Devotional # 155. 9/21/15. Colossians 2:16-17.
Intro. Last week we talked about being forgiven for all our trespasses (v. 13) and how Jesus “disarmed” Satan and his demons from having final victory (v. 15). Instead it is Jesus who “triumphed over them”. Remembering this is very important since, as always, context is king. We have to know what Paul is talking about so that we don’t pull a verse out of its intended meaning.
This week we only have two verses but they are important because sometimes we get made fun of or chastised for celebrating (or not celebrating) a holiday or eating or drinking something. Does this verse give us a foundation to stand on or is there a deeper meaning? How exactly does Jesus saving us fit together with food and festivals? Read on and see!
v. 16. Paul starts the next section with “So”, which tells you that I was telling the truth when I said we need to remember what Paul had just got done saying since it’s a word showing continuation of a thought. We’ll look at each phrase that he uses but first we really need to nail down what Paul is getting at. “Paul warns the Colossians against trading their freedom in Christ for a set of useless, man-made, legalistic rules (cf. Gal. 5:1). Legalism is powerless to save or to restrain sin” (Source 1). And now it should start making sense. Paul is getting at the religious requirements that some (certainly in Collasae, remember the “Colossian heresy”?) people try and place on others. And whether they have good intentions or are just trying to control the masses, it’s wrong.
First, Paul says to not let anyone “judge you in food or drink”. This would specifically be in regards to the dietary restrictions that God gave in the Old Testament. It was for the Hebrews well-being and pointed towards their Messiah but is no longer applicable.
Second, he says to not let anyone “[judge you] regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths.” When Paul says “festival” he’s referring to any of “the annual religious celebrations of the Jewish calendar (e.g., Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles; cf. Lev. 23)” (Source 1). The “new moon” comes from Numbers 10:10; 28:11-14; Ps. 81:3, representing feasts at the beginning of the month. And mentioning “Sabbaths” means the commemoration of the Seventh day of Creation when God rested (Ex. 20:8; Deut. 5:12).
Now that we’ve established the meaning here we should also ask if it applies to our being made fun of for eating or celebrating (or not celebrating) a holiday. Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that this is talking about our freedom in Christ, as long as it doesn’t violate something from Jesus we have freedom to eat or drink or participate in a holiday. But no, in the sense that if we strictly adhere to the context, this is giving us the principle of not being bullied or guilting ourselves into imprisonment of religious duties which pulls us away from Jesus. I think we should talk about both of these a little more:
Regarding our freedom in Christ, I think Romans 14 has the most to say on the subject. In fact, in context it’s really the authority on the freedom Christians have on what they consume and the festivals they keep. Let’s look specifically at Romans 14:5-6. When Paul says, “one person esteems one day above another” this is in reference to the “weak” person, or a better way to put it would be the “immature Christian” but when he says “another esteems every day alike” this is in reference to the “mature Christian.” If you notice that “alike” is in italics in your Bible that’s because it’s not in the original Greek instead it was added to help it flow in English. So this doesn’t mean that the “mature Christian” treats every day as secular but it can mean “that he treats every day as equally to be dedicated to the service of God, and this was certainly Paul’s attitude” (Source 2). Next Paul tells us to “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” In other words if the Holy Spirit has convicted each type of person (the “mature” and the “immature” believer) on a matter who are we to judge them? (Source 3). In verse 6 (and all the way until verse 13) Paul reminds us what is really important: serving God. Our freedom and maturity is not just so that we can feel good about ourselves but so that we can share the gospel with non-believers and strengthen other believers.
When it comes to the specific context here of not being imprisoned in religious ritual it’s probably best that we move to the next verse because Paul explains it better than I could.
v. 17. Why shouldn’t we let anyone judge us for a drink or eating or a festival? Paul says it’s because they are just a “shadow of things to come.” What does Paul mean? Just as a shadow doesn’t have any substance itself but points towards the thing that has weight and matter and substance to block the sun, all the festivals and dietary restrictions and laws were pointing towards Jesus who is “the substance.” So these aren’t the most important things because Jesus is the “substance.” The word for “substance” here in the original Greek is soma (G#4983) and usually is translated “body” and sometimes “church” as in Colossians 1:18 and 1:24 (Source 4). But here, used in this context, it makes sense that it be translated as “substance” because it’s not Jesus’ earthly “body” or the “church” that casts the “shadow” but instead it is Jesus Himself, His “substance”, His attributes, His fulfillment of prophecy and His entire Being.
Conclusion. The point of these two verses is that we shouldn’t get caught up in, or feel guilty about keeping religious traditions, since they were only “shadows” pointing to Jesus. But there is more than us just having a clear conscience. Verse 17 gives us the truth that Jesus is “the substance.” This gives us direction and purpose in our freedom. We haven’t been given liberty from religious rituals just to relax and have more down-time but instead to serve He who is our “substance.” We have been called to take up our cross (Mt. 16:24, Luke 14:27) in the same way that He took up His. Jesus told us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) to tell others about the “substance” of Jesus! That all religions are trying to get us closer to God or to fulfill our destinies or fill the “God-shaped hole” in our hearts but really all proper rituals were “shadows” being cast by Jesus, the true “substance”!
Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1836.
Source 2: F.F. Bruce, Romans, p. 231
Source 3: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, NT, p. 589.