Colossians 2:16 -23 Not Disqualified But Nourished
Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual mind. He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God. If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these ⌊regulations⌋ refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.
Therefore - Paul is reaching back to what was previous in his letter. Why is he doing this? See what immediately follows this word: don’t let anyone judge you - then he lists several things we'll look at shortly. Don't let anyone falsely judge you, he means - on what, though? Think back on the essentials truths Paul had taught them: they have hope laid up in heaven, they share in the inheritance of light, they've been rescued from darkness and translated in His kingdom; they have redemption and forgiveness, reconciled to God. And that's just from chapter 1! The benefits we reviewed in chapter 2 are as plentiful.
This warning about not letting anyone judge them is the same warning Paul sounded in earlier - he teaches them the truth of their identity in Christ so no one would delude them with plausible arguments, so no one would captivate them with empty deceit according to human tradition or the spirit of the age.
The apostle is warning the saints to be on guard of anyone who tries to convince them they do not possess the fullness of Christ; that we do not have His great and precious promises that Paul has meticulously spelled out in these first 2 chapters of this letter. Having identified the categories of arguments that would be used to pull the saints aside from God’s gospel, Paul then spells out some of the details.
Don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink. Paul expounds on this in Romans 14:1-4 Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him. Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand. And again in 1 Corinthians 10:25-32 Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it. If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This is food offered to an idol,” do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake. I do not mean your own conscience, but the other person’s. For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? If I partake with thanks, why am I slandered because of something I give thanks for?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God.
All the dietary laws of the Mosaic community were established to mark out national Israel and keep her separate; they were brought into the church by some Christian Jews who used those laws as a wedge to coerce Gentile saints to follow them. These Jewish Christians took offense at the Gentiles’ nonchalant attitude toward “unclean” or “unholy” food. For some, food was a wedge that divided the people of God. Paul charged Gentiles not to use their liberty in this matter if it would cause a Jewish brother to stumble. But he was clear (1 Tim 4) that everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. So eat or don’t eat, according to your conscience. Do not abuse your position to provoke a brother or sister.
Who knew food could be such a big deal? Paul says in 1 Tim 4:1 & 2 that demanding abstinence from certain foods is demonic doctrine. How kind of our God that He addresses these issues in His Word! We would be foolish to neglect it.
But then Paul completes the thought – don’t let anyone judge you in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. This pattern of days refers to all the holy days of the Jews, moving from yearly festivals to monthly feasts to the weekly Sabbath, and comes from repeated descriptions of the Mosaic ritual, found in 1 Chronicles 23:30-31; 2 Chronicles 2:4, 8:12-13, 31:3; Nehemiah 10:33; Isaiah 1:13-14; Ezekiel 45:17; and Hosea 2:11.
This is another indication that the Mosaic code, of which the Decalogue is part, does not apply to Christians as a law, but as a type or shadow of the Christ to come. And this is Paul’s next statement – all these things just mentioned, food and religious days, are a shadow of what was to come. This is the same message we find in Hebrews 8, where we read that the Mosaic religion was a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. Unless one finds clear example or teaching in the Bible that brings anyone not part of national Israel's covenant people under the Jewish Sabbath law we are left with the clear teaching that there is no requirement.
Paul sums up this whole issue like this: One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. (Romans 14:5-10) Those who wish to observe Jewish days should be free to do so but should not try to coerce other to join them. These things are shadows; the substance is Christ! It is our union with Him that makes us belong to one another; we should not exert energy on dividing over shadows.
In verse 18 we see one of the strongest indications that Colossi was influenced by an early form of Gnosticism. 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. Once again, Paul warns the saints to be on guard against false teaching - this time specifically visions (Charismatics of all stripes go on about visions, rather than study the revealed written Word), asceticism (a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals - as with papist monasteries), and angel worship (every recorded occasion of angel worship in Scripture is rebuffed by the angel OR encouraged by the fallen angels being worshiped). Each of these practices (among countless others) are opposed to 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. Let this sink in - seeking spiritual growth and fulfillment in anything other the person of Christ Jesus is contrary to, opposed to the spiritual growth and fulfillment that God intends for us. In opposition holding fast to the Head (Who is Christ), being nourished and knit together in intimate detail, with growth that comes to God - false teachers of all stripes would have us seek a pale imitation from any source other than Christ.
The answer to every temptation is found in Christ. In Him is every yes and amen, every promise fulfilled. Apart from Him, we have nothing.
But knowing how hard-headed we are, Paul repeats his argument - from a slightly different angle. He asks a question, prompting the reader to assess his standing. Colossians 2:20-22 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? The substance is the same - being united with Christ means we have no need of human precepts and teachings as regards our spiritual growth. He speaks of being alive to Christ and dead to the world, as far as its system of values. It is contrary to our identification in Christ to be concerned with spirits of the world and their dogma.
This phrase - do not handle, do not taste, do not touch - is written to be increasing in emphasis; handle not, taste not, do not even touch. One commentary observes: Thus, in every case, the contact described exerts a modifying influence, and a more permanent contact or effect of contact is often implied than is expressed by touch. "The idea of a voluntary or conscious effort is often involved." We see this in a few other passages:
Genesis 3:3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it...
Isaiah 52:11 Depart you, depart you, go you out from there, touch no unclean thing; go you out of the middle of her; be you clean...
2 Corinthians 6:17 Why come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
1 Timothy 4:3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats...
The exhortation in our passage is the apostle's third such, admonishing us to not allow food rules or cultural taboos to replace true spiritual wisdom. They may appear to be wise, helping one to be approved of men; but they are established on things that perish - which is why I see it relating to food - and human precepts and teachings. Which are the same things he warned us about in verse 8 of this chapter, regarding philosophy. All they can produce, Paul says, is the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body. This is another escalating buildup of related terms. And Paul slams the door on these by saying such things are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The bottom line from this passage is simple: No matter what seems like it may provide spiritual growth, nothing apart from true fellowship with Jesus, growing in grace and knowledge of Him, following His teaching and close fellowship with the saints can do that. This letter, and the entire Bible, is all about Jesus. He is enough.