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.
Remember that we left off with God’s triumph over the law, the authorities and powers at the cross, and now we draw some conclusions. Since we are newly alive in Christ, have died to sin and have our sins forgiven, and since we have the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are not to allow people to criticize us for what we eat, drink, or observe, as they might have done under the Law.
Pay careful attention to verse 17: These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. All of these festivals, customs and regulations were at best but a shadow of what was to come in Christ, and we often miss that fact. Many elements found in the Old Testament are like that, but we want to focus on them… and that includes the Temple itself, according to the author of Hebrews. Jesus is the reality, and all the old forms were a mere shadow of what He would bring us, and He has now brought us the reality.
In verse 19, Paul refers to the kinds of people who are always critical of a person who has found the liberty that is in Christ. They are puffed up, falsely humble, etc., etc. At the end of this brief passage comes the part that will really give us insight about this sort of thing. People who are hanging on to the forms of religion and seeking to impose them on their brother or sister have sadly cut themselves off from the Head of the Body.
If I might add something here, the same is likely true of those who would have us tied to new “Christianized” forms, rules and observances.
Since we know that Christ is the Head, these poor folks who seek to impose rules are not growing with the Body, being cut off. Maybe God has put them in our path so that we can help them get back in touch with the Head.
Oh, that would bring us back to the concept of relationship, love, serving and making disciples, wouldn’t it?
Yes indeed, most lessons come right back to that.
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.
Colossians 2: 20-23
My Mom had this great story. It takes place when she was a high school student in a little town in West Texas over 80 years ago. It seems that the school had a street dance one Friday night, and all of the kids were there. There was also a Youth Pastor from a nearby church who was seen there. Well, as she told the story, his attendance at the street dance came to the attention of the church board, and since everyone knows that dancing is a very wicked, sinful activity, the Youth Pastor was fired. To her last day, my Mom had nothing to do with that denomination. Her reasoning? If his job is taking Christ to the youth, shouldn’t he be where the youth are? I can’t argue with that kind of reasoning, can you?
I recall a conversation with an irate lady who was upset because a couple of members of our church were smokers. She wanted them straightened out or kicked out because smoking is a sin. When I asked her how she knew that, she replied that it’s a sin because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I thought that was interesting and asked her about the context of that verse (1 Cor. 6:19). She had no idea, but everybody knows it means you can’t smoke. She turned bright red when I pointed out that in context, Paul was talking about sexual immorality in general, and sex with a prostitute in particular. Sorry, smoking may be crazy, but it isn’t a sin (I’m a non-smoker and always have been: no axe to grind here!).
These are the kinds of things Paul is addressing in this paragraph. We have all sorts of “rules” that come from culture, from society and from religious traditions that have nothing to do with any Bible teaching. Now it may be that there are certain things my conscience won’t permit me to do, but that doesn’t make it a “rule” for everyone else. Paul’s logic is simple and clear: We have died to sin, the Law and the ways of this world. Why do we linger? Stop it and follow Jesus Christ.
The end of the passage is quite interesting. All of these rules and traditions lack any value in restraining “sensual indulgence.” Let’s try not to have our minds go straight to the gutter here, for “sensual indulgence” covers a lot more than just sex.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
In the previous several verses, Paul has been writing about things such as the fact that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ, that our old life was buried with Christ and we are a new creation. Then he went on to challenge us to leave the old things behind and live new lives, free from the old silly rules and traditions. In these verses, Paul moves from the what to the how.
As these things usually are, the answer is simple: Set your hearts and minds on things that are above, not on earthly things. I’ve been told that this is very difficult, and that only a small number of people can really accomplish this ‘looking above’ kind of life… but I totally, completely and utterly reject that notion.
Does that surprise you? Does it irritate you?
Have you ever noticed that you usually find what you’re looking for? Well, OK, yes, sometimes you might look for your keys and not find them, but that isn’t really what I mean. Have you ever gone somewhere looking for trouble? How about a fight? Have you ever gone in search for a bad relationship, bad company… or a good relationship or good company? OK, if that didn’t grab you, let’s try this one: Have you ever bought a new car, and then noticed that it seems like everyone has the same kind of car?
See? You really do find what you’re looking for!
To set your heart and mind on the things that are above, you need to start looking for such things. Now Paul, in the next sections will get into which things are which, so we’ll be talking more about that as we go, but the quick version is that we can seek His presence by just entering it. We can focus on the things that are above, by thinking about them and looking for them… as opposed to things of the earth. Look, if all we think about are our bills, then bills and finances will become our lives. The same is true if we look only for other problem areas of this life. If we think about the things of God, then what will our lives be about?
This passage ends with the reminder that we died with Christ, rose with Christ, and now our lives are hidden with Christ. Now that we have died with Him, to our old way of living, and have arisen with Him as new creations, the focus of our lives, and the very reality of our new lives, are “hidden” with Christ in God. Our new creation status is an entirely new kind of life that isn’t simply physical and biological; it isn’t discerned simply by the physical senses. It is Spirit and Truth. It is eternal. It is about much more than bodies, senses and things, it is the life God created humanity to live. As long as we are focused merely on the things of the earth, the world around us and problems and hassles of this world, we are missing out on that which is wonderful in Christ, and… our lives on this earth will be much more difficult as we are pulled in multiple directions at the same time.