Series Title: “Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ”
- Colossians 2:13-23
The story was told about a city which was hit by a phenomenal disaster on a Saturday afternoon. Hardly any piece of infrastructure was left standing, and many people lost their homes and possessions. One of the pastors of the city spoke to another and asked him what he would be telling his congregation the next morning. “What can one preach after a day like this?”, he asked.
His colleague replied with strong resolve, “I will just tell them who Jesus Christ is. Once they understood the message of Christ, all other things fade away in the background.”
Many people who are followers of the Prosperity Gospel, something that preachers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers and Robert Schuller present as “authentic” Christianity, would be very disappointed to hear a message about Christ only after they have lost all earthly riches and belongings.
The Apostle Paul had a visit from Epaphras the evangelist, where Epaphras also preached the Gospel. The occasion might have been when the church in Philippi send him to encourage Paul with gifts in Rome where he was held in house arrest. Epaphras fell dangerously ill during this visit and Paul sent him home. But what he told Paul about the church in Colossae gave rise to the letter of Paul to the Colossians.
There were false teachers in Colossae who were misleading the the church. The only response strategy Paul had was to once again imprint on them who Jesus Christ was; to what He has done to save the church, no one should add, because to do that would amount to nothing else but blasphemy.
It’s still happening
What happened then, is still happening today. There is a desire with Christians to “dig deeper” – they are after a more and deeper spiritual experience. It is sad that some of these people then start looking at foreign places. It is foreign to the Gospel, or what started as a honest search, ends up in a satisfaction beyond what the Gospel presents in Jesus Christ.
The problem in not a desire to grow in deeper understanding of Christ and obedience to Him – and as such, a better knowledge of the Bible; the problem arises when something is added unto the message. Invariably this “added-on-to” part usually ends up being the major point of contention, and it leads to judgementalism: if you don’t experience what I’m experiencing, your surely can’t be a real Christian. The Biblical message about Jesus Christ becomes a stepping stone to get to the “deeper” and and “richer” – and all other who have not reached that point are looked down upon as lesser Christians.
That was the problem with the Judaisers, the group who still wanted to cling to the circumcision – you might be a believer in Christ, but if you are not circumcised, you’re not there yet. Applied to our day, if you have not experienced credo baptism by immersion you cannot possibly be a Christian – and by extension, you will never receive the Holy Spirit. And if you have not spoken in tongues – well, that’s a sure sign that you have never been saved.
We labelled these group of people the ceremonialists.
Then, there was another group, the Gnostics. They were the forerunners of the Modern New Age. Their ideas were not new then, and it is not new now. It actually takes us back to primitive theology were earth, air, water and wind – or broadly – all nature is worshipped. Man is his own god, and god is in every man. There is no sin, hell or Satan. We cannot know God fully, but we can work our up to Him; if we don;t make it the first time, then we come back and we try all over again, and again, and again – till we make it. Knowledge is the big thing, but it is secretive knowledge, airy-fairy stuff.
But we now come to another group; they were the legalists. As a matter of fact, it is right here where ceremonialists and Gnostics meet, because both of them is in essence a self-help or self-improvement religion. It denies the grace of God in Christ Jesus and try to find a way to get up to God.
Special days and food restrictions
Paul writes of them:
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. (Colossians 2:16, NIV)
The text I just quoted begins with a therefore. This is important, and we need to come back to it – next week, maybe.
Interestingly, both the Gnostics and the those who clung to the New Testament as if Jesus never came to fulfil the Law, had observed these things: forbidden food, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days. And we even have them today amongst those who promote legalism; in some cases it is just more refined.
The New Agers have their taboos in food and easily become vegans. You cannot eat anything you killed – that’s to disturbe the balance in nature! As Christians we know how the answer this: the world and everything in and on it belongs to God who created it. We don’t worship it, and we understand that God gave us the mandate to cultivate the land and have dominion over creation – understanding all the way that we are accountable to Him for the way we do it; it is not ours to abuse it any way we like. Paul clarifies this in 1 Corinthians 8:
… for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6, NIV)
The Jews on the other hand had lot of things they abstained from eating. As golden rule we need to understand that all the foods Israel was forbidden to eat were scavengers: they lived off what was dead. And this was important in the Old Testament because God is the holy God of the living. Approaching Him after even touching the dead was forbidden, let alone eating food of things which lived on dead things. But the curse on death was overcome in and through Jesus Christ. Through his perfect sacrifice what kept us from God was overcome so now in his Name we come to God. So, if people of other faiths try to ridicule Christians for the law against eating prawns, they just don’t understand the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.
The effect of all of this is that we are not bound by the dietary laws of the Old Testament anymore. There is no theological reason as to why we cannot eat pork or prawns now. But I know of people who for others reasons abstain from eating pork. Let’s remember this principle:
… if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13, NIV)
Eating or not eating has nothing to do with being saved or not. Faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ only is what saves the sinner. The apostle says:
But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)
The same applies to religious festivals and New Moons. Some in Colossae assigned special weight to these days and those who participated in it looked down on others to did not. This was added as a necessary observance to show that one had really come to faith. Once again, it was Christ-plus. It was a way of adding good works as steps to God, a way of self-improvement.
Just a word about the Sabbaths and New Moons of the Jewish people. In many cases these two were mentioned in the same breath. I understand from the context in Colossians that this reference did not only refer to the seventh day of the week; there were other sabbaths in the Jewish calendar too. There was for instance the Sabbath of the Years for the land to have a rest.
When it comes to celebrate one day out of seven for rest and worship, we understand that even this is fulfilled in Christ. So, in strict terms, we do not have a sabbath day anymore – we don’t keep to the restrictions of a sabbath journey; we don’t have morning and evening sacrifices of lambs and bulls anymore; we don’t have special services by special ranks of people lighting the candles, putting oil in the lamps and presenting certain offerings anymore. All that was fulfilled in Christ.
But we have a Christian sabbath: on this day we celebrate the new life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it:
These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:17, NIV)
The New Testament calls it the Day of the Lord. They gathered on the first day of the week for worship. On this day we gather too for the same reason. We come together in corporate worship, we fellowship and encourage one another in our faith-walk. The principle of the Old Testament remains the same: one in seven days belongs to the special worship of God by his church family.
The exact day, the seventh or the first day of the week is not the main point. The main point is the celebration of Christ victory over death. There are others who think differently; they hold to a Saturday. I don’t necessarily agree with their theological and practical arguments, but just like as it applies to them, it should not be a point of contention. The point is, do you believe that Jesus Christ came to fulfil the Law and bring us salvation?
But once again, if this day is another box we want to tick in doing good works, it is adding to the salvation of Christ, which is idolatry.
But the practices of the legalists go even further:
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. (Colossians 2:18, NIV)
It can so easily happen that trying so hard to be good includes the attitude that those who have not attained what I have attained cannot be Christians. There are some people who are so humble, they are actually proud of it. This is what this text says.
Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a good thing, but this can also become a show: Look at me, I’ve made the sacrifice and you continue to live in your fancy house and drive your expensive cars. Even being humble can be wrong at times, especially if someone wants to tick the box and climb another notch to perfection.
Messages from angels
What about people who got so advanced in their spiritual life that they even speak to angels and receive messages from them! They must be special! Is that something to strive for? No! The only voice I have allegiance to is the voice of God who spoken what He wanted to say in the Bible. And yes, I need to read it more and more and put every effort in understanding it.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he had something similar in mind. There were those who looked down on other members of the church because they did not speak in tongues. Paul made a list of the gifts and every time he put the gift of tongues last in order of importance. Then he says this to them:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NIV)
A true sign of being filled with the Spirit of God is not the extra-special things, but the elementary principle of Christian life: love. Jesus did not say to his disciples that other would know that they are his disciples because they speak in tongues or have the gift of healing, or any other gift, but the gift of love.
My dear friend what saves is faith in the living Saviour who came to seek and save the lost. It’s Him and Him only. Of course faith has arms and legs and lips. We’ll get to that some time in our study of this letter of Paul.
I found this illustration:
When interviewing Dr. A. J. Gordon as a prospective pastor of a Boston church, the pulpit committee asked: “If you are called to the pastorate of our church will you preach against the cards, the theatre, and dancing?” “I will,” solemnly affirmed Dr. Gordon. He was called.
Months passed and he didn’t say a word against the cards, the theatre, and dancing. The official board of the church said, “Almost a year has gone by and you have said nothing against cards, the theatre, and dancing. We wonder why.”
Dr. Gordon replied essentially as follows: “Gentlemen, it is true that I have said nothing against these things, but I have preached Christ who is the only Saviour from all evils. When He comes into one’s heart all evil things vanish from the life like the mist before the hot breath of the noonday sun.”
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 January 2016