Summary: Exposition of Col. 2:16–23
Threats to the Believer’s Freedom in Christ
“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. Do 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. He 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. Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self–imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:16–23).
What are threats to our freedom as Christians?
The “therefore” in this passage points back to Paul’s teaching on Christ in the previous verses (2:8–15). He warned the believers saying, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” They didn’t need the secular wisdom that the Gnostic cult boasted in because everything they needed was theirs in Christ. In Christ the fullness of God dwells and his fullness dwells in us (v. 10). In Christ we have been circumcised and therefore delivered from the bondage of sin (v. 11). In Christ we have been freed from the burden of guilt and forgiven (vv. 13–14). In Christ we have victory over Satan (v. 15).
John 8:36 says, “He who the son sets free is free indeed.” Yet even though the believer is free, Satan still wants the believer to be in bondage and to miss God’s best for their lives and ministries. Most Christians miss God’s best. They don’t walk in the freedom of Christ, and some may even be pulled away from Christ altogether. Listen to Paul’s warning in this passage: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (Col. 2:18).
The word “disqualify” is an athletic word used of an umpire declaring that somebody had missed the prize. What is the prize that Christians may be disqualified from? Here, Paul is probably referring to everything that is the believer’s in Christ. This could mean reward in heaven, freedom from sin, or even salvation as they were being tempted to fall away from Christ.
This was not only something that Paul taught others, but it also was his regular discipline. He worked hard to protect himself from being disqualified from the prize. Listen to what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Paul realized it was very possible for him to miss out on God’s best by becoming enslaved to sin or false teaching.
How can we protect ourselves and one another from missing the prize? What are threats to our freedom in Christ? In this passage, Paul gives us three threats we must be aware of if we are going to keep our freedom in Christ.
Big Question: What are the major threats to Christian freedom that Paul emphasizes in this passage? In what ways have you seen these threats enter the church?
Beware of Teaching that Emphasizes Submission to Old Testament Law
“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” (Col. 2:16–17).
Here in this text, we see that there were two aspects of the Mosaic Law that were being taught in Colosse. They were being judged about their food and days of worship. Both of these were aspects of the law that were taught in the Old Testament for Israel to practice.
When God set the nation of Israel apart to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6), he gave many laws to distinguish them from the nations they were surrounded by. Some of the laws that distinguished them were food regulations, such as being forbidden to eat pork and other animals (Lev. 23). They also were called to practice certain days of worship to honor the Lord, such as festival days, new moons, and Sabbaths (Num. 28:11–14).