Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 12 (KJV)
Freedom from the World
Devotional Reading: Leviticus 25:8–17
Background Scripture: Colossians 2:6–23
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
18 Let no man beguile you 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,
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.
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,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
23 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.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith.—Colossians 2:6–7a
God’s Law Is Love
Unit 3: Christ Frees, Law Enslaves
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify “the head.”
2. Describe the implications of being dead with Christ.
3. Recruit an accountability partner to make one such implication a personal reality.
How to Say It
A. Simple vs. Complex
I once owned a Buick LeSabre with power windows. Because of bad design or poor construction, every window of that vehicle required repair at some point. Either the windows wouldn’t lower, or they wouldn’t raise. After completing the first repair, I longed for previous models’ oldstyle, hand-crank windows. Those windows certainly didn’t break as often—or so I remembered. These power windows should have made life simpler; instead, they had done the opposite. I experienced more difficulty and annoyance because of those windows.
In today’s Scripture, false teachers in Colossae had been troubling Colossian believers by requiring additional practices for the people. These excessive requirements might have caused the Colossian believers difficulty in following Jesus. These false teachers weren’t merely annoying the apostle Paul and the Colossian believers; their false teachings had eternal ramifications.
B. Lesson Context
The apostle Paul wrote the epistle of Colossians in the first half of the AD 60s. The recipients of the epistle were a community of believers in Colossae (see Colossians 1:1–2), a city in modern-day Turkey. When Paul composed this letter, he had not yet visited the area (see 1:4–7; 2:1). He likely penned the letter while under arrest (see 4:3) in Rome (see Acts 28:16, 30).
Whether or not Paul ever visited Colossae is unknown, but he had heard from others about the faith of the Colossian believers (see Colossians 1:4). He intended the letter to encourage the Colossians (2:2–3) and address false teachings that had infiltrated the church (see 2:4–5)
The exact nature of the false teaching in Colossae is unknown. Most of our modern-day understanding comes from reading the letter of Colossians and drawing informed conclusions based on the addressed topics. Taking this approach, we can assume that both Jewish and pagan teaching in Colossae threatened to lead the believers astray. This syncretistic belief system was comprised of various elements from different religious and philosophical traditions that were not rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The false teaching likely included aspects of Judaism. Paul provided correctives regarding lifestyle markers that distinguished Jews from Gentiles, such as circumcision (Colossians 2:11–15), dietary restrictions, and the observance of holy days (2:16). However, other aspects of the false teaching, such as angel worship (2:18) and misdirected fasting (2:23), mirrored pagan philosophies and cults. Paul proclaimed this belief system “philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men” (2:8). This belief system concerned Paul because it added requirements for believers beyond God’s work through Christ Jesus.
Colossians 1:15–22 and 2:6–15 feature Paul’s corrective to the Colossians regarding Christ’s preeminence. Christ has made believers complete (Colossians 2:9–10) and raised them to a new life (2:12–14). Further, He has triumphantly “spoiled principalities and powers” (2:15). These other philosophies, beliefs, and practices had taken the Colossians spiritually captive. If they continued to follow the false teachings, they would essentially deny the power of Christ’s work.
I. Troubling Judgment
A. Shadowy Practices (vv. 16–17)
16. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.
The Law of Moses prohibited Jews from consuming particular meats (see Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:2–20). These particular prohibitions would not have applied to Gentiles. However, first-century church leaders added prohibitions regarding the Gentiles’ consumption of food (see Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25). Paul provided further guidance in this regard: believers can consume as long as it does not cause others to sin (see Romans 14:20–21; 1 Corinthians 8).
Alcoholic drink was standard in the first century AD (example: John 2:3–10). The Law of Moses did not prohibit consumption except for specific situations (examples: Leviticus 10:8–11; Numbers 6:1–4). Likely some believers in Colossae had consumed alcohol, leading others to judge the believers. However, merely eating certain foods or consuming certain drinks cannot cause spiritual uncleanliness (see Mark 7:14–19).
Religious celebrations and certain holy days held importance in Judaism (examples: Leviticus 23; 1 Chronicles 23:28–31; Ezekiel 45:17). The New Testament uses the underlying Greek word translated holyday when mentioning Jewish feasts (examples: Luke 2:41–42; John 6:4; 7:2). The Jewish religious calendar is partly based on the lunar cycle. Therefore, a new moon marked a new month and indicated the timing of certain celebrations (see Numbers 10:10; 28:11–15). Additionally, the Law of Moses required observance of the sabbath days for rest (see Exodus 20:8–11; Leviticus 23:3).
First-century churches in Rome and Galatia encountered conflict regarding similar regulations and observances (see Romans 14:1–10; Galatians 4:8–11). Paul rejected such regulations because they would cause division (4:17) and destruction (Romans 14:13–18). Believers should serve others with love, rather than chase appearances of holiness that disregard love. Out of this consideration and love for others, believers may limit their freedom to avoid causing other believers to sin (see 14:19–21; Galatians 5:13–15).
What Do You Think?
How do you evaluate the spiritual benefits of religious celebrations or observances?
How do you ensure that these events lead you closer to Christ and do not become an end to themselves?
17. Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
By calling these practices a shadow, Paul may have used the wording of Greek philosophy of his day. Plato, a Greek philosopher who lived approximately three centuries before Paul, is one possible reference. Plato’s work Republic described the physical world as a shadow of the ideal reality. Therefore, Paul used this philosophical language of his day to make a teaching point. The Law of Moses and its requirements were temporary and could not offer salvation (see Romans 3:19–20; Galatians 3:21–25). They are “a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (Hebrews 10:1). Instead, these requirements would find fulfillment in a new era of salvation.
The things to come is one way that Paul describes salvation in and through Christ Jesus (compare Galatians 4:4–5). Christ is the culmination of all requirements for salvation (see Romans 10:4). “The body of his flesh through death” brings redemption to all people who believe in Him (Colossians 1:22). Salvation comes through faith in Christ’s merciful and generous giving of himself (see Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5; etc.).
B. Misdirected Humility (v. 18)
18a. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels.
To beguile means “to deceive or lead astray through charm and persuasion.” This instance is the only appearance of the Greek word in the New Testament. The Colossians were in danger of being deceived by false teaching. Their deception would result in losing the reward of a life submitted to God’s rule.
Paul commanded the Colossians to live with humility (see Colossians 3:12). However, the pagan teachers in Colossae had developed a false sense of humility. The nature of their displays of false humility is unknown. One possibility is that Paul was referring to voluntary practices of self-denial, such as fasting. Jesus had warned His followers regarding people who make a public spectacle of their fasting (see Matthew 6:16). These displays revealed an insincere or misdirected sense of humility. Rather than showing humility, these false teachers had become hypocritical and prideful through their actions (compare Colossians 2:18c, below).
The exact meaning of the phrase worshipping of angels is unknown. One interpretation is that the false teachers believed that angels would intercede to God on behalf of humans. However, worshipping a created being is a misdirected form of worship (see Revelation 22:8–9; see also Luke 4:7–8; Romans 1:25). Throughout the letter to the Colossians, Paul highlights the superiority of Christ over the created order (example: Colossians 1:16–17; 2:9–10). Because of Jesus’ role as the “great high priest,” believers confidently approach God without any other intercessor (Hebrews 4:14–16).
18b. Intruding into those things which he hath not seen.
Extreme practices of self-denial can sometimes result in a dramatic (and unhealthy) physical response, like a hallucination. Some false teachers in Colossae were likely experiencing such denial-induced hallucinations. These seemingly out-of-body experiences led them to see those things which they hath not seen.
God has revealed himself to people through visions (examples: Genesis 46:2–4; Acts 9:10–16). However, not all such occurrences come from God (examples: Ezekiel 13:6–7; Zechariah 10:2). The false teachers in Colossae led people astray by claiming their experiences as evidence of their supposedly heightened spirituality.
This verse includes the only appearance of the Greek word translated intruding in the New Testament. Its meaning in this verse is difficult to interpret for modern students. One interpretation teaches that the word refers to the false teachers’ act of entering into great detail regarding their vision-like hallucinations.
18c. Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.
Paul’s writings have at least six discernible uses of the word flesh. Among these uses are references to living creatures in general (see 1 Corinthians 15:39), the human body specifically (see 6:16), and rebellious human nature (see Romans 8:3–12). In this verse, Paul uses the adjective form of flesh to describe rebellious human behavior. This manner of flesh includes any human desires hostile to God (see Galatians 5:16–17, 19–21; compare Romans 13:13–14). The flesh and the fleshly mind are hostile to God and God’s will. The false teachers in Colossae had reached a point of misdirected spiritual “wisdom.” Instead of listening to God as the source of wisdom, they sought worldly wisdom that fed their fleshly desires. As a result, their so-called knowledge had puffed them up with pride (compare 1 Corinthians 8:1).
C. Spiritual Decapitation (v. 19)
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.
The comparison of the church to the body frequently occurs in Paul’s writings (examples: Romans 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 12:12–27; Ephesians 4:14–16). He had previously declared Christ as the Head of the church (Colossians 1:15–18; see Ephesians 1:22). If a body is cut off from the head, the body will die. The Colossian church was on the verge of perishing if it did not maintain a connection with Christ (compare John 15:1–7). Colossae’s false teachers risked obstructing their students’ connection to Christ. Spiritual death was certain if they were not rooted in Christ.
Each member of the church has a particular role and work, just as joints and bands have in a human body. The church will increase in strength as its members abide in Christ (example: Acts 2:42–47). Growth comes not from human works, as what was likely taught by the false teachers in Colossae. Instead, the church grows because God empowers it to do so (see 1 Corinthians 3:6).
What Do You Think?
What steps will you take to remove distractions and circumstances that detach you from a life with Christ?
How do your efforts contribute to your congregation’s connection to Christ?
Dancing with the Oldies videocassettes. P90X. Peloton. I’ve begun these fitness programs, only to put them aside after I did not achieve the desired results. After discarding one program, my wife reminded me why I failed to reach my goals: I had ignored the program’s dietary plan. Just working out would not lead me to my desired results; my eating habits would also have to change.
The same thing can happen in our faith when we focus on our external practices but fail to maintain a connection to Christ. When we disregard Him, we fail to receive the life that He promises for His followers. The most important part of our “spiritual fitness” is our connection with Christ. Does your life bear fruit (see John 15:4) that demonstrates this connection? —J. M.
II. Worldly Rules
A. Died with Christ (v. 20)
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.
The rudiments of the world are the forces—visible and invisible—that hold power in the world. These could include demonic forces, pagan philosophies, or rules of vanity regarding the consumption of food and drink. These forces are the “principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15) that lead people to follow “philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world” (2:8).
Although the Colossian believers lived in the world, they were not to partake in its behavior. This manner of living described their old life. However, they were dead to that way of life. Instead, they had been raised into a new life with Christ through His death and resurrection (see Colossians 2:11–13). As a result of their new life, they would reorient their hearts toward heavenly things (see 3:1–3) and live as “the elect of God” (3:12–17).
What Do You Think?
In what ways do you reorient your life due to your being “dead with Christ”?
How do you ensure that you are seeking the Spirit’s guidance and not relying on your own efforts?
B. Temporary in Application
21. (Touch not; taste not; handle not.
Paul summarized the ordinances and commands of the false teachers. To taste not likely refers to their judgment regarding the consumption of food and drink (see Colossians 2:16, above). The meaning behind their commands to touch not and handle not is unclear. The Law of Moses prohibited people from handling certain items (example: Leviticus 5:2–3). However, the false teachers might have expanded those prohibitions beyond the scope of the Law of Moses.
The generality of these commands might also indicate a particular perspective from the false teachers regarding the physical world. They might have taught that people should withdraw from the world. This perspective is contrary to the behavior expected of followers of Jesus. Believers are not to separate themselves from the world. Instead, they must remain in the world but be sanctified from it (see John 17:15–21; Romans 12:2).
22. Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Human commandments and doctrines cannot provide eternal value. These things would eventually perish and no longer apply (compare 1 Corinthians 6:13). Human commandments and practices are not always worthless. Some can lead to growth and maturity in a person’s spiritual health. However, adherence to these practices does not reliably indicate the status of a person’s heart toward God (see Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:1–9).
What Do You Think?
How do you decide whether or not to observe a human tradition in order to keep a relationship with another person?
How do the actions of Paul in Acts 16:1–4 and 21:17–26 inform your response to the previous question?
C. Limited in Force (v. 23)
23a. Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body.
The false teachers in Colossae had taught that following human commands and doctrines would bring unique wisdom from God. However, these things could never bring wisdom from God. Instead, they led to worldly wisdom and foolishness (see Romans 1:21–23; 1 Corinthians 3:19–20).
Paul unpacks three aspects of their commands and teachings. First were their requirements for worship. They focused on the human will to worship the created and not the Creator. Second, such worship led to “voluntary humility” (Colossians 2:18a, above). Such displays of misdirected humility likely included practices of self-denial.
Third, these requirements and displays of humility can lead a person to neglect the body (see Colossians 2:16, 21, above). Practices of self-denial are not always harmful. Scripture commands believers to “glorify God” with their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). Therefore, denying certain physical pleasures can help shape a believer’s faith and trust in God. These practices, however, are not required to have a right relationship with God. The false teachers were more concerned with demonstrating self-denial than spiritual maturation.
True wisdom comes from knowledge of God’s will rather than through misdirected worship and practices (see Colossians 1:9). God gifts this wisdom to His people (Ecclesiastes 2:26; James 1:5) and wants His people to share this wisdom with others (see Colossians 3:16).
23b. Not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
The attempts of the false teachers to control the flesh through misdirected worship and self-denying practices had failed (see Colossians 3:5–8). Only people who demonstrate faith in Christ and receive God’s Spirit can confront the flesh. Such people have life made new in Christ (see 3:9–10). Even if these self-denying practices and expressions of worship were of some value, such things could not completely prevent sinful desires.
What Do You Think?
How will you glorify God with your body (see 1 Corinthians 6:20)?
Who will you recruit as an accountability partner in this regard?
The Customer Service Manual
As a customer service lead for a major airline, I frequently read the customer service manual (CSM). This resource provided hundreds of pages of regulations regarding my response for almost every possible customer-service situation.
One time, the airline debuted an initiative to improve customer service. The plan empowered employees to make the best (and safest) decision for the customer, regardless of CSM’s directives. However, not all employees appreciated the newfound freedom. Some employees held firmly to the CSM, refusing to make decisions that seemed to go against the CSM.
Some people in Colossae had submitted to ineffective human rules and religious regulations as the final authority. Paul reminded these people that these things could not restrain human desires. It only seemed wise for the people to follow such rules. Instead, believers have freedom from these rules because of Christ. What human rules and regulations seem full of wisdom but fail to bring you closer to Christ? —J. M.
A. Seek the Head!
Some false teachers in Colossae had made the Christian life more complicated than what was required by God. They had added obligations beyond God’s to the Colossian believers. We do not know why these teachers presented the Colossians with these things. The false teachers had forgotten or altogether disregarded the importance of a connection to Christ, the head of the church. Instead of seeking life in Christ, they vainly sought wisdom through human regulations.
It can be tempting to believe that we don’t add anything extra to our faith. Yet, the reality is that we often do. Sometimes, we set explicit or implicit rules on ourselves and, by extension, on other believers. Our observance of these rules or guidelines does not mean that our hearts are automatically more or less holy. But issues arise if we raise these rules to the same level as God’s Word. We or other believers may be spiritually harmed.
We should carefully examine our behavior regarding such regulations. Ensure that you first maintain a relationship with Christ, the head of the church. What, after all, can be added to the gospel of salvation through Christ? What more do we need? Only when we accept that Christ’s work has accomplished what we needed for reconciliation can we be filled with His wisdom. Ask for the Spirit’s guidance to discern whether you are following the world’s wisdom or God’s wisdom. At the Spirit’s leading, we will be free to engage in practices that lead to the glory of God and the edification of other believers. Seek the Head! And heed the Spirit.
Heavenly Father, we want wisdom that only You can give. Soften our hearts so we can be attentive to the work of Your Spirit. Guide us to follow Your will. May we, as the body, always remain attached to Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Spiritual life comes from Christ Jesus, the head.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 270-287). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.