The problem is that when we suffer, or life is especially uncertain there’s a temptation for each of us to relive mountain-tops, and reconnect to spiritual highs… instead of JESUS.
Colossians 2:16–23 (NIV)
Freedom From Human Rules
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 shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 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.
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.
…when people try to entice you into particular styles of piety and devotion other than single-minded devotion to Jesus, you need take no notice… They’re irrelevant, Paul declares. They are like the shadows cast by a solid object, and the solid object is what matters, not the shadows. The solid object, the ‘substance’, is of course the Messiah himself, the king. The celebrations of the Jewish law look forward to him. Now that he’s here they simply aren’t needed any more. Nor is there any need for elaborate and complex systems of prayer and meditation. Of course, there are all sorts of techniques which may help us to be attentive and obedient to God, to listen to his voice and seek his help in bringing our rebellious lives under his authority. There’s nothing wrong with finding out what methods of prayer suit you best. But what Paul is talking about here is a system imposed by a certain sort of teacher, who goes on and on about visions he or she has had, living in a fantasy world in which only that one type of spiritual experience really ‘counts’. Such people—and they’re as frequent in the modern world as in the ancient—may then try to disqualify, or rule out of order, others who haven’t had their type of experience, or who don’t see why they should dance attendance on that type of teaching.
Paul’s answer is quite simple, and by now we ought to know what it is before he says it. All you need is Christ, the king. Hold fast to him and you’ll have all you need. He is the head of the ‘body’, as Paul said already in 1:18. The body gets its life from the head, through what it thinks, sees, smells, hears, eats and drinks. In the same way, the body which is the church is nourished and sustained, in all its joints, muscles and ligaments, not by embracing this or that new teaching, but by holding fast to the Head. Can you sense the sigh of relief the Colossians may have experienced on being reassured that they were already complete in Christ and didn’t need anything else, just more of what they already had? Have you ever come under pressure to ‘add’ to your Christian experience? Do you know the same sigh of relief yourself? –N.T. Wright
“According to human commands and teachings” alludes to Isa 29:13 (LXX): “The Lord said: These people draw near to me, with their lips they honor me, but their hearts are far from me, and in vain they worship me, teaching human commands and teachings.” This passage is one of Isaiah’s critiques of the idolatrous acts of God’s people. The phrase “far from me” is often used explicitly for Israel’s departure from her God in worshiping idols (cf. Jer 2:5; Ezek 44:10).79 Jesus also evoked this prophetic tradition against those who follow the “traditions of the elders” in insisting on legalistic practices (Matt 15:9; Mark 7:7)… Paul’s use here is consistent with his earlier critique of the false teaching as “according to human tradition” (v. 8). While most recognize the allusion to Isa 29:13 here, the verse that follows this statement from Isaiah also needs to be noted: Therefore, I will proceed to remove this people. I will remove them and destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will hide the understanding of the intelligent. (Isa 29:14 LXX) While not an exact parallel, Paul’s subsequent note on the false teachers having “an appearance of wisdom (v. 23) may also evoke this Isaianic tradition. If so, Paul is identifying these false teachers with those who misled Israel into a departure from the worship of the one and true God. In both, the urgency of such a critique is unmistakable – Garland.