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Human Rules Vs. Things Above

There is an interesting, somewhat troubling, passage of scripture in Colossians 2 and 3.

“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…Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 2:20-3:2, NIV)

This scripture is troubling because these human rules are presented as Christian principles–as things above. Obviously, some members of the Church at Colossae had accepted them as the teachings of Christ. And that’s understandable. These human rules had the appearance of wisdom. They focused on worship and humility, albeit false humility (based on the belief that they were following the true rules). They practiced asceticism to keep them focused on what they thought were the rules of Christ.

If nothing else, this scripture should cause us to exercise great care before believing that we are right and everyone else is wrong. This kind of belief can easily lead us into false humility.

How do we distinguish human rules from things above? A lot of prayer. A lot of genuine humility. A lot of listening to others who may have a different view of what the rules are and listening with an open mind. A lot of study of scripture. A lot of “I don’t know” or “I can’t be sure.”

And, in Colossians 3:12-14, Paul provides his list of ways to seek and find the truth: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

In other words, we shouldn’t think we know everything. We should be humble seekers, concentrating on the needs of others, with a loving, not a haughty, spirit.

I’m also reminded of what Paul said in Philippians 2:12-13: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

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