Only an Appearance of Wisdom
Text: Colossians 2:8-23
Empty Philosophy - Colossians 2:8-10
Christians must be careful not to become a captive of false teachings. The Greek word sulagogeo means to be kidnaped or robbed of their freedom.
False teaching is described as being based on:
- Philosophy and empty deception - The Greeks were known for their fascination with various philosophical ideas (I Corinthians 1:22; Acts 17:21). However, these philosophies were, for the most part, empty lies (Ephesians 5:6). They were not based on true solid reasoning and facts. Philosophy is "the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence." Based on why the person believes certain things exist, guidance is derived to deal with issues in life. The problem is that since these are man-made observations, they can be subtly and fundamentally flawed. Conclusions drawn from this flawed foundation could be internally consistent and yet contrary to true reality.
- Traditions of men - The Jews were known for their devotion to the various traditions they had built up over the years (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:8). Just because something has been done a certain way for generations, it does not make it correct. Instead, these traditions were created by fallible men but were held in higher esteem than God’s teachings.
- Elementary principles of the world - These are the basic or fundamental teachings found in the world. The Greek word stoicheia literally refers to basic things placed in a row, like the ABCs, as can be seen in Hebrews 5:12 and Hebrews 6:1. The problem is that all false teachings are focused on worldly matters instead of spiritual matters (Galatians 4:8-9). These can be seen in both the Greek philosophies and the Jewish traditions, but they can be found throughout the world – even in atheism.
True wisdom is found in Christ who presents the fullness of God in bodily form (Romans 3:4; Isaiah 8:20; II Timothy 3:15). So why do some become captured by ideas that are not wisdom? Some just aren’t interested in truth (II Thessalonians 2:9-12). Others prefer myths (II Timothy 4:3-4; Titus 1:14). Yet, only in Christ are we complete. It is in Christ that we truly see God (John 1:14-17) and this was by the Father’s design (Colossians 2:19-20). It is through the teachings of Christ that we can partake of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4).
Interestingly, one of the early apostasies was Gnosticism which attempted to blend Greek philosophies and Jewish traditions and bind them upon the church. The first shoots of Gnosticism were already making their appearance in Paul’s days.
Outdated Rituals - Colossians 2:11-17
Circumcision - Colossians 2:11-13
In Christ, we enter a covenant, but not like how the Israelites entered their covenant. The Old Law required physical circumcision of the males who were bound by that covenant (Genesis 17:13-14). Without physical circumcision, an Israelite could not be a part of the covenant of Moses. The Law of Christ requires a different type of circumcision, a spiritual one (Philippians 3:3). And like the Old Law, a Christian cannot be a part of the covenant with Christ without spiritual circumcision.
The circumcision of the New Law is done without hands because what is removed is not physical flesh (Romans 6:3-7). It is work not done by men but by God (Ephesians 2:11-13). The implication is that physical circumcision was no longer necessary (Galatians 5:1-4). Instead, it is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that now holds meaning. Baptism represents Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It also represents the Christian’s death to sin, burial with Christ, and resurrection to a new life.
Paul reiterates that we were dead in sin -- Gentiles in the flesh -- but we were made alive with Christ, having been forgiven of all our sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). It isn’t the physical act, but the obedience demonstrated in the physical act of faith in the working of God (I Peter 3:21).
The Law of Moses - Colossians 2:14
Notice that Colossians 2:13 is directed to the Gentiles who were physically uncircumcised. Though physically uncircumcised, they were still forgiven of their sins. Such statements by Paul upset his Jewish brethren (Acts 15:5). How can this be possible without becoming a part of the law (Ephesians 2:11-16)? But Paul asserts that the Old Law came to an end. Notice the firmness in which Paul describes the ending: “canceled,” “taken out of the way,” and “nailed to the Cross.”
Exactly what was removed? The handwritten ordinances. It cannot be Jewish oral traditions because what was removed was written down. God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone (Deuteronomy 4:13). Elsewhere, Paul described it as a ministry of death, written and engraved on stone (II Corinthians 3:5-8). Not only were the Ten Commandments written, but Moses also wrote all the words of the Lord (Exodus 24:4). Thus, what was removed were the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Ephesians 2:15). Both Colossians 2:14 and Ephesians 2:15 uses the Greek word dogma which means decrees or law. Ephesians 2:15 also calls it nomos (law) and entole (commandments). The law and commandments are used by Paul in Romans to talk about “you shall not covet” (the last of the ten commandments) (Romans 7:6-8).
It was necessary to remove the Old Law to establish the New Law (Romans 7:1-4). Why? Covenants are exclusive in nature. You cannot be a part of one covenant and a similar but separate one at the same time. Paul also said that the Law of Moses was against us, it was contrary to us, and it was in the way. How? The Old Law alienated the Gentiles keeping them outside of the covenant of promise (Ephesians 2:11-12). But it was also against the Jews (Deuteronomy 31:26; Acts 15:10). This is why Paul pointed out that the Law condemned all (Romans 3:19).
Principalities and Powers - Colossians 2:15
Recall that in Colossians 2:8, Paul said, “let no one spoil you” in regard to false teachers. In establishing a New Covenant Christ has plundered enemy territory completely (II Corinthians 2:14; Matthew 16:19). The governments and the hostile spirits moving in the world sought to put Jesus to death and it seemed that they had succeeded for a moment. But Christ rose from the dead and made a spectacle of overcoming death and the powers that thought they controlled death. Christ has given us life, forgiven us of all our trespasses, removed the ordinances contrary to us, and triumphed over his foes. Thus Christ now reigns far above all principalities and powers (Ephesians 1:21).
Let no one judge you - Colossians 2:16-17
Because of Christ’s triumph, we should not let anyone judge us in regard to food, drink, festival, new moon, or Sabbaths.
- Food and drink refer to the dietary regulations in the Law of Moses.
- Festivals or holy days refer to the feast days established in the Law of Moses.
- The new moon refers to the monthly special offering (Numbers 10:10).
- Sabbaths refer to the weekly observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. It cannot refer to the special Sabbaths or feast days as they were already mentioned.
Paul called the observing of special times a bondage (Galatians 4:9-11). “Righteousness” was being determined by conforming to the rules of the Old Law. Eating or not eating certain foods does not make a person holy or righteous (I Corinthians 8:8; Hebrews 13:9).
So who was making judgments in regard to these matters? Were fellow Gentiles condemning Christians for following the Law? If so, where is the evidence? Were Jews condemning Christians for not following the Law? Definitely (Acts 15:1-2, 5, 10, 19, 24).
Some try to twist Paul’s statement and say that Paul wanted the Colossians to keep these things. But Paul just asserted that the Law was removed. He calls these things shadows in contrast to the reality in Christ. A similar argument was given about the end of sacrifices in Hebrews 10:1. Literally, the phrase refers to the body in contrast to the shadow cast by the body. Why seek shadows when we have the real thing?
Those who claim that not keeping the Sabbath is sinful are doing the very thing Paul forbade. They are judging Christians based on keeping a body of law that had come to an end.
The Worship of Angels and Visions - Colossians 2:18-19
Paul warns the Colossians not to let anyone cheat them of their reward. The word means to deprive someone of a prize due to them. How could they be cheated of their reward? If they are led astray by false teachers.
- False teachers appear to be humble and those cause people to be less cautious about them.
- The worship of angels. It is true that the law came by angels (Hebrews 2:2-4), but angels cannot change what came from the Son (Galatians 1:8). False teachers seek to give authority to their beliefs by invoking higher powers.
- Taking stands on things not seen (visions). They were giving emphasis to things that cannot be known or verified by men (I Timothy 1:6-7). These are often ripe grounds for false teachings.
- Being puffed up in his own ideas (Ezekiel 13:3). Ultimately, false teachings are the imaginations of men (Jeremiah 23:16).
Such people were not staying with Christ (Galatians 1:10; 5:1-4). People who claim to have visions or who claim that one can become holy through fastings or self-abuse are not clinging to Christ but to their own imaginations. These claims of authority are empty because they are not from God. Thus, following these teachings leads one into disobedience and cut off from what leads to unity and true growth.
Ascetic Rules - Colossians 2:20-23
Why subject yourself to useless regulations? Paul points out that it doesn’t make sense if you had died with Christ, which is a reference back to baptism discussed in Colossians 2:12. It doesn’t make sense if you have died to the elemental principles of the world, which was discussed in Colossians 2:8. So, why are you living like you are still in the world? (Galatians 6:14; I Peter 4:1-2). Why are you subjecting yourself to ordinances, which is referring back to Paul’s argument in Colossians 2:14 that those ordinances were removed?
“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” is an allusion back to the Old Testament laws of uncleanness, all of which referred to physical things that perish. It refers back to Colossians 2:16 and Paul’s point about food and drink (Romans 14:17; I Corinthians 8:8). Since the law has ended, these regulations are imposed by men and not by God (Isaiah 29:13). The reason for following these laws no longer exists, so they have no value today in avoiding sin. However, people continue to give up things with the idea that it will somehow make them more holy or cause them to avoid sin; yet, they do not work. Going back to decrees from the Old Law, such as the laws of uncleanness, expanded upon by Jewish teachers might look wise but since they are contrary to the actions of God they only form a self-made religion and cannot save a person from sin. God is not behind such teachings -- Satan is.