Sunday, September 27, 2009

Colossians 2:16-23 - Liberty in Christ

The Moravians, an early evangelical group more than a century before the Reformation, had a saying. “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” Paul has been teaching up to this point on the first part, essentials. Now he turns to the second part of the Moravian motto, non-essentials. And in non-essentials, there is liberty.

Pray & Read:  Colossians 2:16-23 

Contextual Notes: In the letter to the Colossians, the key verse is 2:6-7 where Paul encourages the Colossian believers to grow deep as disciples of Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he encourages the believers to be careful of hollow and deceptive philosophies of living that are floating around, even within the church. Why would you want to be sucked into that deception, Paul says, when you have Christ, the fullness of Deity (2:9-10).
In verses 11-15 he describes Christ and the power of the Cross as giving us the ability to put off the sinful nature (2:11), of dying with Christ and being raised with him (2:12), of being made alive in Christ (2:13), of having our criminal record expunged (2:14), and of triumphing over the powers of darkness (2:15).
        Now Paul moves from theory to practice. How does all this talk of Christ and philosophies (2:4, 8) work out in real life? The people advocating the erroneous teaching were demanding that people keep their rules and abstain from certain things like certain foods, and that if you are really spiritual you will celebrate certain special religious days (2:16).

Key Truth: Paul wrote Colossians 2:16-23 to teach the Colossian Christians that freedom is found in Christ, his reality, our holding fast to Him, and our identifying with Him..
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about freedom in Christ.

Sermon Points:
  1. Liberty is in the reality of Christ (Col 2:16-17)
  2. Liberty is in holding fast to Christ (Col 2:18-19)
  3. Liberty is in identifying with Christ (Col 2:20-23)

Exposition:   Note well,

1.   Liberty is in the reality of Christ (2:16-17).
a.   “Do not let anyone judge you”: Paul is addressing the Jews in the church who were mocked by the Gentiles for their observances.

b.   Why? They are a shadow of Messiah (not as English versions say, “only” a shadow) (2:17) The whole letter of Hebrews corrects that idea. But a shadow is not a bad thing. Shadows call out the faith and hope in the soon coming Messiah. By faith Abraham saw Christ’s day and was glad (John 8:56) Isaiah saw Christ’s glory and spoke of it (John 12:41; Isaiah 53).[1]

c.   APPLICATION: When we see the shadow of someone or something, we know that the reality is not far away. Shadows are not a bad thing. They are good things. They warn us of the immanence of someone or something near to us. The Old Testament isn’t either. Yes, it casts a shadow of the coming Messiah, and in his first coming there were many fulfillments of prophecy. But the majority of OT prophecies concerning the Messiah have not taken place. In that sense, we still live with the shadows of the OT forms, and glory to God, knowing the shadows are being cast tell us that the coming of the Messiah is imminent; it is near. Jesus’ preaching message in the gospels was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

d.   Are you prepared for the reality of the coming of Jesus Christ? If he returned today unexpectedly, would you be ready? Would your friends be ready? Would your family members be ready? Jesus is coming back, and when he does, it will be to sit as a judge and execute judgments from his father David’s throne. Are you ready?

2.   Liberty is in holding fast to Christ  (2:18-19).

a.           The worship angels was ill-placed adoration based on religious, nonbiblical rules.
b.           False humility is really overdone pride.
c.           “What he has seen”/ or “what he has not seen” (ἃ or ἃ μὴ?): Despite the strong Alexandrian witness, the inclusion of “Not” has a vast geographically and textual family dispersion. I go with including “not.” It makes more sense that it was left out of a copy in one textual family than that it was added in a number of geographically and textually disparate manuscripts. Further, the use of ouk in F and G demonstrate that a copyist realized negation had mistakenly been dropped by an earlier exemplar.
d.           This is the language of visionary mystics. Paul is warning the Colossian believers not to fall for anyone’s supernatural visions that are not in submission to Scripture.
e.           Worshiping the inferior, not the Head. Thus promoting disintegration instead of unity (Eph 4:16). In unity is divine growth as each in love plays its part.
f.            “Disqualify” (v. 18) should be condemn or ‘decide against.’

g.           APPLICATION: Often times we worship our own visions of what we want, and our desires are placed in an idolatrous place of worship in our hearts. When we place our own visions ahead of the Head, we cause disintegration of the Body’s unity. When I force my way of thinking on another or a group of people, I am placing myself above the Head. If your vision is of the Lord, it will work out, and no circumstance or person can stop it in the end. So chill, in non-essentials, give liberty, and you will find liberty as well.

3.   Liberty is in identifying with Christ (2:20-23)
a.           Legalism leading to perdition. You can live with a lot of
b.           Being dead with Christ means that we should no longer be conditioned by the interests of this world. Such asceticism actually serves to indulge the flesh, the old regenerate nature.
c.           Paul is citing Isaiah 29:13: strong human tradition often means that the heart is far from God. (Jesus cited it in Mark 7:5-13).
d.           These are not about the OT but about rules that people make up. It is a power-play by some who need the boost to their self-image. It is manipulation and akin to witchcraft, not true humility.

e.           APPLICATION: Rather than subduing the body, asceticism simply redirects expressions of the sinful nature. Ascetics may not indulge in promiscuous sex, but their pride and contempt their feel for those less disciplined is just as much sensual indulgence – just as much an expression of the flesh – as promiscuity would be.


[1] R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians et al, 126. Found in Stern, 611.