Summary: Paul takes on the "Perfection Police" and "Legalistic Lawyers" in this text and shows us how to walk in freedom.
Is there a rule book for Christians to follow? Do we have a codified list of do’s and don’ts by which we are judged. Is God like Santa Claus, “He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty or nice.” Once a preacher told his congregation there were 700 sins. That afternoon he received 46 requests for the list. I guess some wanted to know what they were missing out on.
Bill Bright used to tell a story about a woman married to a tyrant. He didn’t like the way she kept house. He didn’t like the way she did laundry. He didn’t like the way she ironed his clothes. He didn’t like the way she dressed. He didn’t like the way she conducted herself in public. He constantly criticized her for everything. Early on in their marriage he handed her a list of 25 rules for her to follow.
She hated it. She hated him. You can imagine how frustrating it was to her to have to constantly check her list to see if she was pleasing him – and to stay out of trouble. She usually failed and each time got a tongue lashing from him. He made her feel miserable and small.
Then one day, much to her great joy, he died. She soon fell in love with and married a wonderful man. They loved each other very deeply. She practically broke her neck to please him. Sometimes she would even bring him breakfast in bed. One day she ran across that old list from her first husband. As she read it, feelings of anger and inferiority returned. Then she started laughing. As she checked the list she realized that she was now doing all that was on the list for her new husband and more. And she was doing all this with great joy because she loved this man so much.
Throughout the history of the church there have been “perfection police” who have inserted themselves as the rule and authority on how we are supposed to think, act and do. They determine what we can do and not do. Where we can go and not go. What we can eat and not eat. How we should dress and not dress.
You’ve heard it before: “Christians never drink, don’t smoke, never go to movies, don’t play cards, don’t read novels, women don’t wear pants (and certainly not shorts), women don’t wear too much jewelry or make-up, men don’t wear any jewelry besides a wedding band. On and on it goes. Pastors must always wear a coat and tie (but nothing loud); wear black suits to funerals. He must drive a nice but conservative car. A convertible or even a Jeep would not be suitable for a “man of God.”
This is one of those messages where you might want to pull your feet back under the pew lest your toes get stepped on. I want to preach it pretty straight forward just the way Paul laid it out here in Colossians 2:16-23. Paul takes on the “Perfection Police” in Colossae. And there is much need for application in the church today. He hits on three concerns: Legalism, Mysticism and Asceticism.
I. LOSE THE LEGALISM (16-18)
Paul is talking about diets and days (16). Their religion was hung up on calendars and calories. Food had to be Kosher, especially on certain days (new moon or monthly observances, and weekly on Sabbath).
What about us, we’re not Jewish or first century Christians? Do you remember when schools always served fish on Fridays? Why? Catholic tradition. Or, do you remember your mother fixing one certain meal on Sundays. How about observing Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. You give up pleasurable activities that you think will improve your relationship with God. Mormons wear a special kind of underwear with secret symbols to gain favor with God. It used to be that devout Christians would not travel very far or do much on Sundays as a carry over from the Jewish Sabbath. Remember the movie, “Chariots of Fire?” England’s star athlete would not compete on Sundays. Some chant a mantra. Some pray with beads.
Paul says, “Let no one judge you!” What’s wrong with legalism?
A. It Gives Favor to the Wrong Person (17)
Legalism is a shadow. Jesus is substance. When we focus on rules and regulations we are not focusing on Christ. If we let other people call the shots then we give them the position reserved only for Jesus. This is idolatry! This says that Jesus’ work on the cross is not enough.
B. It Puts the Focus in the Wrong Place
1. It Demeans Life in the Church – You end up with a police state mentality. Everybody judges everybody and the focus is off Christ.