16 Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Dealing with Being Judged
The Colossians were being judged from the outside. There are two ways people judge each other. The first is to evaluate actions to decide whether they are good or bad. The second looks at a person’s actions and then condemns the whole person as inferior or unworthy. Paul encourages evaluating actions. In fact he evaluates, or judges, the judgement. He repeatedly steers people away from condemning each other, though. Such actions damage people.
At the time of his writing, people in the churches were judging each other by how well they kept the law. Although these people had adapted to their environment, the details in the passage point to their Jewish cultural context. Jewish people were saying that behaviours get you into heaven, not relationship with Jesus. Once more, Paul pulls his readers back to the supremacy of Christ. Keeping laws does not lead to a vibrant relationship, but a vibrant relationship leads to keeping laws.
Those who work hard to show themselves worthy of God and to avoid criticism carry a heavy burden. Rather than realise how much they are screwing up their own lives, they frequently take to policing others. The churches that they occupy become places where it is imperative to take the hurtful and condemning focus off of oneself and find ways to refocus on others. I have had experience in such churches. One of them was quite charismatic and the rules and regulations were about how much one spoke in tongues, received a word from the Lord, or spoke prophecy. Although everything on the surface was happy-go-lucky, there was a vicious spirit of gossip and criticism in the church. Those who tried to address it themselves became the object of scorn. There was one point when the pastor’s son’s car smashed into a house and I was blamed for it. The irony of it was that I was in another continent at the time. The fact was that my face didn’t fit. I didn’t play by their man-made rules. Most tragically, somehow Jesus was lost in the busyness of speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, and gaining words of knowledge.
I know that I too have condemned myself for not being a better Christian. I have judged those who performed sins that I have reasoned were unthinkable for a Christian. Some of those sins I have gone on to perform myself. The end to this cycle is to focus on Jesus. He accepts us as we are and doesn’t leave us that way. He creates a warm place of welcome where we can safely aspire to be our better selves. It is not because we have to. It is because we can.
Lord of heaven and earth. You have wrapped your arms around us and welcomed us into your family. Jesus has loved us and bought us. He holds us still. Help us not to play games with obedience. Help us to accept each other without condition. Help us to lead each other onward because we want to move toward your Son. Help us not to stand still and condemn those who struggle and suffer.
- On what counts were outsiders judging the Colossians?
- How did Paul advise the Colossians to respond to the criticism?
- What beliefs do you think defined those who were critical of the church in Colossae?
- How are Christians condemned today by those watching the faith from outside (see unChristian)?
- How can Christians respond well to those who condemn Christians for having harmful beliefs?