An Appearance of Wisdom
Colossians 2:16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. 20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (NKJV)
The book of Colossians is part of what is known as the Prison Epistles. The writings, themselves, affirm that the epistles were written by the Apostle Paul from prison.
There are differing opinions as to during which of Paul’s prison confinements the epistles were written. There are many sources that discuss this subject fully. For our purposes, we will go along with the thought of most scholars that Paul wrote the prison epistles during his house arrest in Rome from AD 60-62.
It is believed that the epistle was written about AD 61 to the house churches in Colossae, Asia Minor. The idea was that this authoritative letter would be passed along to the other churches.
The book of Colossians can be divided into two halves. The first half, the first two chapters, is concerned with the positional; doctrine outlining our position in Christ.
The second half, the last two chapters, is concerned with the practical; how we work out our position in the practical living of our Christian life. This is similar to the breakdown of the books of Romans and Ephesians, Paul’s previous writings.
Colossae, in Paul’s time, was a small city in decline. Once a great mercantile city, it was now the least significant of the cities to whom Paul wrote his letters.
The city of Colossae was located in what is southeastern Turkey today. It was located in the province of Phrygia, ten miles east of Laodicea, thirteen miles southeast of Hierapolis, and about one hundred miles east of Ephesus. It was about a hundred miles north of the Mediterranean Sea.
In this passage, Paul is writing of false teaching in the church. He is specifically writing of Judaism, Gnosticism and Ascetism.
Paul begins by writing “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,” (v. 16). This was a reference to Judaism and its restrictions, including dietary, festivals, traditions and observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day.
Christians have been freed of such restrictions. Today we see these types of restrictions among some Jews, Catholics, and Mormons, among others.
Paul explains these restrictions as “a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” In other words, these restrictions are unnecessary because we now have the real thing, Jesus Christ Himself. And it is He whom we shall worship.
Paul continues “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” (v. 18). Our reward for our faith is Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should focus on Him, and not “false humility” or “angels” or spiritual signs or anything else we can dream up to pretend to be religious.
We don’t know all of the tenets of Gnosticism, but we do know about their preoccupation with false humility and angels. They pretend to have a higher knowledge, a secret superiority. The Gospel is simple, simple enough for even a child to understand.
We see angel worship today. We also see false humility, such as some Catholics not feeling worthy to go directly to God. So they go through Mary and priests. These practices are not consistent with Christianity.
Paul writes “and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (v. 19). These false practices take away from true worship, which is of “the Head”, Jesus Christ. “The body”, the church, is “nourished”, “knit together” and “grows” spiritually through the worship of Jesus Christ, not through the observance of false practices.
Next, Paul concludes this teaching on false religions. He writes “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world,” (v. 20a).
If we are indeed Christians, we live for Him and die to the world. So, we also have died to the things of the world, man-made customs, such as these false teachings.
Paul continues “(Why) do you subject yourselves to regulations--"Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (vv. 20b-22). Christians have been freed of such regulations as Jewish traditions and customs.
These are all things of the world, things that will “perish” with the world. These are “commandments and doctrines of men”, and are not of Jesus Christ, the Head of the church. They are not practices of Christianity.
“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion” (v. 23a). These practices are not only false, but they, also, give “an appearance of wisdom” that is not of God.
Instead, these practices are a “self-imposed religion”, a false religion. They are man-made, not from God.
These false practices promote “false humility” (v. 23b). As Christians, we are to be humble. But we are not to pretend false humility by adhering to false practices.
Finally, these false practices promote “neglect of the flesh but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (v. 23c). This is a reference to denying the needs of our physical bodies or even torturing our bodies.
This is known as ascetism. It is also a false practice, a false religion, and is not a teaching of Christianity.
False teaching is alive and well in churches and synagogues today. They give “an appearance of wisdom”.
But this appearance of wisdom is just that, it is only an appearance, not the real deal. True wisdom comes from God and is revealed in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.
The New Testament puts in perspective the Jewish traditions and customs of the Old Testament. They are a part of Judaism, but they are not a part of Christianity.
The Bible also eliminates some of the books of the Catholic bible. These books were not deemed consistent with Christianity.
Christianity teaches that we can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We do not have just an appearance of wisdom, we have Wisdom itself, through Jesus Christ.
Online Bible Commentary