Colossians 2:16-23

Religious Acts or Spiritual Growth?

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. Colossians 2:16

A smirk. A sigh. A snicker. These are signature signs of a judgmental spirit. We’re all guilty of it. In living rooms, church pews, work cubicles, checkout lines, passenger seats—we judge others.

In the Colossian church, false teachers had convinced people that some worship practices were superior to others and that certain restrictions or disciplines were evidence of spiritual maturity. If others in the congregation didn’t abide by those restrictions and follow those practices, they were judged unworthy and labeled spiritually immature.

Specifically, Paul mentioned observing special holidays, abstaining from certain foods, pursuing mysticism, and worshiping angels. He called all these things a “shadow” (v. 17). They seemed impressive, but they didn’t produce genuine spiritual growth. In fact, focusing on these unimportant differences led to other problems, such as judgmental spirits, false humility, pompous talk, and idle notions.

What was the root of the problem? The Colossians had “lost connection with the Head [Jesus Christ], from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (v. 19).

No set of rules or practices “based on human commands and teachings” can help us grow spiritually (v. 22). In fact, they may hinder our growth because self-discipline and self-denial too often lead to self-righteousness—the opposite of Spirit-directed acts and Spirit-filled living. Growing more like Christ is not simply a matter of squashing sinful desires; it is allowing the Holy Spirit to give us new desires. Spirit-ual growth is produced only by the Spirit!

If we’re connected to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, His priorities will become our priorities. We’ll seek to love, edify, and support one another. We’ll accept that others do things differently than we do. And that’s okay. The God who created porcupines and venus flytraps loves variety. In biblical times, He used beauty queens and locust-eating prophets; he employed both uneducated fishermen and former Pharisees.

Let’s be ambassadors of appreciation among our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s allow God to be as creative and versatile with others as He has been with each of us.


Read Galatians 5:1-15. What problem was causing disunity among the Galatians? What does Paul emphasize as the remedy for “biting and devouring each other”?

What similarities do you see between Paul’s teaching in Romans 14:13-21 and Colossians 2:16-23? What modern “stumbling blocks” tend to divide Christians? How can they be removed?

The “worship of angels” (Col. 2:18) is still an issue. According to Hebrews 1:1-14, what is the difference between angels and Jesus Christ? Do you think praying to angels is an appropriate practice for Christians?

Denise K. Loock


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