Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Colossians 2:20-23

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.


Last week’s post provided an introduction to Colossae and the Colossians, a congregation that Paul had never met but loved deeply, as if he knew them personally.

They were good people in danger of being spiritually ravaged by Judaisers, pre-Gnostics (the true Gnostics weren’t around yet) and ascetics. All denied the sufficiency of Christ.

Paul’s purpose in writing to the Colossians was to impress upon them that Christ is sufficient. We do not need bolt-ons such as Mosaic law, visions, extra knowledge or mortification of the flesh.

Christ reconciled us to God through His cross and resurrection. That is Paul’s message.

These are the verses between last week’s and this week’s (emphases mine):

Alive in Christ

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities[b] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.[c]

Let No One Disqualify You

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment 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,[d] 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.

Excerpts from Matthew Henry’s commentary follow. I will write about those verses in detail in a few years’ time, as they are in Year C. I’m working through the Gospels in that Lectionary year right now in 2022.

Henry says:

Observe, Being established in the faith, we must abound therein, and improve in it more and more; and this with thanksgiving. The way to have the benefit and comfort of God’s grace is to be much in giving thanks for it. We must join thanksgiving to all our improvements, and be sensible of the mercy of all our privileges and attainments

There is a philosophy which is a noble exercise of our reasonable faculties, and highly serviceable to religion, such a study of the works of God as leads us to the knowledge of God and confirms our faith in him. But there is a philosophy which is vain and deceitful, which is prejudicial to religion, and sets up the wisdom of man in competition with the wisdom of God, and while it pleases men’s fancies ruins their faith; as nice and curious speculations about things above us, or of no use and concern to us; or a care of words and terms of art, which have only an empty and often a cheating appearance of knowledge

Under the law, the presence of God dwelt between the cherubim, in a cloud which covered the mercy-seat; but now it dwells in the person of our Redeemer, who partakes of our nature, and is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and has more clearly declared the Father to us

In Christ we are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (v. 11), by the work of regeneration in us, which is the spiritual or Christian circumcision … And it is the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Tit 3 5. It consists in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, in renouncing sin and reforming our lives, not in mere external rites

the thing signified by our baptism is that we are buried with Christ, as baptism is the seal of the covenant and an obligation to our dying to sin; and that we are raised with Christ, as it is a seal and obligation to our living to righteousness, or newness of life

Now through Christ we, who were dead in sins, are quickened; that is, effectual provision is made for taking away the guilt of sin, and breaking the power and dominion of it. Quickened together with him—by virtue of our union to him, and in conformity to him. Christ’s death was the death of our sins; Christ’s resurrection is the quickening of our souls

When we remember the dying of the Lord Jesus, and see him nailed to the cross, we should see the hand-writing against us taken out of the way

Let no man therefore judge you in meat nor drink, etc., v. 16. Much of the ceremonies of the law of Moses consisted in the distinction of meats and days … here the apostle shows that since Christ has come, and has cancelled the ceremonial law, we ought not to keep it up. “Let no man impose those things upon you, for God has not imposed them: if God has made you free, be not you again entangled in that yoke of bondage” …

Observe the advantages we have under the gospel, above what they had under the law: they had the shadows, we have the substance

Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, v. 18. It looked like a piece of modesty to make use of the mediation of angels, as conscious to ourselves of our unworthiness to speak immediately to God; but, though it has a show of humility, it is a voluntary, not a commanded humility; and therefore it is not acceptable, yea, it is not warrantable: it is taking that honour which is due to Christ only and giving it to a creature. Besides, the notions upon which this practice was grounded were merely the inventions of men and not by divine revelation …

Pride is at the bottom of a great many errors and corruptions, and even of many evil practices, which have great show and appearance of humility. Those who do so do not hold the head, v. 19. They do in effect disclaim Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man

John MacArthur sums up those verses as follows:

Focus your constant attention on the all-sufficient Christ. Don’t run around looking for a new rule, a new ritual, a new vision, a new deeper experience, a new higher experience, a new kind of self-denial, a new particular human philosophy. Just focus on Christ. Make your concentration and leave it there, and you’ll experience what is sufficient for spirituality.

Moving on to today’s verses, Paul asks the Colossians why, if, in Christ, they died to the elemental spirits of the world, do they still want to submit themselves to such things (verse 20).

These include elements of Mosaic law, particularly with certain foods or creatures — ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (verse 21) — as well as asceticism’s desire for bodily purity through self-denial.

Paul says that such injunctions refer to perishables and come from human precepts and teachings (verse 22).

Henry says that such practices:

tend to corrupt the Christian faith, having no other authority than the traditions and injunctions of men.

Paul tells the Colossians that these injuctions and prohibitions appear wise in promoting self-made religion, asceticism and mortifying the flesh, however, they cannot stop indulgence of the flesh (verse 23).

Henry points out that Paul is saying that following such rulings usurps Christ’s authority:

Subjection to ordinances, or human appointments in the worship of God, is highly blamable, and contrary to the freedom and liberty of the gospel … And the imposition of them is invading the authority of Christ, the head of the church, and introducing another law of commandments contained in ordinances, when Christ has abolished the old one, Eph 2 15. 3. Such things have only a show of wisdom, but are really folly. It is true wisdom to keep close to the appointments of the gospel, and an entire subjection to Christ, the only head of the church.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s emphasis on doctrine first, then behaviour, which will take us nicely into Colossians 3 next week:

They have everything in having Christ. And so, Paul lays down solidly the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of Christ sufficiency in chapters 1 and 2. Now watch this, having laid down solid doctrine that Christ is all, Christ is everything, Christ is sufficient, then in chapter 3 he says, “Now, on the basis of that doctrine, here’s how you’re to behave. Since Christ is everything, don’t worry about human wisdom; don’t worry about all that other stuff, just concentrate on Him. He’s all you need.

But notice something – and we’ve seen it again and again, and I’m going to take some time to elucidate it because it’ll – it’ll indirectly get at the problem of spiritual intimidation that we’ve been talking about. Paul always goes from doctrine to behavior. In all of the teaching of the Scripture, in the New Testament, in all of the epistles we find, first great statements of truth, and then a call to behave in accord with truth. Since Christ is the fullness of all that fills all in all, since Christ is the head of the body, since Christ is the one in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, since Christ is completeness, since Christ is sufficient, since Christ is everything – chapter 3 – focus on Christ.

So, you have a practical exhortation based on a clear, doctrinal foundation. That’s always, always, always Paul’s approach.

It is also important to note that intimidation is a big factor with false teachers. Therefore, as believers, we are to avoid being intimidated at all costs:

What we must do – now mark this – what we do as believers must be based on solid doctrine – now notice – not on intimidation. That’s his point. Don’t be intimidated to do something that you know is not biblical.

In closing, I would add that Christian bookstores do the believer more harm than good with some of their books. How to live a Christian life. How to have a clean body by avoiding certain foods. How to do this and avoid that.

Answers to those ‘hows’ are all in the Bible, particularly Paul’s letters. Why do so many people read a book about someone’s interpretation of them when they can just read them first hand? A lot of what these books advocate is unbiblical to begin with. I’m thinking of a book that was popular ten or so years ago. It was about living a Christian life according to the Book of Leviticus. That book was erroneously adding to Christ, as if our Lord and Saviour were somehow insufficient. If Paul were alive, he would have denounced it straightaway.

Christ is all-sufficient for our spiritual needs in this life and in the world to come.

Next time — Colossians 3:18-25