We continue the discussion under Col. 2:14 here in Part 6.
The apostle Paul taught that we are not under the Mosaic Law (cf., e.g., Col. 2:14; Rom. 6:14; 7:4, 6; 1 Cor. 9:20; Gal. 1:19; and 3:23-25). But - and this is extremely important - he also taught that a key bottom-line of Christianity is that Christians are ENABLED (by the grace and Spirit of God that come with the new covenant) and are REQUIRED to keep the moral requirements of the Law (cf., e.g., Rom. 2:26, 27; 8:4; and 1 Cor. 7:19 [these verses are all discussed in my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism," for one place]). The only major qualification that the apostle would make here is that Christians are not required to keep the ceremonial law of the old covenant.]] (15) When He [God the Father] had disarmed the rulers and authorities [[Compare Col. 1:13; 2:10. God disarmed Satan and his underlings through the atoning death (and resurrection) of Christ Jesus and the ushering in of new-covenant salvation. Satan (along with sin and spiritual death) had gained authority over man through the rebellion of Adam, and all the subsequent sins of mankind had enhanced his position as god of this world. The first chapters of Genesis show that Satan had no authority over Adam (or mankind) until after Adam rebelled, and the Bible makes it clear that Satan has been overthrown (but his overthrow has not been fully manifested yet) through the atoning death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ (see John 12:31, 33; 16:11; and Heb. 2:14; cf. Gen. 3:15).]], He [God the Father] made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [through Christ Jesus]. [[See Eph. 4:8 (this verse is discussed in my paper on Ephesians chapter 4 on my internet site and on this Christian article site). God made a public display of His triumph over Satan and his hosts through the Lord Jesus Christ. For a start, the resurrection of Christ manifested that the sin and spiritual death problem had been solved in His atoning death and that sin, Satan, and spiritual death had been overthrown (cf. Rom. 4:25). Every time a person becomes a born-again Christian and starts living for God in righteousness and holiness it demonstrates that sin, Satan, and spiritual death have been overthrown. So too for every victory that comes to pass through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and for every demon that is defeated and/or cast out through His name.]] (16) Therefore [since the old covenant has been set aside to make way for the new covenant] no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink [cf., e.g., Heb. 9:10] or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day [[It seems clear that some "Christians" were judging Paul's Christian readers at Colossae because they weren't following their modified "gospel"; it was modified from the gospel proclaimed by the apostle Paul and Epaphras. The things Paul listed here, and circumcision (see verse 11), were all part of the ceremonial works of the old covenant that some were trying to push on the Gentile Christians at Colossae. It is possible that some of the religious works listed here came from other sources too. The things that Paul goes on to mention in verse 18 do not seem to have been derived from the old covenant.]] - (17) things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. [[Compare Heb. 8:5; 10:1. (The book of Hebrews deals extensively with the inability of the Law to solve the sin and spiritual death problem and with the setting aside of the ceremonial works of the old covenant.) The ceremonial works of the old covenant, including the sacrificial offerings, have been set aside now that the reality of new-covenant salvation has become available through the incarnation, sinless life, atoning death, resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit of the Lamb of God.]] (18) Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in ["insisting on" NRSV] self-abasement ["or humility" NASB margin] and the worship of the angels [["Let no one defraud you of your reward, taking delight in false humility (I had a footnote: The word "false" was not included in the Greek, but it is clear that the apostle was not speaking of true, biblical humility here, or in verse 23.) and worship of angels..." NKJV. "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize" NIV. I'll quote part of what the BAGD Greek Lexicon (3rd edition) says regarding the Greek verb (katabrabeuo) translated "LET no one DEFRAUD you OF YOUR REWARD" by the NIV (this verb was not used anywhere else in the New Testament), " 'decide against' (as umpire), and so rob of a prize, condemn [someone]...." The meaning of this verb here is quite similar to the meaning of the verb "no one is to ACT AS your JUDGE" in verse 16.
Here in verses 18, 19 the apostle Paul exhorts his readers to totally ignore the false judgments of those "Christians" who were delighting in self-abasement (or, false humility) and the worship of angels, who were trying to convince his readers that their Christianity was not valid. Those "Christians" did not know what they were talking about, and they certainly did not have the authority to decide what constitutes authentic Christianity. Those "Christians" could have been different than the ones pushing ceremonial works of the old covenant.
It isn't necessary for us to know all the details regarding the false teachers and their false teachings that were circulating at Colossae at that time. When we know the true gospel, we are qualified to recognize and reject false teachers and false teachings (teachings that are not part of the true gospel), no matter what the details. (I have heard that most of the training people receive to become expert at recognizing counterfeit bills (money) consists of studying the genuine articles. Any bills that fail to match the genuine in every detail are necessarily counterfeit.)
We don't know for sure exactly what Paul meant by self-abasement (or false humility), but verse 23 apparently gives us some insight with the added words, "and severe treatment of the body." See under verse 23. As verse 19 shows, the primary problem behind all the issues raised in verses 8-23 was that some "Christians" were not holding fast to the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the body of Christ, in accordance with the words of the gospel of God's new covenant - they were modifying the gospel.
Based on what Paul goes on to say in the rest of this verse, those "Christians" apparently based (at least to some extent) their "delighting in self-abasement [or false humility] and the worship of the angels" on spiritual experiences they had had, probably including having seen angels and having received instructions from them. The apostle Paul made it quite clear that he had no respect for the spiritual experiences those "Christians" had had, or for the revelations they had received. As we discussed above, Paul didn't leave room for anyone to modify the gospel in any way.
The revelations those "Christians" had received undoubtedly came from evil angels (or demons [cf. 1 Tim. 4:2; James 3:15; 1 John 4:1-6]) who were passing themselves off as angels loyal to God. Like the apostle Paul said, "for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). There is no doubting the fact that Satan and his followers have come up with some clever counterfeits for the truth and clever modifications of the gospel over the years. How can we know the truth? In the first place we must carefully check any revelation against what God has already revealed (in the Bible) as the gospel through his chosen channels, including the apostle Paul. The Christians at Colossae were able to check out what the false teachers were saying with the apostle Paul himself. He could verify that Epaphras had shared the true gospel and the full gospel with them. Also, God has put gifts in the church, like discerning of spirits and words of wisdom and words of knowledge (cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-10), to help us differentiate between what is of God and what is of Satan. (We must also be aware of the fact that there are demonic counterfeit spiritual gifts.) It seems that man in the flesh is able to come up with plenty of errors on his own too, without the devil's "help."
Regarding "the worship of angels," I assume that those "Christians" were pushing the worship of supposedly good angels, angels supposedly loyal to God. The Bible makes it quite clear that God's angels play a major role in the outworking of His salvation plans in both Old Testament days and new-covenant days, but it is equally clear that we are not to look to angels, pray to them, or worship them in any way. God's angels (those loyal to Him), even the greatest of them, will not accept worship (cf., e.g., Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9).
The false teachers were undoubtedly pushing the idea that God has set things up in a way that we must deal with these angels (as mediators between God and man [I had a footnote: The Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator we will ever need; what a mediator (cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 2:5; Col. 1:18, 19; 2:8-10).]) for many things (like wisdom, revelation, guidance, miracles, healing, provision, and protection), rather than dealing directly with Him. Some false teachers may have said that they were too humble to deal directly with God.
Angels are very much involved with many aspects of our Christian lives (we must be thankful to God for them and their work), but it is God we must look to for all things, even when He uses His angels to bless us. We must look to Him and to Him alone for all things, worship Him and Him alone, and give Him and Him alone all the glory for all things. (We look to and worship the triune God.) Angels loyal to God agree one-hundred percent with this viewpoint; they know that we must maintain divine order in God's kingdom at all times - God has had more than enough of angelic rebellion, and of human rebellion.]], taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated ["puffed up" with fleshly pride; the NKJV has, "vainly puffed up"; the NIV has, "puffs him up"] without cause by his fleshly mind [[The "mind [way of thinking] of [the] flesh" goes with the old man; it is contrasted with having a mind/way of thinking that is in/by/of the Spirit of God. Those who are not born again and indwelled by the Spirit of God necessarily think and walk by the flesh (see Rom. 8:1-11). But it is also true that born-again Christians can think and walk according to the old man/the flesh to a significant extent; a walk in/by/after the Spirit is far from being automatic. I didn't say it was acceptable Christianity for Christians to think and walk in/by the flesh part of the time; a big part of what it means to be a Christian is to leave the old man/the flesh behind (to be dead to it) and to walk on a continuous basis in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God in/by/after the Spirit by faith.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 demonstrate that born-again Christians can be fleshy (which includes thinking in/by the flesh), and they also demonstrates that the apostle Paul did not consider this to be acceptable Christianity, and especially after a person has been a Christian for a while. Thinking and walking in/by the flesh is a very dangerous thing for Christians to do. Paul frequently warned Christians of this fact, including throughout his epistles to the Corinthians. To the extent we are walking in/by the flesh, we are not walking in/by the Spirit, or walking in/by faith. Christians are enabled and required to walk by/in/after the Spirit on a continuous basis by faith, in accordance with God's Word.
Were these "Christian" innovators mentioned in verses 18, 19 born-again Christians? It is quite possible that they had been born again, it is even possible that they (or some of them) still were in the category of being born-again Christians, but they clearly had fallen into serious error, and they were in grave danger of losing their salvation if they had not lost it already (that is, if they ever had salvation in the first place). Whether those "Christians" were born again, or not (God is the Judge on such matters), the Colossians certainly could not afford to listen to them or follow them.
It is significant that Paul shows here that the "self-abasement/humility" of the false teachers was "false" in that it was rooted in fleshly "pride" (pride [being puffed up] is the opposite of true "humility"; it is a manifestation of the old man/the flesh). Pride is at the root of so much sin, including many of the religious works and other innovations that have been added to Christianity over the years. For one thing, the devil knows how to appeal to the pride of man; we must be very careful; all of us have the all-to-real potential to let the old man live and manifest itself in pride (or other sin). Humans tend to like religious works; they like to think they are earning (at least to some extent) their salvation; and they like to think they are better than other Christians/people.]], (19) [Ephesians 4:11-16 (especially 4:15, 16) have much in common with this verse, and they will help us understand this verse. Those verses are discussed in some detail in my paper on Ephesians chapter 4 that is available on my internet site and this Christian articles site.] and not holding fast to the head [[We must hold fast to Christ Jesus, the head over the body of Christ (and, as Col. 1:15-20; 2:10 show, the head over all things that have been created). The apostle has strongly emphasized the fact that everything we could ever need has been provided and is available in Christ Jesus (in new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus). We need not, and we must not, look anywhere else (like to worldly wisdom, Christian innovations in the flesh, angels [even the good angels], the occult, or other gods and religions). God is a jealous God! He demands faithfulness! He will not tolerate spiritual adultery!]], from whom the entire body, being supplied ["nourished" NKJV] and held together ["knit together" NKJV] by [I would translate "through." "Through" is the most common way to translate the Greek preposition (dia) used here when it is used with the genitive case, as it is here.] the joints and ligaments [[Apparently Paul's idea here (which is very similar to what he said in Eph. 4:15, 16) is that Christ SUPPLIES the Christian churches (the body of Christ) with basic things like the true gospel, and He HOLDS them TOGETHER (helps keep them united in the truth and righteousness of God) THROUGH the five-fold ministry that He has set in the church (Eph. 4:11; cf. 1 Cor. 12:28), which in the case of the church at Colossae, refers especially to Paul and Epaphras.]], grows with a growth which is from God. [[Compare Eph. 4:15, 16. If we are grounded in the basics of the gospel and doing the things that we are enabled and required to do by grace through faith, our "growth," which is of God, will take care of itself. That includes our growing in wisdom and knowledge and growing more like the Lord Jesus Christ every day, as we live in a state of holiness (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), and our growing in numbers as new members are added to the body of Christ worldwide. ((I had a footnote: The primary need of many Christians in Paul's day (including some Christians at Colossae), as in our day, was the need to become established in the balanced truth of God's Word and living in the righteousness and holiness of God by grace/the Spirit through faith and to continue to walk in that state on a continuous basis. It could be said that we "grow" into this state, but I believe it is inappropriate and confusing to call that transformation "growth." I don't believe Paul included that type of growth here; as we have discussed, he wrote this epistle from the viewpoint that his readers were holy and blameless already, and in the ideal all Christians would be living in a holy and blameless state essentially from the time they became born-again Christians. We don't want to communicate the idea (as it so often is done in our day) that a state of righteousness, holiness, and victory over sin is something we must always be growing towards, but never really achieving in this life (that we will necessarily continue to sin throughout the rest of our life on earth).))]] (20) If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world [The "elementary principles of the world" are discussed under Col. 2:8. Christians (by definition of the Word of God) are enabled and required to be dead to sin (we are to live as those who are dead to sin), to Satan and his kingdom of evil, to spiritual death, and "to the elementary principles of the world."], why, as if you were living in the world [cf. Gal. 4:9], do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, (21) 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' [These decrees undoubtedly include some of the ceremonial works of the old covenant (see Col. 2:11-17).] (22) (which all refer to things destined to perish with use [Things that can be handled, tasted, or touched are physical things that will eventually pass away to make room for God's new, glorified kingdom (cf., e.g., Mark 7:14-23; 1 Cor. 6:13; and Rev. 20:11).]) - in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men [cf. Matt. 15:9; Titus 1:14]? [[The ceremonial works of the old covenant came, of course, by God's command through Moses, but those works have been set aside (they have not been included in the new covenant), in accordance with the revelation of God. The problem was that some "Christians" were telling the Christians at Colossae that they were commanded by God to do these things. As Paul informs us, what these "Christians" were teaching and commanding amounted to nothing more than "the commandments and teachings of men" (some of which they probably got from evil angels/demons).]] (23) These are matters which have ["matters having"], to be sure, the appearance of wisdom [But this is worldly/fleshly wisdom, not the wisdom of God. "All the treasures of [true] wisdom and knowledge" are found in Christ" (Col. 2:3).] in self-made ["self-imposed" NIV; NKJV] religion and self-abasement [[The Greek noun behind "self-abasement" or "false humility" was also used in verse 18. The NKJV has, "false humility" (with the word "false" in italics) here and in verse 18; the NIV has "false humility" in both verses. As I mentioned under verse 18, the following words here in verse 23 ("and severe treatment of the body") probably help explain what Paul meant by "self-abasement" or "false humility" here in Colossians chapter 2. Those "Christians" could have been "humbling" themselves with things like excessive fastings ((I had a footnote: The Bible sometimes ties humbling of self with fasting (cf., e.g., Psalm 35:13; Ezra 8:21). I'll quote what James D. G. Dunn says (under Col. 2:18) regarding the meaning of the Greek noun translated "self-abasement/false humility" ("Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon" [Eerdmans, 1996], pages 178, 179). " 'tapeiophrosune' usually means 'humility,' but most follow the observation that the LXX [Septuagint] uses the repeated phrase 'to humble (tapeinoo) one's soul' in the sense of 'to mortify oneself' (Lev. 16:29, 31; 23:27, 29, 32) or more specifically 'to fast' (Psalm 35:13; Isa. 58:3, 5; Judith 4:9; see also Psalm 69:10; 'Psalms of Solomon' 3:8); 'tapeiophrosune' is clearly used in this latter sense in Hermas, 'Visions' 3.10.6 and 'Similtudes' 5.3.7 [early Christian writings]. ....")) and other forms of self-denial, like not eating many kinds of food or drinking anything but water, like not wearing sufficient clothing to keep warm and not wearing shoes, and like depriving themselves of sufficient sleep.
The "Christians" doing these things undoubtedly made sure that everyone knew what they were doing, which isn't humility. The primary problem was that they were modifying God's gospel - they were communicating the idea that they were superior Christians and that anyone not doing what they were doing was missing God's will. They were wrong in their attitudes, and their motives were undoubtedly suspect too, as is typical with those who promote a different gospel. Some "Christians" are zealous for religious works that they may be seen by men and be glorified by men, that they might win followers to themselves and their gospel, and that they might receive better financial support from other Christians. We always have to watch our attitudes and motives; it is all too easy for born-again Christians to walk in the old man/the flesh to a significant extent, and if we are not open to God and correction it is probable that we will not even know that we are doing it.
It is possible, I believe, for Christians to humble themselves with self-denial beyond what God requires in a way that will glorify Him and work for good if they can do such things with the right attitudes and motives. (I had a footnote: It seems that the apostle Paul himself fits in that category to some extent (cf., e.g., 1 Thess. 2:9; and 2 Thess. 3:8, 9).)) Significantly, however, they would have to make it very clear that they were not making any such things part of the gospel or suggesting that it made them superior to other Christians. Typically things like that would be between God and the Christian and no one else would even know that they were doing them.
I'm not trying to promote the idea that we should put a priority on doing more than what God requires. For one thing, very often the motivation to do such things is pride. The gigantic need that we have in our day is to begin to fully do the things that God does require by His grace through faith. He has called us to a very high calling - to live in the center of His will, in humility, truth, love, righteousness, and holiness, accomplishing our assignments in the body of Christ.]] and severe treatment of the body ["harsh treatment of the body" NIV; "neglect of the body" NKJV], but are of [Instead of "but are of" (where the NASB has the words "but are" in italics), I suggest translating (in italics), "but having," building on the participle "having" used near the beginning of the verse.] no value against fleshly indulgence." [[Not only did the religious works like those being pushed at Colossae fail to have any value against the indulgence of the flesh; they were a manifestation of the flesh, manifesting things like pride.
I believe these last words of verse 23 are extremely insightful (by the revelation of God) and important. Man in the flesh can do all kinds of religious things that look good, but these things cannot begin to solve the sin problem; they cannot make us righteous and holy; they don't have the authority or power to dethrone sin in the flesh. Our help has to come from beyond (from outside) man in the flesh. Our help has to come from God. Every good thing comes from God, and only from Him (including truth, life, love, righteousness, holiness, godliness, order, peace, health, purpose, and eternal glory). Holiness and victory over sin can only come to Christians by grace through faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we appropriate what God has done for us in the Sacrifice of His Son and in offering us full salvation through the new covenant in His blood.
Many sincere Christians strive endlessly in the flesh, trying to please God and become righteous and holy. To the extent we are striving in the flesh, it can never work, no matter how devoted and sincere we are. Our part is faith (faith in God and His Word), and faith has nothing to do with striving in the flesh. We must cooperate with God's grace/Spirit and work out our salvation through faith (in accordance with His Word), but that is something very different than striving in the flesh.
I have observed over the years that many Christians think that the apostle Paul taught that our sin problems center in (originate with) our physical bodies. They think that the word "flesh," which is used here at the end of verse 23 (the more literal translation is "the indulgence of the flesh"), speaks of our physical bodies. ((I had a footnote: I have often heard Christians (including, somewhat surprisingly, Christians who don't believe in the doctrine once saved, necessarily always saved) say that the spirit/inner man is once for all purified and kept pure once we are born again. 2 Corinthians 7:1, by itself, should suffice to show that that viewpoint is wrong, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved [Paul was writing to born-again Christians], let us cleanse [or, purify] ourselves from all defilement of flesh AND SPIRIT [my emphasis], perfecting holiness in the fear of God.")) There is no doubting the fact that sin and Satan try to use our physical bodies in various ways (sexual sins, addiction to drugs, or gluttony, for example) to get us into sin, but the apostle Paul was using the word "flesh" here in a much fuller sense, as he so often did.
The "flesh" is the old man (spirit, soul, and body) that still wants to manifest itself in sin (sometimes with the help of demons). Temptations often come through the physical body, but sin is a matter of the heart/the inner man (cf., e.g., Mark 7:14-23). The only way we can keep the old man/the flesh from manifesting itself in sinful ways is to always walk in/by/after the Holy Spirit through faith, based on what God has done for us through and in Christ Jesus (which is spelled out in God's Word). God didn't create man to be able to function as man should (and must) independent of Himself. We are dependent on God, but sin separates us from Him (starting with the sin of Adam).
We must discipline ourselves (spirit, soul, and body) by the grace/the Spirit of God in Christ. Clearly there is a place for biblical fasting, and when such activities are done with the right attitudes and motives and in/by the Spirit they can help us discipline ourselves. As Paul continues in chapter 3, he gets into some detail regarding how we must think and live (through faith) to appropriate God's sanctifying grace.]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study in Part 7, starting with Col. 3:1.