Modern Bibles have headings in them. The headings are there to help break up the Bible into sections and to summarise what those sections are about. But headings are not part of the Bible. It irks me when people read the Bible at church or in Bible study groups and they read out the headings. The headings are not the Word of God!
These days Bibles often have study notes as well as headings. The problem is that the authority from the actual Word of God starts to ooze over into the headings and study notes! But they aren’t the Word of God! Of course such things can be helpful. Good commentaries and Christian books are helpful. But they are not the Word of God, and having them actually in the Bible can be dangerous.
Sometimes the headings are wrong. A classic example for me is Colossians 3:1-17 in the NIV. The heading is “Rules for Holy Living”. I’m not sure I could possibly think of a worse heading! Paul rails against rules at the end of chapter 2.
In Colossians 2 Paul argues that we continue as Christians the same way we started: by being rooted and established in Jesus (Col. 2:6-7). We become Christians and grow as Christians the same way: by focusing on Jesus and his death on the cross. In Jesus all the fullness of God resides, and so we have fully everything we need as Christians in him (Col. 2:9-10). We must beware false teaching that would lead us away from Christ (Col. 2:8). False teachers teach worldly rules, such as “Do not taste” and “Do not touch” (Col. 2:21). Paul admits that such external religious rules look good. Such rules make people look holy
(Col. 2:23), but they don’t actually work. They “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence”. They don’t actually change your sinful nature. Rules can’t do that. Only Jesus can.
Religious rules won’t help us live for Christ and put sin to death. But if we focus on Jesus, on things above, we will be able to put sin to death and live to please God (Col. 3:1-4). So we are to set our minds on things above: on Jesus. We are to put to death earthly things, such as rules and our sins!
So is chapter 3 in Colossians about rules for holy living? No! Paul is slamming rules for holy living! Chapter 3 is a character description of a Jesus person. People who are focused on Jesus will be like him. Jesus was and is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, loving (Col. 3:12-14). Christians focused on Jesus will be like Jesus. They won’t do the sort of things outlined in verses Col. 3:5-11. They will look like verses Col. 3:12-17. Following rules is earthly. Such rules are destined to perish (Col3:2:22). These are the things to which we have died (Col.3:2:20). Chapter 3 of Colossians is not about rules for holy living!
Trust your Bible. Don’t trust the headings and notes. They are not the Bible! Sometimes, often in fact, they are helpful and right. But not always. It is such a shame that modern Bibles don’t contain just, well… the Bible.