I like cop shows.I like the investigative process.I like trying to figure out who did the dastardly deed before the cops on the show do.In every cop show, one of the biggest no-no's a cop can commit is promising a victim's family that they will bring the culprit to justice.It is a big no-no because cops know that they may not be able to find out who's done it, though TV cops always do.The idea of promising what cannot be delivered is only a big no-no if the one making the promise is really intending to fulfill his/her promise.The world, the system of thought and belief that we live in and that is antagonistic to God, has no problems making promises because it has no intention on delivering on them.
We see this reality in what the false teachers who were trying to lead the Colossian church astray promised them: add something to Christ and you will be complete.The world and Satan don't really mind if the church believes in Christ as long as they can convince her that she needs something more than Christ.The world and Satan are always making empty promises that, when believed, will leave a trail of broken hearts.The promise that the world is making here is that we can do it; we can make our way up to God with just a little help from Jesus.In other words, Paul is warning us against the claims of legalism.
I.A Frontal Attack on the False Teaching
A.It seems that these false teachers were trying to pick and choose what they thought was "the best" of each religion they knew.
1.There is a distinctive Jewish flavor to the false teaching.
a.Circumcision seemed to play a big part in their thinking, 11-12.
b.They also seemed to include dietary restrictions and OT ceremonial feasts, 16.
1)OT because Paul calls them "a shadow of things to come," which is consistent with how the book of Hebrews refers to the Mosaic law.
2)Another thing (I'd like to explore this more at a future time), Paul is not referring to the weekly Sabbath of the 4th commandment, but to the special Sabbaths associated with the several feasts as implied by the plural.
2.There were other elements that weren't necessarily Jewish nor Christian.
a.The false teachers encouraged the Colossians to worship angels as a sign of humility, 18.
1)There thought would be, "I am not worthy to worship God directly, so I will worship a lesser being and maybe through him I can indirectly worship God."
2)This is false humility since they pridefully change what God says concerning worship.
b.The false teachers encouraged reliance on subjective visions, 18b.
1)In our translation, this clause reads "intruding into those things which he has not seen."
2)It is better to understand this clause without the word not as another translation suggests – "… going on in detail about visions…."
3)The idea here is that they know what the Bible says, but God has spoken to them directly apart from and contradictory to the Scriptures and they are puffed up because of that.
c.They had an extra-biblical list of things they didn't want the Colossians to do, 21.
d.They also taught that a Christian needed to punish the body in order to be more godly, 23.
B.So, you see that these false teachers had come up with a syncretistic religion, and religion that borrowed something from everywhere.
II.Why Are They Teaching This Stuff?
A.They were not satisfied with the simplicity of the Gospel.
1.That's usually what gives birth to false teaching.
2.One rarely finds false teaching that simplifies things.
3.This is part of the false humility of the doctrines of men.
4.The apostle is committed, however, to the simplicity of the Gospel.
1 Cor. 2:1-5 – And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
B.Even more seriously, they did not think that Christ was enough.
1.They thought that Christ was a great beginning, but something else was needed in addition to faith in Christ in order to bring us to completion.
2.In other words, the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are missing something and that something is all those things that they wanted the Colossians to do.
3.Paul has already dealt with that early in the chapter, 10.
C.They took delight in these things instead of delighting in Christ, 18a.
1.Invariably when we think that Christ is not sufficient and we try to add something to him in order for us to be fulfilled, we will put Christ entirely to the side and delight in that thing (whatever it is) instead of Christ.
2.The idea of taking delight is the idea of desiring that thing.
a.It might begin as a casual interest just to supplement what we think we are getting from Christ.
b.Eventually, though, it becomes all consuming.
1)To Smeagol, the ring at first was something he liked a lot.
2)As he looked to it more and more as the thing that identified him, that fulfilled him, he went from Smeagol the Hobbit to being that odious and repulsive creature Gollum.
c.This transformation from beautiful to ugly happens every time we look for wholeness, completion, fulfillment in something else than Christ.
III.Adding to Jesus Is a Natural Tendency in All of Us.
Ps. 119:10 – With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
"Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above." Robert Robinson
A.We must be watchful so that our hearts do not wander from Christ – Paul's warning.
1.Don't allow anyone's unbiblical judgment of you determine whether you are complete in Christ or not, 16.
a.People, even people in the church, will judge us according to unrighteous standards and declare us not to be in Christ – there isn't much we can about that.
1)We don't eat the right food.
2)We don't wear the right clothes.
3)We don't drink the right drinks.
4)Our hair is too long or too short.
5)We enjoy too many things or not enough things.
b.Paul's warning is that we be careful not to look at us through those judgments.
c.Rather, that we look at ourselves through what Christ has done for us, 17b – "the substance is Christ."
1)Here these false teachers were emphasizing how the Colossians needed to have faith in Christ AND keep some parts of the ceremonial law.
a)To say that those things were to be added to Christ in order to make one complete was to misunderstand completely what they were meant for.
b)The whole purpose of the ceremonial law was to point to the fullness of Christ.
c)When the fullness of Christ came, they ceased to have a purpose.
d)Therefore, our status before God is not determined/judged by how close we follow these shadows, but solely by faith in Christ who is our completion, 10a.
2)We may not cling to the OT ceremonial laws, but we are very good at making other laws by which we judge ourselves and others around us.
2.Don't be cheated from Christ by things that don't really fulfill, 18.
a.The false teachers were using their list of unbiblical requirements to decide whether the Colossians were worthy of their reward.
1)They would come across as very humble, yet they were puffed up by thinking that their standard was better than God's standard.
2)Theses ideas were conceived in a sinful mind (fleshly).
b.Any idea that takes our focus away from Christ's sufficiency leads to pride.
3.Don't subject yourselves to these regulations because we have been freed by Christ, 20.
a.Paul singles out the idea that eating/not eating certain things will make one more complete than faith in Christ alone, 21-22.
1)We eat something, it goes through our bodies and it disappears.
2)How can that be even compared to Christ?
3)It is obvious that that's a man-made thing!
b.All these things, all these requirements, all these concrete things we can do seem to be so wise – they feel right.
c.But at the end of the day all these self-imposed, unbiblical recipes to fulfillment, wholeness, fulfillment are of no value for the real battle – fighting sin, 23
IV.The Empty Promises of the World Destroy Us even When They Come from within the Church, 19.
1.When Frodo gets to the edge of the Crack of Doom, he wavers in his mission and puts the ring on.
2.Gollum figures out where Frodo is (even though he is invisible) and jumps on him, bites Frodo's finger off and takes the ring.
3.In the fight that ensues both of them fall towards the molten lava of Mount Doom.
a.Because Frodo is no longer holding to the ring, he is able to hold on to the rocks and is eventually saved by Sam.
b.Gollum, on the other hand, falls to his death and destruction, all the while holding tightly to the ring and saying, "Precious!"
B.When we are holding tight to other things, even things that may be good, as what will complete us, we are playing the part of Gollum and will eventually have the same end because we won't be able to hold on to the Rock – the Lord Jesus Christ.
1.We hold on for life to this one thing when life is really in holding fast to our Head, the Lord Jesus.
2.As we hold fast to Jesus, we will experience growth and nourishment because it comes from God and not from man-made regulations.
3.Notice that holding tight to these other things not only separates us from Christ but his body as well (the Head goes, the body goes as well), 19.
C.We may not be clinging to the OT ceremonial law or to the worship of angels, but are good at creating our own lists of things that we are going to add to Christ in order to be whole, complete, fulfilled.
1.Christ + respect from other people.
2.Christ + a family that fits the American dream of a family.
D.What invariably happens is that Christ becomes an accessory and our completeness becomes what follows the + sign, which will not satisfy.
1.So we live incomplete, unfulfilled lives that are miserable when Christ has so much more to offer to us.
2.We also make everybody's lives around us miserable.
3.And all these things are so much better IF we are not looking for wholeness in them.
V.The Common Term for All We Have Been Talking about Is Legalism.
A.Legalism is basing our relationship with God on our own performance.
1.We often wrongly stereotype a legalistic person as someone who never goes to movies, or who thinks that any music with a beat is from the devil, or who thinks that drinking any alcoholic beverage is sinful.
2.Legalism is much more subtle and serious than that.
3.We also wrongly label a legalist those who have standards we don't like (even though said standards might be biblical).
4.Legalism is making something else that is not the gospel as the single identifier of Christianity – if you do this certain thing, you are a Christian and you don't you are not (can go the other way around too).
B.Legalism leads to despair because it tries to do what only God can do.
1.It is incredibly devastating.
2.How many people have left Christianity altogether because they were raised in a legalistic environment where God's love for them was determined by how well they performed.
3.According to Paul, this is not really Christianity; rather they are the doctrines of men, 22b.
C.We are so prone to legalism that we even transform the good things God has given us into shackles that keep us in bondage to despair – the plate spinning illustration.
1.Explain what plate spinning is.
2.The plates we spin are various spiritual activities – such as Bible reading, prayer, or sharing the gospel – that are good and vital in themselves when pursued for the right reasons.
3.Often, however, without realizing it, we allow a dangerous shift to take place in our minds and hearts.
a.We change what God intends as a means of experiencing grace into a means of earning grace.
b.Instead of being a further expression of our confidence in God's s saving work in our life, these spiritual activities become simply more spinning plates to maintain.
1)When Sunday morning comes, we will sing and praise God in church with evident sincerity and seal when we've had a really good week – with not a single plate wobbling.
2)But on another Sunday, following a week in which several plates crashed, we are hesitant to approach God and find it difficult to worship freely.
D.This tendency, if left unchecked, will lead us to think that God in Christ has abandoned us and that faith in him is not worth it.
Though we have a tendency to want to add other things to Christ for our fulfillment and completion, even the good things that God has given us, it doesn't have to that way.We have died with Christ to the basic principles of this world (20).You do not need to seek for wholeness anywhere else than in Christ.To do so is to live contrary to whom you are.All these regulations, all these do's and don't's that are not in the Bible are not more godly way to live.On the contrary, it is worldliness (basic principles of the world).
The world offers all kinds of empty promises, even under the guise of Christianity.The Bible offers you Christ – life in Christ (3:4).When you feel tempted to follow the Christ + life, remember Paul's exhortations to not be cheated or judged.Remind yourself of Christ.Repent of any attempt to find fulfillment or wholeness in the blessings of life instead of Christ.Then, enjoy what Christ has given you in life because that is for your nourishment and growth in God.