Big God. Bold Differences. (Colossians 2:16-23)


Popular debates

  • Coke vs Pepsi (it’s never Pop, IDC if you’re from the Midwest, make a decision!)
  • TP roll over vs under (the latter is sinful)
  • Microsoft vs Apple
  • McDonalds vs Burger King
  • Nike vs Under Armor
  • Ford vs Chevrolet
  • Seinfeld vs Friends
  • Starbucks vs Dunkin  
  • Books vs Movies
  • Washington vs Baltimore
  • Reeses PB Cups vs… there’s no competition.

These sorts of disagreements are fun and inconsequential. But what about…

  • College athletes should be paid a salary in addition to tuition
  • The minimum wage should be increased.
  • All drugs should be legalized.
  • People have a right to own guns without a background check.
  • All nations should have open borders.
  • Masks required or Masks optional
  • Vaccinations should be required for everyone
  • Death penalty should be abolished.

There are some debates that are elementary and others that are essential. People can have all sorts of differences, but when we disagree, how should we debate? What are things we can compromise, and which are we to confront? Today’s message will help us better understand how to relate to others in our differences.

EXAMINE                       Big Difference

There were four groups of people that Paul addressed in this passage.

  1. Hedonists: the passionate pursuit of pleasure; key word: indulge.
  2. Ascetics: the ardent avoidance of satisfaction; key word: isolate.
  3. Religious Jews: seeking righteousness through rules and regulations; key word: investigation (judgment)
  4. Christians: followers of Jesus who grow in grace; key word: interpretation.
       Christians must interpret the world through the word of God with the understanding of creation, fall, and God’s redemptive design and desire for His creation.

Colossians 2:16-23
16  Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
17  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
18  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
19  and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—
21  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”
22  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?
23  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

We must avoid adding what Jesus has subtracted.

The church at Colossae were dealing with conflicts that were common in the early church. Two that stood out were diet and days (cf. Acts 15; Rom 14; 1 Cor 8-10). The OT Scripture had three types of laws: Ceremonial, Civil, and Moral.

One side of the conflict argued that it was not enough to believe the gospel of Christ, and you needed to adhere to the Jewish ceremonial laws, which included a certain diet of what to eat and not (cf. Lev 11).

Additionally, the seven main Jewish feasts should be followed: Passover, Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; Pentecost; Trumpets; Day of Atonement; Tabernacles/Booths.

Yet, Paul indicates these OT laws are merely a shadow of the substance. The old covenant has been replaced by the new.

Jesus says, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-15, 19-23)

In the early church, the dietary laws were viewed as no longer in force, as illustrated with Peter’s vision of what were known as unclean animals, but the Lord commanding him to eat a glorious bbq feast (cf Acts 10:9-48). Additionally, the apostles held a council declaring “that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but to abstain from things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality” thus affirming the old covenant ceremonial and civil laws were removed, but the moral law remains.

Likewise, Paul says, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1Cor 8:8).

Further, the Jewish feasts and Sabbath days were also replaced with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The OT Ceremonial and Civil laws made God’s people distinct, but they were non-binding once Jesus fulfilled them (cf Heb 8-10). The OT law was the shadow but the substance – the reality was Christ! Jesus emphasized the internal heart motivation more than outward religious traditions to obtain righteousness. In other words, we can perform all the religious rituals on specific days, but if our heart motivation is unchanged, then we are still guilty before God. God desires to change our heart by acknowledging our sin and need for His grace and Spirit to change us inside out. Therefore, we should not settle for the shadow but the substance in believing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Today, we are not typically adding to the gospel about dietary laws or Sabbath days. How do we add to what Jesus subtracts? In addition to the gospel, what human tradition do we set before others and expect to follow, or we declare them unchristian?
    • Clothing like ties/suits and dresses (no slacks for women). While appearance and modesty reflect our character, God looks at the heart more than outward appearance.
    • Tattoos/Jewelry like earrings in certain places/Hats in sanctuary…
    • Alcohol consumption. Bible forbids drunkenness and foolish results of too much alcohol. You may find it best to abstain but be careful of judging others who drink in low moderations.
    • Specific liturgy in a worship service, or hymns only, or exclusive Bible versions… all are important, but not as a test of someone’s salvation.
    • A host of views about govt & politics, and how best to address social issues… but we must be careful about placing earthly kingdom preferences above eternal kingdom purposes.
    • Legalism is lethal – “For neither religious tradition or human preference count for anything, but only a new creation in Christ Jesus” (adapted version of Gal 6:15). And “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4).
  • Paul tells Colossians, let no one pass judgment on you. The idea is that each of us live for an audience of One (AO1). When we are always worrying about what other people think, then we miss being who God wants. So, don’t live with two masters, just one.

When we are always worrying about what other people think, then we miss being who God wants.

  • One practical way to prioritize AO1 is to have seasons of unplugging from social media and public news consumption. The ongoing outrage and offending of disagreements are equally toxic to the soul as lust and immorality. While we rightfully sensor ourselves from pornography and graphic violence, we often allow social media and cable news to distort our understanding and corrupt our heart for others.
  • Judge the mirror before the window. Work on our own sin and spiritual growth and let God worry about others.
  • Christians are free to follow or not many things, but they are not always free to force and impose their conscience onto others. This is the definition of legalism.
  • While we affirm legalism is lethal, we also assert that licentiousness is equally harmful. Spiritual license believes God’s love will overlook our sin. This cheap grace mindset misses the reality that Jesus is the Savior from our sin and saved to the Lord of our life. Is there any limit to the Lordship of Jesus in your life?

We must avoid dividing what Jesus has made whole.

In addition to legalism distorting the gospel is asceticism and syncretism. While ascetics withdraw from society to avoid its worldliness, syncretism accommodates society and its worldly ways.

  • When we think of ascetics, we often think of monks. But, are not monks still sinners?
  • Thinking of syncretism, we often think about celebrities who give lip service to God but their life is unchanged by the gospel.

At SPBC, one of our core values is that in our spiritual growth we are thermostats and not thermometers. A thermometer reads the temperature and is impacted by its environment, whereas a thermostat transforms the temperature. Christians become divided when we do not hold fast to the Head of the body – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul warns of being disqualified (αβραβευέτω, competition language of being deprived of a prize). The idea is that you prepare with discipline and perform admirably to win but are astoundingly disqualified.

  • Well known Olympic disqualifications:
    • Canadian Olympian Ben Johnson won Gold Medal for 100-meter dash but after big win a day later tested positive for steroid usage and stripped of medal.
    • Puerto Rican Olympian Madeline de Jesus hurt herself competing in long jumps and was unable to compete in 4×400 meter relay. Yet, her identical twin sister (who was sitting in stands and not even an Olympian) took her place to compete. When the coach discovered what happened, he pulled the team from the Olympics.
    • American Fred Lord won the marathon in the 1904 Olympics. Problem was that he actually stopped running at the nine-mile mark and was given a lift in a car for eleven miles and then run the rest.
    • 1968 East German women’s luge team were successful with medals but fellow competitors were suspicious as their team kept showing up late to start their race. It turns out they were heating up their sled rails to reduce friction against the ice and the team was DQ and returned its medals.
    • 2012 badminton teams of South Korea, China, and Indonesia were DQ and charged with abusing and demeaning the sport bc they intentionally lost (served into net or hit far wide) in effort to play weaker teams in the next round. Audience booed them during their play which tipped officials.

Colossians were on the verge of DQ due to false humility in asceticism, worshiping angels, following elaborate and unverified visions and being puffed up – prideful minds. Some of the worst offenders who display this brand of faith are those on television and with massive crowds in their churches.

  • The excessive celebration of personalities.
  • The promotion of visions for what “God told me…” that are subjective in contrast to objective truth found in Scripture.
  • The lavish lifestyles and prideful superiority that sets a dividing wall between them and the common person/church. Like when the strong flaunt their freedoms before the weak and end up destroying the fragile (cf Rom 14:1-4).
  • I’m not saying these are characteristics of all tv ministries and preachers. Nor am I judging large churches. I thank God for the famous and faithful preachers (Chuck Swindoll. David Jeremiah, Tony Evans, and others) and impactful ministries (Saddleback, Summit Church, etc.). My only point is that some TBN-type media ministry displays are similar to Paul’s description and should exercise spiritual caution and discernment.  

Paul exhorts the Colossian Christians to not be disqualified – or run their faith race in vain – by being more discerning of worldly hype vs spiritual depth ministries.

Paul exhorts Colossians to hold fast to Christ, the Head, “from whom the whole body is nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, growing from God” (2:19). I think Paul is reminding the Colossians that every church is imperfect, but keep the main thing the main thing. Keep the gospel for your salvation, the headship of Christ for your church, and the Great Commandment to love your neighbor along with the Great Commission to make disciples. Don’t get side-tracked on all sorts of divisions; stay united in membership and urgent in mission.

The main thing: Keep the gospel for your salvation, the headship of Christ for your church, and the Great Commandment to love your neighbor along with the Great Commission to make disciples. Don’t get side-tracked on all sorts of divisions; stay united in membership and urgent in mission.

  • Who/what is side-tracking your spiritual growth with God and service to His church?
    – If a person, go 1-on-1 for reconciliation and extend grace as Christ forgives you. Avoid bitterness!
    – If item from past, permit grief but allow wounds to scab and scar so they tell a story of God’s sustaining grace.
    – If being lazy or undisciplined is side-tracking focus and short-circuiting growth then become accountable in a public way with someone (friend or pastor).
    – Getting side-tracked can happen to anyone because Satan loves to make sin look less harmful, heaven less appealing, hell less horrific, and God’s mission less urgent.
    – – – Proverbs 4:25-27 “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
    – – – Isaiah 30:20-21 “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”


This message has been titled, “Big Difference.” As we think about differences in the outside world and culture, and inside the church, there are two closing thoughts for us.

  1. Our priority is people because that was the priority of Jesus (Mk 10:45; Php 2:3-5). A quote by C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory sums up this thought in a way only he could:

“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken… It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

2. Our purpose is peacemaking because it propels the mission. When Christians or the church are living in chaos or conflict, the unbelieving world misses refuge in the harbor and is pummeled by the storm waves. Yet, when Christianity reflects a peacemaking perspective, the world takes notice.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17)

“First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, THAT we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:1-4)

Colossians 3:15 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body…”

When Christians have differences, our priority is people and our purpose is peacemaking. If we do not keep our focus then we are not only frustrating God but failing people destined for eternity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s