Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels…
I. THE SPECULATIVE SIDE OF THE COLOSSIAN HERESY. In the Authorized Version the apostle is made to bring a charge of presumption against the false teachers "intruding into the things which he hath not seen." But this is a strange argument for one whose whole walk was by faith and not by sight, and who would hardly count it an answer to a professed revelation to say "you are intruding into that which you have not seen, and therefore you cannot know" with modern materialists. But this difficulty is removed in the Revised Version, which, on high authority, omits the "not," and inverts the argument. Again, the Greek word "intruding into" means "dwelling in" or "taking his stand upon," and the charge now becomes that of self-complacent self-conceit.
1. This man has "seen things," the exact equivalent of our "a man has views," a phrase of which obscure thinkers are very fond. The Colossian speculator may have professed to see visions and revelations of the Lord, and to bare come back from the third heaven to reveal them; or, if not this, to have seen things in the tone of an arrogant thinker, who gives his notions the style of certainties, verified with the eye of the mind, "dwelling in" them with complacent satisfaction as the whole of truth.
2. Or we may take the marginal reading, "taking his stand upon" his views; regarding them as land which he has won with his intellectual bow and spear, and from which he can go on to move or conquer the universe.
3. These new thinkers spoke much of the mind, made knowledge the bait of their enticements, endeavoured to establish an aristocracy of intellect within that Christian society which was free to all comers, and in which the wise and prudent are set side by side with babes. How striking is St. Paul's language, "idly inflated with the mind of his flesh." So far from being edified into the spiritual realm it was merely puffed up, and had its moving power in the repudiated sphere of matter. That Paul would so describe all so-called modern thought which sets aside Christ is certain.
II. We pass on to verse 23 to THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF THE NEW HERESY.
1. Here we have its treatment of matter, how its teachers sought by ceremonial prohibitions (ver. 21) to counteract the deadly influence of sense in spirit, and to mortify the body as an enemy of the spiritual life. It was a plausible, and perhaps, in its origin, a well-intentioned effort. It was nobler than that which treats matter as of no moment. But the two perversions have one root. Asceticism and licence both rob the body of its dignity as the servant of the spirit.
2. St. Paul admits that the ascetic rules have a show of wisdom; they speak plausibly, and promise largely by their will worship, i.e., their religion of self-imposed observances; by their humility, i.e., their obsequiousness; and by their severity to the body, i.e., their mortifying restrictions.
3. Thus far both versions agree. But now the Authorized Version says, "not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." This leaves out a particle which demands a contrast. But without this is it in accordance with St. Paul's teaching to blame a system for not satisfying the flesh? Indeed, the Greek word is "indulgence." But the Revised Version has inserted the particle of antithesis, and reads, "but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh." The language is borrowed from the medical profession. What is good for it? What is a valuable remedy for such and such a disease? Indulgence of the flesh is the disease; can asceticism cure it? St. Paul says no! It sounds well, professes loudly, but has no real value.
4. Rules of abstinence, regulations as to food or drink — lawful, indeed, but from which it is an act of religion to abstain — have a show of wisdom; they point to a terrible evil and profess to cure it; they are well sounding words, "temperance" and the like; they talk of the value of humility in bending the neck to discipline. St. Paul does not deny that the conquest of the body is good, and that the means have something to say for themselves; but he declares as a man of large experience who has tried all means, and who is taught of God that all such regulations will fail.
III. THE TRUE PRINCIPLE OF CHRISTIAN THINKING AND LIVING.
1. In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They who do not hold fast the Head therefore, whatever they may think or see or dream, cannot but be puffed up and not edified.
2. In Christ with whom our life is hid in God (chap. Colossians 3:1) can alone be found the secret of the victory over the flesh which is the professed object of every system of ethics. If ye are dead what need of "touch not," etc.? If ye are risen the chains of flesh shall fall off by the influence of the spiritual life.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,