Tuesday 29th September 2020
Colossians – False Asceticism
Colossians 2: 16 – 23
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.
Paul mentions “disqualification” (v. 18) and “regulations” (v. 22). Both can have a negative connotation: that we have not done enough, know enough, are good enough to be acceptable to God. (I concede that in our Dissenting genes there is a suspicion of human rules and regulations in the Church setting!)
One of the most memorable of Church Council meetings in my home church – over thirty years ago – was the occasion our minister asked us whether we would support a request for confirmation by young people with Down syndrome. He feared some might consider the candidates themselves might not be able, in the minds of the rest of the church membership, to understand the obligations of membership. When asked how the request had come about he told us that they had simply said, “I love Jesus. I want to be a church member”. On hearing that the Church Council made its decision very quickly: these candidates not only should be received into membership, they were likely to embody a greater insight into the key reason for confirmation! By contrast, I can recall Holy Communion services in which only a proportion of the congregation received the bread and wine. Their stated reason for not making their communion was invariably, “I’m not good enough”. In the church at Colossae there was a similar tendency: to intimidate and unsettle Christian disciples with the threat of disqualification and failing to meet the requirements of the regulations. Paul insists that none should be excluded from the circle of those who are regarded as “in Christ”. Rigid enforcement of prescribed festivals and rituals, dietary and piety requirements, particular theology and worship styles, has potential for missing the real point. Perhaps, to be able to say, “I love Jesus” is the place to start … and to which we should return?
we thank you for your gracious acceptance of us –
beyond any deserving or qualification on our part.
Enable us to be generous in our regard of those whose festivals, food and drink,
theology and worship styles differ from our own
and grant us the wisdom to regulate our living and loving
by what we see revealed in Christ Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.