Colossians 2:16-23 Study no. 5
Connect to Christ and allow Him to become the focus of your existence
When a believer encounters the force of the incoming tide, he either turns around and swims back to shore ... or he expects it and is prepared to stand against it.
The 'tide' that is against us comes from the world ... the basic principles that EVERYBODY goes by. It also can come from Christians who have developed their own understanding of spirituality and often impose it on other believers. The result ... can be overwhelming. To stand against the tide, whether it is coming from the world or coming from other believers ... requires self-defense. That is, preparation to defend yourself against the pressure.
The Colossian church was facing just such pressure. Various 'teachers' had come into the area teaching them the value of philosophy and secular thinking. Their teaching said ... “Take the basic teachings of
Christ .. but add philosophy”, or “Take Christ and add wisdom”. Paul had said in 8-15 that we need Christ ... plus nothing.
Other teachers, former Jews, were also coming in, attempting to tell the Colossians ... most whom never were Jews to begin with, that it was necessary to also obey the old testament laws.
Legalism can be defined as: measuring the quality of your Christianity by how well you keep man-made rules. In this case, all of the old testament rules now come under the category of 'man-made'. Why?
In verse 15 and 16 we were reminded that Jesus 'nailed the penalty' for breaking the commandments of God, to the cross. To continue to emphasize things that are nailed to the cross ... is to re-create them. If we re-create them ... they are now man-made.
So, once again, why does he mention that these shadows are nailed to the cross? Simply to give us the power to stand against 'legalists' who try to impose the Old Testament commandments upon us. Many Christians have been made to feel 'less of a Christian' by someone coming along, claiming to have special training and education in things of the Bible ... flashing their knowledge around and implying you need what they have in order to really be a quality Christian. Intimidation. We need self-defence.
The fact that Jesus 'nailed it to the cross' reminds us that a person either needs to keep the law flawlessly if they hope to please God and make to heaven ... or recognizing it's already too late for that, they need to look for some other way to make it. And that 'other way' is the only way. I owed a debt I could not pay, He paid a debt He did not owe. My heart called out to Him to take care of my debt of sin. He paid it in full. He freed me from the tide of impossible demands that the law was throwing at me. I no longer have that pressure to face. I have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus.
Apart from the fact that 'perfection' was the demand of the law, what things specifically are included in the things that are nailed to the cross?
Verse 16 talks about things that other believers might throw at us ... as requirements to please God. In this case Paul mentions four things that could be sources of 'being judged' by other believers.
- What you eat or drink
- Keeping religions festivals
- Participating in New Moon celebrations
- Keeping the Sabbath day as a special occasion
So Paul says, Let no man judge you (put pressure on you-like a flood-tide) trying to force you into their mould.
He then explains what those laws were all about. He says they are shadows. He did not say ... they have become shadows. They were shadows right at the beginning. He uses the term shadow for a very good reason. Sometimes when the obvious is staring us right in the face we fail to see it, but, very simply, Each time you see a shadow cast on the ground before you, you know that a very real object created the shadow. And you may even make a mental note of how different the shadow is from the real object. Usually the shadow is has just enough similarity with the object that you are able to identify it.
The items that Paul has called shadows, then,
- are not to be equated with or considered as being 'the real thing'.
- May be only similar in a very few aspects.
In the book of Acts it is recorded that the church in Jerusalem called a conference to decide on this very issue ... were Gentile Christians required to keep Moses Law ... just as many Jewish Christians were doing?
Here is their bottom line decision:
Ac 21:25 "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."
Perhaps you are also familiar with Acts
Ac 10:9 ¶ About noon the following day ....... Peter went up on the roof to pray.
10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.
12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.
13 Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
Ac 10:14 "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
We understand that this was done so that Peter would not consider Gentiles to be unclean, but as a secondary implication we see that God is not so solid on Old Testament eating laws as some of the more legalistic Christians might have hoped he would be.
Paul referred this as one of the shadows. In what way? If having very detailed food rules in the Old Testament is a 'shadow' ... then what is casting the shadow? I believe the shadow points to Christ. He was 'clean'. We take Christ in to our souls. He is in no way 'unclean'. Now that He has come ... he is the fulfillment ... we no longer need to pay attention to the shadow ... which is refraining from pork chops, bacon and sausage (etc.) ... because they are unclean.
Except for a very few churches, food choices are not much of an issue these days.
The next one, 'Religions Festivals' affects some of us from time to time. This only seems to affect us when some of the modern day Christian Jews come around. They talk about finding Christ in the passover and other festivals. While that sounds good ... they use it as their license to observe these holidays in the holy land without looking 'so different' from the others. In this way we can avoid offending the Jews. And, also, the Jews will see the Christians celebrating Passover ... and hopefully that will build a bridge to reach them for Christ. Well, that is the theory anyway.
What Paul is carefully pointing out here is that by focusing on seeing Christ in the Shadow ... we are focusing on just that ... a shadow. Paul says there is a powerful advantage to putting the shadow away permanently, because we have Christ ... the one who cast the shadow to begin with. In this way, by looking very different we have a opportunity and a reason to explain why. It is a healthy thing to point out to a Christian Jew that these festivals were shadows ... to point us to Christ. Our objective is not to examine a shadow so closely that we see Christ in it ... but rather to just look at Christ. Those who emphasize looking at the shadow can be a little intimidating. They can come across as having 'more knowledge' than we. Be prepared to stand against the tide.
What about 'New Moon' celebrations? This celebration was held in the fall. ALL Jews made a big deal of offering a sacrifice on this day. The Christian legalists were urging all the Colossian believers to make sure and offer a sacrifice on that day. “After all, the sacrifice is a picture of Jesus. You might get the chance to witness to someone of that fact.”
Paul says No. To offer a sacrifice as a picture of Christ is a mistake. It implies that we are still waiting for Christ to come the first time. Hebrews makes it so clear that he was once offered to take away the sins of the world. The blood of bulls and goats can not take away sin, so don't go back to the picture, the shadow.
The last one is the observance of Sabbath days.
Some Christians think is important to hold the Sabbath as a day of worship. What is the Sabbath a 'shadow' of? Well, so far each of these has been a shadow of Christ. So is this one. The word Sabbath means 'rest'.
The Jews, Seventh day adventists, seventh day Baptists and other groups such as The Ten Tribes all observe Saturday as the Sabbath day. As the real Sabbath day. This is false. Saturday is NOT the real Sabbath day. Saturday-sabbath is a picture ... a shadow of the real Sabbath.
As I pointed out, Sabbath, while it can mean seventh, literally means rest.
The writer of Hebrews points out :So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God [it is available to us now]; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)
God is at rest. Jesus 'sat down' at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is our rest.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
The Sabbath was never changed to Sunday, despite what people say about what the Catholic church did years ago. Saturday is still the symbolic Sabbath. Sunday is the day believers chose to hold as a special day. The fact that the Catholic church had to pass a law making Sunday the official Sabbath ... means nothing. Christians were meeting on Sunday from the very beginning. All the pope tried to do was make 'official' something Christians were already doing, but in calling it the Sabbath they were in error.
Verse 18 is takes a slightly different direction but it still has to do with 'intimidation'. People going into great detail about THEIR story ... and making you feel less of a Christian because you have never experienced anything like it. This needs to be stood up against. Not to their face, but in your heart. Most of these folks are very sincere and they are not intending to come across as superior. But you need self-defence. You are complete in Him. You gain nothing by having such a story. As a matter of fact ... when your testimony becomes YOUR story, watch out! We are to tell HIS story.
When we tell OUR story we 'dis-connect' from the head, Who is Christ. V19. This is not to say that we lose our salvation. I think what this means is, when you interact with an individual, the person's head is the focal point. We are the body of Christ. He is the head. When a part of the body starts taking attention to itself, it has just taken the attention away from the head. There is something wrong when we focus on part of a person's body other than their head.
This chapter concludes with a change of who is being addressed. When he was saying, 'Don't let anybody deceive you by fine-sounding arguments', (v3) ... and 'Don't let anyone take you captive by ...' (v8), and 'Don't let anyone judge you' ... (v16), and 'Don't let anyone disqualify you' ... (v18) he is talking the victims of such people. In verse 20 he is including the offenders. He is clearly saying to them ... Quit giving out all those rules! You died to those things! There is no lasting value to any of the basic principles and practices of the world. They are temporary ... until death. Change your focus to what is eternal and lasting.