Colossians 2:16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 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,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.
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— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 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."
So here we are at the heart of the letter to the Colossians and Laodiceans. Let me begin with a true story:
I heard a preacher on Colossians 2:21. He preached with enthusiasm and conviction. He showed how so many of the things we are eating are killing us and his key text was "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle". I was only a child at the time but out of curiosity read the following verses and came to the obvious conclusion that he had not. I know how it happened. When I was 12 I was asked to preach. The young people were going to take over the whole service and they nominated me to be the preacher. My dad gave me a book called a topical concordance to help me. The book was a list of topics: prayer, marriage, angels, etc... Under each topic was a list of Bible references that addressed that topic - verses ripped from their original context, verses which alone may appear to say one thing but when put back where they came from say something entirely different sometimes. There is no more radical example of how true this can be than Colossians 2:21. Alone it shouts "Don't eat that! Don't even touch it!!!" However put back in context it is saying something very different.
The sad truth is that much of religion is about using holy books to back an agenda rather than seeking to learn what the book is actually saying. That is why you can have Muslims on one end using the Quran to promote violence and Muslims on the other end decrying the violence and using the same book to do it. How can this be? Each group is selectively choosing which parts of the book to promote and which parts to ignore.
In the case of the preacher I heard I don't believe he even did it on purpose. He found the verse in a concordance and just never checked the context.
You see when a deceiver comes into a group of believers in Jesus who sincerely love Him and want to follow Him he can't deceive them by rebellion. It takes a different brand of deception. It takes shifting their gaze from the completeness they have in Jesus to the lack they have in themselves. It takes using Jesus not as our Saviour but as our measuring stick. Following Jesus becomes nothing about trusting His life and learning His personal plan for our lives. Instead it becomes about mastering holiness to attain a reward. This was the trap the Pharisees were in before Jesus ever came and this is the trap these persuasive men were trying to drag them back into.
The Bible does say that a dog returns to its vomit. We go back to the familiar but dysfunctional far more easily than forging ahead into an unknown but healthy future.
Verse 22 says these persuasive men were bringing in commandments and doctrines of men; regulations God either only instituted for a time such as the practices and feasts related to the temple or extra laws God never instituted at all.
Look what verse 23 says. These regulations appear wise! How can the man in church beside me who is obviously more devout than I am be a wolf in sheep's clothing, a deceiver?! How can a church with higher standards and more rules be more inclined to be lead by the forces of darkness? It seems counter intuitive. Backwards. Impossible! Right?
Religion is a list. Truth is a Person.
More on this key passage tomorrow...