Colossians 2:1–5 (ESV): 1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Paul began describing his ministry to the church in Colossians 1:24. These verses complete his thoughts. Paul explained how his suffering for Christ was a participation in Christ’s sufferings, his ministry to the church was a stewardship granted by Christ, and the effort he expended in ministry was due to the power of Christ flowing through him.
In our highlighted verses, we now see both Paul’s pain and Paul’s pleasure in ministry. In Colossians 2:1-4, Paul noted his struggle in ministry for these believers was a passion for three things.
Paul did not expressly state how he struggled for the believers. As he clearly noted, he had never met these Christians. He did not serve in their community. Therefore, it would seem best to understand his struggle as one that occurred primarily in prayer and was expressed in both his feelings of love and anxiety for this church.
What was Paul’s struggle in prayer for this church about? His passion was that they might
1. Be encouraged in their faith, v. 2.
Colossians 2:2 (ESV): 2 that their hearts may be encouraged
Paul’s desire for their encouragement begs the question, “Why might the believers be discouraged?” There were several possible causes of discouragement. First, the pressure and difficulties of living in a sinful world can sap our energy and joy. Second, the attacks of the enemy of our soul can drive fear and desperation. Third, the false teaching of that influential individual(s) who tried to persuade the believers that Christ alone was insufficient hope for salvation would rob the believers of their joy. If we resort to any foundation for hope besides Christ, we will lose our joy of living. But even if we remain grounded in our faith, combating those who teach spiritual error can lead to discouragement.
Therefore, Paul struggled, praying, desiring, hoping, seeking assurance that these believers would be encouraged in their faith, emboldened to live for God in a threatening, dismissive world.
Today as then, the Church of God desperately needs encouragement in the faith. The sources and avenues by which the enemies of God seek to discredit the gospel have only grown in the past couple thousand years. Furthermore, while followers of Jesus are actively persecuted around the world, even in the western world there seems to be a rising intolerance and even hatred for the Christian.
Furthermore, the distractions of the world have increased, and when we do not focus on Christ for our satisfaction and joy we can easily lose our way and become greatly discouraged. We should recognize that this discouragement may not be marked, at least at the first, by sadness and despair. Rather, we can be discouraged from living passionately for Jesus, staying vitally connected to the Vine, supported by the fellowship of the Church. Then, over time we find ourselves like a ship without a rudder, driven and tossed by wind and waves.
Paul struggled in prayer, desiring that the believers be encouraged in their faith and that they would also…
2. Be united in their faith, v. 2.
Colossians 2:2 (ESV): 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love
When I was young, I remember some crocheting frames that my mom had us boys put yarn into to make handmade potholders. As I grew older, I learned how to very clumsily sew a button back onto a dress shirt. Fortunately for my thumbs, that knowledge has not been tested too often. Needle pricks can hurt! To me, how a sewing machine inserts thread into a garment is a mystery, and I have witnessed how it can become a huge mess if interrupted from its proper functioning.
Like thin threads of cloth intertwined together become a strong bond that securely fastens various pieces of fabric together, the individual Christian is much weaker on his or her own than when inserted, surrounded and bonded with a band of believers.
I recently listened to a podcast in which the guest astutely noted that the COVID pandemic has devastated relationships within the church and without in part because we began to look at everyone, even family and friends, as a potential “enemy”. Could they be carrying this deadly, invisible virus?
The pandemic, however, is only one of several causes for fraying faith fellowships today. Paul struggled in prayer for a church threatened from without and within, seeking God’s grace to unite the church in love… that they might be knit together in love. Even so, our passionate prayer should be the same. We must pray that less important doctrinal and practical matters do not hinder us from unity on essentials. We must wrestle in prayer than politics might not supplant our love for God and for other people. We must strive in prayer, asking God that the myriad of opportunities for our careers and for pleasure available to us in the world today do not dilute our passion for the people of God.
How might our world be changed if the local church were to be knit together in love! The individual believer would be strengthened by his band of brothers who care, challenge, and correct one another. The family would be strengthened in a community of families and individuals all striving to love God and help each other overcome the challenges of life. The church would become a greater fellowship, as its meetings focused on loving and serving each other, rather than merely a passive time of sitting and watching a few perform for God. The different local churches would see the vital ministries of their sister congregations. Rather than operate in silos, they would band together to impact their communities with the love of Jesus.
Spiritually, we have a great enemy who would seek to tear us apart. Culturally, the headwinds of a post-pandemic, individualistic, personal techology-driven world discourage deeper fellowship with others. Economically, our time, energy, and money may be adversely impacted if we pursue developing bands of brothers and sisters. Yet, the benefits of such Christian fellowship are so rewarding. Therefore, Paul struggled in prayer for the believers to be knit together in love.
In prayer, Paul also sought that the believers might…
3. Grow deeper in the assurance of their faith, vv. 2-3.
Colossians 2:2–3 (ESV): 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The occasion for this letter was an influential individual(s) teaching the believers that there was some hidden mystery, some secrets to the gospel that could not be known by merely placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. Devotion to that teacher and his teachings was necessary for full salvation.
Today, the believer faces a similar temptation and delusion. Knowledge and understanding is highly valued. We think that if we can somehow learn another truth from God’s word, another secret, another practical tip, our lives will be changed for the better.
Of course, we should grow in our knowledge of God’s Word. There are lessons and tips that may help us in our faith. The danger is that our faith becomes all about spiritual knowledge rather than Christ. Scripture memorization is vital, but hiding God’s Word in our heart should not become a substitute for knowing the God who wrote the Word. Biblical history and facts can greatly aid our understanding of scriptural truth, but we miss the point if we do not grow in our knowledge of the God of the ages.
Paul prayed for the believers to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.
The full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery is Christ. Ephesians 3:6 notes that the mystery of the gospel is that Gentiles are included in God’s plan of salvation partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Colossians 1:27 says that the riches of the glory of the mystery is Christ in you. Now, Paul emphasizes the God’s mystery is Christ.
For the detail-oriented person, this might seem like a contradiction or a moving target. But the general truth is that the mystery is Christ’s salvation offered to all freely.
In Colossians 2 Paul thus prayed for the believers to gain full assurance and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ. He would warn them in the following section of his letter not to allow anyone to mislead them and ensnare them spiritually by philosophy and tradition. The secret to spiritual growth is not understanding spiritual truth better or by following rituals and regulations. The secret of flourishing spirituality is knowing Christ deeply!
Indeed, Paul continued in Colossians 2:3 (ESV), saying: 3 in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Anything and everything you need spiritually is found in Christ. Christ is not the beginning point of a fulfilled life. Life in Christ gives lasting fulfillment.
Some might feel, however, that simply knowing Christ as Lord and Savior is not enough. There has to be more, they think. The truth is, simply making a profession of faith in Christ is not enough.
Do not misunderstand. I am not saying we need to work for our salvation or somehow gain knowledge that is not found in Christ to truly be spiritual. This was precisely the error of those in Colossae, Galatia, etc. who sought to lead the Christians astray.
By saying that a profession of faith in Christ is not enough, I am simply saying there follows a life of faith in Christ that must be lived! 3 in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Have we plumbed the depths of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found in Christ? I know that I have not! Colossians 1:27 (ESV): The riches of the glory of this mystery … is Christ in you. Are you fully enjoying your spiritual wealth afforded by the abiding presence of Jesus within you? I know that I have not!
Therefore, our longing and prayer should not be for some secret that we can find through philosophy, science, or some other field. Rather, our deep desire should be to known and be known by our Lord and Savior more deeply and intimately than we have ever before experienced.
Colossians 2:4–5 (ESV): 4I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
While Paul struggled mightily in prayer for the Colossians Christians that they might be encouraged, united and have a greater assurance in their faith, Paul also expressed great joy. Despite the attempts of this influential individual(s), the Christians kept good order and remained firm in their faith.
This church did not allow the novel teachings of a few to destroy the unity of their church or undermine their leadership. They refused to cast away their hope in Christ. Rather, they sought the apostle’s confirmation of the Gospel.
Their example is a powerful testimony to us of how to respond when certain individuals or teachings seek to make inroads in the Church, teaching “new” ideas. Instead of casting away our faith quickly or allowing chaos to reign, we must carefully study God’s Word to confirm what is truth. If the teaching highlights truth that had been hidden before, we should accept it in its proper place; if these ideas are in opposite to clear, biblical doctrine, we must reject them.
For those of us called to ministry, this scripture speaks to us powerfully about the conflict in prayer required for God’s people, regardless of whether the people in one’s setting are in danger of being deceived by false doctrine or if they are merely under the attack of our spiritual enemy, as all believers are.
We must pray for encouragement in the faith, unity, and a greater assurance through a deeper knowledge of Christ himself. We should also rejoice as we see those under our care and ministry standing firm for Jesus.
Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing to us your mystery, which is Christ. Help us to devote our lives to a greater knowledge of your Son. Encourage our faith. Unite us in our love for you. May our assurance of faith be like a great shield protecting us from all fiery darts of those who oppose you. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.