16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:16-19)
We have all been around people who are extremely dogmatic in their ways, haven’t we? I mean people who, when they speak on almost any subject, they do so with words of such strong force and with great conviction that what they say just seems authoritative. Maybe a football coach, a college professor, a boss, or a neighbor. As a child it was that loud, determined kid on the block. On my block it was a girl. We thought she knew everything, and she thought that too. Anytime she said something it was so convincing, there was no hesitation in her words, no wiggle room in her pronouncements, just, “Here it is, this is how it is.” No argument, no debate, she was always right. As a young child, it took me a while to realize that there was a great difference in someone speaking with persuasion and conviction and that person actually being right in what they are saying. But this girl, she had the whole neighborhood under her influence. I sometimes wonder what she is doing today. Kinda scary, I just wonder if she has retained that skill and what sort of influence she still has over others today!
Most of us, I’m sure, are not like the person I have described. Most of us do not go around with an attitude of knowing everything about everything. But we all may still cross a line of trying to convince people around us that our wants, desires, beliefs are right, just because we say they are right.
It can be a problem when there are people around us who are persuasive, so persuasive in their beliefs, and who are regularly pushing these beliefs on others. The problem becomes most dangerous when they begin to dominate others with their beliefs which are simply that: their beliefs. Think of the implications of this in the church.
I am not saying that we should be wishy washy in our beliefs. We should stand firm on biblical truth. But outside of that, our dogmatism, well, maybe it shouldn’t be so dogmatic. And other people’s dogmatism, maybe it shouldn’t affect us so deeply.
The question for us may be, “Whom do we desire to please?” Do we desire to please those with the loudest opinions, or is it our aim to walk pleasing to our Lord? Paul gets to the heart of this when he wrote to the Colossians and said, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you.” When Paul says “let no one pass judgment on you” he precedes it with the word “therefore.” When we see the word “therefore,” we know that he is tying together what he had just said with what he is about to say.
If you recall from two weeks ago, Paul had given us in verses 8-15 an incredible description of who we have now become as a result of the work of Christ Jesus. Remember he had said that we had been spiritually dead, that is spiritually unresponsive to God, and in that state of deadness God made us alive to spiritual truth, He transformed our state of being so that we can be His, respond to Him, know Him. He did this by forgiving us of our sins, canceling our record of wrongs against Him. That is a very long list that would stretch to the heavens, I’m sure. He cancelled our record of sin, there is no more legal demand against us in the heavens, we have been freed from the guilt of sin, and now as believers we are His. We are in His arms, under His care, we are loved by Him, sheltered by Him, we are eternally His. His compassionate eye is always on us, and never are we outside of His grace and kindness. The God of all the universe, with all power and all might, is our God as Christians, and we are no longer subject to forces outside of His care.
And so when we read the word “therefore” to begin verse 16, we read it with all of that in view. Since all of that is true – our standing with the holy and perfect God of the universe as His child – since that is true for all of us who are Christians, then because of that, “let no one pass judgment on you.”
This is important because Paul’s basis for saying “let no one pass judgment on you” is the truth of who we are in Christ and to whom we now belong. It is the one to whom we now belong that we are to please, not those to whom we don’t belong.
Now this phrase is interesting, the way Paul words his statement. He says “let no one.” It is interesting because we cannot really keep someone from passing judgment on us, making judgments about what we do, how we act, or what we say. We can’t keep people from doing that. But the point is that we not let other people’s judgments about us begin to control us. In other words, our individual response is our responsibility, and that is Paul’s concern.
Paul has already warned the church not to be overtaken by worldly philosophies, philosophies of men. To be overtaken by such things has the effect of a willing submission to their bondage. So in particular here, he does not want them to be under bondage, or the weight of regulation that has an appearance of being spiritual or even Christian when in fact it is not Christian at all. That is what is at issue here.
It seems that there were those who were pressing standards on others that were contrary to the freedom in Christ that Paul had preached. Regulations forced on the group that were foreign to the Spirit of Christ and unnecessary to Christian faith. Personal choices thrust on others that had nothing to do with a relationship with Christ.
Here is what was happening. The ritual observance of the law is specifically what was at hand. The observances mentioned in verse 16 were hotly debated in the early church, and we see them here in two main catagories. The first had to do with diet – “questions of food and drink” – and the second had to do with days – “festivals or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
Regarding diet this was very emotional. We see the diet debate in the first century in two ways. First this had to do with Old Testament dietary laws. When God chose the nation of Israel to be a people set aside from the world to be His own possession, He gave them strict dietary laws that played a major role in making them distinct from other surrounding nations. There were particular rules regarding clean and unclean meats. Again, these were laws for the Jewish nation. The question that many had was, do these dietary laws now apply to Christians? Should we, should the first century Christians hold to these laws that were given to Israel? Well, it seemed the answer to this question should have already been settled. For instance in Mark 7 we can read Jesus’ words with Mark’s commentary on it…
18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:18-19)
In Acts 10 Peter’s vision, though highly symbolic of his ministry, also was instructive of meats that could be eaten…
11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:11-15)
Peter faced in his days the reality of almost everything in his religious tradition being replaced by Christ, including his understanding of diet.
These dietary regulations, it seems, had already been decided by the new mainstream of Christianity, but as we see there were those who would go behind Paul and try to reinstate these things and bring new converts back under these kinds of laws. Paul is saying here, “Don’t let that happen. Don’t be controlled by people who want to carve out legalistic behaviors for you that are not keeping with God’s desire for you.”
The second way in which judgments were being made had to do with days. The concern over certain days to be observed grew from the Old Testament teaching regarding Israel. Certain religious days were to be observed. Feasts were observed from Leviticus 23, new moons from Numbers 10 and 28, and Sabbaths from Exodus 20 and 31. These all helped to establish a national and ethnic identity, it made them distinctly Jewish.
Again, Paul is urging them not to come under these regulations. They appear spiritual, they were spiritual for Israel, but as a matter of relationship with Christ under the new convenant they were no longer to rule them.
Paul wrote in Romans 14, speaking not of law but of liberty in this Christian walk…
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:5-8)
To think of each of these as necessary to the Christian life would be to undermine the very work of Jesus Christ. If human effort was effective, then the work of Christ was unnecessary. And so Paul answers these false teachers by explaining the relationship between these practices and true Christianity. He does this in verse 17…
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:17)
The regulations mentioned of diet and days were shadows. Think of a shadow. Shadows can be interesting. They give us an image of what is real, but they are always distorted. A tiny moth close to a light can project a huge shadow on the wall. That shadow gives a general shape, an outline, it tells us something of the true object, but it is not an exact representation of what is real. The regulations related to Christ, but they were not, nor meant to be as perfect as Christ. The Jewish laws vaguely represented Jesus Christ. Shadows are temporary, and they last only until the real object appears. A shadow is always inferior to the true object. The old covenant shadow came first, and it provided a representation of the new covenant of Christ.
I wonder how many things we get all wrapped up in as Christians that we think define our spiritual lives. I wonder how many judgments we make about people around us that are based on false ideas of spirituality. I wonder how many times we get angry with people because they are not living out their Christianity according to, not God’s ways, but our way. I wonder if we place burdens on others that were never meant to be. Are we ever like the false teachers at Colossae who were demanding from others what they thought was necessary for Christian living? Could it be that we are more convinced in our own convictions than we are in the truths of God’s Word?
Now before we leave today I want to make a couple more points regarding judging. First, as Paul says here, we are not to get all worked up over others who may judge us by whatever standard they choose to judge with. Think of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4…
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:1-7)
To sum up what Paul is getting at here, there were those around him who were judging the way he was carrying out the ministry that God had given him to do. He was a missionary and a pastor, a preacher of the gospel of Christ. But as in probably most areas of ministry, there are always those who want to be critical of how the minister is handling such a stewardship. Paul is saying, “You know really, I’m not too concerned about how you might judge my ministry. It is God who is the one I answer to. He is the judge, will be the judge of all I do, so I will make it my aim to please Him, not you.” Think about that. God owns us, we will answer to Him, He is the boss.
I think of it like this: you go to work, and you have a boss. Your boss gives you instruction on how he or she wants you to do your work. Your boss has expectations for you. What if the CEO from a competing company walks into your office and starts telling you how they want you to do your work? What would you do? Hopefully you would brush off those instructions and keep doing what your boss has asked you to do, right? Of course.
Paul is saying, “I have a boss, and it is the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am going to try to do what He wants me to do as He has instructed me already. So if you have another expectation for me, then, so what?” I don’t think this is meant to be arrogant or in-your-face, but simply, “I am here to please my Lord primarily, not to please you.”
I think this is in line with what we have read today from Colossians 2:16 when Paul wrote, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you.” These are judgments that come from others, not that are God’s clear desires for us.
Now having said that, there is a sense in which we have to be really careful here. I know of no more repeated phrase in Christian circles than this one: “You can’t judge me!” Or, “Don’t judge me!” And you know, there is a sense in which we can say that is biblical. But I want to be clear that at the same time there is a type of judgment that we are to make regarding others, and this is really important, and we need to be careful to do this correctly.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
Here is the thing. Though we are not to judge others regarding our ideas of spirituality, our humanly defined determinations of what everyone should or should not be doing, we do have a responsibility to judge others up against God’s clear Word. And not just any others, but believers. We have a responsibility to shed the light of the truth of God’s Word to other Christians. Not to use our own ideas, but to use the Word of God. It then is the judgment of God’s Word, not my word and not your word. It is, “Look, here is what the Bible says, clearly says, what are you going to do with this?” And so Paul’s admonition is, don’t be overtaken as others judge you regarding standards that are not biblical, but let’s not shy away from speaking biblical truth to others for their good, for the glory of Christ, and for the good of the witness of the church in this dark world.
Do you see the difference? We should never let a statement from another believer of “don’t judge me” keep us from faithfully speaking God’s Word to them.
So when we read in the Bible about judging, we need to be sure we are understanding the context and the difference in judging sinfully, that is, putting our own ideas, standards, and guessing about people’s motives, the difference in that and judging biblically, which is simply shedding the light of God’s Word on people’s lives.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)