Feasting with God # 29
Judged for What You Eat or Drink
Text: Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23
16Therefore 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. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ…. 20If 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? 23These 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.
When Jesus said, “Judge not” (Matt. 7:1), it is commonly believed that he meant, “Don’t judge other people for their religion or lifestyle, just because it’s radically different from yours.” But Jesus wasn’t speaking about interfaith relations; he was talking about how Christians should relate to other Christians. And this passage from Colossians speaks to the same thing.
There were those in the early church who believed that Christians should hold to all sorts of Old Testament laws, such as fasting on certain days, avoiding certain foods, not working on the Sabbath, observing certain festivals. They were openly condemning those believers who ate shellfish or pork (Lev. 11:7, 12). But Paul wrote to some of these Christians and encouraged them to “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink.” Aside from the fact that Peter had received a vision from God, where God showed him all sorts of animals that had once been considered unclean and told him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat…. What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:13, 15), so that these “unclean” animals were now explicitly allowed to be eaten, Paul proves that all these Levitical laws, about diet, festival observances, fasting, resting, etc., were only “a shadow of the things to come.” All these laws point to Christ, and in Christ they were all fulfilled, brought to their conclusion.
This is like someone who has a copy of the blueprints for their new house. Currently their living situation is not the greatest, so they’re excited about this building, their new home. They have the blueprints framed so they can look at them every day. Then, finally, when the building is done, instead of joyfully going into their new home, they stay where they are, because they’d prefer to look at the blueprints. All these Old Testament laws were the blueprints of salvation, things that pointed to how salvation would be accomplished, but they were not themselves that salvation. So it would be ridiculous, once that salvation was accomplished in Christ, to hold onto what was supposed to point to him instead, just as it would be ridiculous to prefer the blueprints to the actual house.
Of course, there’d be nothing wrong for that new homeowner to take the framed blueprints into his new house, to have them framed, so that he could always remember how he got to where he was. Just as it’s not wrong for us now, to remind ourselves how our salvation was achieved, to avoid certain foods, to take a day of rest (whether Saturday, as it was originally, or Sunday, when Christians traditionally worship now), or to keep any of these other laws. The problem comes in when we start to focus on them, to believe they have some intrinsic merit for our salvation—and the problem really comes in when we judge others for not observing the Levitical laws we choose to.
Jesus freed us from these laws. Yes, we will want to live our lives now in a way that pleases our God, out of thanks for the salvation he has accomplished for us, but we should be aware of which laws are good and right for all Christians to keep (i.e. the Moral Law: the Ten Commandments), and which are now obsolete because they were only a shadow of the substance which is Christ (i.e. the Civil and Ceremonial Laws). It becomes easy, if we focus on keeping this or that Old Testament law, to puff ourselves up with pride, creating “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion.” But this is no replacement for true religion.
Therefore, if you choose to avoid pork, to not work on Sundays, to observe new moon festivals, that is well and good for your personal devotional life, but it must not be imposed on your fellow Christians. Instead, recognize, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Recognize that Jesus fulfilled all laws, and our lives now are merely to be lives of thanks for his grace, given to us because of his death on the cross for all our sins, through the waters of baptism, his Holy Meal, and the very Word which proclaims us free.
Guide us to realize that we are free, O Lord; free from the power of sin, free from all law, free from damnation to hell, and all on account of your Son’s death on the cross, paying for our sins. Lead us in our devotional lives now to always look to that Son, so that everything helps us to focus on him. Lead us also not to judge our fellow Christians if their devotional choices are not the same as ours, but instead help us to point one another always to that same one and only Savior. In that Savior’s name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.