The Supremacy Defended: Don't Bully Me! (Col. 2:16-23)
Ever had or known a bully growing up? How many of you were the bully? Wikipedia defines bullying as “the act of intentionally causing harm to others, through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation.” No one likes a bully. Growing up in New York City, around 4th or 5th grade, I had a bully in my elementary school. He would always pick on me and take my toys (don’t know why I was bringing toys to school anyway). He was taller than me and always tried to intimidate me, mocking me, making me feel really low and weak. He thought he was a big, bad, tough guy who always needed to get his way. Finally I got tired of the guy. I had a good African-American friend Ian who was tall and bigger than her was and I just started hanging around him a lot. One day when this bully came around to taunt me, Ian would come along and say something like, “Hey stop messing with him. Leave him alone. You mess with him, you mess with me.” You know what? He never bullied me after that! Thank God for Ian!
Today I want to talk about spiritual bullies in the church. They might not be out to beat you up physically or take your money, but there are people in the church (I mean the church of Jesus Christ worldwide not necessarily EFC) who set themselves up to intimidate Christians, manipulating and in order to make themselves appear better than you. I hope no one is like that here at EFC. Perhaps someone of you have experienced this and can relate. These people huff and puff and want to blow your house down. And if you start to believe their lies, it will be the end of you! We need to watch out for them or if you are one of them, you need to watch out as well!
We have been on the defensive here in chapter 2. Paul has on war paint. All chapter, he has been sounding the alarm of the lies, scams and deceit of false teachers at the church at Colossae. He’s been saying Jesus Christ is sufficient. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3) and you are complete in Him (Col. 2:10). Over and over again, the apostle has been saying no need to go after something you already have. We are going to finish this chapter today looking at three bullies with three approaches to intimidate you in your walk with Christ. One bully says things like, “why are you wearing that to church? And true believers don’t eat that or drink this or watch that or do that! You must not be spiritual.” Another bully says, “Did you ever get the second blessing? Last week Jesus came into my room and bam! I fell over and now I got the secret power and I have the goose bumps to prove it. Has that happened to you? No? Loser!” The third bully comes along and looks at you and says, “If you are going to be spiritual, you are going to need to deprive yourself of pleasure. Do you have sin in your life? Lock yourself in your room and tell yourself you are garbage. Suffer man! The more you suffer, the better chance you have with God accepting you.”
The false teachers were like these kinds of bullies in the church. Since we started this chapter, we have seen only a little bit of what they were actually teaching. Paul had called it empty philosophy a scam (Col. 2:8). We know whatever it was, they had shrunk the Lord Jesus into nothing more than a mere angel and thus, insignificant and insufficient for them. But in our last portion of the Supremacy Defended today, we are going to get a little bit more detail about what they were actually teaching. Paul is out to warn this flock that these wolves are all bark and no bite. So here are three spiritual bullies…three big names…and our response to them.
I. The Bully of Legalism: Don’t judge me! (Col. 2:16-17)
The first bully is wearing a black robe. He is a judge. How did he become the judge? Self-appointed! And he is a judge of legalism. Legalism is measuring your spirituality based on your ability to follow man-made rules. It is the religion of human achievement. This bully lifts up his gavel and says, “God will accept you if you put your faith in Jesus and if you do these certain things.”
By the way, I know people to whom everything God commands in His Word is legalism. “Hey bro, don’t murder!...what? Don’t be legalistic man!” Obeying what God commands in Scripture is not legalism, but obedience. Legalism is the Bible something you think Christians should be doing.
So Paul starts with “therefore.” In light of the fact that you have a complete relationship, transformation, forgiveness and victory in Jesus Christ, and if you are complete in Him, then he says here, “Let no one pass judgment on you.” NIV says, “Do not let anyone judge you” and NAS says “No one is to act as your judge.” In other words, don’t let someone appoint themselves as arbitrator of your spiritual life. Don’t let anyone make a spiritual judgment on you based on what you do or don’t do. The false teachers according to verse 16 were judging them based on Jewish ceremonial laws. They were judged on two things. The first was:
a) Their diet
The Colossian Christians must have had great pressure to conform. They were Gentiles and probably had no clue as to Jewish tradition, formalities or ceremonies. Notice what they were judged on: “Questions of food and drink….”They were judged on their diet. We talked about even circumcision last week and how they were preaching that as well in order to get favor with God.
So these people went around pointing fingers, bullying the Christians at Colossae. They would say, “Why are you eating that or drinking that? It is forbidden in the Old Testament.” Now in the Old Testament, God had laws about His people’s diet (Lev. 10:9, Num. 6:3). He did not set them up to deprive the people of it, but because He wanted His people to be different and set apart. By virtue of this diet He subscribed, they could not intermingle with their idol worshipping neighbors. Certain animals these nations worshipped and so God commanded that they not even eat it or associate with it.
But in the New Testament, the dietary laws were abolished. Jesus says in Mark 7:14-23 that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him (in other words, what he ate), but what comes out of his heart. Acts 10, Peter, who was struggling with associating with Gentiles or not, was on the rooftop and had a vision where the Lord told him it is not about what you eat anymore. Rom. 14:17: “The kingdom of Heaven is not about eating or drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” But these bullies walked around judging people of their diet.
b) Their days
They also judged them according to their observance of days: “festivals, new moon and Sabbaths.” In other words, “You are not spiritual because you don’t go to Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, or any of the festivals listed in Leviticus 23 or to the sacrifice made on the new Moon once a month according to Num. 28:11. And to make it worse, it so clear in Ex 20 that the Sabbath Day, Saturday, is to be kept holy and you don’t go to Sabbath that day either.” The Jews had lots of holidays to mark what God had done in their history. We have holidays like that too, like Christmas and Easter.
Paul says all of those things were mere shadows pointing and anticipating for the reality, the substance, which is Jesus Christ.
Illus: Jenny and I first met online. I’ll have to share that story some other time in detail. But for the first whole month since we started talking, we had never met in person, just holding on to digital pictures of one another (although she sent me a picture of her in 8th grade). Things were going really well online and we finally decided to meet in person at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago, where she worked. We were going to meet there and then walk around. Of course we were both anxious and excited and my palms were sweaty and I had brushed my teeth like four times that day. It was a bright April Spring day. So do you know what I did when I finally saw her? I looked down and noticed her shadow and I fell to the ground trying to hug it. Ok, I didn’t do that. That would be really awkward and really dumb wouldn’t it? and we probably would not be married today!
This is what Paul is saying. All of those festivals and ceremonies of the Old Testament were shadows, pointing to Jesus Christ. Jesus has come! The substance is here already, no need to follow the shadows anymore. Why think that observing a ceremony about God feeding His people in the wilderness will obtain favor with Him when the Bread of Life has come? Why sacrifice again when the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world has come? Stop hugging the shadows! The reality has come! By the way, why don’t we worship on Saturday, the Sabbath, anymore? Seventh day Adventists make a big deal about that today saying the rest of us Christians are not spiritual because we do not worship on Saturday (what bullies!). John Macarthur in his commentary gives 10 reasons, but let me just share three:
1. It is a sign of the old covenant (Ex. 31:16–17; Neh. 9:14; Ezek. 20:12) and we are in the New Covenant (Heb. 8).
2. It is nowhere commanded in the NT that Christians should observe the Sabbath, where the other nine commandments are reiterated.
3. In the only glimpse of an early church service in the NT, we find the believers worshipping on a Sunday (Acts 20:7).
Unfortunately, these legalistic bullies have not disappeared in our day. There are people who judge other’s spirituality by what they do externally: how they eat, what they eat, how they drink, what they drink, their use of jewelry or lipstick or girls wearing pants, etc. They have certain external standards they feel every Christian should live by.
In our day, I think the bullies come with their view of alcohol. The Bible is clear that we are not to get drunk (Eph. 5:18), but there are some who would see a fellow church member sipping some wine somewhere and say, “That person is not a Christian because she/he drinks.” But think about it how many non-Christians are out there who have made a vow of abstinence? You cannot measure someone’s spirituality by the externals.
I grew up in a home where my father was a borderline alcoholic. Some of my uncles still have a problem as well and my grandfather was called the “town drunk” before he became a believer. It is in my blood and so since I was younger, I have made a vow to be abstinent. That is my personal conviction. However, I am no less spiritual because I am abstinent than someone who has a glass of wine every night. I become a legalistic bully if I do that.
Listen to John Macarthur:
Now some people still hold to those things as the standards of spirituality. You hear people say, "I'm a Christian." I have asked someone on occasion, "How do you know you are a Christian?" He says, "I go to church on Easter, on Christmas, and a few times in between." Does that make him a Christian? He says, "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I'm nice." That's one perspective. The other perspective is this: "I don't believe those people are Christians. They don't come Sunday nights. The true church prays on Wednesday nights." You can hear people say, "How can he be a Christian, he smokes?" "I don't know if he is a Christian, I saw him with a can of beer." What kind of an evaluation is that? You could probably say about those kind of people, "I don't know if they are Christians, I heard that they gossip."
He also shared how someone came up to him and said, “You’re not spiritual.” He replied, “What do you mean?” “You are not spiritual because spiritual people attend prayer meetings on Wednesday nights.” To this Macarthur replied. “How do you know I am not praying all night and all day otherwise?”
Let’s be clear. I am not saying go out and drink, smoke and chew and go with girls who do. I do not want people to say, “Well Pastor Robin said we can all hits the bars tonight!” What I am saying is that we cannot judge another’s spirituality based on external standards that we have that are not in the Bible. Don’t be a bully and if you have been bullied like this, be assured that God is not a bully like people are. He is interested in your heart.
Christians do this with certain days too. The Bible nowhere commands that we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy celebrating Christmas, but I cannot judge someone’s spirituality based on their desire to or not celebrate. Certain groups have a fit over the fact that Christians have Christmas trees and lights up, etc. They are bullies focused on the externals. How about Halloween? I know godly believers who take their kids out for trick or treating, with a pumpkin on their doorsteps and the kids were costumes. Now if you have a conviction about Halloween that you want nothing to do with it because of its background, that’s great. However, do not judge anyone else’s spirituality based on it. Then you’re being a bully.
II. The Bully of Mysticism: Don’t eject me! (Col. 2:18-19).
Secondly, he says, “Let no one disqualify you.” The word “disqualify” means “act as an umpire against you.” In other words, Pastor Sam Storms paraphrases this verse by saying, “Don't let anyone throw you out of the ballgame for allegedly having violated rules that God has never imposed."
So this bully wears an umpire’s outfit. He steps up and says, “You’re out of the game man, if you don’t have the experiences like I do!” Mysticism is seeking spiritual reality apart from truth. It is based more on feelings, intuition and internal sensations. It is seeking deeper and higher and personal religious experience apart from the truth of God’s Word. Hey look, I just the hair on my arm just move! God’s here!
I do not think he is saying here that people cannot have visions or have God speak to them in dreams or have amazing encounters with the Lord. However, I do think he is saying that those who do have them and insist that others have the same experience and say if they don’t, they are second class Christians or less spiritual than they are; those people are spiritual bullies. They are like umpires in a game, kicking them out of a game, when they have no right to do so.
Paul lists in detail the characteristics of these mystics. I want you to understand their rationale. God is up here. We are down here. How can we get access to God? How can we touch God and get a hold of him? We are so lowly and we are so earthly and so let us get to him through an angel, created like we are (notice the text: worship of angels). Michael, Gabriel come save us and help us!” Some of them are getting visions of probably Michael and Gabriel coming to them and they start getting obsessed with all of that, so much to the point where everyone else is feeling less of a believer and loser spiritually.
Look at the text. They “insist on asceticism.” The NIV says, “they delight in false humility.” When you start boasting about your humility, it is not humility anymore, it’s pride. Humility is one of those things when you think you have it, it’s gone. When you start saying, “Don’t I stink and I should not talk to God because of that and look at me, I am lowly….” Paul says, they are “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.” In other words, they are not humble, they are proud and in the flesh, not in the Spirit.
Why is it pride? Look at verse 19. They deny God’s provision for them to come to Him! Jesus Christ! Anytime you deny Jesus Christ as the way to get to God, you are in deep trouble. Paul uses the common metaphor of a body disconnected from the Head to illustrate the destructive effects of trusting in your experiences alone. Once it becomes all about the experiences, Jesus becomes secondary and in a sense, you are severed and disconnected from your source of life. Growth is stunted. Stay close to the Head, to the life source, abide in Him and you will bear fruit. As Pastor Sam Storms’ says, “But God has ordained that true growth, authentic godliness, and a life that pleases and praises him is derived from a conscious dependence upon and drawing of nourishment from the head of the church, Jesus.”
Illus: When I first became a believer, I was invited to a prayer meeting with a friend of mine. We were all sitting in a circle and they started speaking in tongues. All of a sudden, one of them started praying and praying for those who have not “experienced the fullness of the Spirit.” It was pretty obvious they were referring to my friend and I. We left that meeting feeling so isolated, looked down upon and feeling like a second-class Christian. Even at Wheaton College, some people were praying over me and put oil on my head for me to have certain experiences. It was not their desire that bothered me, but how low they made me feel for not having the same experiences they have had. They were bullies!
But I can tell you one thing in the 13 years of knowing Jesus. Stay close to Jesus. Seek Him with all your heart. Have experiences with Him that blow you away, but stay grounded in the Word. May these experiences change you for the better, but not make you proud or seek to make others feel bad for not having them.
III. The Bully of Asceticism: Don’t enslave me! (Col. 2:20-23).
The last bully comes limping along. He is wearing tattered clothes and his hair is disheveled. He is emaciated and his lips are cracked. He has chains in his hands. He steps up and says, “See how your bodily desires weigh you down. You need to discipline your body, beat it down and suffer so God will be pleased with you.”
This is called asceticism. An ascetic is someone who lives a life of rigorous self-denial and believes that suppression of physical appetites will gain favor with God. Asceticism has been a problem since the church of Jesus Christ started.
According to John Macarthur, “The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. According to the church Father Athanasius, Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet (Life of Anthony, para. 47). He was outdone, however, by Simeon Stylites (C. 390–459), who spent the last thirty-six years of his life atop a fifty-foot pillar. Simeon mistakenly thought the path to spirituality lay in exposing his body to the elements and withdrawing from the world. Their feats have been emulated by monks throughout church history. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.” Some would beat themselves, never take a bath in fear of seeing their body or marry for the same reason. Others would castrate themselves to avoid lust or walk ten miles on their knees. They would say, “Just have a simple diet and wear simple clothing.” Why? To gain favor with God.
Again, let us be clear here. If God calls you to abject poverty, praise God. If God bless you with riches, praise God. If God calls you to the monastery or to be nun, God bless you. However, that is not a basis of spirituality. Christianity is not Christ abject poverty or Christ never taking a bath or Christ living in a monastery or Christ anything. It is Christ alone. Don’t let the ascetic bully you into thinking anything less. Notice Paul’s argument. Three things he says about asceticism:
a) It’s enslaving.
In Col. 2:20 he says that the world comes up with this man’s religion to get to God and when you became a believer, that “old you” is not alive and need to be enslaved by these bullies. You are free in Christ.
b) It is perishing.
In Col. 2:21-22 he says, “Man-made religion says don’t drink wine, do not taste meat, don’t talk to a stranger, don’t touch anything religiously inferior, etc. i.e. all about the rules! But if you are going to hold on to man-made religion, it is going to perish.” God will put you through the fire and all that is going to come out is everything related to your relationship with Christ.
c) It is deceiving.
In Col. 2:23, Paul says the whole system of asceticism looks so godly. These people look so humble, so pious and so devoted and disciplined and it seems wise on the outside. But it is promoting not Christ, but you and showing you off. Paul ends this section by saying that rules and prohibitions and self-denial created by man’s own religious creativity will be ineffective to check sinful urgings of the flesh. Do you think castrating yourself will stop the problem of lust in your heart?
Illus: The proprietors of the “Worst Food in Oregon” restaurant say that what they serve in the “worst food you ever ate, and the service is even worse.” Actually, the restaurant is unusually clean and the food is very good. Diners are served generous portions, and the prices are very reasonable. The name is just a gimmick. It was the idea of the owner who, when tempted to call his food “the best,” figured he might get more attention by calling it “the worst.”
Well, his strategy worked. Customers who come the first time out of curiosity soon come back for more. They like the food so much that they even ask what the chef recommends. With a twinkle in his eye he tells them to “take their money and spend it at another restaurant down the road.” Self-denial can be merely a cover for self-promotion.”
Paul will get into what is the answer to stopping the indulgence of the flesh in chapter 3, but I am thinking what is similar to asceticism today?
I have noticed that when there is sin in my life, I have an initial feeling like I should pay for it. “Lord, I am so terrible and I stink so badly, I am not going to pray for 10 days and definitely not serve for at least 2 weeks. I might not even go to church and I should do such and such and make myself feel like garbage.” Have you ever done that? That’s a form of asceticism. It’s also false humility. It is pride. Do you know what you are doing? You are saying God’s work on the cross is not enough. It’s a slap in the face of Jesus Christ. Why did He stretch out His arms and die for you if you can pay for your sin? Do not get enslaved by those thoughts. It’s a bully trying to keep you from experiencing all that you have in Christ already.
In his book Souls on Fire, Elie Weissel tells a remarkable tale. In far away Krakau, in days when sleep was often disturbed by dreams, there lived one Isaac, son of Yechel. Isaac was a poor man whose family seldom ate their fill. One night in a vivid dream, he saw the distant city of Prague. He saw a river flowing through the city, and under a particular bridge he saw a buried treasure. When he woke the next morning, the dream had not faded. Its clear and vivid images remained etched on his mind. That night the dream returned. And the next night. Every night for two weeks, Isaac had the same dream in which he saw the city of Prague, the river, the bridge, and the buried treasure hidden beneath the bridge.
Finally, he decided to walk all the way to Prague to see for himself if the dream might be real. After several days he arrived in the city. Even though he had never been there, he recognized it and knew it well from his dreams. He found the bridge, went under it to search for the treasure, and then suddenly was grabbed firmly at the back of his neck by a soldier who dragged him away to prison for interrogation.
The soldier sat him in a chair and said, “All right, Jew, what were you doing prowling around under that bridge?” Not knowing what else to say, Isaac decided to tell the truth, “I had a dream that there was buried treasure under that bridge, and I was looking for it.”
Immediately, the soldier burst into mocking laughter, “You stupid Jew, don’t you know that you can’t believe what you see in your dreams? Why, for the last two weeks I myself have had a dream every night that far away in the city of Krakau, in the house of some Jew by the name of Isaac, son of Yechel, there is a treasure buried beneath the sink in his house. Wouldn’t it be the most idiotic of actions if I were to go all the way to Krakau to look for some Jew that doesn’t exist. Or there may be a thousand Isaacs, son of Yechel. I could waste a lifetime looking for a treasure that isn’t there.” With uproarious laughter, the soldier stood him up, opened the door, gave him a good kick, and let him go.
Naturally, Isaac, son of Yechel, walked back to Krakau, back to his own house, where he looked beneath the sink in his own kitchen, found the treasure buried there, and lived to a ripe old age as a rich man. The treasure was at home all along.
This truth applies to Christians as well: our treasure is in Jesus Christ, who resides in us. We don’t have to look anywhere else. Paul wrote to the Colossians because false teachers were telling them that Jesus Christ was not sufficient; they needed some additional spiritual experiences. They taught that Jesus himself was inadequate and this inadequate Jesus couldn’t provide all they needed for a full spiritual experience.
Paul countered this claim by telling the Colossian believers, as well as their modern counterparts, that Jesus is the fullness of God and that because of their relationship with him, they have been given fullness. The treasure is Christ, who is in them. Paul tells them in this chapter not to look for other treasure when the true treasure is already theirs.
 From the sermon, “Do not let them disqualify you,”
 From the sermon, “Do not let them disqualify you,” http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/do-not-let-them-disqualify-you-218-19/ .
MacArthur, J. (1996, c1992). Colossians (122). Chicago: Moody Press.
Anders, M. (1999). Vol. 8: Galatians-Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (301). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.