraining sensual indulgence. And why is that? The reason why is because it doesn't deal with our heart. You can discipline yourself. You can fast. You can crawl up stairs on your knees. You can beat your body with whips. And your heart can remain unchanged. That's the problem. It doesn't deal with our hearts. As a matter of fact, it can generate a sinful pride in you because of how disciplined you are. Discipline is good if it focuses on Christ and enables you to follow Christ. But taking it to the extreme doesn't make you a more holy person, because it doesn't deal with your heart. Only God can deal with your heart.
The New Covenant is all about what happens on the inside. We have been set free from all of these laws not so we can come back under them when we become Christians, but so we can pursue a living relationship with Christ.
"If you have died with Christ" -
We can translate the word "if" as "since." The Greek indicates that it is a reality that we are dead
with Christ. This would be better translated: "you died"; the aorist tense indicating a definite
event. It is not a potential; it is a fact. We call this "positional truth." All the sins of the elect were
poured out upon Christ. At the moment we believe, God finally and forever forgives our sins by
Christ's death, our position before God is perfect forever.
The death Christ died he died to sin (Rom. 6:10); you died with Christ; therefore you died to sin as well. Sin has no more power over you than it has over Christ!! Why on earth would you need the old regulations -especially the ones made up by men?
Most believers do not know what God did for them when they became a Christian. We look at the cross and see one thing, and God sees another. When we look at the cross, we see Christ dying there. When God looks at the cross, He sees both Christ and the believer dying there. God sees every person who would ever believe dying there with Christ. The word "died" is the most intensive word for death. It emphasizes separation from human rules, which the believer's death with Christ produced.
Colossians 2:21 (NASB) "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!"
These three verbs are all in the aorist subjunctive second person singular with me¯, a prohibition against handling or touching these forbidden things. Many injunctions of this kind are found in the writings of the Jewish rabbis and the ancient Jewish sect of the Essenes.
The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. Some monks regarded it as a sin to take a bath, because they would see their body. There are writings that attest to that. They felt that marriage was an experiment of the serpent, which would separate them from the Lord. Why? They would see someone else's body. According to the church Father Athanasius, Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet (Life of Anthony, para. 47). Antonius proudly related that such was the holy asceticism of Simeon the Stylite that when he walked vermin dropped off his body. He spent the last 36 years of his life on top of a fifty-foot pillar. He mistakenly thought that if he withdrew from the world, then he would be truly spiritual. Some of the early church fathers, in a fit of asceticism, castrated themselves as an act of self-denial, seeking by such rites to attain holiness. Their feats have been emulated by monks throughout church history. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.
These "regulations" which Paul rejects -"do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" -are often exactly what modern Christians think about when we think about the Christian life. We think that Christians are people who don't drink, don't smoke, don't watch "R" rated movies, don't gamble, don't swear, etc. Now I'm not advocating that you all get up and go do all these things, but Paul is saying, "That is not the point!" Those things are external You can avoid every single one of them, and still be a pagan. Mormons are well-known for their moral lifestyle, and yet they are as far from Christ as Muslims -who also avoid such things!
Paul tells us that we don't belong to the world anymore. We don't get to heaven by following a list of do's and don'ts. And, we don't live the Christian life that way either. We cannot earn God's favor. All we can do is receive it. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way: "I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit." (Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, p. 235).
Colossians 2:22 (NASB) (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using) - in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?
"Which all refer to things destined to perish with the using" - literally, are for corruption; destined for corruption, in the physical sense of decomposition.
Colossians 2:23 (NASB) These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
"Self-made religion" - signifies simply a mode of worship which a man chooses for himself, independently of the revelation which God has given. It is arbitrarily invented worship, devised by man's own will, not God's. So jealous is God of self-maid religion, that He struck Nadab and Abihu dead for burning strange incense (Lev. 10:1-3). So Uzziah was stricken with leprosy for usurping the office of priest (2 Ch 26:16-21). Compare the self-made worship of Saul (1 Sam 13:8-14) for which he was doomed to lose his throne.
Asceticism might make a person appear spiritual, because of its emphasis on humility and poverty, but it serves only to gratify the flesh. It is a vain attempt to appear more holy than others. Jesus warned His disciples against it:
Matthew 6:16-18 (NASB) "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
When we strive for "spiritual perfection" or "spiritual fullness" by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward. Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like. We must also beware of "deeper life" teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus
Christ. In all things, He must have the preeminence!
We need to come to understand, to believe, and to live by the principle that God loves us perfectly. Nothing more is required on your part. Often, we think that we have to do something so we can deserve this grace. That's the point of grace. You'll never deserve grace. There's not a certain thing good enough for you to do. You can do it a thousand times and it's still not good enough. You don't deserve grace. But God gives the grace anyway. There's nothing you need to add. God cannot love you anymore than He already loves you. Whenever that gets hold of you, it will change your whole perspective. Now you can relax. We live for Christ, not our of obligation, but because we delight in serving Jesus. When you operate out of a sense of obligation, it becomes a chore. When you operate out of a sense of delight in serving God, it becomes an offering of worship. And that's what your life is to be. That's the good news.
So, believer, guard your freedom, don't let anyone acts as your judge or an umpire on your life. We are complete in Christ and we don't need legalism, mysticism or asceticism to make us more spiritual. We are already as righteous as Christ, because we share His righteousness.
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