As I prepared for this article, the often quoted saying echoed in many a conversation today comes to mind, “Don’t judge me.” So it is with the first few words of our text today, “So let no one judge you…” (Colossians 2:16). Before I can develop the thought of what the Holy Spirit is trying to say here, it is important to understand what it is not saying; that is, you can’t judge someone. In 1st Corinthians 5:12 the church was asked, “Do you not judge those who are inside?” That is a rhetorical question. “If your brother sins against you,” Jesus said, “go and tell him his fault.” The often-misused text where Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) sought not to band judging altogether; but rather, to stop hypocritical judgment. The very fact that Paul is exhorting these early Christians in Colosse to fight against Jewish philosophy that sought to shackle them to the old law demanded judgment (i.e., discernment). And the reason for this wise, God centered judgment, is that their liberty was at stake. Simply put, don’t let these Jewish influences rob you of the freedom you have in Christ.
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or
sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
If we are to understand what is being cautioned here by Paul, we need to keep it in its setting; that is, this ascetic Jewish heresy being promoted. By ascetic (asceticism) I mean suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. As one commentator writes, these restrictions which Paul mentions have a “distinctive Jewish flavor” to them. Not only were they being influenced to be physically circumcised, but they were also being lured into thinking that certain days (i.e., festivals) and foods matter. The ETRV translates the first part of this verse, “So don’t let anyone make rules for you about…”. Don’t let these so-called religious elites impose on you, requirements that have nothing to do with your liberty in Christ and the redemption that is now yours. We know that Jesus, as He taught during His ministry, declared all foods to be pure (Mark 7:19). In Romans 14 the church in Rome was exhorted not to judge one another concerning the eating of meat. The emphasis was that they “not look down” on one another (Romans 14:3). Similarly, in 1st Corinthians 8, Paul cautions them with these words, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak” (1st Corinthians 8:9). Don’t go there! F.F. Bruce writes, “…all such matters belonged to a transitory order.” The writer of Hebrews say, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (10:1). At best, these things are a shadow; that is, they are not reality, what they have in Christ is their reality.
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…
You may remember I ask the following question some time back, “Have you ever been cheated?” One translation uses the word disqualify. It means to defraud. One commentator writes, Paul is not “implying that the Colossians will be disqualified by following the false teaching, the more probable meaning is that Paul’s readers should not accord anyone the status of judge or umpire in the first place.” Those food and drink issues, along with those special “days” mentioned earlier, were most likely being used in an attempt to make these young Christians feel less spiritual, as though they lacked something. Don’t let them dissuade you of your confidence in Christ! Instead, recognize them for who they are. Paul then exposes who these ascetic Jewish philosophers really are, and he does not mix words. They are project false humility and engage in angel worship. They are puffed up; that is, they inflate themselves. Humility is not a badge of honor; but rather, a characteristic of a Christ centered life, something we are to dress ourselves with (1st Peter 5:5, NLT). God actually opposes the proud (James 4:6). Angel worship…well. There is only One who is to be worshipped. Jesus taught, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). See them for who they really are!
…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.
What was the problem with these ascetic Jewish philosophers? Simple! They were not focused on Christ, who is the Head. “Christ is the source of the life and energy of the body, the church,” writes Michael Weed. He is the One who furnishes the church and holds it together, uniting us under one Head. It is because of Him and through Him that they have their being as Christians. Holding fast to Him, God will bring about the increase. Let us likewise have our focus be on Him and the hope that comes through Him alone. Why? Because He is the head of the church! (Colossians 1:18). In Him redemption is found, His church is nourished and grow takes place.