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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:An Appearance of Wisdom
Text:Colossians 2:16-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:

321- O Day of Rest and Gladness         

438 - Thy Love to Me, O Christ  

426 - Jesus, with Thy Church Abide

398 - The Church’s One Foundation

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
04/26/2015 – a.m.
An Appearance of Wisdom”
Colossians 2:13-23

In Matthew chapter 15 the Pharisees came to Jesus with another complaint. The Pharisees were great at finding fault and they had found a serious problem, in their minds, with Jesus’ disciples. That chapter begins by saying, Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

To the Pharisees that was a serious charge. Washing hands before a meal wasn’t done as a matter of personal hygiene, as hopefully you children along with all of us, do. But rather washing hands before a meal for a Pharisee was another ceremonial rule. As they themselves said, it was the tradition of the elders, and since the elders had done it for ages it must be important, important enough that they brought this charge against Jesus and His disciples.

Jesus replied to their question with a number of questions of His own and then in Matthew 15:7 He said, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Rules taught by men, self-imposed regulations, self-made religion, was a problem in the first century church, and continues to be. There were many false teachers who wanted to impose their rules and regulations on the believers in the Colossian church. Just as the Pharisees wanted to impose the tradition of the ceremonial hand washing before meals on Jesus’ disciples, so these false teachers in Colossae wanted to impose their regulations and rules on other believers.

That century-old problem is still in the church today. There are many practices that some believers may find valuable for themselves which they then want to impose on everyone else. But there is Christian liberty in the church.

Notice that there is Christian liberty. It is not a liberty for everyone to do whatever they want in corporate worship and in their individual lives throughout the week. Rather, the overarching principle is that we must worship in spirit and in truth which means that we worship and live our lives according to the word of God. Worshipping in spirit and in truth also means, in the words of Lord’s Day 35 (Heidelberg Catechism), as it follows the clear teaching of Scripture, that we worship the Lord in no other way then He has commanded in His word.

But often, as you are living your life in sincere devotion to the word of God, someone comes along with their self-made rules and points their finger at you. Maybe you don’t have the exact same rules for raising your children as they do, although both of you are sincere Christians striving to raise your children to know the Lord. Or maybe they worship in a different manner than you do and sing different songs and want you to worship exactly as they do. Or maybe they support certain kingdom causes financially and want to impose those causes on you to support as well, even though you faithfully offer to the Lord your tithes and offerings in a way that you believe will best advance His kingdom. There is a whole list of self-imposed regulations. I’m sure that you can add many to the few that I’ve mentioned.

A Judgmental Attitude

And usually when someone brings their self-imposed regulations to your attention they do so with a judgmental attitude. Paul brings that out in verse 16, when he writes, Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Part of the problem with the church in Colossae is that the false teachers were judging others in regard to the observance, or lack of observance, to the Old Testament ceremonies. We have seen previously that the false teachers wanted to reenact many of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, but Paul goes on in verse 17 to teach that those laws are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

What he means by that is that the strict dietary laws of the Old Testament ended with the ministry of Jesus Christ who declared all foods clean. Likewise, there were many religious festivals in the Old Testament era which the people were required to observe. All those festivals pointed to Jesus and to His work of redeeming His people from their sin. But when Jesus came, and by His perfect life and sacrificial death brought redemption for His people, those Old Testament ceremonies were no longer needed.

In the Old Testament era each new moon brought about various ceremonies to observe, and from verse 16 we can see that the false teachers were judging people who were not observing these new moon celebrations. Each Sabbath day in the Old Testament also brought specific duties for the people to perform. But when Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross of Calvary, He fulfilled those Old Testament Sabbath regulations.

I find it interesting that the ESV Study Bible makes this note concerning verse 16. It says: “It is debated whether the Sabbaths in question included the regular seventh-day rest of the fourth commandment or were only the special Sabbaths of the Jewish festal calendar.”

There are many professing Christians today who would say that the fourth commandment, on keeping the Sabbath day holy, was only for the Jewish people of the Old Testament. They would say that the fourth commandment has been fulfilled in Christ and does not apply to us today. Thus, for a large segment of professing Christians, there are really only nine commandments, not ten.

I agree with William Hendrickson who in his New Testament commentary points out that the Lord’s Day is still a special day for believers to observe and keep holy, but not with the ceremonies done with the Old Testament Sabbath. Rather, it is a special day to gather with God’s people to worship and praise Him as we study His word, fellowship with His people and keep the day as a special day of rest from our normal activities.

An Attitude of Pride

When the Pharisees brought their accusation against the disciples, they did so not only with a judgmental attitude but also an attitude of pride. We read of that attitude of pride in verse 18: Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.

The false teachers in Colossae also had a false humility. It was rooted in their worship of angels and also in other experiences that they claimed to have that were above and beyond what the normal Christian would experience. Verse 18 goes on to say, such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.

We don’t have too many people today bragging about their worship of angels, but there are still plenty of professing Christians who, with a false humility, brag about their relationship with the Lord. Perhaps we see it especially among those professing Christians who teach that unless you speak in tongues you don’t have the fullness of Christ. Some even teach that you are not saved unless you speak in tongues.

Another area where there is often a false humility is in the giving of testimonies. We should all have a testimony. A testimony recounts for us the blessing of salvation and can be invaluable in witnessing to others about what God has done for us.

But great care is needed lest testimonies become “bragamonies.” There are professing Christians who use the testimony that should focus on Christ alone to focus on themselves. Often, they focus on their sinful past, which they seem to relish going into great detail about, and then their current standing with the Lord which they see as being above and beyond what others have because they have had a “Saul of Tarsus, Road to Damascus” conversion.

We can be thankful that the Lord still turns people’s lives around.  Saul of Tarsus became the apostle Paul, a complete turn-around. And the Lord still transforms lives.  But as Paul’s life demonstrates, there is no room for boasting. There is to be no false humility. Rather, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:31, Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

An Appearance of Wisdom

A third characteristic of human made regulations is that although they are foolish, they may seem to have an appearance of wisdom. Verse 23, Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

The ESV uses the term self-made religion where the NIV translates self-imposed worship. Our rules and regulations, if we are not careful, can become a self-made religion rather than a close personal walk with the Lord.

Many of us perhaps recall growing up with a man-made regulations – self-made religion – that had an appearance of wisdom and yet lacked any real spiritual value. Perhaps you grew up with the rule that you could not ride your bike on Sunday or swim in the swimming pool on Sunday or ice skate on a winter Sunday afternoon.

For some people keeping those rules is necessary because Romans 14, which is the classic chapter on Christian liberty, points out in verse 23 that everything that does not come from faith is sin.  So if you think it is wrong to ride your bike on Sunday or take a dip in the pool on the Lord’s Day, then it is indeed wrong for you to do those things.

But that doesn’t mean then that you impose your rules in a proud judgmental way on your brothers and sisters in Christ. Earlier in Romans 14, Paul pointed out that none of us are to judge our brothers and sisters in the so called “disputable matters” of Christian liberty (v. 10). And he pointed out that each one should be convinced in his mind of what is right because each one of us will give an account of himself or herself to God (v. 12).

He also pointed out that there are some matters of Christian liberty that are to be kept between us and the Lord. Romans 14:22 says: So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. And then he makes this statement that each one of us should use in evaluating what rules we may have. He writes, Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

God’s Word, whether in Romans 14, Colossians 2, or any other letter or book, is so relevant to us today. We may not have the exact situation with false teachers extolling their experiences of angel worship, but in many different ways some of those same attitudes are evident in churches today.

Attitudes of pride, judgment and the making of self-made rules for worship and conduct are woven into the fabric of the visible church. Indeed, many a church has been split apart over man-made regulations on how to worship, or on what conduct each one in the church must have in any given situation.

How do we guard against the danger of self-imposed regulations – against self-made religion? This passage gives us a number of ways to guard ourselves and to properly conduct ourselves, in worship on the Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

Focus on Christ

First, we are to focus on Christ who is the reality of the Old Testament shadows. How did the false teachers in Colossae get caught up in angel worship, Old Testament ceremonies, and their own man-made rules and regulations? They did so because their focus was not on Jesus Christ.

After telling the Colossians in verse 16 not to let others judge them by whether or not they observed the Old Testament ceremonies, the apostle goes on in verse 17 to tell how Christ is the reality that all the ceremonies in the Old Testament were pointing to.

Whether in the first century or twenty-first century, the way to guard ourselves from self-made religion is to always focus on Jesus Christ.

Back in the 1990s those bracelets were popular that said WWJD. The concept was that you guide your life in whatever situation you face, by asking yourself, “What would Jesus do?”. In many ways, that phrase is overly simplistic. We have all Scripture to guide us in how we are to live our lives, including the life of Jesus, our Savior and Lord, who also set an example for us to follow, even though none of us can perfectly follow His example.

But the question, “What would Jesus do?” can also be helpful.  Consider, as an example, the Lord’s Day and its rules and regulations.  I believe that keeping the Lord’s Day holy is necessary for Christians today. I believe that many professing Christians today miss the joy that the Lord told Isaiah about: “All who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant – these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer.” (Isaiah 56:6b-7a).

And yet in reading the Gospels, I can’t help but notice that time after time the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath Day, and time after time Jesus pointed out that doing good is part of keeping the Sabbath day holy.

Taking that example, and focusing on Jesus, we might see that instead of sleeping away Sunday afternoon, or setting ourselves in front of the TV for an afternoon and evening sports binge, it would be good to go to the Bridgeview Convalescent Home service and bring the fellowship of believers into the lives of shut-ins.

Focusing on Jesus and following His example might incline us to visit those who we know are struggling, whether with health issues or other issues in their lives, to encourage them with the Scriptures and with the knowledge that others are praying for them.

Rather than becoming a day in which we have a list of man-made rules and regulations, the Lord’s Day then becomes a day of public worship, morning and evening, with many opportunities in between to bring the love of Christ into the lives of others.

Connected by Faith

In order to focus on Christ, we naturally need to stay connected to Him by faith. The false teachers in Colossae failed to focus on Christ because they had totally lost connection with Him.  Verse 19 describes how they lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Staying connected to Christ through faith in Him is crucial. In John 15 Jesus describes how He is the true vine, and we are the branches. In that chapter, He describes how as long as the branches are connected to the vine, they produce fruit and stay healthy and strong. But once the branches are separated from the vine the branches die. As Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”

A similar analogy is used by the apostle Paul on several occasions. In Colossians 1:18 he writes, concerning Christ, He is the head of the body, the church. In 1 Corinthians 12 he describes the church as being like a body, the body of Christ on earth.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I want each part of my body working together in harmony with the rest of the body. I want my feet to go where my mind directs them, my fingers and hands to do whatever work my mind sets for them to do. In much the same way, Christ is the head of the body, which is the true church, and we, His members, must stay connected to Him by faith so that we do His will.

Being an Active Part of the Body

One way that we stay connected to Christ as the head is by being an active part of the body of Christ, being active in the church. As the last part of verse 19 says, the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

There are many people, especially today, who claim to be Christian and to be connected to Christ and yet they want no part of the church.  I appreciated the way our guest speaker brought that out in his sermon last Sunday evening from Ruth chapter 1. His text included the famous statement of Ruth where she says to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The point that the speaker made is that if you say that God will be your God, then you must also acknowledge that God’s people will be your people. But often people who profess to believe in God want nothing to do with the people of God; they want nothing to do with the true church.  After all, the church has its share of hypocrites. All of us in the church are stained with sin; none of us comes close to perfection in this life, and so people look at us and say, “I want nothing to do with them, but I believe in God because He is perfect. But His people, that’s another story!  I want no part of them.”

But if you take Christ as your Savior and Lord then you also take His people as your people.  Instead of not wanting anything to do with the church, you see that it is the body of Christ on earth. You realize that the members of the church are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because of that, when someone in the church is struggling, be "a Barnabas" to that person, and an encouragement to them. You will stay closely connected to the head of the body, Christ, when you are actively involved in the body, that is the church, by seeking to be a helper and an encourager instead of looking down on others with pride or false humility.

And as we help and encourage others, we recognize that we ourselves are in need of help and encouragement in living out the Christian life. It is so easy to see the speck in a brother or sister’s eye, but somehow overlook the beam in our own eye. As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another, and in the church, we are built up in our faith and connected to the head of the church, through our involvement in the body of Christ.

* * *

Did you wash your hands before breakfast, and will you before lunch? I hope so, just as a matter of hygiene, not a ceremonial religious ritual as the Pharisees did.

Instead of following man-made rules of worship and conduct, instead of having a self-made religion, may we instead focus on Christ and on His church, seeking always to be involved with the Lord and His people as we are drawn ever closer to Him in saving faith! Amen.


                                        - bulletin outline -


Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed
worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any
value in restraining sensual indulgence. –  Colossians 2:23
                                “An Appearance of Wisdom”
                                          Colossians 2:16-23
I.  One of the strongest condemnations of the Pharisees was that “their teachings are
     but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:9b).  Man–made rules may have the appearance
     of wisdom even though they often:
     1) Spring from a judgmental attitude (16) 
     2) Are based on pride (18)
     3) Are foolish, despite their appearance of wisdom (23)
II. The way to guard against self-made religion (23, ESV) is to:
     1) Focus on Christ, the reality of the Old Testament shadows (17)
     2) Stay connected by faith to the Head of the body, Christ Jesus (19a)
     3) Grow by being an active part Christ’s body, the true church (19b)



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Ted Gray

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