A Study of Colossians 2:16–23
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. (Colossians 2:16-23)
Since in Christ all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in His body, and we who have believed in Him and received Him by grace through faith are complete in Him, let us talk about “worship”.
Paul begins in verse 18 to again warn about the believer being beguiled, or tricked out of his reward. Now this does not indicate that someone can deprive the believer of his salvation. Salvation is a gift, by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives the word translated “let … beguile you of your reward” — katabrabeuō — the idea “to decide as an umpire against one”, or to “declare one unworthy of the prize”, or to “defraud of the prize of victory”. Unfortunately, Thayer then adds that it metaphorically is used here to deprive of salvation, which is completely contrary to all of the revelation that the Lord Jesus committed to Paul regarding the believer’s security in Christ. What can happen though, is that the unbeliever can think that he can gain salvation through religious practices. He could begin to trust in himself neglecting his need for Christ to save him. But this is written to believers, so if we look in that context, it is not about losing salvation, so let us look ahead. As we go to the end of the entry, there is another usage in literature where it has the idea of giving the judge or judges a bribe to condemn someone. Vine’s gives the following definition:
“to give judgment against, to condemn” (kata, “against,” and brabeus, “an umpire;” cp. brabeion, “a prize in the games,” 1Cr 9:24; Phl 3:14, and brabeuo, “to act as an umpire, arbitrate,” Col 3:15), occurs in Col 2:18, RV, “let (no man) rob (you) of your prize” (AV, “… beguile… of your reward”), said of false teachers who would frustrate the faithful adherence of the believers to the truth, causing them to lose their reward. Another rendering closer to the proper meaning of the word, as given above, is “let no man decide for or against you” (i.e., without any notion of a prize); this suitably follows the word “judge” in ver. 16, i.e., “do not give yourselves up to the judgment and decision of any man” (AV, marg., “judge against”).¹
If we go back to verse 15, we are reminded of the victory that our Lord Jesus Christ wrought for us over the powers of darkness. While it could mean a loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ, the context seems to indicate the loss of the enjoyment of that victory. It looks to mean a defeated Christian life, rather than the victorious life that is yours. That is the prize that is absolutely yours because you are in Christ, and complete in Him. This “voluntary humility and worshipping of angels” does not bring you or anyone else to a fuller relationship with our Lord. This is interesting when we think of how so many are looking for a “worship experience” when they enter a “church”. The result is usually at best an emotional high. Usually, if we are honest, it is a let-down. There is also another by-product of all this nonsense. There is strife over “worship style”. But “worship” should never be about the one worshipping, but about the One who is worshipped. The “worship wars” miss this mark completely. The arguers are not “holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God”. It is all about them, and not about Christ. That is the problem. As they condemn each other, about not being passionate enough, not being emotional enough, not being reverent enough, blah, blah, blah, they miss the most important point, that it is about the Head, even Christ.
Now this idea of voluntary humility is about a humility that God is NOT commanding. We are to bow down before our God and give Him all glory and honor. We are not commanded to continually brow-beat ourselves to self-loathing. In our sinful estate, in our flesh, there certainly dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18), but in Christ we are full. “And ye are complete in Him”. This “voluntary humility” is not a step to knowing our proper place, but it is a humility that exalts self (kind of an oxymoron) and keeps our eyes on ourselves and not on our Savior. It does not hold the Head in proper esteem.
Even as we talk about “worship styles”, let’s look at what Paul says about it. He adds “worshipping of angels”. While this seems like it could mean a warning to the believers against actually worshipping angels, which of course would be forbidden (Revelation 22:8-9), the word rendered “worshipping” is θρησκεία — thrēskeía — which is elsewhere translated “religion”. It is the “religion of angels” that is warned against. If man could get his religion to the high point of the religion of angels it would do him no good whatsoever. A religion is not what God desires of the Body of Christ. He desires those in Christ to properly esteem Christ, and rejoice for their place in Christ, complete in Him. He desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). As Paul states here, all of this is vanity. The best that any dwelling on ourselves and our worship, or religion, will do, is to puff up our fleshly minds. It brings us no closer to Christ.
The body as a whole, and its members individually, are united to Christ in a living union. We are “by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together”. This is organic union because of how we are created. When I think of how my own body works, I think of how my fingers and hands do exactly what my mind tells them to do, because they are attached. If they become detached (ouch) they will no longer do what my mind tells them. They will do nothing at all. They will die. Now think about this if you wonder whether God has any intention to cut off any part of His body. He does not desire that any member of His Body be cut off, nor will He do it.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. … For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:1, 38-39)
Now we come back to the place of the believer united to Christ. As we are in Adam, we died with Christ and our entire history in Adam died there. The Spirit baptizes us into Jesus Christ and into His death. We are crucified with Him, but we live because He is risen. We live because He lives, but the “rudiments” of the world in their relation to us died, and there is no reason to try and resurrect them.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:3-4)
The rudiments of the world include all of the vain deceit and philosophy of men as mentioned in verse 8, and the rudiments of religion. Remember that the religion that the LORD gave to the Israelites is the only religion that was ever divinely prescribed. That, however, was types and shadows of things to come. In Christ we have the reality that the types and shadows pointed to, so all of these ordinances have no meaning any more. We cannot get any closer to God than we are in Christ. The only thing we can do is learn to enjoy the reality of the blessings given by the Spirit that are already ours to enjoy.
It seems in every denomination of “Christianity”, there are ordinances to be kept to be considered faithful. Some are things that need to be done, and some are things that the “faithful” must not do. They may have to deprive themselves for some time to properly focus on Christ or something similar to that. Yet, when they deprive themselves, the result always seems to be focusing on themselves, and not on Christ. They are not holding the Head. As we close this, let us look at the next verses in Colossians to see where we should be focusing:
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)