What’s the connection?
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. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 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, 19 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.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:16-23 [ESV]
Gotta watch those email chains! I learned that the hard way years ago when I made an ill-advised and incorrect comment about someone. That someone eventually got wind of it because he was in the email chain. Boy did I regret what I had said. It was not particularly evil. But it was definitely unkind. And wrong. I accused someone of “not getting it.” I sincerely thought he didn’t. But I was the one who didn’t get it. I didn’t see the connection of his thoughts. I didn’t see how his idea would work. I didn’t get it.
It might be said that Paul’s rejection of the connection between regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch,” provide a greater control over the indulgence of the flesh. Seems to me at first glance that such regulations would help. By not touching, not tasting, not handling certain things I might be more able to resist the temptation to other indulgences.
Perhaps this is just the forbidden fruit syndrome. If I am told I cannot have something, I’m much more likely to want it. Like when I’m on a diet and I can’t have sweets or snacks. I want them more. Perhaps this is part of the story. But when Paul speaks here of “stopping the indulgence of the flesh,” it is clear that this is more than mere outward actions. The flesh is within us. It’s the part of our being that delights in the devil’s schemes. It’s the part of us that wants nothing to do with God. It’s the part of us that can too easily hide behind outward shows of piety. A priest can wear a collar while doing unspeakable things to those in his care. Outward piety is no guarantee of inward purity.
So is the opposite true: eat, drink, and be merry! No rules. No laws. No prohibitions? Paul is not arguing for that. Shall we sin more that grace may abound? No never! (Romans 6:1) What, then, is the key to stopping the indulgence of the flesh? It’s not asceticism and severity to the body. Nor is it epicureanism and sensual abandon.
It’s a matter of remembering who you are. You are a redeemed child of God. You are part of the Body of Christ – of whom Jesus is the head. When Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, the issue wasn’t bread or stone. The issue was from whom was he going to take his cues? Who would lead him? We are followers of Jesus. We follow his lead. He leads us to love God first and most, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are part of a body of believers, knit together in the bonds of faith and love. Faith and love defines us. Thusly defined we will battle the wiles of the sinful flesh far more successfully. The connection we need is to the Head, and to one another in the Body of Christ.