Colossians 2.16 – 23
16Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do 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, 19and 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. 20If 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, 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23These 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.
This paragraph begins with another “therefore” – the people of the church at Colossae live in Christ – therefore, they should not allow others to condemn them in matters of ritual. The faith they have been taught is not about what they eat or drink, or about observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are practices that could have come from those Paul called “Judaizers”, who followed Paul’s missionary work with dire warnings that the Gentiles must follow Jewish Law in order to be Christian; or, they could have been a part of the “philosophy” Paul is warning them against. Whichever it is, the Colossians should not allow themselves to feel “put down” by those false teachers. Such things as festivals, new moons, and sabbaths are but a shadow of the life in Christ, which is where they must focus. They must not let these false teachers disqualify them. Now we get a further hint of what these visitors were teaching – it involved self-abasement, perhaps a rigorous asceticism, a strict regimen of fasting, or even more extreme forms such as flagellation; and it involved the worship of angels. Now, Paul is not saying that angels do not exist; he is saying that they are not to be worshipped. The worship of angels is a part of the false philosophy; those persons are also talking about their own great visions, perhaps saying that the Colossians must have such visions, or feeling proud (puffed up) for having experienced them. This is all-together a human way of thinking, Paul says.
Here Paul uses the metaphor of the church as Christ’s body – Christ must be the head, not these prideful human beings. From Christ, the whole body holds together and grows with a growth from God. It is always a temptation for the church to center itself in someone or something other than Christ; we must always avoid that temptation, staying centered in Christ!
Elemental spirits of the universe – again, a part of the false teaching, or a part of their belief system before knowing Christ – either way, it is something they have died to in their baptism. Why do they live as though they still belonged to the world? Why do they submit to worldly regulations in the name of the Law, or the new philosophy, or any worldly regulations, not to touch this or taste that or handle something else? Those regulations refer to things that perish, to human commands and teachings. They have an appearance of wisdom – the person who follows them looks pious. But they do not touch the heart, and are of no value in checking self-indulgence. Think of it in another way, the regulations substitute a pride in having followed each one without variance for the true love of Christ. In short, they are their own form of selfishness – “look at me, I am pious” – sort of selfishness, instead of a selfless centering in Christ.