Our text this morning is Colossians 2:8, 16-23. I have titled this message “Good-Looking Hypocrisy.” It isn’t hard to illustrate hypocrisy. We have all been surprised by something that looked good on the outside but was nasty on the inside. When I worked with college students they were of course prone to play pranks on each other. One night Kristalyn was making cookies for a group of them. These were regular cookie dough wrapped around half of a miniature snickers bar and then baked. Some of the guys took garlic powder and filled the inside of the dough with garlic powder rather than a snickers bar, and then gave it to one of the guys. [Didn’t Don tell us about the time when someone sent you Oreos, but they had replaced the filling with toothpaste].
Those examples are humorous, but this morning we will look at some warnings in Colossians 2 that are very serious. There is a kind of Christian living that looks great on the outside but is ugly on the inside. It is good-looking hypocrisy. This message is very important for each of us today because, like the Colossians, we are tempted to maintain a wonderfully spiritual appearance and actions, while neglecting true spirituality. Watch out for good-looking hypocrisy: watch out for in yourself!
READ 2:8, 16-23
Two main points this morning: 1) watch out for good-looking signs of hypocrisy 2) understand how these are different from true spirituality.
Watch out for good-looking signs of hypocrisy. We’ll see four of them:
Giving allegiance to men’s philosophy:
We are tempted to give our allegiance to the philosophies of men. This word “philosophy” is not a bad word, it means love of wisdom. But this is the love of man’s wisdom, not God’s. Verse 8 gives us three characteristics:
- Empty deception. Man’s wisdom that sounds spiritual but really isn’t is a trick – it’s empty. It’s like getting a beautifully wrapped present, but when you open it, there’s nothing in it.
- Tradition of men. This is not from God, it’s from men. Their tradition.
- Elementary principles of this world. I believe that this is a reference to the regulations of the law. This word “elementary principles” means the “ABCs.” And Paul seems to use it in Galatians 4:1-10 to refer to the regulations of the Mosaic law. We can call those things the ABCs, because they were just foreshadowing Christ. They were to bring us to Christ. They were an important stage in the story of redemption, but an incomplete one until Christ came. These things were good - they pointed people to God’s perfect priest, perfect sacrifice: they pointed to Christ. But now that Christ has come, going back to focus on those ABCs is like a college student deciding to go back to kindergarten.
Men’s philosophy looks spiritual; it follows traditions, it may be connected in some way with the regulations of the law – but ultimately it is just the tradition of men. It just looks spiritual, it isn’t really. So watch out for giving allegiance to men’s philosophy.
Trying to appease others based on your observance of religious traditions:
We might also try to look spiritual and make people happy just by observing religious traditions. Paul says “let no one act as your judge” about these things. As we saw three weeks ago, these are matters of liberty. It DOES matter what you do in these areas, you can’t just do whatever you want. But you must decide in your conscience before God what He wants you to do, not let other people decide what you should do. Beware of trying to make other people think we are spiritual by following the traditions that they like!
- Food / drink. This refers to the Jewish dietary laws about what and how you eat and drink. In a little bit we will look at Matthew 15, which contains an example of this: the Pharisees say “Jesus, why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat bread, like the elders say we are supposed to.” There was a tradition that if you didn’t wash your hands before you ate, you became spiritually unclean. Another example, which we talked about 3 weeks ago, is the issue of eating meat that had been offered to idols.
- Special days (festivals / new moons / Sabbaths). Festival refers to the official Jewish festivals, like the Sabbath and the feast of tabernacles; the new moon was a monthly Jewish celebration that God ordained for Israel; of course the weekly Sabbath.
Christ has come, so these are matters of liberty. You decide in your conscience before God what He wants you to do; don’t try to look spiritual by following any tradition that anyone likes. Are you doing it because you want to look spiritual, or because you have wrestled with the issue before God and concluded what He wants you to do?
Following man’s ideas about spirituality:
READ 18-19 One commentator called these “two of the most puzzling verses in the NT.” They are very hard to translate, and as a result of that the meaning is debated.
- self-abasement. Beating up on yourself may look spiritual but it isn’t really. It doesn’t save you from sin, doesn’t make you more holy.
- worshipping angels. Maybe they said that since God is so holy we couldn’t ever worship Him, so we’ll worship angels as our mediators. Or maybe some men said they had visions of angels or talked to angels. The worship of angels is just man’s idea about what would be spiritual; it isn’t God’s.
- visions. Making them up or making much of normal dreams or having demonic visions, I don’t know.
This part is clear: the person who is promoting these things is “inflated without cause in his fleshly mind.” This isn’t godly – this is from his flesh. This is just some man’s ideas about spirituality. Beware of following man’s ideas about spirituality.
Submitting yourself to decrees of men related to the Law:
READ vv. 20-23
- Don’t handle / don’t taste / don’t touch, refers again to decrees of men related to the Law, whether they were directly from the Law or additions to it. Paul says “we died with Christ” to that. He completely fulfilled the Law and paid for our rebellion against it, so that we are now “dead” to the obligations of the Law. It does not have power over us any longer.
· He says “Why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to these things?” If you are not saved, and you have rejected Christ, you don’t have any hope for forgiveness of your sins. So you just hope that you can be good enough. So if anyone has a rule or regulation that sounds spiritual, you obey it, in the hopes that you will make it. So if you are still living like that – following any and every rule and regulation in the hopes that it will make you spiritual, you are “living in the world,” not living like someone who has full forgiveness in Christ.
You’re forgiven! The penalty has been paid! The Law of Moses is not your judge any longer – you are under the law of Christ. Why are you trying to look spiritual by submitting yourself to decrees of men related to the Law of Moses?
Understand how these are different from true spirituality: These things all look spiritual. Look at verse 23 “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body.” They make a person look spiritual! So you have to pay careful attention to understand how these are different from true spirituality.
Men’s philosophy doesn’t lead you toward Christ, but away from Him.
READ v. 8 The tradition of men is not “according to Christ.” It isn’t dependent on Christ; it doesn’t lead you toward Christ; it leads you away. Notice he says “see to it that no one take you captive.” If you are following a man’s philosophy, his wisdom about true spirituality, you giving your allegiance to him. Christ doesn’t have your allegiance. You have been taken captive by someone else; he has stolen your allegiance away from Christ. That’s what happens when we follow men’s philosophy.
The Jewish ceremonies and laws just foreshadowed Christ’s coming, and now He’s come!
READ vv.16-17 These things were not wrong, they were just a shadow of what was to come, and that is Christ. He is the substance behind the shadow.
· Hebrews 8:5 the sacrifices under the law, and the tabernacle itself, were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” An imperfect copy of the real thing, pointing God’s people to the heavenly realities. Or foreshadowing what was coming in Christ.
· Hebrews 10:1-4 is also very important. “The Law … is a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of the things.” It “can never make perfect those who draw near … it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
· They served a purpose until Christ. So if you continue to pay attention to those things and ignore Christ - you are paying attention to the shadow, and ignoring the reality!
[comment: does this mean that we should stop reading Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers? No, for two reasons. Listen to Jesus in Luke 24:27, 44 “Beginning with Moses and with all the propohets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures … All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Law of Moses is about Jesus, it foreshadows Christ. So we read it to see Christ. And, it is revelation from God. It does teach us about the nature of God. So read it to see Christ, and read it to learn about the character of God.]
Human ideas about spirituality depend on your own strength, not grace from Christ.
READ vv.18-19 Any one who teaches you his own ideas about spirituality is inflated in his fleshly mind; he is completely dependent on himself. And he is not “holding fast to the head.” Of course the head of the body is Christ. If you are part of a body, you had better stay attached to and pay close attention to the head! You’ll be in real trouble without it! That’s what these people are like. They are trying to be spiritual in their own strength with their own ideas, and they are not dependent on grace from Christ. They are a worthless as a body part which can’t get signals from the brain. So it can’t move, it can’t do anything. Watch out for anything that pushes you to depend on your won strength, not the grace you receive from a real relationship with Christ.
The decrees of men related to the Law look spiritual, but they have no power against your flesh (but death with Christ does!).
READ vv. 20-23 These decrees of men always sound really spiritual, but they don’t have any power against your flesh. And your flesh is the real problem. Remember unless Christ does spiritual circumcision on the body of your flesh, you are dead. No manmade rules are going to take care of that. And once you are saved you have to walk in the Spirit to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. You have to know Christ and love Him and love His Word and be controlled by the Spirit.
These things that look good and look spiritual really aren’t. They don’t lead you toward Christ. They don’t focus on Christ. They are based on self-dependence, not Christ-dependence. And they have no power to subdue your flesh and make you Christ-like. It looks good, but it is really all hypocrisy. Before we look at some applications from this, I want to point out two possible misinterpretations of this passage:
1. All traditions are wrong. Verse 8 says “don’t be taken captive by the tradition of men.” But this same word for tradition is also used positively in the NT. Clearly all traditions are not wrong. They can be helpful barriers and protections for us; they reflect the wisdom of centuries of godly men and women before us. All traditions are not wrong. BUT as soon as a tradition deviates from Scripture, and leads us away from Biblical obedience or away from Christ, it is wrong.
2. All rules are wrong. Vv. 20-21 “why do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch.’” This is referring mainly to rules related to salvation. Stuff men make up and then say “God will save you if you’ll do this!” It’s not true – salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by those manmade rules. That kind of rule is wrong. Also any man-made rules that don’t really reflect Christ-like living. Or forcing your personal standards on other people in areas of liberty. That kind of rule is dangerous. But in general rules are good. Self-discipline is good. Submitting yourself to the rules that the authorities over you lay down is good, and obedience to that is commanded in Scripture. So don’t take this to mean that all rules are wrong.
How do we really apply a text like this? When you deal with many things that have to do with Jewish law or traditions, and Jewish converts, and 1st century culture, it is easy to feel a little lost, like this really doesn’t help me. I think there is a general principle that is very applicable for us today. I want to show it to you in another passage, to help clarify this.
·READ Matt. 15:2-20
· Jesus says that they v.3 “transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition,” v.6 “invalidate the word of God for the sake of your tradition,” and v.9 “teach as doctrines the precepts of men.”
· the issue was that the disciples ate bread before they washed their hands, against the teachings of the Jewish elders. Jesus replies that they make up traditions that directly contradict the law. For example, they had come up with this convenient loophole by which a child could be prevented from having to take care of his parents, by saying that his money was dedicated to God and couldn’t be used for anything else.
· Verse 8 states the general problem, the general principle: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
· He concludes by saying that it isn’t what comes in your mouth that matters that much; it is what comes out from your heart. He basically says “stop worrying about whether you get a little bit of dirt from your hands on your bread when you eat it! Start worrying about evil thoughts, adultery, slander, false witness, stealing.”
· Heart love and obedience is what really matters to God; they were doing external things which looked spiritual (like saying that their possessions are dedicated to God) when really their heart was set on disobeying God (by not honoring their parents).
· Matthew 15:8 states for us the overarching principle that we see in Colossians 2 also. “You honor me with your lips; but your heart is far from me.”
1. Is Christianity just a bunch of works by which you think you will get yourself to Heaven? Or have you ever been broken of your sinfulness and humbled yourself to realize that you had no hope, no forgiveness without the blood of Jesus? Are you playing the Christian game, doing the Christian stuff - or is Jesus your Savior and Master?
2. Are you spending all of your time worrying about the details in areas that are unclear, and very little time focusing on obeying God in the areas that are clear? Some people know the ins and outs and details of every controversial issue in the church today, but they don’t really love and obey God in their heart?
3. Are you paying close attention to outward regulations, so that you will look spiritual, but your heart is full of fleshly indulgence? Do you think you are a good Christian just because you are going through the motions? Do you think you are spiritual even though your heart is a mess? Even though you are totally out of sync with the head? In the words of Jesus in Matthew 15, do you honor Him with your lips, when your heart is far from Him?
Here are some made-up examples:
· A family that crusades against granting marriage rights to homosexuals; they are signing petitions and writing politicians and putting up signs; but their marriage does not demonstrate the relationship between Christ and the church. Their marriage is a mess.
· A Father who is very vocal in telling the baseball coach that his child will not miss Awana on Wednesday night. He will not be at baseball practice if they try to practice on Wednesday, because he must be at Awana. But then dad goes home at night and stays up late watching trash on television. Dad looks really spiritual because his son never misses Awana: but really Dad’s heart loves the things of the world.
· A child who acts like an angel in Sunday School and brings his Bible and answers all of the questions so that the teacher will think he is a really good kid, but goes to school the next day and is a bully and a smart-aleck and overall just plain selfish in everything he does.
· A mother who insists on the highest standard of modesty for her and her daughters, but never spends any time alone reading her Bible.
· A man who gives 20% of his income to the church each month, but won’t even spend 5 minutes by himself praying for his fellow church members or his church leadership.
Does this mean that crusading to protect marriage legally or having your child in Awana or acting correctly on Sunday or having high standards of modesty or giving generously is wrong? Does it mean that anyone who does those things is a hypocrite? No! But are those things true spirituality? It depends. It depends on the heart. They might be the fruit of genuine Christlikeness and love for God. Or they might be just good-lookin’ hypocrisy.
Who are you really? An outward show? A game? An act? Or are you real? Is there heart and substance to your love for God and obedience to Him?
If we took away all of the outward regulations: all of the taste not, touch not, honor this day, do this, don’t do that; all of the highly visible good things you do – and all that was left was our relationship with God and love for Him and obedience to Him and delight in Christ. What would people see? Would be exposed as a fraud; a good-lookin’ hypocrite; or would people see that we are real. Not perfect, but real. There is real substance there. Real love for God. Real excitement about Christ. Not just good-looking external stuff.