Thoughts on the Sabbath from Colossians 2:16

Colossians 2:16-23

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. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have 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 elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed 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 2:16-23 NIV

First, it’s important to notice that Paul in this passage neither affirms nor denies that Sabbath-keeping should continue. What Paul is actually doing is telling the Colossians not to let people judge them based on how they live. This passage shouldn’t be used to determine whether Paul thought Sabbath-keeping was good or bad.
Secondly, if you read this passage in light of Ephesians and Galatians and the historical context of Acts it becomes clear that Paul is mostly upset about some “Christians” who are proclaiming false teaching. Here, he refers to it as false humility and angel worship. These people also emphasize their spiritual experiences.
My analysis leads me to believe the Colossians were facing false teaching on both the Jewish side and the Greek side. Jews had rules about what to eat and drink, Greeks also had ideas about eating and drinking especially when it comes to meat sacrificed to idols. Jews had rules about festivals and Sabbaths, but Greeks also had their own festivals and “New Moon celebrations.” Therefore, I think there must have been one or more groups of people who were promoting a legalism that was either Greek or Jewish or a mixture of both, but they were also bragging about their spiritual experiences and the methods of “worship” that got them those experiences.
Therefore, Paul directly attacks this way of thinking by stating a few things clearly:

  • Because they have died with Christ, these “earthly” sorts of regulations aren’t needed.
  • These earthly legalisms are destined to perish.
  • These earthly legalisms look “spiritual” but have no power to change the heart.

So what do I think of the Sabbath?

As one of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is part of an enduring code of what God desires for his people. God still desires for his people to revere him, still desires his people to find rest, and still desires for his people to live lives of freedom. I’m convinced that Sabbath is a GIFT that God has given to his people, but knowing how we are prone to become workaholics, he has GIVEN it to us in the form of a COMMAND.
My conclusion: Everyone who claims to follow God should joyfully receive the gift of the Sabbath by making it a regular part of his or her life.
However, because Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and because I have died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, I am not bound by the arbitrary divisions of time in our culture. I have no reason to consider Saturday different from Tuesday, and therefore, I have the freedom to place my Sabbath anywhere in my life. For most people, I think the Sabbath should be Sunday because it is already in line with a number of cultural values, but for myself, the best Sabbath time is the 24 hour period from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon.
That’s how I do the Sabbath. What about you?

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