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Today's Little Lift

    by Jim Bullington

An Appearance of Wisdom (Colossians 2.23)
Date Posted: May 18, 2021

There is a world of difference between something that appears to be wise and something that is truly wise. In fact, had I always been able to discern the subtle difference between the two, I would be much healthier, much wealthier, and much wiser! Hind sight is typically 20/20 but in spiritual matters, that can be of little consolation. That is why we need the wisdom that comes from above in all such matters; human opinions are simply not good enough.

Paul addressed the futility of religious decrees that seem to be wise when he wrote to the believers in Colossae. The practice of self-denial in the context of spiritual matters is almost as old as man himself. It exists in some form in all the major world religions. Technically, it is known as asceticism, but practically it is simply a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various forms of pleasures with the goal of reaching certain spiritual levels or plateaus. In the Colossian letter, Paul penned the following: “Therefore, 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 — ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2.20-23).

The life of asceticism which he questioned was one which said, “Do not touch, do not taste, and do not handle.” We can speculate what these things were and even bring history to bear on the evidence, However, in reality, it makes little difference. Whatever they were, they were things that men had legislated and not God. Or to state it as Paul did, these things were “…according to the commandments and doctrines of men.” Those who taught these doctrines, wise though they may have seemed, were false teachers. Those who listened to them were in danger of being cheated or defrauded out of their reward (see Colossians 2.18). While their doctrines may have made sense from a human perspective, they were not consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore, the doctrines and commandments of men.

Jesus spoke clearly about those who teach “as doctrines” the commandments of men. Specifically, He said of those who teach such things, “They worship Me in vain.” (See Matthew 15.9). So the old approach of being extra conservative is not necessarily the right approach. I come from a religious heritage which says, no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no swimming with members of the opposite sex, etc., etc. I am not arguing one way or the other about these things, but I am saying that when we make such carte blanche rules and attempt to uphold them as a matter of doctrine, we best make absolutely sure that we are speaking where God has spoken and not merely our own doctrines. To forbid where God has not forbidden is just as damning as allowing where God has not allowed.. Either way, those who so speak are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” and are endangering themselves as well as those who heed their teachings. The conservative approach is no more right than the liberal approach. Both approaches fail to allow God's word to be the final say on the matter!

The point of today's devotional is to call believers to reason and to state that we are accountable to distinguish between what we think and what God says. Sermons, Bible School lessons, and everyday messages which we live must reflect that there may be a difference between what I choose to practice and that which God allows. I may choose to deny myself a privilege that He allows, but I MUST NOT impose that same restriction on others as though it is a “Thus saith the Lord!”

Questions:

1. Define asceticism. Where is it practiced?

2. What virtue, if any, is there in teaching that other people ought to abstain from that which God has not prohibited?

3. If we speak our opinions in spiritual matters, how ought we to distinguish between them and what the Bible says on the subject?

4. Which is the greater sin, to bind where God has not bound, or to loose where God has not loosed? Why did you answer the way you did?

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Biography Information:
Jim Bullington - A Christian writer whose insight into the scriptures is reflected in practical application lessons in every article. The reader will find that the Bible speaks directly to him/her through these articles. God is always exalted and His word is treated with the utmost respect in this column.
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