By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
May 30th, 2021 – Colossians 2:16-23
This is part 8 in our series, Genuine – A walk through Colossians and today we are looking at Colossians 2:16-23. If you have been following along in our series, you may have noticed an overarching theme. Paul is trying to encourage a church he has never met, trying to explain what the Christian faith is all about – and it boils down to this – It is about Jesus.
I want to put a disclaimer about this message up front. If you grew up in a religious home or a legalistic home, then you might find this message either difficult or freeing. If you grew up in home that over spiritualized things, then you might find this message either difficult or freeing. Finally, if you only know what Christianity is about through impressions given in the media, I think you will find this message helpful.
If you are follower of Jesus, I can assume a few things about you. I can assume that you actually want to follow Jesus. I can assume that you want to be what he wants you to be. I can also assume that there are times, maybe even most of the time when you find that difficult.
You want to be good or holy or righteous, depending on how you think. You probably want to experience God too. Those are great desires. The problem is, we often go about trying to do that in a way that is problematic.
Last week we looked at the preceding passage where Paul said in verse 8,
Colossians 2:8 (NIV)
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
In that passage we looked at the difference between Christians and non-Christians. Paul is continuing with the theme of not being taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies, but now he is especially focusing in on things that Christians are prone to get sucked into.
This passage falls under the category of things that look spiritual but aren’t. Let’s look at the first half of the passage.
Colossians 2:16–19 (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. 18 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. 19 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.
Colossians 2:16–17a (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.
There were two big debates in the early church about what you should eat. Now these debates are more or less irrelevant to you. The first debate was about should you follow Old Testament Law and eat Kosher. The second was should you eat meat that was offered to idols.
The second big debate that Paul addresses is about special days. Should we observe a Sabbath day.? Should we observe the Jewish festivals?
I know that this past week that the whole idea of eating meat offered to idols was not foremost on your mind. If you did debate whether or not you should eat a cheeseburger, it was probably about calories and not about it not being kosher. The debate when I was growing up was about drinking. Should you drink alcohol or not.
Paul says don’t let any one judge you, or maybe a better way of saying it is, don’t let anyone put condemnation on you whether you do or whether you don’t. This is not what our faith is about. For those of us who have been in the middle of that debate – that is rather deflating isn’t it. I know a lot of Christians who have really strong opinions on that.
Another issue I hear less often these days is that some of you believe that Sunday should be a day set a part for the Lord. Others of you see it as a day to get stuff done. Paul says in
Romans 14:5 (NIV)
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
That is a little deflating too – if you have argued about that.
In our passage in Colossians Paul is saying don’t let anyone put condemnation on you whether you set aside Sunday or not. Whether you do or you don’t, that is not what our faith is about.
Colossians 2:17 (NIV)
17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
What we drink or don’t drink, what day we set apart or not, is a shadow of the reality. It has a vague representation of reality but it is not what our faith is all about.
The reality of our faith is found in Christ. Our faith is not about those things, our faith is centered on Christ.
Some of you are saying pastor, should I or shouldn’t I drink alcohol or set aside Sundays – I will tell you what Augustine told his people – Love God with all your heart and then do as you please. Be convinced in your own mind what is right. If you think it is wrong don’t do it. Anything done apart from faith is sin.
These things are matters of personal faith. You work them out before God – but don’t you dare condemn other who believe differently about those things for in doing so you only show your own lack of understanding of the gospel. It’s about Jesus.
Paul goes on.
Colossians 2:18–19 (NIV)
18 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. 19 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.
Before we get into this particular passage let me say that I believe that Christians can and should have all sorts or spiritual experiences. I believe that because the Bible says so. We can expect God to speak to us. I believe that God gives some people dreams and others visions and others supernatural gifts of knowledge and discernment. I believe that we can and should see prayers answered. Spiritual experiences are to be part of the Christian life.
Paul, who wrote this passage talked about his experience of being caught up to the third heaven. But what he says is this, watch out for people who delight in false humility. Or to put it in todays language, watch out for people who do the humble brag thing with their spiritual experience.
You know the humble brag. I saw this one on twitter. “I just did something very selfless. But more importantly it was genuine and I know it means a lot to the person.” By boasting about the selfless act on twitter, it became all about the person who was boasting. The humble brag.
Paul says watch out for people who are like that and are talking about their spiritual experiences. They go into great detail about it. They may even say – all glory to Jesus – but you are left with how great the person is to have experienced that.
Paul says people like that have an unspiritual mind. What? They have these great spiritual experiences that they talk about in great detail but in reality, they have an unspiritual mind. They get puffed up about their spiritual experiences – but they have an unspiritual mind.
Here is the thing, while I believe that we can and should have real spiritual experiences – that is not what our faith is all about – it is about Jesus. If you spiritual journey becomes about having spiritual experience then it is not about Jesus. – And people – Our faith – It’s about Jesus.
Paul says Colossians 2:19 (NIV)
19 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.
People like that get disconnected from Jesus and they have a way of disconnecting the rest of the church.
Just as rule of thumb, If you are pursuing Jesus and have a spiritual experience, your golden. If you pursue spiritual experience and Jesus is secondary – you are going to miss the mark and fall into a trap. But there are a way too many people who fall into that trap.
I need to push on.
Colossians 2:20–23 (NIV)
20 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: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely 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.
Did you know that there is a worldly spirituality? That is what Paul is talking about here. The problem is that it often masquerades as Christianity – and it’s not!
Paul calls is submitting to the rules of the elemental forces of this world. Let me give you some weird ones from the early church so you get what I am talking about. In the third to fifth century there were people who we would call ascetics. These Christians would do all sorts of things to try to make themselves more spiritual. Some worn hair shirts that itched like crazy, some practiced self flagellation – they beat themselves with a whip. Some sat on top of a poll for months. They did all of this so that they could deny the flesh and hopefully to enhance their spiritual life. Hopefully in doing this they would become more holy.
But as Paul says.
Colossians 2:23 (NIV)
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.
I know we look back at those people and think, what were they thinking. I wouldn’t wear a hair shirt or beat myself with a whip. Or maybe you are thinking they are just more spiritual than you are.
I appreciate these people’s commitment. But their method of moving themselves towards holiness is flawed. They have the right desire, but the wrong approach.
But we have the equivalent in our Christian culture. We basically take the strategies of self-help guru’s and overlay them with Christian language add a bible verse and presto we have a solution.
Do you have a problem with anger or hatred or pornography or gossip or drugs or alcohol? Then let’s look at the problem and create a strategy and overcome the issue. And sometimes that might work.
But here is the thing – if stopping doing something becomes the primary focus of your life rather than an ever deepening attachment to Christ you are going to become more religious and less Christian. There is a place for dealing with all those issues and more – but they come out of relationship to God. When our focus becomes on God and developing our relationship with him, then he is going to show us what to do about each of the areas in our life that we need dealt with.
You see, as Paul has been trying to say throughout the first two chapters, it’s about Jesus. When your faith is about making your better, or more holy, or less addicted, you miss the point. When your faith is about Jesus, he will help you to become what you were created to be. He will show you how, or bring the people across your path to lead you into freedom and into holiness. But our faith is not about self-improvement, it’s about Jesus. The question we all need to ask ourselves is this, is our faith about us first or Jesus first.
That is often not an easy question to answer. So much of our life is about us, and we try to make Jesus a means to an end of making us better. However it not all about you, it is about him. And if you will trust your life into his hands, if you abandoned yourself to him, he will make you into all that you were meant to be.
So often we try to do things and make things happen, like as Paul says, “Self imposed worship.” But they become an exercise in missing the point. We are often trying to make ourselves better.
You can do all sorts of things that have the appearance of wisdom. You can do self-imposed acts of worship. You can treat you body harshly – but if they are about you and not him, they will have little value in you becoming who you were created to be.
I know people who went to church five or six times a week. I guess the thought was – if they were in church, they wouldn’t be getting into trouble. That strategy might even work, but it won’t make you into the kind of person you were created to be. It is all about Jesus.
The next two sermons are going to be about how we lean into Jesus and deal with the stuff we don’t want in our lives and allow the stuff that we do want in our lives to come to the surface.
But here is what I want to leave you with today. Jesus is closer than you know. You don’t have to try to get to him, he is right there with you. Without spiritual or frilly language, would you just talk to him. Tell him about you hopes and dreams and your doubts and fears. Tell him what you would like to see happen – and then just let him surround you with his love.
He loves you deeply. He wants a relationship with you. Not the spiritual you. Not the fake you. He wants a relationship with the real you. The more you try to become spiritual to reach out to him the less likely you are to find him. The more you are real with him and just talk to him, the more likely you fill see him at work in your life.
It is not about the rules whether you do or whether you don’t do things – just love him and then live out of that love. It is not about spiritual experiences – although as you are real with Jesus you will have them. It is not about trying to be holy or good – It is about Jesus. Its about Jesus. Its about Jesus.