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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: April 03, 2020
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Hello and welcome to HBS.
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat (food), 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 (substance) is of Christ.” (2:16-17).
Said differently, this scripture passage might read, “Let no man judge you re: physical things such as what or what not to eat or drink, or with respect to one day being holier than another, or of the new moon, or the sabbath days for these are mere shadows of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
This particular passage of scripture speaks of one’s liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s urging the Colossians not to fall victim to the heretical teachings for He is preeminent and they are complete in Christ (2:10). Those religious activities found in the Law were “a shadow of things to come” in that they foretold of coming spiritual blessings in Christ. But the substance of these blessings themselves come, not after the Law, but from God’s grace through Christ’s finished work of the cross. The Colossians, therefore, should not permit anyone to enslave them to any form of legalism.
Please open your Bible at Colossians 2:18-23.
“Let no man beguile you (entice; lead astray) 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.”
Remember, in this section of Scripture Paul cited three urgent appeals to the Colossian saints starting at verse 2:8 “Let no man spoil (rob) you;” then in verse 2:16 “Let no man judge you;” and lastly in verse 2:18 “Let no man beguile you.”
In verses 2:8-10 Paul wrote, “Beware lest any man spoil (rob)you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:”
Our apostle Paul wants these Believers to know they have a standing before God. They have been positioned in the Lord Jesus Christ by grace through faith. Faith in what? The answer: Paul’s gospel. Paul isn’t egotistical or off his rocker. He’s referring to the revelation the risen Lord Jesus Christ gave to him to preach to both Jew and Gentile throughout the then known world (Galatians 1:11-24, 2:6, 3:28). (FYI: since God’s only building one church, that is, the Body of Christ, you’re not in Christ unless you have believed Paul’s gospel - Romans 1:1, 2:16, 15:15-17, 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:17, 2:2, 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 4:4, 11:4; Colossians 1:23).
Remember too the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but here’s the thing, our Savior was not a sinner, therefore, He hath no death to die. However, in reality, on Calvary’s cross Christ Jesus died not only for us but also as us:
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:6-9).
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:” (Romans 6:4-5).
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When we recognize this truth and respond in faith, we are baptized into the likeness of His death and become one with Him to the extent that now God sees us in Christ. Paul explained this operation of God in Colossians 2:11-13. The Believer is accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6), not because we are doing our best to uphold the Law but because the Lord Jesus Christ took our place on the cross and paid our sin debt in full:
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” (Ephesians 1:7).
“(you) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Redeemed, forgiven, and justified by God’s Grace, what a glorious message and one the Believer ought to cherish and take to heart. No wonder Paul said don’t let anybody rob you of this great truth.
“Let no man beguile you (entice or lead astray – See Genesis 3:1-5) 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.”
In verses 2:18 we find Paul’s third appeal to the Colossian saints, “Let no man beguile you of your reward…” In the NASB Bible the word “reward” is translated “defrauding” and other Bible translations use the word “prize.” Paul means to say “your reward” is all you have and all you are in Christ Jesus. The blessings realized in Him might be referred to as spiritual treasures, such as, your heavenly position and status in Christ along with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, and let’s not overlook the favor of God (Psalm 84:11; Ephesians 1:5-6).
I don’t know how familiar you are with the scripture passage found in Ephesians 1:3-14, but that run-on sentence reads as though Paul is taking the Believer for a walk through a treasure chamber such as newly discovered Egyptian tomb. In doing so, he describes what he sees along the way. He begins with the most immediate and evident fact and tells us what that is; then he sees something else and adds that in. This continues until every one of these indescribable riches are identified. But here’s the thing, these are much more than mere words on paper. They are biblical facts, foundational truths, which support us in our daily walk with the Lord and unless you understand them you can’t make use of them.
The next thing I want to mention from verses 2:18-19 is Paul’s dealing with the heretical teaching known as mysticism. Now you won’t find that term in this passage and you won’t find it anywhere in the Bible, nevertheless, there are descriptions that sound mystical such as the Gnostic’s unorthodox doctrines that were based on supposed revelations and visions they claimed to have had. Paul’s not talking about crystal balls, Ouija boards, reading palms, tea leaves and Tarot Cards, per say, however, these are certainly prevalent mystical examples found in our society today. Seeking wisdom and guidance from the position of the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies is another form of mysticism. I happen to know some people who fall into this category. They wouldn’t think of beginning their day without reading their horoscope. In fact, some people go so far as to plan their day, even their life, around these readings and swear by its accuracy and power.
Here Paul specifically mentioned a form of mysticism called “voluntary humility.” Please know this isn’t something God has asked for, and it certainly wasn’t commanded by Him, so it is not true humility. The best biblical example of this is found in the Galatian church. The fickle Galatians practiced voluntary humility. When Paul rebuked this assembly for turning away from his gospel they couldn’t understand why because they were doing more than what God had asked of them. They basically said, “Look, all we want to do is put ourselves back under the Mosaic Law and keep it. What’s wrong with that?” Paul’s response to their disobedience is found in 3:1:
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 5:7)
Do you see what’s going on here? Paul clearly taught “the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested. But the Galatians were trying to obey the religious ceremonies and rites found in the Law and disobeyed the truth of God’s Word in doing so:
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested (exhibited), being witnessed by the law and the prophets;” (Romans 3:21).
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:3-5).
The phrase, “But now” in Romans 3:21 is meant to inform the student of God’s Word that something entirely different than before is about to be referenced. The next phrase tells you what that is, “the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…” In this revelation re: God’s divine righteousness the Law was left out. In this dispensation righteousness is based on another principle other than mankind’s vain attempt to keep the entire Law perfectly. The righteousness of God is diametrically opposite to man’s law-obedience of any sort because even on our best day, we are unable to keep the whole Law, which is why God sent forth His Son to perform all its requirement for us:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17).
So, first, we see Jesus did not come to get rid the Law or to annul it. Instead, He came to fulfill the true meaning and purpose of what the Law was about. Where the Law said do not lie, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not covet, etc. (Exodus 20:1-17), Jesus obeyed the moral law perfectly. He lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). Where the Law talked about sacrifices and the requirement of shedding of blood for forgiveness of sins, Jesus shed His divine blood for the forgiveness of all our sins past, present, and future (Colossians 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:11-14, 22). Where the Law talked about the coming Messiah, Jesus is the Promised One, the One born of the virgin Mary (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18, 25), who is the Seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:18; Matthew 1:1), who was crucified (Psalm 2:1-3, 22:1, 11-18, Luke 23:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 2:20), and rose from the dead on the third day according to the scriptures (Psalm 16:10; Matthew 28:6-7; John 2:19-31; Luke 24:6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Jesus said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The implication is, “If you desire eternal life, look to Me.” The O.T. Scriptures pointed to Christ Jesus who came to fulfill all the prophecies and the requirements that the Law specified. As Israel’s Messiah, He lived the perfect life which only He could do because He is God in the flesh, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 2:9).
Returning to verse 2:18, I think it’s interesting that in verse 2:8 we find the words don’t let anyone rob you by “philosophy and vain deceit.” Then in 2:18 we have the parallel statement, “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” Do you see the connection? It’s philosophy and vain deceit. These false teachers not only disobeyed the truth they walked it underfoot. Paul’s not talking about legalism in this particular case, but the Gnostic's thought they were more devout. How's that? They professed having knowledge of angels and were teaching things on the subject that the scriptures never mentioned things God had not revealed. Paul said, “they began intruding into those things which they had not seen, vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds.” Consequently they began to advocate the worshiping of angels and denied the sufficiency of Christ.
If you’re thinking that comes across a being somewhat off-the-wall, please consider the fact that you’ll find people venerating angels and saints today. There’s not one verse in the Bible that says we are to worship angels and saints, but the Scriptures are on record stating we are to worship the Godhead, i.e., God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we are not to bow down to saints and angels; we’re not to praise them and we’re not to pray to them, whether they be mere men identified as saints by the Vatican or the created beings known as the angels of heaven. We are instructed to worship God alone. Before Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry to the nation of Israel, He went off to be alone in the desert for a period of forty days (Matthew 4). While there the devil tempted him thrice. Remember, Satan (Lucifer) was the highest ranking archangel in heaven; he still is; Paul identified him as “the prince the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). The devil’s third temptation involved asking Jesus Christ to bow down and worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus met that challenge as He did the others by quoting Scripture, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).
Meanwhile, back in Colosse, Paul wrote, “And not holding the Head, from which all the body joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (2:19).
The first thing the student of God’s Word ought to realize is the term “Head” is capitalized so Paul’s referring to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Head of the body and the Church God’s currently building. Next, you should understand the term “holding” means: to hold fast to someone so as to remain united with him. Thus, “not holding the Head” is telling us the local heretics possessed no relationship with Christ; they were not true Believers. They claimed to be members of the body, but they wanted to be the head. They wanted to search out these mystical things for themselves. They wanted to rely on what they thought instead of what God has said re: human wisdom (philosophy).
The true Believer in Christ ought to know he or she is a member of the Body of Christ, and that Christ Jesus is the Head of the body, not our king, but the Head of the Church which is His body. If y’all remember the teachings of Biology 101 you know the head is the body’s command center and our bodies naturally and normally obey all commands originating from the head. In like fashion the Believer should naturally obey the Lord Jesus Christ, and they will if they’re truly in Christ; led by Him and God the Spirit (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17).
“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…”
I read that Bible verse a few times and came away thinking the same thing. All the so-called Christian churches I had partnered in the past placed much emphasis on ordinances. I find that to be strange because God, through our apostle Paul, said again and again ordinances have not only been done away with Believers are not to subject themselves to them. They have been freed from “the rudiments of the world” or those elementary religious teachings advocating salvation by human merit and good works. If you’re truly in Christ Jesus, if you have died with Him from these physical, earthly things, God sees you in Christ, and you are complete in him. Since you are considered dead (free) from these things, and religious sacrifices aren’t being offered any longer, why do you behave as though you belong to this world-system and subject yourselves to all these “ordinances?”
Just as the grace church at Galatia wanted to go back under the Mosaic Law, and eventually did (2 Timothy 2:15), many Christians today desire to live under the Law. You can tell them they are no longer under law they are under grace and they look at you as though you were a heretic attempting to undermine their faith. You can direct their attention to the writings of Paul regarding what God has to say on the subject, but they still prefer to go their own way. Other churches will agree they are no longer under the Law but these same churches make rules of their very own. They have certain rites and rituals, which they make necessary for one’s acceptance with God. To this they add don’t to this and don’t do that which brings us around full circle to Paul’s declaration, “…why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,“ and takes us to verses 2:21-22.
“(Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Paul asked why the Colossians subject themselves to these outwardly physical things when they know full well they can’t do anything good for them. Once again, this is similar to the situation in Galatia where Paul had to say, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I’m afraid of you, lest I have bestowed on you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11). The Galatians were beginning to observe certain calendar days, that is, the sabbath, days of fast, and feast days, months, new moons, or feast days beginning with each month; times, such as, Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles; and years, that is, sabbatical years including the year of Jubilee. The phrase, “in vain,” means without saving result. Should the Galatians fully embrace the Mosaic Law and the Judaizers’ message of salvation by works, it would show their profession of faith in Paul’s gospel was superficial, i.e., lacking the necessity of faith in what God has clearly said.
In much the same way people today choose to put themselves under laws of their own making because they seem to think it will do them some good. But it doesn’t. This “Touch not; taste not; handle not” on certain calendar days means you can’t eat certain things, and on specific days you have to eat certain things, and there are specific seasons of the year when you must abstain from the things that you delight in the most. So, permit me to ask, “If I occasionally enjoy eating a Snickers candy bar, what difference does it make whether or not I eat it on a certain calendar day or during a particular season of the year? In the dispensation of God’s Grace, what makes people think God will be displeased with me if I eat my Snickers whenever I choose? Why must I deprive myself of certain things just because it happens to be a certain day of the week or a particular season of the year? Paul’s asking the same questions, minus the Snickers Bar of course, for every Believer has been delivered (freed) from the law:
“For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:5-6).
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
“Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship (that is, voluntary worship or what God truly requires of us), and humility (see Colossians 2:18), and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”
If you found this verse difficult to understand, please know you’re not alone. An individual in my class once asked me “Did people really talk like this?” I said, “Yes, they did.” He then asked, “Did people understand what they were saying because this verse isn’t expressing itself very well.” I couldn’t disagree with him, so I offered to rephrase the verse and it went something like this, “Observance of these religious rites and ceremonies, the observance of certain days, months, and years, along with the distinctions between meats and drinks have an appearance of wisdom, but they fall short in overcoming our sinful flesh.” To which I added, “People think they will do better by putting themselves under the Law, if you legislate yourself a bit, than if you do not.”
This is a clear example of human wisdom vs the revelation of God. Here Paul speaks of self-made religion or a mode of worship which man chooses for himself, independently of the revelation which God has given us. So, you have on one hand those truths God has revealed to man and on the other hand you have what man thinks to be true. This is voluntary worship; it’s devised by man’s own will, not God’s. This activity is known as asceticism (severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgences for religious reasons). Doing any or all of these things might make a person appear to be spiritual because of its emphasis on humility, but it serves only to gratify the flesh. It is a vain attempt to appear more religious than others, thus, it is voluntary humility.
When Christians strive for spiritual perfection by means of formulas, disciplines, and rituals, they actually are going backward instead of forward in the faith. Therefore, anyone who is in Christ must not be led astray from the truth by mixing things such as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like with the revelation of God. Remember, all is Christ He alone must have preeminence. We need to understand, believe, and live by the principle that God loves us perfectly. Nothing more is required on our part. Too often people think something more needs to be done to deserve God’s grace or to retain it. These folks don’t understand the biblical meaning of grace. No one deserves grace. No matter what you think you need to do nothing will be good enough even though you repeated it a thousand time; it’s still not good enough. No one deserves grace, and no one can earn it, however, God gives grace freely to those that believe Paul’s gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Steven Curtis Chapman once said, “In the gospel, we discover we are far worse off than we thought, and far more loved than we ever dreamed.” Please understand God cannot love you anymore than He already loves you. Whenever that truth gets hold of you, it will change your entire perspective on life. We live for Christ, not out of some feeling of obligation, but because we delight in serving Him and others (Romans 12:1-2). When you operate out of a sense of obligation, it becomes a chore. When you operate out of a sense of serving God and bringing glory and honor to His name, it becomes an offering of worship. And that's what your life is to be one of worship.
So then, guard your freedom (liberty), don't let anyone act as your judge on your life. We are complete in Christ and have no need of legalism, mysticism or asceticism to make us more spiritual. All those who are in Christ Jesus are already as righteous as Him because we share His righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
In Colossians 2:20-23 we have an earnest appeal from Paul to avoid these things, i.e., don’t touch; don’t taste, don’t handle no matter how plausible the pretenses might appear; whatever appearance of wisdom or humility there might be, Paul assures us there is no real honor or true humility in them. So, even though these rules appear to show human wisdom they are to be avoided because they are merely forms of self-imposed worship, false humility, and “neglecting of the body, that is, all done repeatedly in religious practices day in and day out. Paul’s saying these rules do have the appearance of wisdom but they are self-imposed forms of worship; none of them assist us in overcoming our fleshly indulgences.
How do we overcome the flesh? How do we live our new life victoriously? In order for the true Believer “to walk worthy” they are to appreciate all that God has done for them and for who they are in Christ. God has rescued the destitute sinner from the second death and has positioned them eternally in Christ Jesus, declaring they are complete in him; He has bestowed upon each one every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. When the Lord Jesus Christ willingly submitted Himself to Calvary’s Cross, He died not only for us, but as us. Now God sees us in Christ and says, “You are no longer a child, and I’m not putting you under the Law; you are my full-grown son in Christ:
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
God has declared the Believer is His full-grown son (and daughter) with all the rights and privileges of sonship. God wants us to understand all that this means. Therefore, don’t let anyone rob you for you are complete in Christ.
Don’t let anyone judge you and tell you what you have to do in order to please God and to serve Him properly. Our apostle Paul said these physical religious matters re: food and drink, holy days, new moons and sabbath days were mere shadows of something much better to come, and directs our attention to what that is in saying, “but the substance is Christ.”
And don’t let anyone beguile you of these wonderful truths and your position before God the Father in Christ. Instead, thank God these self-imposed requirements have been blotted out, in fact, Christ nailed them to His cross; and this great message of grace was made known some years later, when God saved the chief (first) of sinners and sent him forth to preach the mystery of God’s grace to all.
(To be continued)
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