IVB3: Therefore Don't Let Anyone Judge You In Regards To Food, Festivals, Or Sabbath Days (Col 2:16-17) Part 1 (series: Lessons on Colossians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

“Do Not Let Anyone Judge You” is a warning against the danger of the legalism of the Gnostic teachers in Colossae

“Do Not Let Anyone Judge You” is a warning against the danger of the legalism of the Gnostic teachers in Colossae

Tom Lowe

IVB3: Therefore Don't Let Anyone Judge You In Regards To Food, Festivals, Or Sabbath Days (Col 2:16-17) Part 1 (series: Lessons on Colossians)
• “Special Notes” and “Scripture” appear as endnotes.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV)

(16) Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (17) These are a; the reality, however, is found in Christ.


“Do Not Let Anyone Judge You” is a warning against the danger of the legalism of the Gnostic{1] teachers in Colosse{2]. Their doctrines were a strange mixture of Oriental mysticism, Jewish legalism, and a smattering of philosophy and Christian teaching. Apparently, Jewish legalism played a very important role. This is no surprise because human nature thrives in “religious duties.” The flesh is weak when it comes to doing religious things (Matthew 26:41), but it is very strong when it comes to practicing religious rules and regulations. Somehow, adhering to the religious routine inflates the ego and makes a person content in his self-righteousness. In discussing this problem, Paul presented three important truths:
• The basis for our freedom (v. 16a)
• The bondage of legalism (v. 16)
• The blessing of grace (v. 17)


(2:16)Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

“THE BASIS FOR OUR FREEDOM” is found in the word “therefore,” which relates this verse to the previous verses. The basis for our freedom is the person and work of Jesus Christ. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him (Col. 2:9). On the cross, He canceled the debt and the dominion of the Law (Col. 2:14){3]. As believers, we are under grace as a rule of life and not under Law (Romans 6:14).

The believing Gentiles in Colosse never were under the Law of Moses since that Law was given only to Israel (Rom. 9:4). It seems strange that, now that they were Christians, they would want to submit themselves to Jewish legalism! Paul had the same problem with the Gentiles in the churches of Galatia, and he refuted Jewish legalism in his letter to Galatian believers (Galatians 3:1).

The person who judges a believer because that believer is not living under Jewish Laws is really judging Jesus Christ. He is saying that Jesus Christ did not finish the work of salvation on the cross and that we must add something to it. He is also saying that Jesus Christ is not sufficient for all the spiritual needs of the Christian. The false teachers in Colossae were claiming a “deeper spiritual life” for all who would practice the Law. Outwardly, their practices seemed to be spiritual; but in actual fact, these practices accomplished nothing spiritual. These teachers of error in Colosse were also demanding that the believers adhere to the dietetic injunctions of the Law of Moses; but grace declares “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” (1 Tim. 4:4). To teach that anything created was unclean would be an insult to the Creator. The very fact of its being His creation is enough. If made by God, then it must be good.

And nothing to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving.--Every kind of food and drink may become hateful in the eyes of the all-pure God if misused if partaken of without any sense of gratitude to the Divine Giver. But nothing which can be made use of as food ought to be regarded as unclean or as polluted; every kind of food is intended for man, the only condition being that whatever is partaken of should be gratefully received by him as a gift. The Holy Ghost dwells within the bosom of every believer and will lead believers in matters of dress, as well as what they should eat and drink. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Rom. 8:14).

“THE BONDAGE OF LEGALISM”{4]. Let no one tell you otherwise: legalism is bondage! Peter called it a “yoke upon the neck” (Acts 15:10). Paul used the same image when he warned the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal.5:1). The yoke of bondage or slavery for the Jews is the restraints and restrictions of Judaism. Among the legal demands were the observances of the calendar of the movement of celestial bodies, as well as regulations concerning permitted and forbidden foods and drinks (Gal. 4:9-10){5]. It is not Moses being honored and obeyed, but the spirit powers set forth by the heretics as the forces to be worshipped and obeyed. Those so persuaded graded themselves as spiritually superior and sat in condescending judgment of those members who did not enter into these observances.

These legalistic{4] regulations had to do with food and eating and drinking (partaking or abstaining). Under the Old Testament system, certain foods were classified as clean or unclean (see Lev. 11). But Jesus made it clear that, of itself, food was neutral. It was what came out of the heart that made a person spiritual or unspiritual (Matt. 15:1-20). Peter was reminded of this lesson again when he was on the housetop in Joppa (Acts 10:9) and when he was rebuked in Antioch by Paul (Gal. 2:1). “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). But when the apostle says, “do not let anyone judge you,” the implication is that someone is; and though Paul does not say, let no man observe these prophetic customs, he does forbid anyone to set in judgment upon others in such matters (Romans 14:1-13).

It is likely that God’s instructions about foods given through Moses had physical reasons behind them as well as spiritual. This point that Paul brings up is a different matter. If a man feels he is healthier for abstaining from certain foods, then he should abstain and care for his body. But he should not condemn others who can eat that food, nor should he make it a test of spiritual living. Romans 14-15 is the key passage on this subject.

But the legalistic system{4] not only involved diet; it also involved days. Once again, this was borrowed from the Laws given through Moses. The Old Testament Jew was commanded to keep the weekly Sabbath, which was the seventh day of the week (Ex. 20:9-11). It is wrong to call Sunday “the Christian Sabbath” because it is not designated as such in the New Testament. It is “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2); the day that commemorates the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (John 20:1, 19, 26).

The Jews also had their feast days (Lev. 25) and their special “new moon”{6] celebrations (see Isaiah 1:13). Their religion was tied to the calendar. Now, all of this had its proper function under the old dispensation; but it was not meant to be a permanent part of the faith under the new dispensation (see John 1:17). The Law was a schoolmaster that helped to train and discipline Israel in the childhood of the nation, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. Now that Jesus had come, the schoolmaster was no longer needed to perform the same functions (Gal. 3:24-4:11).

Notice that the Judaistic element in the Colossian heresy is strongly in evidence here; for “festival,” “new moon” and “Sabbath”―that is, annual, monthly, and weekly holy times―all suggest Jewish practices. Note, too, that Sabbath keeping falls under Paul’s criticism. What would he have said of some of our latter-day Sabbatarianism?

Does this mean that the Old Testament Law has no ministry to New Testament Christians? Of course not! The Law still reveals the holiness of God, and in the Law, Jesus Christ can be seen (Luke 24:27). “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Tim. 1:8). "The Law is good," Paul declared with apostolic authoritative knowledge, "should a man--i.e., a teacher of the Law--make use of it lawfully; if he should use it so as to make men conscious of their sins, conscious that of themselves they deserve no mercy, only punishment." The Law reveals sin and warns of the consequences of sin―but it has no power to prevent sin or redeem the sinner. Only grace can do that.

Some Bible scholars have suggested that Paul, in this passage, may be describing that willful, exaggerated “humility” which says it dare not approach God except through hosts of intermediary beings. I do not believe that the text supports that theory.

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