Devotional # 156. 9/28/15. Colossians 2:18-23.
Intro. Last week we spoke about food and holidays and I asked how did Jesus saving us fit together with food and festivals? Now as we read on we see that last week’s verses (16–17) actually was starting a section where Paul encourages us Christians to not give up our freedom which Jesus Christ has given us. I usually don’t like to jump ahead to the end of the section that we’re reading but I think right off the bat this week we need to know the very last line that we’re going to read today. It is “but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (v. 23) It’s important for us to understand that the list that we’re going to read are all things that are not going to help us deal with our “indulgence of the flesh.”
v. 18. I don’t know about you but when I’m told that I’m being given a gift I immediately perk up. And if I’m told that I have a gift but that people are trying to steal it I become defensive. “Hey, my friend wanted to give that to me, what right do you have to take that from me?” In the same way here Paul tells us we have been given an incredible gift even beyond our salvation and citizenship in heaven, we have been given freedom on earth. This freedom is from religious rituals and regulations.
v. 19. Paul continues by talking about the body. We’ve seen this before where Jesus talks about the Church being the body (Colossians 1:18, Devotional # 147). Each person has a different role to play. Some people are fingers other people are legs or eyes. Here, Paul teaches us that when we latch on to the religious traditions then we aren’t doing our job as ligaments and joints. In other words Paul is saying you can’t hold on to both at the same time. Either you’re holding on to Jesus, as the Head of our Church, or you’re holding on to customs and rituals. One gets you no where the other is what you were made for. When it’s put that way it seem like a “no brainer” (forgive the “head” pun).
v. 20. Paul insinuates that we’ve “died with Christ”, which is a reference that we are familiar with from Galatians 2:20 and Philippians 1:21. In Galatians 2:20 we talked about understanding that Jesus was crucified on the cross. The terrific pain and torture that He went through while bearing our sins. In the same way we must go through a small fraction of pain while on earth if we accept Jesus. Paul continues “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I know live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Devotional # 88). Then in Philippians 1:21 I mentioned the phrase “to live is Christ” had always bugged me. And maybe it’s supposed to. Maybe it’s one of those things that we’re supposed to wrestle with, to really pour over and meditate on. The CEB Translation puts it this way: “Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better” (Devotional # 122). In reality this is also talked about in Romans 6:6, Romans 8:36, 2 Corinthians 4:11, and 2 Timothy 2:11, but we haven’t covered those Scriptures yet.
The “regulations” Paul is talking about, as we’ll see in the next couple verses, are concocted by men and not by God. So they have the appearance of being godly but they only impress other people who have put value on these false declarations of purity and honesty and religiosity.
vv. 21-22. Do you remember when we studied over Colossians 2:8 (Devotional #153) which talked about the “traditions of men”? I said that the solution to any tradition of man was the tradition of Jesus. And Paul is right, we’re so worried about “don’t do.” Don’t touch that, don’t taste that, don’t handle that. Often we’ve been convinced that Christianity is just a long list of what not to do. But all of those things are falling apart (“perish”) as you use them so is it really possible to please God by not doing them?
v. 23. Do you remember some of our first studies where Jesus told us how He felt about seeming to be very religious on the outside but not having a relationship with God on the inside? One place was where the Scribes were condemned. Jesus said they loved wearing long robes, being very religious, praying long prayers where everyone could see and hear how great they thought they were, but in reality they had nothing (Mark 12:38-40). I was watching the TV mini-series “The Bible” last night and I liked how Jesus said “Do the things the Teachers of the Word of God tell you to do but don’t do what they do.”
Whatever our personal religious crutch is, it doesn’t work. It was just as common in Paul’s time as it is in ours – people look very wise in their “self-imposed religion” and in their “false humility” and in obvious fasting (“neglect of the body”). But these strong words really hit home! These are self-imposed and have nothing to do with what God requires of you. Do you steal time from the Lord and then try and make it up in some way you’ve invented? Do you tell God that if He just makes you a preacher over a growing church then you’ll really devote your time to Him? Do you like sitting up front at church just so you know everyone sees you? We’ve all got some religious thing that we do that actually feeds our flesh.
That’s not the life God wanted us to have. I picture all of these people who have relied on themselves and convinced themselves that they are doing what is required by their god, when they stand before the LORD God on Judgment Day how foolish they will feel. Not only are they not going to heaven but they spent so much of their life keeping themselves in a little religious box that was unnecessary. Really if you don’t want to follow God’s request for your life you might as well party all the time because that’s as good as it’s going to get. But we’re called to be accountable for ourselves, and as much as it’s within our power we need to be praying that God would show us whatever religious thing(s) we’ve put on the throne of our heart and to take it away.
Conclusion. As I mentioned at the beginning, all of the things listed here make our selfish pride feel good about ourselves since they are “indulgences of the flesh“. But God has made it clear that we aren’t to allow this since its bad for us and goes against everything that God has set up for us.
Father, we thank You for always making us better. We know that You don’t tell us to do things to make us feel bad but always to sanctify us, to grow us in likeness to Jesus. And Jesus, we thank you for making it clear to us that we don’t have to waste our time on a bunch of religious rituals that only make us feel better about our indulgences in the flesh, instead You call us out on our thinly veiled foolishness and tell us to just accept what You’ve already done. And Holy Spirit, we pray in Your power and ask for Your intercession that we would pray according to the Father’s will. We pray that you would be that still, small voice enriching our conscience and reminding us when we’ve slipped back in to the old habits. We pray that You would guide us and work in us. We know we can’t do this on our own otherwise we already would have and wouldn’t need You. Instead make us aware and guide as we know You will do. Thank you, God.