Monday, April 5, 2021

The Struggle is Real; The Calling is Profound- Col. 2:1-7

 Long-distance relationships are difficult for many. There is something about space that seems to lend itself to miscommunication and a lack of meaningful connection. This is often the case in personal relationships and even takes place in ministry. This past year has illustrated this on so many levels as, given the pandemic and encouraged protocols, distance has existed in places it never has before. Believe it or not, Paul understood what it was like to be in a long-distance relationship. In fact, his many letters to the churches throughout the Roman empire illustrate how hard he worked to transcend the pitfalls/limitations that might exist in such arrangements and encourage the church to fulfill her mission in a variety of contexts. The church in Colossae is one such example. As we continue to look at Paul’s letter to this church today, we learn just how hard Paul worked to encourage this church to be about the right business in a world full of all kinds of pressures. We will stand to learn a lot that we can apply today as we examine two presentations given in Colossians 2:1-7.

1. PRESENTATION #2: Paul’s Personal Struggle-2:1-5

When we last left the Book of Colossians, Paul was talking about his unique ministry as apostle. Remember, Paul had never actually visited this church and the apostle believed it was in the best interest of both himself and this letter’s message for him to establish his credibility for this congregation. In chapter 2, Paul continues along the same lines while shifting to from a general discussion of himself and his ministry to the significance of his ministry for the Colossians and as she faced the threat of false teaching (Moo, The Letter to the Colossians, 163). He writes “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face” (2:1). “For I want you to know” draws special attention to what Paul is about to reveal. Paul reports that he does not just labor in ministry for those he has met; he also strives for those he has never seen. Here, three groups are mentioned as the beneficiaries of his “apostolic ‘contending’”—those in Colossae, those in Laodicea, and the church everywhere who has not seen him. Paul’s perspective in ministry and leadership took into account the big picture (the universal church/the kingdom of God). While he specifically addresses the Colossian church in this letter, he does so with the whole church and mission of God in mind.  

Paul’s struggle/contending for the church in Colossae and throughout the world (those who had seen him and others who had not) was purposeful. First, Paul struggled so that the church might be encouraged—“That their hearts might be encouraged, having been knit together in love” (2:2). The verb “encourage” might best be rendered “strengthened” here (Obrien, 93) and the focus is on the “heart.” While in today’s vernacular the heart is most associated with emotions and feelings, in Scripture the “heart” designates the center of the personality, the source of willing and thinking in addition to feeling (Moo, The Letter to the Colossians, 165). Therefore, “encouraged in heart” might be best understood here as being strengthened to the very core of oneself—in that part of a person that affects everything else.

Here, the passive voice suggests that such inner strength cannot be conjured up in one’s own power but must be injected by an outside third party (in this case, Paul believed it was his role to instill such inner courage in the life of the church). For the church in Colossae (and everywhere else for that matter), such courage was also predicated on compelling community—“having been knit together in love” (2:2). This too was accomplished by an outside third-party (this time the Holy Spirit that calls people to Jesus and baptizes them into the family of God). The church’s level of encouragement was in direct proportion to its receptivity of Spirit-led leadership and Spirit-driven community. Without apprehending what these outside influences provide, the church would suffer. Paul knows this and it is why he worked so hard to instill these in the church.

Paul not only contended to bring the church encouragement, but he also labored to educate the church concerning the things of God—“and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding” (2:2b). In fact, some would argue that these results/desired outcomes of Paul’s ministry build off each other. Here “the full assurance of understanding” is the result of both “encouraged in heart” and being “united in love.” Paul might have wondered how a church could truly understand the things of God without encouragement and unity. Beyond simply being encouraged and living in loving community, Paul desired the church have the full assurance of understanding—i.e. “a full wealth of conviction which understanding brings” (Moo, The Book of Colossians,  167). The apostle wanted the church to know what it believed and understand why they believed it so much so that they would stand by such convictions under pressure.

Ultimately, Paul hoped that all these desired outcomes/results of his striving/contending would lead to “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself” (2:2c). This final outcome/ultimate result of Paul’s ministry for the church in Colossae and elsewhere involves a experiential, life-changing knowledge of Christ’s person and ministry—something that was hidden in ages past but now has been manifest in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Knowing Jesus would provide inspiration for encouragement, a catalyst for unity, and a source of understanding the things of God.

After all, as Paul continues, it is in Christ where “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (2:3). “Christ is the one in whom is to be found all that one needs in order to understand spiritual reality and to lead a life pleasing to God” (Moo, The Book of Colossians, 169). This is highlighted by Paul’s use of “all” in “all the treasures” and the inclusion of both “wisdom” (the application of knowledge), and “knowledge” (the apprehension of information). Such wisdom and knowledge are treasures that have been hidden in Christ, not so that they may not be found, but so that they might be easily discovered and acquired (no map or difficult quest necessary).

Jesus really is an exhaustive source of the information, advice, inspiration, and understanding necessary to live rightly both now and forevermore. He is the perfect revelation of God and perfectly discloses everything one needs to know about him and his will. Christ is not a reference that needs supplementing. This is crucial to Paul’s message for the church in Colossae as she faced heresies and false teachings that called into question the supremacy of Christ and wondered what could be learned from him.

Evidence of this is found in verse 4 when Paul says “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (2:4). This is the first time the apostle warns explicitly against false teaching in the letter. Paul didn’t want the church to be “deceived by arguments or false reasons” given for denying the divinity of Christ. This is why he has said all “this” (in “I say this…”). What is “this”? The answer is everything taught in 1:1-2:3 and includes things like “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth…He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…Christ in you the hope of glory…”. Paul has, up to this point, flooded the church with high Christology so that she might be prepared to stand against any teaching that would fall short of  portraying Jesus in all the lofty glory he is due.

As the church in Colossae faced the challenge of false teaching, the apostle wanted them to know that not only could they count on this letter to help direct them and Paul’s tireless efforts to encourage them (see 2:2), but they could also count on the fact that he was with them in spirit—“for even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit…” (2:5a). This statement goes beyond merely “you will be in my thoughts and prayers” and involves a profound corporate sense of identity based on and mediated by the Holy Spirit of God (Moo, The Book of the Colossians, 173).

This spiritual connection Paul had with the church was not a one-way street. Instead, this relationship worked in both directions. Paul reveals that in addition to his efforts to encourage the church, he was being encouraged by that same church himself—“rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (2:5b).

Let us take a moment to appreciate the deep spiritual connection, responsibility, accountability, and relationship that existed between Paul and a church he had never actually visited. This was possible because of a shared position in Christ and a shared bond in the Spirit. Churches today would do well to recognize their many connections to the church of God at work all over the world and seek to rejoice amid her many triumphs, address and correct her many struggles, and encourage her many efforts. This is what Paul models here.

2. PRESENTATION #2: The Church’s Calling-2:6-7

After presenting his struggle on behalf of the church both in Colossae and around the world (answering why he contends and for what purpose), Paul gives a brief presentation of the church’s calling. This calling is rooted in the church’s reception of Christ Jesus—“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord” (2:6a). This title highlights, once again, a high Christology as it refers to Jesus by means of his messianic office (Christ) and absolute authority “the Lord.” Those who have received him by grace through faith have received no small thing. In fact, receiving Christ Jesus the Lord ought to suffer incredible implications.

Paul expected and, in fact demands, that those who receive Christ Jesus the Lord “walk in him” (2:6b). Behaving appropriately ought to be expected in the lives of those who have received Christ. A godly walk should perpetually evidence the presence of Jesus in a believer’s life (it should be the rule, not the exception). I especially appreciate the locative (“in Him”) language as it provides a great perspective in how to evaluate how you are living as one of his disciples (and how the church is doing in her ministry). Sin does not exist in Jesus; therefore, if one is sinning, he is not walking in Him in that moment. Worry doesn’t exist in Jesus; therefore if one is worried, he is not placing confidence in Jesus in this or that area of one’s life. Division doesn’t exist in Jesus, therefore if a body is divided, it can be assured that elements of the organism are not walking in Christ rightly. Paul’s call for the church is simple but profoundly all-encompassing—"walk in Him.” Impossible you say?

You are right! It is impossible, just as impossible today as it was for the church in Colossae 2000 years ago—that is, impossible in one’s own power/strength. The church’s success in her mission is only possible because of what Paul describes in verse 7—“having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith” (2:7a). Again, Paul links a string of passive-voice verbs together (three here are the beginning of verse 7) that each demonstrate that the actions are performed by a greater outside/third-party force (God). A church can only walk in Christ because she has been firmly rooted, is being built up (“to increase the potential of someone or something, with focus upon the process involved”), and is being established in their faith (“to increase in inner strength, with the implication of greater firmness of character or attitude”) by God. The church of Colossae was set up for success in its mission of walking in Christ because of the work God had and was performing in her ranks (and the same is true today).

The calling of the church to “walk in Him” is also predicated on the instruction it has received (faithful instruction about Christ’s person and ministry) and gratitude—“just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (2:7b).  It is clear here that the apostle believed that adequate instruction and an attitude of gratitude went a long way in standing up to and against false teaching. Such a stance was integral for the church as she was about her calling of walking in Christ.

So What?

After examining the presentation of Paul’s struggle and the church’s calling in this passage, we ought to appreciate how relevant this message is for the church today as she stands against falsehood and perseveres amid a multiplicity of pressures. Like the church of Colossae, we ought to appreciate and receive the encouragement of spirit-led church leaders who are struggling/contending for things like loving community, a proper understanding of God’s Word, and a robust engagement with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Again, the church’s level of encouragement in this age, or in any age, is in direct proportion to its receptivity of spirit-led leadership, its participation in loving community, its understanding of God’s Word, and its knowledge of Jesus Christ. Such encouragement is necessary because the call—to walk in Him—is so great. Such a godly walk in any church and among its members ought to perpetually evidence the presence of Jesus in a believer’s life and should not be characterized by anything that is not found in Christ. Thankfully, God has done all the heavy lifting in making it possible to answer this call and to benefit from the encouragement of others. All we have to do is receive it joyfully, and remain faithful to what we have been learned with an attitude of gratitude.

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