The Appearance of Wisdom—Colossians 2:20-23
“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles 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 are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on 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 2:20-23)
In my early twenties I was rather materialistic; I worked and I shopped. It was fun at first, however the more I shopped the more my desire for things grew. After a couple of years I accumulated a lot of stuff as well as debt.
In the midst of this, I remember reading this verse, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”” (Hebrews 13:5). That verse hit me and I knew changed was needed. So what I did was write this on a piece of paper and put it into my wallet so when I was shopping I would have to confront this idea each time I wanted to purchase something.
This worked in the beginning. At first, I would see this, remind myself of this awesome truth and it would curb spending. However, after a while the verse just made me mad. It would make me feel guilty but the desire for things would trump those feelings. I was in the same cycle, eventually removing the card from my wallet all together to skip feeling guilty.
Now, nothing was wrong with the verse, rather it is a beautiful truth. However, my application was wrong. I put it in my purse to correct behavior. I took a truth and used it as a commandment to arrive at the desired result of being content and keeping myself free from the love of money. And while it worked at first, that self-imposed command was merely based on externalism. What happened after a while is that it strengthened the desire in me for things.
I took scripture, made it into a command and then it defeated me, which is what Paul observed about the Law in the first place. “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from the law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death” (Romans 7:8-11). After all that time struggling with this issue; nothing I did helped or broke its power over me.
Then in my early thirties, I went through a hard period. What happened as a result is that I drew close to the Lord in this time of turmoil. I had always grown up in church and knew a lot of things. However, during this time I started deeply studying the book of Romans, I couldn’t get enough of it so I memorized it. I felt like the apostle Paul out in the desert unlearning and relearning everything I had been taught (Galatians 1:11-24). The Lord spent an entire year writing truth on my heart of His grace and redemption. (The result is found throughout the articles on this blog. The entire section written about the book of Romans came from this time period in life). It was sweet and precious and it changed my heart forever.
But the thing is, this also changed my behavior and broke the power materialism had over me. I struggled for a decade with this never finding a solution. However, when I learned to find contentment in the Lord, my behavior changed as result. When I used Hebrews 13:5 as behavior modification it increased the desire within; but when I took the time to realize what God meant when He said He would never leave or forsake me, that promise is where I found contentment which in turn freed me from the grips of greed.
The problem wasn’t the verse, it was my application of the truth. This is what Paul is warning about here—“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles 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 are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on 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 2:20-23).
There is a better way, not based on human practices that only have outward appearance of wisdom serving to increase fleshly desires. Rather based your life on the truth of Christ. “You have died with Christ to the basic principles of this world…” (vs. 20) so “Since, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart of things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…” (Colossians 3:1). Get the right perspective, start with Christ and let His truth rewrite your story.
Today, may you find fullness in Christ. I pray that His truth overshadows man-made practices that have only served to harm you. I hope that you are refreshed from the abundant life available to you in Jesus. Amen!
I’d Love to Hear From You!
After reading my story, are you able to identify a situation in your own life where a teaching or rule caused more harm than good? What helped you overcome?