April 12, 2016

April 10, 2016 - Colossians 2:18-23

Theme: Keep a good Head on your shoulders

These Scriptures are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, we may have life in His name. Grace, peace, and every blessing from God be to you in the name of Jesus Christ. 

An interesting thing about the way the Bible describes salvation is that it often uses financial terms. Sin is spoken of as a wage that we’ve earned for ourselves. Our status as unrighteous before God is likened to a debt. We see descriptions about how Jesus had to pay a ransom for our salvation. The very word, Redemption, is a financial term, meaning “to buy something back.” One particular section of Scripture that uses financial terms is Isaiah 35: "Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! 2 Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy?”

Isaiah began his critique of God’s people by likening their spiritual actions to fiscal activities. What they had done by trying to save themselves was equivalent to spending their money on nothing. And what God had done for them by freely redeeming them was equivalent to buying food and drink without being charged. It’s no surprise that the Holy Spirit has made this connection many times throughout the Bible. Finances are a very important part of life, it gives us an interesting look at the great value of our salvation in Christ. We spend our entire lives working to make a living and to provide for those around us. What a miracle that we don’t have to also work for life with God! That is a free gift to us, but as the words suggest, it was also one that came at a great cost.

As we focus today on the seventh commandment, we consider how we could possible steal from God and how someone could cheat us out of our reward of salvation. Stealing seems like such a simple, black and white issue. It’s not a hard thing to determine whether you have stolen someone. It’s also not hard to tell whom you’ve stolen from, it’s a sin that often directly affects individual to individual. Those parts about stealing aren’t that difficult to understand. But, in what ways might we be stealing from God? In what ways might people be trying to cheat us out of our salvation? Those questions are trickier to pin down. We pray that with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, through His inspired Word, we would be led to Godly wisdom in this matter.

Colossians 2:18-23 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. 20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using-- according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

To establish the basis of his argument here, Paul draws upon an illustration that he shared with other Christians. When it comes protecting oneself from being cheated out of eternal inheritance in heaven, it is necessary to remember who is in control. To show that, Paul likens the Christian faith to a body. The head is obviously the most important body part. Without the head, life cannot exist and thinking cannot be accomplished. When Paul calls Jesus the Head of the Christian body, the lesson is clear. Everything begins and ends with Christ. Paul used the same illustration in other letters, too. For example, to the Corinthians he wrote: For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).

Likewise he taught the Ephesians: That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-- Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14-16).

Paul is not describing a physical body, but what it means to be a Christian. In a similar place, he fully explained what it means to have Christ as the Head: 2 Corinthians 10:5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. The Head is not just the highest part of the body, it is the center of every thought, decision, and action. The head tells the other parts of the body when to move and what to do. As we consider what is important in life, no matter if we’re looking at the seventh commandment or any other topic, Christ must be the dominant force behind our thought-process.

In our lesson for today, Paul applies that to thinking about what you believe. He mentions a number of worship practices that were going on at that time: false humility, worship of angels, deprivation of the body, and other laws and regulations. Paul’s point is clear. If those things are not driven by Christ, they are not profitable for us. The believer’s Head is Jesus, therefore the believer’s thoughts and decisions will flow from the will of Christ.

Paul is careful to explain what he means because one might easily think that they are simply under Christ’s control, like being in a trance or being hypnotized. He further clarifies by saying, “if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations?” The believer never stops being an individual. You never stop being you. The difference of faith in Christ does not turn you into a helpless vegetable that has no control. You retain your will, your rights, and your freedom. The difference is that you are brought into unity with Christ, you become part of His body, the Holy Christian Church, and therefore you obey Him.  

Since Christ is the Head of the Church, those who become members of the Church are subject to Him. That means a number of things.
1) Christ defines what is acceptable and what isn’t.
2) Christ is the power behind works of service and fruits of faith.
3) Christ is the model for us to follow.
4) But, finally, and most important for our text, the glory belongs to Christ because He alone paid for our sin.

Paul was dealing with beliefs that were seeking to take Christ out of the spotlight and put man in His place. Regulations like: Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle; these would elevate man’s glory by emphasizing what he accomplished for himself. In such a scenario Christ fades to the background and man eventually takes responsibility for his salvation, his decision making, and his example. In short, man becomes the Head – and the rightful glory that belongs only to God is stolen. 
We mentioned some of the financial terms that God uses to describe salvation in the Scriptures. It’s sadly ironic that man has done the same thing to suit his own desires. Instead of salvation being an inheritance that was paid by Christ; people now look at it as an earning they accomplished. Instead of truth being readily acquired through the Scriptures, people “shop around” for what their itching ears want to hear. Instead of the source of our faith flowing from the ransom paid, it becomes a matter of subjective reasoning and feeling.

Paul lists several examples of this that he had to deal with. Most of them don’t apply to us as much, but we see the same themes in other things. For example, in the last 30-40 years, a main theme with many American churches has been about growth. The idea proposes that if a church is growing, it’s doing the right thing. Emphasis isn’t on the Law and Gospel to effect change within a person’s heart, instead the priority becomes worship atmosphere, facilities, and conforming to the latest trends. Talking about the actual Word of God doesn’t matter so much because the most important thing is how a person feels about himself. And, of course, these methods are validated because numbers increase. The church grows and grows with throngs of people feeling satisfied and fulfilled. Attendance growa, greater and greater offerings flow in, huge sanctuaries, facilities, and campuses are constructed. Amazing what turning a tiny, blind eye to certain parts of the Bible can accomplish.

But, after the fervor dies down; once one gets used to the spectacle of the experience which captivated them initially, there’s no substance to keep that faith going. One critical scholar compared this kind of church growth philosophy to substituting a Styrofoam cup for beautiful chalice. You may still have the wine present, the Word of God, but you’ve dumbed it down to a cheap form of entertainment and a trick to fulfill one’s own feelings. And when that feeling wears off, the Word has been compromised already.

Compare this to the things Paul describes: false humility, vanity, fleshly lusts, and bodily neglect. They share with this cheap form of church growth the selfish, subjective emphasis on what man wants over what God wants. And the result of placing ourselves as the head of the body is the command that one must make their decision about Christ. Think about that difference.

When Christ is kept as the Head, we are led by what He tells us in Scripture. His Word reminds us that “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” That there is “one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5-6).” And that it is through His precious blood that you have been redeemed, bought back, to God (1 Peter 1:18-19). That’s the financial plan from the mind of Christ. That’s the message that God desires you to be conformed to and to have dictate your actions in life. But when man becomes the head, then subjective opinions reign. Christianity becomes a popularity contest. Instead of free grace and faith, one is commanded, by regulation, to decide to accept Christ. Instead of the beauty of forgiveness, the many obligations of church work, like serving others, giving offerings, and being a good example; take center stage over the Gospel. Really, all this can be summarized as stealing the glory that belongs alone to God – first Christ as our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as our sanctifier.        

This kind of philosophy was so shocking and obtrusive to the pure Gospel that the Holy Spirit had to create a new word just to describe it. That word comes in verse 23 as “self-imposed religion.” Today, that sounds like a familiar thing to us because we’re confronted with so many beliefs that are generated from man’s sinful heart. The true teaching of God’s Word has become so offensive to some that they deny the very existence of truth, which is in itself, a logical contradiction. They would rather believe a blatant, logical contradiction, than the message of the cross and what it means for us, that we have died to the basic principles of the world. When you put all these things together, what results is “self-imposed religion,” an idea so unique that a word had to be created to describe it. One scholar defines it like this: “a set of religious beliefs and practices resulting from one's own desires and initiative, religion thought up by oneself.”

This is what we deal with today in our own hearts and with the majority of arguments against the Christian faith. Really, the arguments are against something more specific than just the idea of faith. They are against Christ being the head. They refuse to submit anyone but themselves, and what it becomes is the most heinous form of thievery known – stealing honor and glory from God and cheating fellow brothers and sisters out of the reward of the Gospel.

My advice to you is the same as Paul’s advice to the Colossians, and the Corinthians, and the Ephesians. Remember Christ as your Head. He’s your Head because you are part of His body, the Church. He is your Head because He purchased life for you. He’s your Head because no religion you, or anyone else, makes up will be good enough. He’s your Head because He paid the ransom against your captors. When the law of God held you captive under God’s righteousness, Christ freed you from those bonds. With that in mind, what sense does it now make to go back into captivity under man-made laws?! That’s even worse than being captive under God’s law!

The “self-imposed religion” of our day is only a carefully shrouded set of regulations. Regulations like: what our building must look like, how many kind deeds we must do each week, how much offering money I must pledge, what our growth quota each year must be, what standard of feeling I place in my heart, and ultimately the most distasteful of all: the decision I must make to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. Do not be deceived, those all sound like good things, but they are not Gospel; they are not the way you have learned Christ, they are just modern additions to list of regulations. And they all come from the Mind of man. 

Remember that Christ is you Head, because by faith He helps guide your thoughts and actions. He is busy thinking for you through His Word. He is helping you every step of the way.

And with Christ as your Head, you will grow and increase and where individual Christians like you grow and increase, so also does the Church of God. Paul said as much in our text: holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Your spiritual brain is talking to you there, listen! This is the impulse that is sent to you as a member of the body, to get you to move in accordance with God’s will and operate for growth. It’s not a law, it’s the Gospel.

There’s a lot more to God’s growth plan than human vanity and numerical increase. He wants the Church to grow in truth and love, no matter how many may be present in the pews. Keep Christ as the Head upon your spiritual shoulders and you will prosper under His grace. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

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