Why if you be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances,…
I. THE CHRISTIAN'S DEATH WITH CHRIST.
1. To Paul the Cross of Christ was the altar on which the oblation had been offered which took away his sin, and because of that the law of his own life, and the power which assimilated him to his Lord.
(1) We talk of an old man being dead to youthful follies and passions and ambitions, and we mean that they have ceased to interest him, that he is separated from, and insensible to them. So if we have got hold of Christ as our Saviour, that will deaden us to all which was our life.
(2) Strong emotion, too, makes us insensible to things around. Many a man amid the excitement of the battlefield "receives, but recks not of the wound." Absorption of thought and interest leads to "absence of mind" when surroundings are entirely unfelt. Higher tastes drive out lower ones, as some great stream turned into a new channel will sweep it clear of mud. So if we arc joined to Christ He will fill our souls with strong emotions and interests which will deaden our sensitiveness to things around.
2. To what shall we die if we are Christians?
(1) To sin (Romans 6:11).
(2) To self (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).
(3) To the law (Romans 7:6).
(4) To the world (Galatians 6:14).Here it is to "the rudiments of the world" (ver. 8). Elementary precepts, fit for babes, moving in the region of the material. Why then, triumphantly asks Paul, do you subject yourselves to ordinances (ver. 4) such as "handle not, nor taste, nor touch," vehement reiterations of the ascetic teachers with an increasing intolerance — don't lay hold of, don't touch with the tip of your finger. So asceticism grows by indulgence. And, then, the whole thing is out of date, and a misapprehension of the genius of Christianity. Man's work in religion is ever to confine it to the surface. Christ's work is to focus it on the inner man of the heart, knowing that if that be right the visible will come right.
3. Paul goes on to show (ver. 22) that these meats and drinks, of which so much is said, are perishable. You cannot use them without using them up. Is it fitting for men who have died with Christ to this perishable world to make so much of its perishing things? But we may widen the thought so as to make it include sybaritic luxury as well as asceticism. Dives in his purple and the monk in his hair shirt, both make too much of "what they should put on." The one with his feasts and the other with his fasts, both think too much of what they shall eat and drink. The man who lives on high with his Lord puts all these things in their right place. There are things which do not perish with the using. All Christlike graces grow with exercise.
4. The final inconsistency between the Christian position and these practical errors is glanced at in "after the commandments of men," A quotation, used by our Lord, from Isaiah 29:13. It is not fitting for those in union with Christ to be under the authority of men. Here is the true democracy of the Christian society — "Ye were redeemed with a price; be not servants of men." We are bound to take our orders from one Master.
II. THE FAILURE OF THE FALSE TEACHING TO ATTAIN ITS END (ver. 23).
1. The apostle admits that it had a show of wisdom, and was very fascinating. It had the look —
(1) Of devotion and zealous worship; but on closer examination it is the indulgence of the will and not surrender to God. They are not worshipping Him as He has appointed, and therefore not at all. Whether offered in a cathedral or a barn, in a cope or a fustian jacket, such service is not accepted.
(2) Of humility. It looked very humble to say, We cannot suppose that such flesh-encompassed creatures can have fellowship with God; but it was a great deal more humble to take Him at His word and allow him to settle possibilities.
(3) Of discipline. Any asceticism is a great deal more to men's taste than abandoning self. They will rather stick hooks in their backs than give up their sins or yield up their wills. Our poor human nature travesties Christ's solemn command to deny ourselves into doing something unpleasant to recommend ourselves to God.
2. The conclusive condemnation, however, lies in the fact that they "are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh" (see on ver. 18). This is one great end of all moral and spiritual discipline, and if practical regulations do not secure it they are worthless. By "flesh" is meant the entire unrenewed self which thinks, and feels, and wills apart from God. To indulge and satisfy it is to die, to slay and suppress it is to live. A man may be keeping the whole round of "ordinances" and seven devils may be in his heart. They distinctly tend to foster some of the "works of the flesh," such as self-righteousness and uncharitableness, and they as distinctly fail to subdue any of them. A man may stand on a pillar like Simon Stylites for years and be none the better. The world and the flesh are willing that Christianity should shrivel into a religion of prohibitions and ceremonials, because all manner of vices and meannesses may thrive and breed under them like scorpions under stones. There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us, and that is the power of the indwelling Christ.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,