v. 16. Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days,
v. 17. which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
v. 18. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
v. 19. 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.
v. 20. 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,
v. 21. (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
v. 22. which all are to perish with the using,) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
v. 23. Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.
Having declared to the Colossians the glorious advantages which are theirs through conversion and Baptism, the apostle now names specific errors which threaten to deprive them of the blessings of the Gospel. Among these dangerous errors is that of Judaistic insistence upon the observance of certain days; Let no man, then, judge you in food or in drink; or in the matter of a festival, or new moon, or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of coming things; the body, however, is of Christ. This seems to have been one of the points upon which the Judaistic teachers insisted, that the precepts of the Ceremonial Law were still in force and must be kept. They wanted the distinction between clean and unclean foods maintained; they probably extended the vows which the Nazarites made voluntarily into laws binding upon the consciences of all men. See Lev_11:1-47; Lev_10:8-11; Num_6:1-4. They insisted that the great festivals of the Old Testament, the new moons, and all the Sabbaths must still be observed by divine command. In other words, they wanted the entire Church, or Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament continued for the time of the New Testament as well. These people are not without imitators in our day. Not only are there special denominations whose fundamental principle is that of the observance of the Jewish Ceremonial Law, but there are individual teachers in practically all denominations of our country that insist upon keeping at least the Sunday by divine command, believing that it has taken the place of the Old Testament Sabbath. But St. Paul's comment on all such efforts is brief and to the point: Let no man pass an unfavorable judgment upon you, let no man criticize and condemn you for your attitude. For all the things comprised in the Jewish Ceremonial Law served merely as a shadow of coming things; they were merely types of the future, permanent values of the New Testament. The body is Christ's, in Him all the types are fulfilled, and therefore no longer have any need to be observed. See Heb_9:8-12. He that chooses any day as fixed by divine command, he that confines his diet to certain articles of food and drink as being demanded by the Lord, is deceiving himself, placing himself under the yoke of the Ceremonial Law, and is in danger of losing his soul's salvation. See Gal_4:9-11.
Another specific instance of Judaizing influence to which Paul finds occasion to refer is that of the superstitious worship of angels: Let no man defraud you (give judgment against you), taking pleasure in humility and cult of angels, intruding into the things which he has not seen vainly inflated by the mind of his flesh, and not holding the Head, from whom the whole body, through the joints and ligaments being supplied and held together, increases the increase of God. The apostle uncompromisingly designates this as another species of fraud, as another scheme to deprive the Christians of the glorious blessings of the Gospel. By their critical, supercilious attitude the false teachers were condemning the Colossian Christians for adhering to the simple truths of the Gospel; they were intimating and teaching that the way advocated by them was so much better, to be commended so much more highly. They took pleasure in exhibiting very ostentatiously what they wanted men to regard as humility; they were advocating a cult or worship of angels. They tried to make it appear as though man should consider himself as too lowly and insignificant for fellowship with God, that he should be satisfied with communing with angels. Under a show of meekness and lowliness, therefore, they had the audacity to intrude into the domain of spirits, into the transcendental regions. They thus became subject to delusions, which they nevertheless wanted to inflict upon others. Without the slightest ground they assumed an attitude of superiority, puffed up by the mind of their flesh, of their old sinful nature. The pride of these people, therefore, as of all their followers in our days, consisted in this, that with all their ostentatious humility they permitted themselves to believe that men could not be satisfied with the simple knowledge, obedience, and belief of the Gospel, but must strive to attain to a peculiar, higher wisdom and sanctity. This resulted, of course, in their not holding fast to Christ as the one Head of the Church. They severed themselves from connection with Christ. But, as Paul says, it is only from Him that the entire body of the Church in all its members receives power and strength to increase according to the will of God. It is just as in the case of the human organism, in which the various limbs and members are held together by joints and ligaments, this being the condition under which they are supplied with blood and nerve force from the centers of life, especially from the head. Note: No one can remain a member of the body of Christ unless he clings to that Redeemer and His Gospel in simple faith and rejects all the systems and methods that are offered as substitutes for the truth in our days.
The apostle concludes this section with some very pertinent and pointed remarks: If, then, you are dead with Christ, away from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you suffer decrees to be laid upon you, (such as) Touch not, taste not, handle not? all of which ordinances lead in their use to (spiritual) destruction, after the commandments and doctrines of men, which have a reputation for wisdom in arbitrary cult and humility and unsparingness of the body, not in any honor, but (only) to the satisfying of the flesh. Here the apostle makes the application to the Colossian Christians. When they learned to believe in Christ, they, with Him, died unto the rudiments, the precepts, of the world, all the ceremonial laws by which people hope to earn something in the sight of God. It is self-evident, therefore, that Christians will not permit false teachers to lay this unnecessary yoke of human ordinances upon them again, just as though they were still members of this present world, as though they had never yet heard of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Those precepts were indeed being taught by the false teachers, just as those of our day are characterized by their insistence upon such commands: You must not touch that food; you must not taste that drink; you must not be found indulging in this or that or another thing, all of which are things indifferent and therefore matters of Christian liberty. If a person persists in keeping such precepts as commandments of God, the word will apply to him: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, Mat_15:9. The keeping of such ordinances will thus finally result in the spiritual destruction of those that insist upon them. For they are nothing but commandments and doctrines of men, which, indeed, have a great show and reputation of wisdom, as if they were of value in furthering people in knowledge of a holy life. But it is an arbitrary worship, a self-chosen cult, not based upon God's Word and will. The attitude of such people, moreover, is one of false humility; they have a great show of meekness, but in the final analysis they will be found full of pride of self and unwilling to accept instruction. And finally, they practice an austerity toward their own bodies in ascetic abstinence which is without command and promise. Thus all their attempts to excel before God with a piety and righteousness not based upon the Word of God are vain and foolish. The apostle pronounces a simple judgment upon all such efforts: Their reputation is without real basis, without honor which will stand before God, And what is more: All these things are done only to the satisfying and gratifying of the flesh. The poor deluded errorists that are trying to lead other people astray by insisting upon works which are not commanded by God delude themselves more than anyone else, because, after all, they derive a great amount of self-satisfaction out of the practices which they advocate, in other words, they are deliberately trying to earn justification before God by works of their own choosing. The fact remains that all precepts, all doctrines, all schemes, all methods, all works that aim at merit in man thereby take away merit from Christ and must result in failure.
The apostle urges his readers to be steadfast in their faith in Christ and to beware of the philosophy of deceit of men; he pictures to them the riches of the blessings which have come to them in conversion and Baptism, by which they have become partakers of the triumph of Christ; he names some specific Judaistic errors by which the false teachers, under a guise of wisdom and humility, were preparing to kill their faith.