Commentary on Colossians, 2:19-23 (True Spirituality)

Colossians 2:19-23

18 Let no one disqualify you, delighting in humility and worshiping of angels, dwelling on the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, increasing with the increase of God.”

“not holding fast to the Head”

Jesus is the Head of His body, the Church.

These false teachers, entrenched in pride and quite deceived, don’t hold fast to Christ, being spiritually separated from Him. Paul is letting the Colossians Christians know that these men don’t belong to Jesus, and therefore, they are not to follow their deceptive ways. They neither teach the truth, nor do they follow the truth themselves. In revealing this about these false teachers, Paul is at the same time, encouraging the Colossians to hold fast to Jesus, in whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3). They’re not to stray from all that they have been taught by true followers of Christ who speak the truth. 

I’m constantly amazed by all the false teaching and far out stuff that professing Christians teach and believe these days. I see so many false ways among Christian leaders and among those who follow them, that I have to wonder what’s going on. Where’s the biblical discernment? We live in a day where we need men of God who walk in the Spirit, are filled with wisdom, and are thoroughly grounded in the Word of God – men who “hold fast to Christ.” The need has never been greater.

“from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, increasing with the increase of God.”

Paul uses the human body to illustrate the spiritual, corporate body of Christ. Jesus is the Head of the body, and it’s through Him that God supplies each individual part with the power and strength and spiritual nourishment that it needs. God, working through His Son, provides the spiritual growth (increase) as each individual devote themselves to learning His Word. There’s never been a time where in-depth teaching was needed more. We severely need pastors and Bible teachers who love the Word of God so much, that it’s their passion to teach it for all it’s worth. That’s the only way that we’re going to be protected from false teachers and false teaching.

A parallel passage to this one is found in Ephesians. I encourage you to read my commentary on it, as I go into more detail there than I do here. Here’s the link:

Commentary on Ephesians, 4:13-16

“20 If you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations,

21 handle not, nor taste, nor touch
22 (all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men?”

“If you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations,”

“basic principles of the world”

Also translated as: 

“elemental spirits of the world”  (ESV/LEB/NET)
“elemental forces of this world”  (HCS)
“ruling spirits of the world”  (NCV)
“evil powers of this world”  (NLT)
“elemental spirits of the universe”  (RSV)

NET Bible Note:
“19tn The phrase κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου (kata ta stoiceia tou kosmou) is difficult to translate because of problems surrounding the precise meaning of στοιχεῖα in this context. Originally it referred to the letters of the alphabet, with the idea at its root of “things in a row”; see C. Vaughn, “Colossians,” EBC 11:198. M. J. Harris (Colossians and Philemon [EGGNT], 93) outlines three probable options: (1) the material elements which comprise the physical world; (2) the elementary teachings of the world (so NEB, NASB, NIV); (3) the elemental spirits of the world (so NEB, RSV). The first option is highly unlikely because Paul is not concerned here with the physical elements, e.g., carbon or nitrogen. The last two options are both possible. Though the Gnostic-like heresy at Colossae would undoubtedly have been regarded by Paul as an “elementary teaching” at best, because the idea of “spirits” played such a role in Gnostic thought, he may very well have had in mind elemental spirits that operated in the world or controlled the world (i.e., under God’s authority and permission).”

Generally speaking, Paul was referring to those things that characterize the false ways of this world, the things that are contrary to the truth that is according to Christ. 

When we place our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, we enter into Christ’s death and resurrection. We enter into a union with Him, as Paul said in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith, which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me.”

Christ’s payment for sin is our payment for sin. His resurrection to new life is our resurrection to new life (Ro 6:1-11). Our identification is no longer with the world, but with Christ and His kingdom (Col 1:13). We have been transferred from the domain and power of darkness, to the kingdom and rule of Christ. We’re no longer under the authority of Satan (1 Jn 5:19), but under the authority of Christ.

Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), and we’ve been saved out of his world. Our citizenship is now in Heaven (Ph 3:20), and we serve Christ in His Kingdom. Therefore, Paul asks the question:

“why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations,
handle not, nor taste, nor touch
(all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men?”

This world is not our true home, therefore, we shouldn’t be living for this world, or according to  this world, a world that is governed by the powers of darkness. We’ve died to all that.

“handle not, nor taste, nor touch”

Regulations, such as: handle not, nor taste, nor touch, are according to the “precepts and doctrines of men” (man-made rules), and not according to Christ. Paul is specifically referring to a legalistic system of self-denial (asceticism). We see the same type of thing in many churches today; they advocate a lot of man-made rules that are based on principles of the Bible (or believe to be based on principles of the Bible), but not specifically named. These things become so ingrained in the lifestyle of their community, that they’re regarded as the very Word of God. 

While we must strive for holiness and separation from the world, we must be careful that we don’t exalt our personal convictions as commandments of God. It’s necessary that we use biblical principles to aid us in making decisions about the gray areas of life, but we’re not to claim our conclusions as being the very Word of God, and then make judgments about those who don’t see things as we do. We’re not to impose our personal convictions on others. As Paul said:

“Who are you who judges the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  (Ro 14:4)

These false teachers were trying to impose their will and convictions upon the Colossian Christians, and Paul was exhorting them not to allow themselves to be dragged down that same path. Pressure from the community of believers that we gather with can be strong, but we must base all our convictions on what we believe the Bible teaches. It’s about pleasing God, not man (Gal 1:10; 1 Th 2:4). 

If you’re in a situation where your lifestyle is being judged, and you have peace in your heart that you’re in the will of God, yet not accepted by others, then it may be time to move on to an assembly of believers who share your convictions. There is nothing edifying about being in a legalistic assembly where you’re looked down on because you don’t feel obligated by God to comply with their set of rules. However, be absolutely certain that your position on things is truly in harmony with the Word of God, and it’s not simply personal preference, or rebellion to God’s will.

These false teachers were adding legalistic practices to faith. Legalism, in the most strict definition of the word, is when we add anything to faith in Christ as a means of salvation. Today, legalism has a broader meaning, which is what I described above – a set of man-made rules that we live by as Christians, not as a means of salvation, but as a way of life.

(all which things are to perish with the using)

The man-made regulations that we add to faith as a means of salvation, are temporary. They have no eternal value. They have no power to save.

“23 These things have indeed an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed worship and humility and severity to the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

What these legalists were teaching seemed to be have the “appearance of wisdom,” but in reality, they were no more than “self-imposed” or man-made forms of worship, or religion – based on their own ideas, rather than according to God. They had the appearance of “humility,” but was in reality a false humility, following their own ways. 

It may seem spiritual to abide by so many regulations, and to deny oneself of so many things (severity to the body), but in reality, they are of no value in restraining the passions and lusts of the flesh (“the indulgence of the flesh”). Meaning, following a bunch of man-made rules is all outward, and does not reflect a true change of the heart. We have no power within ourselves to produce the inward change that enables us to overcome the sins of the flesh. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Only the Holy Spirit can produce true spirituality. Christlikeness is not obtained by following a set of rules, but by allowing the Holy Spirit to produce inward change within our hearts as He applies the Word of God to our lives. For that to happen, we must spend much time in His Word, allowing it to saturate our entire being, as Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16).