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Oct 01, 2017

Sacred Cow-Tipping

Sacred Cow-Tipping

Passage: Colossians 2:16-23

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Colossians

Keywords: drink, externals, food, judging, legalism, sacred cows, traditions, spiritualizing, spiritual activities


This passage looks at the dangers of legalism, unquestioned traditions and even special "spiritual" experiences as the standards of spirituality. Instead we are called to life in Christ.


Sacred Cow-Tipping

Colossians 2:8-15

September 10, 2017


INTRO:  How many of you have seen the animated Pixar movie Cars?  Remember the scene where Mader takes Lightening McQueen out into the field to do a take-off of the supposed juvenile delinquent prank of “cow-tipping”?  In this case, since the whole movie is about animated vehicles instead of mammals, cow-tipping becomes “tractor-tipping.”  You might want to watch that scene again to see just how well that turns out.

            There appears to be no truth to the legend that you can sneak up on a sleeping bovine, give it a shove and send it from vertical to horizontal.  But our passage in Colossians 2 today is definitely about messing with “sacred cows.”  Whether it is old religious traditions or modern American Christianity practices, sacred cows come in many different shapes, sizes and colors.  The problem is, many of those “harmless little sacred calves” grow up to be raging bulls that chase off people trying to connect with God.

            We live in a culture that likes to throw around the idea that nobody should judge anyone else regarding anything.  That idea is ludicrous on the very surface.  We HAVE to make judgments about other people’s behaviors and interactions in order to even keep ourselves safe from moment to moment.  What our culture wants to say with their “Don’t you dare judge me” attitude is, “Don’t hold me to any standard other than the one I make up for myself.”  Again, societies don’t survive very long with that kind of thinking, and we’re observing the breakdown of American society more and more as we reap the fruits of that kind of stupidity. 

            But it is interesting that the Apostle Paul, in this passage today, commands us not to “let anyone judge you…” (2:16).  So let’s see what he says we should push back against when it comes to people who might want to judge us. 

Colossians 2:16ff—

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 shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Q:  What KIND of “judging” is Paul talking about? 

The list includes food and drink, religious celebrations and holidays as well as observing the Sabbath.  He’s clearly talking about what some people looked to for spirituality and correct connection with God.  Every one of those things (and much more) was dealt with in the Mosaic (as in ‘Moses’) law. 

  • When it came to FOOD, there were clean and unclean foods and drink. That was to reinforce for God’s people that life is made up of right and wrong choices.  For them the list got pretty specific.  Thankfully for us post-cross of Christ, that list is gone

Mark 7:18-20 makes it clear that Jesus himself “declared all foods ‘clean’.”

Peter’s vision in Acts 10 couldn’t be clearer when the voice from heaven said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  And that same vision happened 3-times in a row!

Paul made it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 8:8 when he wrote, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”

This is not a statement about the health benefits or damage certain food will do to your body.  This is a statement clarifying that food itself doesn’t make you more spiritual or less spiritual.  Food doesn’t have that power.  Food can only be a tool that may help us grow closer to God or be farther from him, depending on how WE approach it. 

EX:  How can NOT eating food draw you closer to God?  [Fasting, self-discipline, internal and character qualities.]

Q:  How can EATING bring you closer to Christ?

[By facilitating fellowship, unity with others, evangelism, Lord’s table, love feasts, etc.]  But it is not the FOOD itself that has spiritual power; it is the HEART of the worshiper

  • When it came to DAYS, the calendar doesn’t have spiritual power over us. The Jews had their special feast days (Lev. 25) and the “new Moon” celebrations (Is. 1:13) and their Sabbaths (Ex. 20:9-11). 

Q:  What was the purpose of those days? 

[They were to help people recognize that we need to set aside time for special spiritual experiences.  We’re wired to have rest days where we can enjoy companionship of friends and family as well as time with God away from our regular work.  But God hasn’t chosen those days for us anymore.  We’re free to make as many of them special as we want or as few of them…or we’re free to make all of them days devoted to God. 

APP:  How do we presently tend to connect “special days” with our spiritual well-being? 

[Going to church on Sundays.  Used to be Wednesday nights and Sunday night services when I was a kid. 

Were those important?  Looking back, yes.  Could/did they become a legalistic tradition?  Yes.]

Q:  What is the danger of NOT having any ‘special days’?

Q:  What is the danger of having too many? 

Paul recognizes these “dangers.”  But he doesn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  Look at vs. 17—

17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Q: WHAT “reality” are we talking about?  The Greek word here is soma. That word is usually translated “body” but has been translated here “reality” or “substance.”  We could translate this phrase, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the body/substance, however, is found in Christ.”  All those laws in the O.T. were to draw people towards the reality of Jesus.  Food and drink and religious holidays were a “shadow” of Christ. 

  • Would you rather admire the shadow a towering mountain casts on the ground or the mountain itself?  
  • Would you rather admire the shadow shape of someone or gaze into their eyes and be captivated by the beauty of their face?

This is God’s point:  Don’t be satisfied with God’s shadow when you can experience His full form, beauty, nature and presence in Christ!

Q:  How many of you feel like most of what you have seen of God’s people experiencing God has just been the shadow of legalism or judgment or ritualism

God wants to give us himself.  It’s time to come out of the ‘shadows’ of religiosity and embrace the true ‘body’ of Jesus Christ himself. 

            Before Paul tells us a bit more about HOW to do that, he warns us of further ‘sacred cows’ that tend to inhabit the green pastures of God’s people.  Colossians 2:18-19--

18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

            So what might false spirituality “disqualify” us from?  What does the context seem to point to?  We’re not talking about salvation.  We’re not talking about having your sins forgiven.  Legalism and sacred cows can’t take that away.  But they can ‘disqualify’ us from enjoying God in Jesus Christ.  They can disqualify us from experiencing the fullness of Christ in His church, His Body.  It’s not that hard to spot, is it?

“False humility”—isn’t that what bugs us about “religious people”?  They think themselves so humble, meek and saint-like yet everyone around them can see right through the veneer of “spirituality” and the personal pride that is actually there. 

“Worship of angels”—It’s interesting how often Christian cults have this as part of their theology and history.  Mormons have Moroni, the angel who supposedly visited Joseph Smith, their founder, and gave him “new revelation.”  Problem is, it flatly contradicts God’s word on a number of important truths.   Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Satan to be Jesus’ brother—a created archangel who was once equal in authority, power and nature to Jesus but then turned away from the Father.  No matter that God repeatedly forbids worshipping angles in both the O.T. and N.T.  Worship is to be reserved for God and God alone!  That’s why Jesus must be God or the entire N.T. is wrong because it is calling us to worship something less than God himself. 

            This verse 18 addresses, I think, something else that certain segments of 21st century Christianity is in danger of getting sidetracked into.  While I deeply respect the fervency of spirit and genuine love of Christ that many of our Pentecostal/Charismatic brethren have, sometime their zeal opens them up to “visions” or “prophecies” or “a word from the Lord” that tends to focus on “what they have seen” albeit “in the Spirit” rather than on pointing all of us to Jesus.  Those “words of knowledge” can easily become the focus of attention, making most of us feel like, “Wow, I guess my experience with Jesus is really lacking.  I don’t get those kinds of messages from God like they do!”  I’m not saying that there is no sense of mystical in a walk with Christ.  But I am saying we should not be chasing these supposedly “spiritual experiences” that actually end up feeding our pride instead of our passion for Jesus.

            Vs. 19, while giving the diagnosis of what has gone wrong with people who create these “sacred cows” of super-spiritual experiences, also gives us the remedy for the problem.

19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

            First, it is SO easy to “lose connection with the head,” Jesus.  Everything the spiritual forces of darkness want to do revolves around getting people to “lose connection with the Head, namely Jesus Christ.”  If they can get us to run after certain spiritual experiences instead of simply Jesus, they will.  If they can trap us into thinking that our spiritual strength depends on keeping a set of rules or “do’s and don’ts,” they will.

            This passage reads, “They have lost connection with the head [Jesus], from whom the whole body [Gk.—soma]…grows with a growth that comes from God.”

            Everything about church should seek to connect us to Jesus.  If we want “growth” in our life, we better make connecting with Jesus our daily passion.  Because that kind of “growth” comes only ‘from God,’ not from super-spiritual or religious experiences. 

            Now Paul will also tell us that the rest of the Body of Christ has something to do with that when inserts this little metaphorical statement, “…supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews....”  Literally it reads in the Greek, “nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments….” This is telling us that we have an effect on each other’s growth.  Others in the body of Christ matter to how well “nourished and knit together” we are.  We’re not “knit” to every part of the body.  But if we’re not “knit” to some parts, we’re not going to grow. 

            And I don’t think he’s just talking about the comfortable or easy growth.  Most growth of our physical bodies comes through regular exercise, through hormonal changes and through those awkward experiences of puberty and adolescence, right?  The same is true spiritually.  It’s the difficult, stressful and sometimes painful “growing experiences” of living with other imperfect saints that really grows us.  It’s the painful and heartbreaking experiences of life that really connect us deeply with Christ.  And GOD is the One who schedules those, sovereignly dispenses those and designs those to “grow” us. 

APP:  Anyone in the body of Christ making life seemingly harder for you right now?  That just might be the “joint” or “ligament” God has put into your life right now so that you can “grow.”  It’s not religious traditions that we can control and orchestrate that really grow us.  It’s the “growth that comes from God—the trials, the tests, the spiritual hormone changes that produce real character growth.    

Let’s finish the last paragraph of chapter 2, verses 20-23.

20 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: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

            Notice the contrasts that happen in this passage.  Vs. 20 begins by reminding us what we have in our relationship with Jesus.

  • On the one side/hand, we “died with Christ”. So legalism and the “elemental spiritual forces of this world” i.e. the demonic realm that exploits legalism to get us away from God, has no real power over us anymore.  It only has the power that we let it have, that we surrender to it.  So Christ and the power we have in Him over our old nature and old law is on one side.
  • On the other side of the contrast is “Elemental spiritual forces of this world,legalism that says, “Don’t do it this way!” or “You must do this to be a strong Christian.” They are “destined to perish.”  In other words, they aren’t going to last into eternity.  (That’s a good test of whether or not we should say something is required of everyone today:  will it be required in eternity to enjoy, worship and experience God?)  On this side of the ledger we have “rules and regulations” that may look and sound good and wise but they really don’t bring the life of Jesus into our experience. 

Let me illustrate it with a reading from a classic little entertaining book by the Christian author C.S. Lewis. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the Screwtape Letters, let me say a few words: C. S. Lewis wrote the Screwtape Letters as if from the devil's point of view, looking at humankind and all their struggles, failings and temptations. Screwtape is the administrator in the bureaucracy of Hell. He is the mentor to Wormwood, an apprentice in tempting.

Throughout the book, Screwtape gives forth advice, in the form of letters, on various ways Wormwood can undermine faith and promote sin in the minds of men. Much observation is given on human nature and Christian doctrine. Obviously, Wormwood and Screwtape live in a morally-reversed world where things like greed and lust are seen as the highest of benefits.

Allow me to read a section of their correspondence that relates to how the “elemental spiritual forces of this world” can still exercise power over us if we let them. 


            You say your patient is moving along in his relationship to the Enemy. Your news of him giving one tenth of his income this week is alarming.  It sounds like you may be in for more difficulty than you expected.  Our Father Below will not be pleased to hear about the ground you are losing. Take heart my dear nephew; you have not lost this one yet.

            Last week your subject had no qualms tossing a few dollars into the plate and feeling like he was a leader in philanthropy.  Now he has taken a step to subject himself.  If he keeps going you may lose him altogether.  You must make sure that he doesn’t continue on in these steps of surrender and give everything.

            This is where you will need to prod your man into a state of legalism. Encourage the sort of worthless drivel about whether he should tithe on the gross or the net income.  It won’t matter what he decides. If he chooses to calculate his giving on the amount after taxes and expenses he will live forever wondering if it’s enough.  Every time he gives, instead of doing it out of the joy that the Enemy places in his heart, he’ll do it out of obligation and feel like he is never giving quite enough.  You can encourage him that he will never be quite enough.

            If he gives on the gross amount, you can convince him that he is better than the others around him.  You’ll see your subject begin to bring this conversation up just to tell others that he does all of his calculations for giving on the larger amount.  The higher you can get him to raise his nose in the air while he says it the better.

            You see, in our present situation the Enemy owns everything.  He doesn’t need a fraction of it back as some sort of a tax to keep the empire running.  The human must not come to grips with that.  If he knew that the enemy was now in charge he’d not stop at 10% but he’d give it all.  He’d start wrestling with every expense and he’d ask how he could submit that as a gift to the Enemy.  He’d realize that the Enemy meant all good things for his enjoyment and he’d start using his home to love others.  Your man would become more open to the promptings of the Enemy to help others.  He’d live open-handedly knowing that he could surrender all.  We can’t have that.

            If our master is to take this world back we must enlist each of these humans among our ranks.  You’ll need to convince your patient that he could never surrender all; he must pay for his basic needs.  Convince him that he can’t submit everything.  Convince him that he’d be left destitute.  The humans take this lie as truth.  They equate all of these topics only to what they can see.  Your man will assume he would need to sell everything and literally place the proceeds in the offering plate.  You’ll want your subject to dismiss these thoughts as absurd very early on and keep him giving exactly a tenth of what he has.  Don’t let your man give out of joy, but out of obligation. In the end you’ll have a man who is so pleased that he has given ten percent that he will have failed to find the abundant life that the Enemy promises.  With just the right concoction of pride and legalism in your man you’ll be able to turn the tables with this tithing business.

Good things, things that perhaps were begun in an attempt to draw us closer to Christ, can so easily become deadening things—things that become a barrier to experiencing Christ.

            You may have sensed a little bit already today that we’re purposely trying to make this service feel different.  In a way, we’re trying to “tip over the sacred cows” of Mosaic’s traditions a bit so that we can experience hopefully some fresh-er ways of being Christ’s body today.  While you may miss our traditional ways of worship today, how about asking God to speak to you and others around you in some fresh ways, through some slightly different actions that God might use to renew you in Christ?

            So from now until the end of the service, thing might feel a bit different…or they might not, to you. 

            Let’s start this portion of hopefully God-connecting worship with PRAYER—asking God to make us aware of the ‘sacred cows’ we’ve given too much power to and inviting Him to do a work in us that may help us experience the reality of Christ. 

ACTION:  To help us bring this closer to home and into our hearts, I’d like us to do a little “joint and ligament” work together today.  I’d like us to experience a little fellowship today around the following 3 questions:

#1.) What have you experienced “the church” doing that doesn’t really help you experience Jesus more deeply?

#2.)  What have you experienced “the church” doing that DOES help you experience Jesus more deeply? 

#3.)  WHY do you think that is?

After that, we will enter into a responsive time of worship, prayer and Communion.  [Explain the logistics.]