John T. Willis

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Substance Versus Shadow--Colossians 2:16-19

Paul and Timothy now encourage Christians to resist opponents who "condemn" (Colossians 2:16) or "disqualify" (Colossians 2:18) Christians on the basis of false teachings. This appears in Colossians 2:16-19. As we work through these verses, note carefully that Paul makes a strong contrast between (1) Christ the substance of real life, and (2) a shadow of what is to come--see verse 17.

I. In verse 16, Paul specifically names five things that false teachers are not to "condemn" Christians: (1) food; (2) drink; (3) festivals; (4) new moons; (5) sabbaths. Other texts, like Romans 14:17 and 1 Corinthians 8:4, in God's sight, the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink. As far as God is concerned, it does not matter whether a person is a vegetarian or eats meat, whether a person drinks wine or abstains. [These texts do not affirm excessive eating or drunkenness]. Festivals, new moons, and sabbaths were common practices in Israel--see Hosea 2:11; Ezekiel 45:17; 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 31:3. These festivals are valid and positive and significant, but not necessary to serving God. Furthermore, the reference to "the elemental spirits of the universe" in Colossians 2:8 indicates that now these earlier practiced have been modified and syncretized, so that the course of the stars and prescribe minutely the order of the calendar. By birth and fate human beings are subjected to the elements of the universe and must serve them by meticulous conformity to food laws and special times. False teachers BIND such ideas on peoples' hearts and lives. This is the problem which Paul addresses here.

II. These regulations are merely a "shadow" of what is to come. Just as Adam was a type of the one who was to come (Romans 5:14) and just as the law had ony the shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 10:1), the coming of Christ into the world is the "substance" of all that is. Human philosophy and regulations demanded by arrogant exponents are meaningless, and the reality which exists solely with Christ is shared only by those who, as members of the body of Christ, are connected to the head, Jesus Christ. Verse 17.

III. In verse 18, Paul explicitly names four things which do not "qualify" God's people under Christ. (1) Insisting on self-abasement. Unreasonable and misguided fasting is not spiritual practice. (2) Worship of angels. God created angels, and thus angels are creatures, not creators. Thus angels are to worship God. Human beings are not to worship angels. See Psalms 29:1-2; 148:2; Jude 6; Revelations 7:11-12. (3) Dwelling on visions. Throughout history, God has given visions to various people. But it is very tempting and easy to think that visions are the essential basis of Christian living. On the contrary, Christ alone is the basis of Christian living. (4) Puffed up by a human way of thinking. Human knowledge is good used properly, but essentially human knowledge "puffs up" those who possess it--1 Corinthians 8:1; 4:18-19; 5:2; 2 Corinthians 12:20. Many universities are misled by the "academic excellence" or human thought. God is the Creator of all human minds, and is superior to all human beings. Verse 18.

IV. The only hope of the people of God=the community of faith=the kingdom of God=the church is "THE HEAD," Jesus Christ, from whom every "ligament" and "sinew"=every member of the church is nourished and grows "with a growth that is from God," not from any other sources. Anyone who commits himself or herself to human philosophy and knowledge immediately severs his or her relationship to the head, Jesus Christ alone. The "body"=the church is completely dependent on the "head"=Jesus Christ. Since Christ is "head" over "every ruler and authority" in heaven and on earth (Colossians 2:10), he is "head" over the church, his community of faith, as Paul has already emphasized in Colossians 1:18, 24. Verse 19.

Individually and collectively, the people of God receive strong overtures to follow human philosophy and rational knowledge. This is helpful, but not ultimate. God through Jesus Christ is the only sound basis for Christian thought and life.

What are YOUR responses to these thoughts? Share YOUR ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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