When I first put my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord there were a number of people who kept telling me yes Jonathan, but now you need to be speaking in tongues because unless you can you can't fully be a Christian. They said unless you have that experience you are disqualified from being fully 'in' with God. Others were also quick to judge - but you can't be a Christian and drink (not that I particularly wanted to) or go to football matches. Football matches are evil places, they said. Now admittedly my team Leeds United were disqualified from Europe for 3 seasons after some of their fans disgracefully rioted following the 1975 European Cup final. But did supporting Leeds disqualify me from the Christian faith? If you are genuinely trusting in Christ as Saviour and Lord, God the Father has qualified you (Col 1:12-14) to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. So who on earth can disqualify you? Well here in v16-17, the false teachers were insisting on certain Old Testament regulations being kept, such as food and drink laws and festivals. And they were judging believers who were not keeping them as not being real, full Christians. They failed to realise that these regulations were temporary things pointing forward to Christ. Now Christ has come, such regulations are obsolete. And in v18-19 we basically have a description of someone having spiritual experiences of some kind and insisting that others should have the same experience. If they didn't they were considered disqualified from being fully in with God. Paul says (v19) that that trouble maker has lost connection with Christ the Head.
But before we look at those verses further let's re-cap what Paul's been saying in the previous verses. The word 'therefore' in v16 shows that v16-19 are directly linked to v8-15. And v8-15 remind us that Christ, who is fully God (v9) has reconciled those who are trusting in him fullyto himself and his Father ('we've been given fullnessin Christ', v10) through his death on the cross (v11-14). Thanks to his death, in relation to God, we are 'alive' (v13), forgiven (v13) reconciled (1:19-22), standing in his grace, and at peace with him (1:2). And, thanks to his death, in relation to the spiritual 'powers' that stand against us (v15), we are released completely from their power to keep us alienated from God now and eternally. And in Paul's mind, those 'powers' would include Satan, our accuser. So, Christ has brought us fully to God. No human religious activity is needed to try to 'get through' to God, or 'get closer' to God. In fact, such religious activity is a denial of Christ's work.
THEREFORE Paul continues: Don't let anyone judge you by their rules (v16-17); Don't let anyone disqualify you for the prize (v18-19); & Don't lose connection with the Head (v19). So first
1. DO NOT LET ANYONE JUDGE YOU BY THEIR RULES v16-17
'Therefore, don't let anyone judge you…' (v16) The trouble-makers at Colossae were setting themselves up as judges of who was right with God and who wasn't. Or as we would put it, who was a 'real Christian', and who wasn't. If you didn't conform to their particular rules (on eating, drinking and religious observances - festivals and holy days), they passed judgement on you: you weren't 'in' with God. They ruled you out of being one of God's people.
So where were the trouble makers at fault? Well look at v16&17:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
From those two verses we learn that the false teachers were insisting that only if people kept to certain Old Testament regulations could they claim to be right with God. They failed to understand that these Old Testament regulations were temporary visual aids until Jesus came (v17). They were 'shadows'. For example: the food and drink regulations of Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14 and Numbers 6 were to foreshadow the calling of Christ's people to be different or 'holy' from those around them; the Sabbath was to foreshadow the permanent 'rest' of being with Christ in heaven; the Temple (around which Old Testament festivals revolved) was a gigantic visual aid of the fact that we can only approach God if a substitute is sacrificed in our place. Christ was the sacrifice which the temple foreshadowed. In each case, the Old Testament regulation or institution was the 'shadow', foreshadowing and pointing forward to the 'reality which is found in Christ.'
He fulfils them. He's the real thing. Don't go back to shadow lands. It's as daft as speaking with someone's shadow and not the real thing. Don't be fooled says Paul. Don't let anyone judge you. They are passed now. They've been fulfilled in Christ.
So, the false teachers were at fault for failing to realise that much of the Old Testament law, namely the civil and ceremonial law, was a temporary measure until the coming of Christ. Jesus himself declared all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19).Their failure to understand led to them insisting on something other than faith in Christ to make you 'in' with God.
Now notice that the things by which people were being spiritually 'judged' were in themselves non-moral things. What people eat or drink is in itself a non-moral issue. So what are the equivalent non-moral things today by which people are judged as being 'not real Christians'? What are the non-moral 'taboo' things that Christian circles either forbid or insist upon? Well in the past in some quarters it was no dancing and no cinema. And today you can still hear: 'You must not drink', 'You must dress this way', 'You can only do this, this and this on a Sunday'. What about us? Do we 'judge' fellow Christians by our own rules and so make them feel discouraged, disengaged and disqualified? Or do we help others trust & grow in Christ and build up the whole body biblically? Now Paul also says, 'Do not get drunk' (Ephesians 5:18) and that we're to think about what is pure (Philippians 4:8). So Paul's not saying here that Christians can live as they please. In Christ we're free to live to please Christ in response to what he's done for us, as Colossians 3 makes clear. Now you might be thinking what about Sabbath days? What are the implications of what Paul says here to the use of Sunday today?
Well v16&17 tell me that I am not bound to keep a Sabbath by law, in the way that old covenant believers clearly were. Jesus would have none of the Pharisees' legalism about the Sabbath. He said: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). And Genesis 2:1-3 (echoed in Exodus 20:8-11) tells me that the cycle of work-then-rest, six days then one, is somehow built into the order of creation and is therefore good for human beings. So it's good to take one day of rest in seven; it's good to argue in society that society should take one day's rest in seven; it's good to argue that that day of rest be the same for all people, to keep Sunday special, because it then becomes a day for relationships and families. And obviously it's good for Christians to use that day to meet with one another and with God. The letter to the Hebrews says, 'Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing' (10:25). And we meet on Sunday 'The Lord's Day' (Revelation 1:10) because it was the day of Jesus' resurrection, not on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath day. Secondly
DO NOT LET ANYONE DISQUALIFY YOU FOR THE PRIZE v18-19
'Do not let anyone… disqualify you…'(v18) It's a similar statement to v16. The trouble-makers were setting themselves up as umpires or referees over the question of who was really in relationship with God and who wasn't. They were 'disqualifying' people, if they hadn't had certain spiritual experiences. Look at v18 & 19:
18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Now verse 18 isn't totally clear in every detail, but what it appears to be saying is this. 'False humility' translates a word that can mean 'self-abasement' (it comes in v23, as well, along with 'harsh treatment of the body'). It probably refers to ascetic practices that were thought to get you 'closer to God'. The aim of that was then to enter into 'the worship of angels'. This could mean: actually worshipping angels, or joining in with the worship of the angels, by having a vision or experience of quotes 'heaven'. It is probably the latter because v18 goes on: 'He goes into great detail about what he has seen'. That's the language of visions and spiritual experiences.
So what is clear is that the trouble-makers claimed to have spiritual experiences, went on about them at great length and tended to 'disqualify' people who couldn't testify to experiences like theirs. But they were the ones who were really in danger. All these so called 'experiences' were leading to pride (his unspiritual mind 'puffs him up', v18); and ultimately, they were pursuing a quest for experiences instead of a relationship with Christ, 'the Head of the body' (v19) which would lead to individualism and isolation from the 'whole body' of Christ (v19).
Our goal should be: a relationship of faith, love and obedience to Christ, out of which will spring joy and thankfulness at being forgiven (v6-7). If we hold onto Christ by faith, love and obedience, experiences will come as the spin-off. If we pursue experiences, we can end up living a 'spiritual life' in which we don't really relate to the Lord Jesus. Ephesians 4:7-16 makes it clear that we grow in knowledge of God through the word-gifts of the church, and through our relationships with our fellow-Christians, not through individual 'mystical' experiences. Colossians 3:16 emphasises this too.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
All the troublemakers were doing were making the Colossian Christians feel 'disqualified'. 'Maybe I'm not a Christian after all' some would have been thinking. The false teachers' disconnection from Christ, the Head was causing disunity and discouragement (v2) rather than growth.
Back in the 1990's the 'Toronto Blessing' provided an example of this kind of thing: 'You're not a really Spirit-filled Christian, close to God, unless… you fall over or exhibit this or that 'manifestation''. This creates a two-tier situation: 'first class' Christians who've 'had' the experience, and 'second class' ones who haven't. It leads to division in the body; and experience-seeking 'ministry times' push out Bible-teaching and so contact is indeed lost with the Head, the Lord Jesus. Another one you may have heard is that we need to worship our way back into God's presence. Not so. Not that it's not important to worship God in song but as we heard last week, in Christ, we are as close to God as it's possible to be - 24 hours a day, in church and away from church.
So what 'experiences' of God does the Bible tell us to expect as part of the normal Christian life? Wellin general, we must be careful to distinguish three kinds of 'experiences of God':
First there are experiences which the Bible says all Christians will have. Such as conviction of sin. Jesus said (John 16:8):
When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…
Also assurance. Romans 8:16:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
And the urge to pray. Romans 8:15:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
There's the desire to please Christ, alongside the internal conflict. Galatians 5:16-17 says:
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Secondly there are experiences which the Bible says some Christians will have. Take the 'gifts of the Spirit'. The Bible in 1Corinthians 12 says that some will have teaching gifts. But only some. We must never insist that these sorts of things should be experienced byeveryone. The fact that I have a gift doesn't mean you should have it too. And vice-versa.
Thirdly there are experiences which the Bible says some believers have had in the past - so they certainly can happen, and some people today may have them, but no-one is to expect them as part of the normal Christian life. For example: Moses addressed from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1f), Balaam addressed by a donkey (Numbers 22:28f), Joseph warned in a vision (Matthew 1:20), etc.
Actually, when we look at life properly through the eyes of faith, we ought to say, 'We're experiencing God all the time.' He is sovereign over everything - nature and history - after all as Colossians 1:15-17 tells us. So, as I look at the created world as a believer, I experience something of God's divine nature and eternal power. Again, the very fact that I'm alive and well today is an experience of God's goodness. Lamentations 3:22 says:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
Its only unbelief that takes all that for granted. So thirdly & briefly
3. DO NOT LOSE CONNECTION WITH THE HEAD (CHRIST) v19
Don't get taken in by those who have lost connection with the Head (v19) and lose connection with the Head yourselves. Don't let anyone(v8) take you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. He is sufficient and supreme. Instead, as we learnt back in v6&7, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. Do you want to grow in Christ? Do we want to grow as a church? Well stay connected to Christ the Head, because from him (v19) the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.