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  • November 2009
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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (9): Self Imposed Worship

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. – Colossians 2:18-23 [Emphasis Added – JS]

The “Colossian Heresy” was a mixture of Judaism and Greek philosophy. Apparently, they adopted some of the regulations of the Law of Moses along with an asceticism that bore some resemblance to incipient Gnosticism.

The Gnostics, developed out of Platonic Philosophy, held that spirit and flesh are antithetical, with spirit being always good and flesh always evil. Hence, one branch of Gnosticism would abuse the body with harsh treatment. This was certainly part of what was happening in Colosse.

Almost from the beginning, some Christians had ideas that led to similar things. As a Catholic, Martin Luther practiced self-flagellation. There is a tendency for Man to believe that to become spiritual he must subdue the body with ascetic harshness.

Paul gives some credence to this:

Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

This seems to conflict with what he said to the Colossians. There he said self-imposed worship, false humility, and harsh treatment of the body “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” In 1 Corinthians, he said, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that…I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Unless we are to believe that Paul “matured” in his thinking between the time he wrote 1 Corinthians and years later when he wrote Colossians, we must believe that neither of these statements is absolute. The Colossian heretics were at one extreme. The Corinthian libertines were at the other. To each of them, Paul emphasized what they needed to hear.

Corinth was a church in disarray. There was division, immorality, brother going to law with brother, controversy over marriage, eating meat offered to idols, and improprieties in their assemblies. Members of this church needed to learn to restrain themselves. Paul showed them how to do this through loving one another.

In Colosse, the problem was different. There people seemed to think that the way to spiritual maturity was through strict abasement of themselves in visible ways. They showed great humility of the Uriah Heep  variety. Uriah Heep was the protagonist of David Copperfield in Charles Dickens’ famous novel. He ingratiated himself with others by talking of how “’umble I am.” In Colosse, this expressed itself in worshipping angels and harsh treatment of the body. Paul said these things do not lead to maturity. Instead, they needed to keep focused on Jesus, with whom they had “lost connection” (2:19). Yes, he said, “Put to death the things of the flesh,” but he added,

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. – Colossians 3:12-14 (Emphasis added, JS)

It is not that Paul is contradicting himself; rather he is approaching the same solution from different directions. The solution for both the Corinthian and the Colossian churches was to focus on Jesus and love one another. Each needed different instruction to get there from where they were.

Colosse Similar to the Pharisees

In many ways, the church in Colosse was similar to the Pharisees (see this earlier post in this series). They each used man-made rules to try to gain God’s favor. Each had an appearance of humility and deep spirituality, but it was only an appearance. Jesus unmasked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in his parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Jesus said that the Pharisee prayed  “about himself,” or “with himself” (KJV):

God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. – Luke 18:11-12

The Colossian church submitted to rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” As a youth, I wondered what I should not handle, taste, or touch. The churches I grew up in and the Christian schools I attended had many “rules” that I endeavored to keep. I wondered what rules I might be overlooking. Though I thought I was very mature spiritually, I now realize how utterly immature I was. The “rules” were not helping me grow. As soon as I was out of school and away from home, I forgot the rules (at least many of them!). I found that what Paul told the Colossians is true. The rules had not helped me mature. They controlled my actions – for a time. They did not truly bring me closer to Christ.

Why not? It was just that my heart was not involved in keeping the rules. I could keep rules without love. I could not grow closer to God without love in my heart for God and Man. Keeping self-imposed (or group-imposed) rules are not sufficient.

Only Christ is sufficient and Christ alone is sufficient. Worshipping angels actually detracts from Christ. Man made rules detract from Him. False humility puts the focus on me and my actions instead of on Jesus.

Again, worship that is not from a heart of love for God and neighbor is unacceptable worship.

The next post of this series begins to examine true worship that is in spirit and in truth.

NEXT (10) Worship in Spirit & in Truth

PREVIOUS (8) Ignorant Worship of the Athenians

Series Index

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