Yesterday we observed that Paul taught that religious rituals taught by false teachers should not be the basis on how we should live the Christian life. Today we will a second area taught by false teachers in Colosse, which was that Christians should focus on supernatural experiences that were connected to asceticism.
It may be that depriving themselves of food and drink brought the participants into a form of trance in which they saw visions that seemed to be angelic. Or their stress on angelic participation may have been based on notions of spiritual hierarchy in which celestial beings played a part in bringing individuals higher up a spiritual ladder and closer to God.
The outcome was that they were proud of their spiritual attainments and delighted to speak about them in great detail to others. They also asserted that those who did not have such experiences were not proper Christians (those who claimed these encounters disqualified those who had not). In contrast, Paul’s assessment is that, whatever the basis of their practices, their experiences were not a consequence of union with Christ.
In order to explain his point, Paul uses an illustration he employs elsewhere, that of a head and body, with Jesus being the Head and his people the body. Those who pursue teachings that did not come from Jesus are like a man who does not use his reason when performing actions. We’re familiar with the advice to someone who has done something silly, ‘Use your head.’ What is a church like that listens to the teaching of Christ rather than the claims of a false teacher? It grows in a balanced way. What is a church like that listens to a false teacher and his grandiose claims rather than listening to Christ? It neither grows or remains balanced.
Paul assures the Colossians that the path of spiritual growth is not by imitating the supernatural claims of anyone. Instead, the path is listening to Jesus and receiving from Jesus. Imagine that you have a profound spiritual experience. How are you to assess it? Ask yourself, ‘Did my experience bring me closer to Jesus.’ Paul would say, taking the false teacher’s claims of angelic encounters, that a steady interaction with Jesus is more important than many esoteric experiences. The latter don’t help in living the Christian life whereas the former does.