Series on Colossians, I The Mystery of Christ, C The Regulation of False Teachers, 3 Weakness, Text: 2:16-19, Title: Living in the Shadows or the Stars


The two great unexplored areas in these times are the shadowy depths of the oceans and the bright and shining stars in space. People are exploring both by manned and unmanned missions. This is a wonderful scientific venture. But when it comes to theology and spiritual matters the worst thing we can do is look to the shadowy depths of the ocean or the bright and shining stars in space. In Romans 10:6-8, Paul writes, But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim. In other words the word of gospel salvation is directly from God. It is the message preached by Paul and the Apostles. It is not found in the heights or depths but close to you in your mind and heart as the Holy Spirit illumines us. It is in other words, in Scripture. The Colossian heretics were teaching that the truth could be found elsewhere, either in mystical knowledge or in ritual. These false teachings are revealed quite clearly in our text and rebutted by Paul. He speaks of them here as useless observances and idle notions. In this text we look first at the shadows, then at the stars, and then reminded to look within at the sinews that support our faith.

I The Shadows

If we are traveling towards the light the shadows are behind us, but when we travel away from the light, the shadows are before us. When we turn our faces to the S-O-N the shadows fall behind us. These false teachers were guiding people away from the light and towards the shadows. Coming events are said to cast their shadows before them, and that is what is in view here in verses 16 and 17, 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. The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, cast long shadows over the entire Old Testament. As chapter 7 paragraph 5 of the Westminster Confession tells us the covenant of grace “was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.” Those promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb sabbaths, celebrations and festivals were all shadows of the one who was to come. The book of Hebrews is written specifically to point up that Christ is the substance of the promises, the fulfillment, the reality of all that preceded. The Jewish-Christian recipients of the book of Hebrews were under extreme pressure from their Jewish brethren to revert back to a pure Judaism and forget this so-called Jesus cult. The entire letter to them is a warning not to return to the shadows which are not the reality. The key word is "better." Christ is a better mediator and a better priest who has brought them to God by his one sacrifice on the cross in lieu of the countless daily sacrifices of Old Testament religion. His blood has more power in one drop than all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain which flowed in rivers from the temple on festival days. The Judaizers wanted to cling to the old ways and useless observances, but Christ brought a new and living way that we cannot live without. It is actually more than better, it is best, and nothing else can compete.

II The Stars

In these days many people worship the stars in a pseudo-science called astrology. The believe that our destinies are controlled by the movements of the heavenly bodies. The false teachers in Colosse taught similar doctrines claiming that angels and other intermediaries were a direct line to God open to anyone who was willing to have mystical experiences. Paul writes in verse 18, 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. According to Paul such teachings are the product of “unspiritual minds” which is exactly the opposite of the ancient gnostic and present day spiritualists' claim. These people thought of themselves as super-spiritual and were falsely proud of their ability to connect with the spirit world and that was a denial of the work of Christ who alone brings men to God. There is a close connection between the rabid self-righteous devotion to the law in  verses 16 and 17  and this super-spirituality in verse 18. The restrictions on eating and drinking were a form of asceticism and self denial. Fasting and other bodily disciplines which were self-denying practices in Jewish, mystical piety that were supposed to open the way for receiving visions of heavenly mysteries. The worship of angels refers not to worship directed to angels but ‘the worship which angels perform. The false teachers apparently claimed to have joined in the angelic worship of God as they entered into the heavenly realm and prepared to receive visions of divine mysteries. This merged the inordinate Jewish devotion to the law and the Gentile philosophy of Gnosticism. It was an easy fit because the New Testament does teach the instrumentality of the angels in the giving of the law. In Acts 7:53 the first martyr Stephen says the Jews were those: Who have received the Law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Speaking about the Law of God, the apostle Paul in Hebrews 2:2 said, The word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward. Josephus, the Jewish priest/historian of the 1st century and an expert in Jewish beliefs at the time, said: “We have learned the noblest of our doctrines and the holiest of our laws from the angels sent by God.” There was, therefore a tendency to deify the angels. The book of Hebrews also says, however, that angels cannot bring salvation. Hebrews 1 reminds us that the angels worship the Son. They are called to minister to the heirs of salvation and Hebrews 2 says the true savior was made “a lower than the angels for a little while.” This was so that He “the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy would be of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Thus salvation cannot be found in the shadows or the stars, but only in Jesus Christ.

III Sinews

Sinews and ligaments are the tough fibrous tissue that hold you whole body together. On March 5, 1946, at the conclusion of the Second World War, Winston Churchill gave a memorable speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri in which he referred to the alliance of the allies that had fought together as the sinews of peace. He said that if a lasting peace was to be forged it required those who had paid such a high price in the war to work together for peace. The church is like a human body and it is held together by sinews and is directed by the head. So Paul writes of the man who follows the shadows or the stars and says in verse 19, 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. Dependence on our private religious experiences as a basis for authority cuts us loose from the Head, Jesus Christ. Kistemaker comments, “This man pretends (perhaps even believes) to have seen something, and he presumes on this experience he has had. He makes the most of it. If any one ventures to contradict him or to question the truth of his theories, he will answer, ‘But I have seen such and such a vision.’ In saying this and in relating the vision he may, of course, assume an air of deep insight into divinely revealed mysteries.” I have met, and perhaps you have to, people who have had extraordinary religious experiences involving visions, even visions of Jesus Christ, or have claimed to be miraculously healed. In counseling such people, I have never tried to convince them that they didn’t experience what they claim to have experienced. That would be foolhardy. What I tell them is that they cannot base their faith or assurance of salvation on such experiences. There is one way, through Jesus and there is one Word of God that tells us who He is and what He has done for us. Everything else is icing on the cake and cannot be trusted like the Word of Almighty God. That is essentially what Paul is saying here. To Christ the entire Church owes its growth. The Church need not and must not look for any other source of strength to overcome sin or to increase in knowledge, virtue, and joy. Just as the human body, when properly supported and held together by joints and ligaments, experiences normal growth, so also the church, when each of its members supports and maintains loving contact with the others, will, under the sustaining care of God, proceed from grace to grace.