What We Do With The Shadows
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:16-19)
In my mind this is one of the most interesting warnings given to the Church in the Bible, and one of the great dangers faced by all Christians today. In this letter Paul is writing to a group of Christians in the city of Colossae. These are men and women very young in their faith, and they are being told two separate things by two separate groups. First they are being told that Jesus can be an add on to what they already know. They don’t need to totally leave their pagan traditions, Jesus can just be another god that they worship.
The Second Lie
The second lie they are being told is by the Jewish Christian community around them saying that in order to become true believers, they needed to follow the Jewish law of Moses with the festivals and dietary laws. They even told these new Christians that they needed to be circumcised (which to be honest seems like a real bummer to get into as an adult). Paul writes to warn the church about both of these issues.
Interestingly Paul actually spends most of his time in this passage dealing with the second lie. I think that in our hearts we know that Jesus must be first in our lives. The life of the Christian is one lived seeking out new ways to bring God glory and further His kingdom. The temptation to simply add Jesus to our beliefs is one that we must face head on, and never give in to.
The second lie seems almost more dangerous, as it is often not obvious to ourselves or those around us. Good friends can look into my life and see where I am choosing to not put God first, and in our heart of hearts we could probably pause right now and think of areas we need to continually lay before the Lord. But the idea of being trapped by things that aren’t inherently evil- well, that’s much harder to see.
The Second Lie Traps
It’s what trapped the Pharisees in the gospels. As we read the stories of Jesus being accused of sin, it is never sin according to the word of scripture, it is sin according to the traditions and writings of the Pharisees. They had become consumed with things that were not from God, but were from man. One of the best metaphors for this I’ve ever heard is that our faith is like a ship. And one of the fights we must always be engaged in is scraping off the barnacles that get attached to the bottom.
God had set the Gentile Christians free from the Law, yet so many refused to accept this truth. Paul calls them shadows, which paints a perfect picture of what they can be. Think of Christmas, it is a festival that we all love. However its place in our hearts should always be a shadow of what our hope is. Christmas reminds us that God loves us enough to make a way for our salvation. This celebration of the coming of Christ should point us forward to our hope in the day Jesus will come again. But for so many of us we are just content with the shadow. It’s a nice holiday that we don’t think much about. Marriage is a shadow, one that gives us an imperfect picture of the perfect never ending love that God has for us. The Church is an imperfect picture of the perfect community of believers worshipping God together we will one day experience.
The question for us today is: what do we do with the shadows? Do we allow our joy to terminate on them, or do we take every opportunity we can to see how the temporary joys of this world point to the eternal joy that we will experience on the other side of eternity?