Colossians 2 Part 3
New King James Version 16. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
The Resultant Version 16. Let no one therefore be judging you in food or in drink, or in regard to some particular festival, or the new moon, or the Sabbaths—
Since Christ has erased the decrees against us, and since He has triumphed over the rulers of this world, both religious and civil (for the two were mostly combined in the Colossians’ day,) the one who is in Christ therefore should not allow any human being to judge him in regard to religious rules and regulations. But we need to realize that “judge” does not mean to have an opinion. Anyone who likes can have an opinion about the way I eat, or the way I drink, or the holidays I keep or do not keep, or the new moons I do not celebrate, or what I do on the Sabbath. I cannot possibly stop anyone from having an opinion. They can even speak their opinions if they wish. And what can I do if I do not like their opinions? Beat them up? Call the police? I obviously have to let people have opinions. But having an opinion is not what “judging” is all about.
To judge someone, you first have to have authority over him. I might approve or not approve of the way a person conducts himself, the things he believes, or the way he lives his life. Yet since I have no authority over him, I can do nothing about these things. Yet if he asks me to allow him to become a co-leader with me in, say, the prison class I teach, suddenly I have authority. I am not just going to say “yes” because I do not want to judge him. I am going to start judging him, and judging him most stringently. If I approve of him, I will probably allow him to do so. If I do not approve, I will not allow him to teach with me. Yet only when I have authority to do so am I able to judge.
To judge someone ultimately means to determine what is right, and then to set things right. If someone was attempting to judge me in food or drink or a festival or a new moon or the Sabbath, that means that person would be trying to set me in order. In other words, he would be trying to set the order for me, to tell me what I can and cannot eat, or what I can and cannot drink, or how and when I should keep festivals, or what I should do on the new moons, or how I should behave on the Sabbath days. Yet Paul urges us to let no one do such a thing. In Christ, we are free from all who would rule over us in such things.
Now it is not that we are not answerable to God for our behavior. Of course we are, since we are in relationship with Him. Yet we are answerable to no man, and there is no human leader to whom God has given the right to determine for us what proper conduct in these things might be. As Paul wrote in Romans 14:14, there is nothing unclean of itself. Therefore, I am free to eat and drink according to my own conscience before God. God has not given anyone to be His chosen caretaker of holidays and festivals, so I should allow no one to tell me what I should or should not do in regard to these. The new moons, on which Israel would perform special sacrifices to God (Numbers 28:11-15), are no longer enjoined upon me. The Sabbaths, commanded for every Israelite to keep upon penalty of death, are not bound upon me in the least.
Notice that in order for this to be true, the law God gave to Israel cannot be in effect over me. That law would tell me many things I can and cannot eat and drink. It would command me to keep certain festivals. It would tell me to acknowledge the new moons. It would tell me to refrain from working on the Sabbath days. Yet if I am not to be judged by men for these things, then they must not apply to me. This should be clear enough, since I am not an Israelite, and never was subject to these things. Yet even for the ancestral Israelite today who is in Christ, these things are true. There is no such standard men should make for me or hold me to, not even the standard given in the Old Testament law. In Christ, Jews as well as Gentiles are free from all such things. Praise God for our free position before Him today!
New King James Version 17. which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
The Resultant Version 17. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
All these rules as given in the Old Testament law of God were just shadows of things yet to come when the Kingdom of God at last is established on earth. Then, we will experience the reality of which these rules and regulations were just the picture.
Yet here God also tells us another great truth. That is, that though these were shadows, the reality was found in Jesus Christ. We know that the body of a thing is its material substance, that of which the thing is actually made. The shadow, though it may be similar in shape to the real thing and recognizable as representing it, is not the thing itself, nor can it be. Here, then, we see that the word “body,” soma in Greek, indicates reality. The reality of all the shadows is found in Christ. From the Passover lamb to the rest of God, Christ is the very real substance of the lessons the shadows of the Old Testament were always pointing to. And we are related to Christ, if we believe in Him. Therefore, we should not let others take us to task or tell us what to do regarding the shadows. We have the real thing. The shadow is not necessary for us, and might as well just slip away.
New King James Version 18. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
The Resultant Version 18. Let no one be arbitrating against you willfully in respect to humility and the ritual of angels, upon what things he has seen taking his stand, emptily puffed up by his fleshly mind,
The Lord now urges us to let no one be arbitrating against us willfully. The idea of arbitrating is the same as that of an umpire arbitrating a baseball game. The umpire is in charge, and decides when a ball is a ball, when a strike is a strike, and when an out is an out. God does not want us to allow any human being to arbitrate over us in this way, determining for us what is right and wrong, and laying down the law for us regarding what we should do or should not do. Some would like to do this willfully, or according to their own desires and intentions. What they like to arbitrate is first of all regarding humility. This sort of people always want to say exactly what humility must be. You must dress a certain way, perhaps like people did one hundred and fifty years ago. You must be serious and never laugh or joke. You must walk around with your head lowered and a sad expression on your face. You must wear your hair cut a certain way. You must have only a certain amount of money. All these sorts of things are the kinds of things people try to arbitrate in the lives of others. They all are according to their own will or intentions, and not according to Christ.
Then others try to arbitrate in the ritual of angels. We know that there are many who look to those heavenly beings we call “angels” and think that they must have some important impact on our lives. They are looking for angels to appear and help them. Some pray for the protection of angels, or even think they know some angels or have met angels somewhere along the way. Yet this is not the only thing people try to arbitrate. The word “angel” in Greek is not the name of a type of being, but means “messenger,” and is a noun describing a certain job. The Greek word “angel” no more means a race of beings than does the word “postman.” An angel is a messenger, and so this word can refer to human messengers as well. And certainly we can see that men make up rituals regarding human beings who were really only God’s messengers. When we see people who worship and adore Mary the Lord’s mother, or who pray to and revere certain men called “saints,” either Biblical or otherwise, we can see that they are involved in rituals that really have to do with mere messengers of God, and not God Himself. Such people would like to arbitrate in the lives of others to cause them to do the same thing, but the one who holds fast to Christ will not allow this.
The next phrase here suffers from variants in the manuscripts. In question is whether or not the word “not,” the Greek word me (pronounced “may”,) appears. In other words, is the error of these people walking in and standing on what they have seen, or what they have not seen? Certainly, we can see the error of both. We know that the believer is supposed to walk by faith in that which he has not seen, but it is also possible to walk and stand upon empty imagination that has no basis in truth and is contrary to the Word of God. Some people walk in an imaginary world wherein their religion, their rituals, and their traditions are the will of God, and they cannot see that their views do not match up with the Biblical reality. There is also the problem, however, of people walking only in the light of what they have seen. Such people stand upon their own life experiences. They claim to have seen God work, to have seen miracles, to have seen the good God does through rituals, and so forth, and so they disregard the testimony of the Word of God regarding these things. They will not stand upon the truth of the Bible. Instead, they take their stand upon the things they have seen and experienced. This sort of people allow their experiences, real or imaginary, to dictate their walks with the Lord, and they will attempt to cause these things to arbitrate in the life of the believer in Christ as well. Yet God through Paul warns us against this very thing.
One thing that is always true of those who base their beliefs off of their experiences is that they always confound their own experiences with their own interpretations of their experiences. In reality, an experience in itself cannot determine a belief. Rather, it is the interpretation you make of that experience and the way you apply it that affects how you believe and how you live. If anything that seems supernatural or out of the normal happens to you, you must first decide what you think that experience means before you can take a stand upon it. Various and wild are the interpretations people will give such things, and yet they will justify their interpretations based on the fact that the experience happened, and not on any proof that their interpretation of that experience is legitimate. They almost seem to take the attitude that they were the ones to whom the experience happened, and so they are the ones with the right to interpret it, and no one else can question their interpretation. This is simply not right. Assuming they are not lying and the experience happened, the interpretation of such things is often very mysterious, and I am not going to allow anyone to insist I accept his interpretation of events.
One important thing to note here is the Biblical example of how wrong people’s interpretation of supernatural events can be. Paul on the island of Malta was helping to build a fire on the beach where he and the other survivors of the shipwreck were seeking to get warm. He threw a bundle of sticks on the fire, and a venomous serpent came out and fastened itself on his hand. Then in Acts 28:4 we read:
4. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.”
This was their interpretation, but of course it was completely false. Paul, far from being a murderer, was actually God’s spokesman on earth, and a more important and upstanding man than he did not exist. Yet consider what happened next.
5. But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
Upon discovering their first mistake, the natives of the island came up with a new interpretation. Yet this one was even more wrong than the first. If Paul was far from being a murderer, he was much farther from being a god. Instead of learning from their previous mistake, they just made a greater one. This seems to be that way people today who take their stand on their own experiences are as well. They never seem to learn from their mistakes, and they never seem to realize how tenuous a foundation they are standing on.
I am not saying that supernatural things cannot happen to us today. I have had supernatural things happen to me. For one thing, I have experienced God supernaturally changing my heart and my life, and I have seen him do the same in the hearts and lives of others. There is nothing there I could prove in a court of law, but I believe it is supernatural nevertheless, and I praise God for it.
At the same time, I have also had an experience wherein something more outwardly and showily supernatural happened to me. Without going into details, I can say that it seemed beyond what could possibly be a coincidence, and seemed to clearly be supernatural. Yet how to interpret what happened I will admit is beyond me. One thing I can say about it, however, and that is that I think it was likely the enemy who caused this supernatural thing to happen to me. I come to that conclusion for two reasons. One is that I know from the Scriptures that God today works by a secret dispensation, so if something open and obviously supernatural happens, I think I am far better off assuming it is not God who did it. Many believers seem to have trouble with this. Whether it is that they forget that there are two possible sources of supernatural activity, or whether it is from some kind of arrogance that Satan would not dare mess with them, they never seem to consider that a supernatural event they experience could be from him. The second reason I think this is because nothing of any good or substance ever came out of the event. It startled me and amazed me, but it never did anything else. What it meant, I cannot say. What Satan’s forces might have accomplished by wowing me with something so pointless I cannot say. Perhaps just getting me to focus on supernatural things instead of the Word of God would be motivation enough. But ultimately, I do not know what was going on, I have no idea how to interpret what happened, and I will not take my stand on this event or on anything having to do with it. My stand is on the Word of God and the things it teaches. Overtly supernatural events may seem exciting, but they do not lead to the truth, especially today when God is not in the business of doing them.
Now these self-styled arbiters are judged by the Word of God as being emptily puffed up by their own fleshly, worldly minds. I find this true so often: that those people who know the least about God and His Word nevertheless are the most proud and self-confident of people when it comes to them proclaiming their own judgments upon the things of God. Their minds are consumed by fleshly thoughts and worldly opinions, and yet they speak as if they know the mind of God and are perfectly aware of His every thought and opinion. The more people get to know the Word, the more cautious they get in expressing opinions, it seems, and the less likely they are to try to arbitrate in the lives of others regarding rituals and religions. True Godliness leads away from a puffed up, fleshly mind.
Finally, we must ask if this passage has anything at all to do with rewards. The New King James Version speaks of being cheated of a reward, whereas the Resultant Version makes it arbitrating against you willfully with no mention of rewards. The word in question is katabrabeuo. Kata means “down along certain lines.” Brabeuo means to be an umpire, a director, or a controller. Brabeuo without the prefix is used only in Colossians 3:15, where it is translated “rule,” and means to act as an umpire. Yet the related Greek word brabeion means “a prize,” and is used for a prize in I Corinthians 9:24 and Philippians 3:14. Therefore there is some reason to suggest that the umpire here is mediating in something that may or may not result in a prize. There is a teaching about rewards in Scripture, and we see it taught in post Acts 28:28 books like Philippians and II Timothy. Ephesians, as it sets forth our status in Christ, emphasizes everything we have as being in Christ, and says nothing about any reward beyond that. Yet Colossians here, the companion book to Ephesians, might at least hint at a prize to be lost, as is set forth more plainly in those other dispensation of grace books. Yet it is only a hint. To learn more about this prize, we must see Philippians and II Timothy.
New King James Version 19. and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
The Resultant Version 19. And not holding fast the Head, from which all the body through joints and bonds has nourishment ministered, and united together, grows with the growth of God.
The problem with these people is that they are not holding the Head, which is Christ, as we already learned from Colossians 1:18 and 2:10. If they were to hold fast to Him, then they would not be distracted by human arbiters of what is right. They would not attempt a false humility, and would not worship messengers, human or heavenly, that were put forth to them. They would not take their stand upon what they have seen, instead of upon what they know of Christ as it is revealed to them in His Word.
We as believers today need to cling to the Head, Jesus Christ. Nothing this world and its religions throw at us should be able to dislodge us from Him. Only then will we be able to weather this world’s storms and come out triumphant. He is what God has given us in this dark world, and we must cleave fast to Him. He is everything to the believer, and He is all we really have of any value in this world. Let us not allow anything the world or Christianity throws at us induce us to lessen our grip.
These next words seem nonsensical, particularly if we insist upon the illustration of the body having to do only with a human body. The fact is that the human body does not get nourishment through its joints and bonds. When we think of our joints, we think of the fact that these things are what hold our bodies together, while at the same time allowing our limbs to move as they should. Yet we know that our joints do not nourish, nor do the bonds or ligaments. Therefore Paul’s statement here seems to make little sense.
Yet perhaps we can arrive at the truth if we think about this illustration more carefully. The fact is that if we think about words like “head,” “body,” and “joints,” these words are not exclusively applied to human bodies, or even to animal bodies. These words are all used when it comes to water. We can use the word “head” to speak of the source of a stream or river, such as when we say that the headwaters of the Mississippi River are in Itasca, Minnesota. We can speak of the word “body” in regard to water as well, such as when we say that Lake Itasca is a body of water that is located along the Mississippi very near its source. We can speak of “joints” when we say that several streams flow together into Lake Itasca, and, though one of these is particularly considered the source of the Mississippi, they all join together in Lake Itasca and from the source of these joints the Mississippi River flows out of the lake. Thus, these words could as easily refer to a system of lakes and streams forming a watercourse as it could to a human body.
Now if we would look at this illustration as being of flowing liquid, we could see much more easily how the words “joints” and “bands” or “bonds” would fit with the idea of nourishment. If we insisted on applying this to the human body, we would be much better off applying it to the circulatory system. We can see how the blood joins together as it flows into the heart, and then divides out again as it flows out to nourish every cell in the body. Yet if we would simply apply this to watercourses, we would have to admit that it is only because the water flowing into Lake Itasca comes from multiple sources, not just one, that the lake is fed sufficiently so that the Mississippi can flow out of it as much more of a river than it was when it flowed in. These joints and bonds nourish and supply the Mississippi River.
Now we can see how this illustration makes the verse meaningful. We can see that Christ is presented as the headwaters from Whom the river of God’s good things flows out to all His people. It then flows into all of His people, whom we have already seen are called His body, and yet are only His body because of the flow of Christ coming into them, just as Lake Itasca is only a lake because of the water flowing into and feeding it, which water would soon all flow out and be gone if the source of it ran dry. It is our joint and bond to the Savior that nourishes us. Yet like a great water system, the water does not necessarily just flow into us, but can flow through us and out to others. The flow of several believers can join together in unity, and this will cause the flow to grow with a growth that comes from God, not from men.
As I said earlier, we should not just think of this great flow into and through the body happening now. The main focus of this, I believe, is in the future Kingdom of God, when Christ’s body will all be present and active, placed in their God-given roles and flowing with the flow from Christ and in a perfect union with others who share in that flow. Yet in a much more limited way this occurs now too, for certainly all that we have as believers today flows to us from Christ the Head, and as we partake of that flow we can become, through His Spirit and the Word of God, more like Him, therefore partaking of His substance, though not in any way that would make us His representatives, as it will in the future. Our common connection to Christ certainly can unify believers, in spite of many other things that work to divide us. Yet I think that this primarily is an illustration of the way Christ’s glorious Body will be in the future, when He makes us into what He intends us to be.
New King James Version 20. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—
The Resultant Version 20. If then you died together with Christ from the elements of this world, why then, as living in the world, are you subject to decrees—
The Lord now brings up a very important topic: that of the commandments and decrees of this world, and its elementary principles. He points out that we died together with Christ through our identification with Him that took place when we believed. Our death meant that the elements of this world no longer apply to us. We can see from the passage that these elements have to do with the elementary principles of religion. Religions, whether we are talking about God’s religion that He gave to Israel or the religions made up by men, all have to do with certain decrees. One decree that is very common in our world today is that Christians or followers of Jesus Christ must go to church. Many do not even concern themselves much with whether the church is Godly or not, whether it teaches right doctrine, or whether it honors Christ or even believes that He is God. Nevertheless, a Christian must go to church. Then a Christian must perform certain rituals, such as some kind of water ceremony, or some ceremony involving bread and wine or juice. A Christian must repeat certain prayers, like the Lord’s prayer or the sinner’s prayer. A Christian must keep certain holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Being a Christian means following these kinds of elements, and nothing more. Yet these are just the elements of the world.
We who died with Christ died to all such things. Yet why, God wonders, do we still act like we are living in that world, and subject ourselves to decrees? Why do we allow the imaginary elements of man-made religion to hold rule and authority over us? This is always a temptation for believers. We want to fit in. We want to be like those around us. They are all subjecting themselves to religious decrees, and we feel like we should as well. Yet this is just another form of “not holding the Head.” When we do this, we are not holding fast to the truth that Jesus Christ is the true source of everything to the believer, not religious decrees.
New King James Version 21. “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”
The Resultant Version 21. “You should not be touching, nor tasting, nor have the slightest contact with,”
Now God lists for us some of the kind of decrees He is talking about. These are decrees like not touching, tasting, or having the slightest contact with certain things. Abstaining from good things which God has given us for our enjoyment may seem like a great religious deed involving self-sacrifice, but the reality is that such things are just the basic principles of man-made religion. Such things are nothing more than the decrees of men.
It is all too easy, on the basis of claiming to want to live a pure and God-honoring life, to start to create “rules for believers” that involve abstaining from certain things in order to be in right relationship with God. When we see people who at least claim to be believers indulging in every ungodly and worldly activity imaginable around us, it is no surprise that some react this way. And yet we must never try to make ourselves the revealer of God’s decrees. We must live according to our consciences, but we must not take what are our own personal convictions and bind them on others as a ruling decree. These kinds of things we must decide for ourselves, and not for other people.
New King James Version 22. which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
The Resultant Version 22. Which things are all corruption by use, in accord with the directives and teachings of men?
The use of such commands leads to the corruption of the believer from total and complete reliance upon the Head, Jesus Christ. They have to do with the directives and teachings of men. Again, these things are too numerous to mention among the religions of this world, and Christianity is no exception. Men will constantly be coming up with rules to keep, foods to avoid, and a whole list of similar things.
Now having said all this, we must make it clear that we are not writing off all of God’s directives and teachings. What we must reject are the directives and teachings of men. Yet there are certain principles and decrees of God that the believer of today should follow and should subject himself to. For example, we have the command that God gave Israel in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother.” This was part of the covenant God made with Israel, and yet it also reveals to us the desire of God that parents should be honored.
Now if I would turn over to Ephesians 6:1, I would read, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” This tells us that it is simply right for children to obey their parents. This then is clearly one of God’s teachings, of God’s directions for life to the believer today. Such things are principles for life which all believers should have and should hold to in their behavior. These kinds of principles we must work into our lives and make part of our worthy walk for the Lord that Ephesians 4:1 urges us to adopt. These things we should follow and these things we should live. Yet these are not the things the Lord is urging us to avoid here, but rather He is urging us to avoid the teachings and directives of men.
New King James Version 23. These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
The Resultant Version 23. These rules have indeed an appearance of wisdom where self-imposed worship exists, and an affectation of humility, and aesthetic severity, but not one of them is of any value; they simply pamper the flesh.
Such rules on the surface of them might well appear wise. Yet the problem is that these things are self-imposed religion, and not anything that the Lord commanded. That is always the difference between what is pleasing and what is not in God’s sight: whether or not it is according to what God has said. Those who make up rules that have nothing to do with what God has said have simply a self-imposed religion.
These things also have a false humility. Indeed, denying yourself certain things can appear to be very humble. Yet this humility is false, for true humility is being humble and submissive before God. This version of “humility” is denying yourself according to rules you or certain other men made up, and then claiming to be humble for your sacrifice. But to claim to be superior in God’s sight by doing things God never commanded you to do is ultimately pride and arrogance, for it takes upon yourself the power to decide what should or should not be done, which power truly resides only in God. To take upon yourselves privileges only God should have is not humility, though it may falsely appear so to some because of your strict adherence to your rules.
Then these rules can seem wise because of aesthetic severity. Neglecting yourself and living a simpler lifestyle than those around you always seems impressive and religious to the world. Yet again, these things are not truly wise if they are entered into as a human decree and rule never commanded by God. Therefore, Paul sweeps them all away by declaring them universally of no value. All these things do is pamper the flesh. The flesh loves following rules and decrees to make yourself seem wiser or better or more self-controlled than others. It loves feeling superior to your fellow believers because of a better adherence to such rules, or because of having the right set of rules (my set) opposed to the wrong set of rules (those of other people.) Yet this is just flesh pampering, and is not at all pleasing to God.
So we must use care in the way we live, and whose rules we subject our lives to. We need to follow Godly principles and directives for living as God has set them down in His Word. Yet we must also avoid the teachings and directives which are simply made up by men in an attempt to appear humble and wise by a strict lifestyle of self-denial. These things are of no value at all, Paul assures us. They please our flesh, but they are not at all pleasing to God. How important it is, then, that we keep ourselves free of such things! Let us use care that we subject ourselves to no one but our Head, Christ Jesus. He died to free us from the bondage of the world, and we must now live in subjection only to Him and the Godly principles He has set down for us. No other master will do.