The Apostle Paul, in Colossians, chapter 1, has been talking about his ministry as God's servant, which is as an apostle of Jesus Christ and a representative of God to the church of Jesus Christ. This ministry to which God had called him was a ministry that involved suffering. As he began this discussion in chapter 1, verse 24, he referred to his sufferings - endured on behalf of the church of Jesus Christ.
His ministry was not only directed toward the church, but also to every individual member within the church. To emphasize the fact that this is for every man, three times in verse 28 he used the expression every man: "...warning every man...teaching every man...that we may present every man perfect..." Paul is saying every individual is included in the ministry to which God has called him. So it's not only establishing the church as a unit, but it's the building up of every individual within the church, which is the body of Christ.
This ministry took energy. It was conducted during ongoing struggle and conflict:
Colossians 1:29 (NKJV) To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.
The word "end" refers to "maturity" in verse 28. Paul made one of his personal goals in life to develop mature believers.
Paul's labors involved "striving". This word comes from the Greek word agonizomai, and means: "to agonize like an athlete in the heat of competition". He viewed ministry like an athletic contest that required great exertion. He strove like a marathon runner who sprints to the finish line with great agony.
A connection ties the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2 together. It's the word translated striving in verse 29 and conflict in chapter 2:
Colossians 2:1 (NKJV) For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,
They're the same basic word in the Greek. We get our English word agonize from them. Paul ends chapter 1 with that word: "...I also labor, striving...". Then chapter 2 begins: "For I want you to know what a great conflict...". Paul's view of ministry was one of conflict, agony, striving.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he exhorts him by using the word that we are talking about in Colossians - agony or agonize. He tells Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:12 (NKJV) Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
These two words translated fight are the same basic words we have translated "striving" in Colossians 1:29 and "conflict" in chapter 2, verse 1. So you could say, "Agonize the good agony. Struggle the good struggle of faith." Paul viewed ministry as a conflict, and he taught this view to those who ministered with him.
In Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul is at the end of his earthly life. This is his last letter. He is anticipating martyrdom at any time. He says in verse 6 that the process that will culminate in his death has already begun. Then he says this:
2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Paul is saying, "I have agonized the good agony." It's the same word we've been talking about. His service for Jesus Christ had been an ongoing struggle, a battle, a fight.
In Colossians 2:1, Paul says, "For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you..." The phrase "For I want you to know..." serves as a phrase which marks a specific introduction, which the apostle uses elsewhere to highlight what he's about to write. Whenever Paul uses this phrase, it indicates a statement of importance.
The bottom line is that Paul wants to emphasize that he's engaged in a struggle.
It's no little struggle. There was intensity in the fight that Paul was experiencing on behalf of the Colossians. And it also includes those who are at Laodicea. Laodicea, like Colosse, lay in the Lycus Valley on the Lycus River. The city, situated on a trade route, enjoyed prosperity. Paul had not visited this valley region. But he had a great struggle for these people. All the apostolic labors were for their benefit. He's imprisoned in Rome, and out of that imprisonment comes the letter to the Colossians. So the Colossians and the others in that region are benefitting from his ministry despite the trials he's going through.
What is this personal, ongoing struggle for them that Paul talks about? There are various ways in which he agonized. He agonized in his efforts to spread the gospel. He also agonized in his parental-like concern for all the churches. He wrote:
2 Corinthians 11:28 (NKJV) besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
Paul knew the agony of an anxious mother, lying awake at night, brooding over all the things that could happen to her children. Not only that, he agonized in his battle with those who opposed his work. As an old man, he writes to Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:14 (NKJV) Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works.
Finally, and you may find this hard to believe, but I think that Paul is talking about his agony in pray. He said back in chapter 1, verse 3, that he was praying always for them. He says in verse 9 that he has not ceased to pray for them since he heard about them.
Now turn over to chapter 4, verse 12. Epaphras had been used of God to found the church, and Paul says concerning Epaphras:
Colossians 4:12 (NKJV) Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
"Laboring fervently" is the Greek word agonizomai, which Paul uses earlier. When Paul says that he was struggling, fighting, on behalf of the Colossians, one way he was intensely doing this is by praying for them faithfully and regularly. Even as Epaphras agonized for them in prayer, so did the Apostle Paul.
If you've been a believer very long, you know that serious prayer is conflict, agony. You know it's a simple privilege we have to come and talk with God as our Heavenly Father and commune with Him. But you also know there's something in this physical body that resists and fights against that privilege. As you contemplate your life, you wonder why is it so hard to find time to spend with God in prayer. Think back over the past week. How much time did you seriously, intently pray in a way that would be described as agony? This is what Paul is talking about. He and Epaphras struggled for them in prayer.
We've all experienced times of intense prayer, haven't we? You have if you've experienced a serious illness or problems in your immediate family. All of a sudden we're prayer warriors. We suddenly have time to pray. Why? Because this is more important than anything else because of the present crisis. And we do it with an intensity and a seriousness. That's the way Paul went about his prayer life for these Colossian Christians, even though he had never met them.
Have you ever used the excuse that you're too busy to pray? Martin Luther said that his days were so busy he could not start the day with less than four hours of prayer. When you stop and think about it, that makes sense, doesn't it? The busier my day is going to be, the more I need to talk it over with my God. How much more could we resolve the difficulties of the day if we constantly walked in dependence upon God in prayer? Struggling in prayer on behalf of fellow believers is intense labor. Maybe that's why so few Christians do it!
I wonder who we are agonizing over? Who are we connected to deeply enough that we can say, "I struggle on your behalf. I strive with all my heart to bring you the Gospel. I'm worried sick about your spiritual condition. I agonize in prayer over you constantly."
Colossians 2:2 (NKJV) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ,
This opening word "That", tells the purpose of Paul's struggle, why he struggled and what he is struggling to see accomplished. Paul sets forth several things that he is struggling to see accomplished in the lives of the Colossians and others who have not seen his face. He struggles for them in prayer and in any other way so that these things will be realized in their lives individually and in their life as a church.
Paul struggles for them in prayer: "That their hearts may be encouraged...". This phrase can mislead us if we read it with an understanding of people in the twenty-first century. Most of us interpret "heart" to mean emotions, and "encouraged" to mean emotional support. Neither of these meanings convey the idea of the first century.
The Greek word translated here as "heart" is kardia, from which we get the word "cardiac". The Bible always refers to the heart as the internal part of man - the seat of a man's personality. Predominantly, it refers to the thinking processes - not the emotions. When the Bible talks about emotion, it refers to the bowels of compassion, the feelings we get in the stomach or midsection. The Bible even talks about the liver as an organ of emotion (Lam. 2:11). That's because the Jewish writers expressed emotions such as love and hate by the effect those emotions produce in the abdominal area. According to the Bible, the heart is what we think with:
Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV) For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. "Eat and drink!" he says to you, But his heart is not with you.
Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
We can think of the word "heart" as referring to the will and emotions, because they are influenced by the intellect. If my mind is really committed to something, it will affect my will, which in turn will affect my emotions.
The emotions respond to what goes on in the heart, to what the mind perceives. The way to control the emotions, then, is through the mind. When the mind is filled with biblical truth, the emotions respond properly. For that reason, the Bible counsels to: "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23).
"That their hearts may be encouraged..." The word encouraged is the word paraklesis. It is a broad word. It's a compound word from para, meaning: "alongside", and kaleo, the verb which means: "to call". Parakletos is: "one called alongside of". The Holy Spirit is called the "Helper", which is from the word parakletos.
Paraklesis is often interpreted to mean: "comforting", and the Greek word is quite capable of holding this meaning. However, as used here, it more likely means: "a strengthening", because there is no mention in Colossians, or allusion to, distresses or persecutions that would have elicited consolation or comfort. What the Colossians needed was to be strengthened against false doctrine.
William Barclay cites an example of parakaleo from classical Greek that parallels its usage here:
There was a Greek regiment which had lost heart and was utterly dejected. The general sent a leader to talk to it to such purpose that courage was reborn and a body of dispirited men became fit again for heroic action. That is what [parakaleo] means here. It is Paul's prayer that the Church may be filled with that courage which can cope with any situation. (The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians [Louisville, Ky.: Westminster, 1975], p. 129)
Paul also struggles for them in prayer so that they may be, "...knit together in love..."This is the means by which this strengthening occurs. The words "Knit together" come from the Greek word sumbibazo. This word is capable of several meanings: (1) bring together, unite, (2) to instruct, teach (3) demonstrate, prove, (4) conclude, infer. In this passage, most commentators take it to mean "knit together" or "united" in love. However, in all of its ten uses in the Septuagint, this verb always means: "to instruct." A good case has been made for rendering this phrase as "being instructed in love".
Listen to what F.F. Bruce, one of the finest New Testament scholars of this generation, wrote about this verse: "Paul emphasizes that the revelation of God cannot be properly known apart from the cultivation of brotherly love within the Christian community."
"Being instructed" is a participle of means and explains how the strengthening occurs, by instruction in the sphere of Christian love. This destroys a myth in Christianity that says, "If I have God, I don't need people. If I really depend on God, I don't need to depend on others. People disappoint me, people fail me, but God never fails me, so I should look to God and not others to meet my needs."
Sounds good, it even sounds spiritual, but it is not true. Certainly God CAN directly meet all of our needs, but the fact is that God almost always uses means to accomplish His ends, and His means are most often people. Just like God can drive your car to church, but he lets you do it. He can mow your lawn, but he lets you do it. God can counsel you in a time of confusion, but often he lets a trusted friend do it.
Throughout the Scripture we see people meeting other people's needs. God could have met all of Adam's needs, but instead, He gave him a helpmate. God could have met all of David's needs as he fled from Saul, but instead, He gave him a soul mate named Jonathan, who Scripture says "encouraged him in God" (1 Sam. 23:16). God could have spoken to the Ethiopian eunuch who puzzled over the book of Isaiah, but instead, He sent Philip to explain it to him. Philip asked, "Do you understand what you're reading?" "How can I," the Ethiopian asked, "unless someone explains it to me?" What if Philip said, "Well, I can't help you there. You need to look to God for your answers. See you later."
People are more often than not the vehicle through which Christ is made known to you. How do you get to know Christ's love? By being loved by his people. How do you get to know Christ's power? By seeing it at work in other people. How do you deepen in Christ's wisdom? By watching others flesh it out. How do you experience Christ's forgiveness? By being forgiven by others.
Although the Spirit is the divine strengthener, He uses human instruments. Jesus told Peter, "Once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32). Judas and Silas were used of God to strengthen the brethren:
Acts 15:32 (NKJV) Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.
Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to strengthen their faith (1 Thess. 3:2). An important part of Paul's ministry was strengthening the believers. Acts 15:41 records his "traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches".
So, Paul is saying that he is praying that their thinking may be strengthened by means of being instructed in Christian love.
Paul also struggles for them in prayer that they may have full assurance: "...and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding....". The phrase "knit together" or "instructed" rightly governs both aspects of love and understanding. He wants them to have complete and full assurance of understanding. The word understanding denotes the ability or capacity to distinguish the true from the false. So here he wants them to have full confidence and assurance in a true understanding. It's God's truth applied to the circumstances and situation of our lives, and it gives the believer and the church a certainty and assurance which really is called "riches from God". He wants them to attain to all the riches that come from the full assurance of properly understanding what is right. They have at their disposal the ability to discern regarding truth and error.
Too many of God's people live lives of spiritual poverty, uncertain of what God has provided for them, and become easy prey for every cult and every religious charlatan that comes along.
Paul also struggles for them in prayer that they may have: "...the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ." This mystery centers in Christ, and is God's plan of redemption and reconciliation for the world through the Person and work of His Son. What Paul struggles for in prayer on behalf of these Colossians and others is that they will have a full, thorough, complete knowledge of God's mystery, which is the Person and work of Christ. Literally, the Greek text says, "resulting in the true knowledge of God's mystery, Christ." God's mystery is Christ, and He is the revelation of God's plan of redemption and reconciliation for Jew and Gentile alike in His finished work.
We understand when we have a thorough knowledge of Christ, who is the mystery of God, we have everything necessary for life and godliness. We do not need to search for knowledge or truth in any other place.
To have "knowledge of Christ" is more than academic achievement or something that's comprehended simply with the mind - it's more than a creed or theology or teaching. Rather, it's a way of life whereby Jesus becomes a part of an individual's way of living in all situations and circumstances so that who He is and what He does is experienced as a reality.
In Genesis 4:1, we read that "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived." Knew is referring to sexual union. Adam didn't just "know about" Eve (intellectually), but knew her by experience. In the same way, Genesis 3:5 speaks of knowing good and evil:
Genesis 3:5 (NKJV) "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
This doesn't refer to knowing in the mind what's wrong (which, of course, Adam and Eve already knew, for God had taught them - Gen 3:16-17), but to know by the experience of having done that which was wrong. Adam and Eve went on to embrace what was evil and so became joined to it by their action.
Unless knowledge affects the believer's way of living, it's worthless and remains just words in the mind - but the more that they gain knowledge of Christ, the more that they'll become like Him and live like Him when that knowledge becomes experience.
We are what we eat, physically; we are what we read, mentally, and we are what we believe, spiritually. Paul wants us to assimilate the riches of his truth to the full. He wanted us to know all the ramifications and implications of it.
"...the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ."
The idea here is that he wants them to be confident and at rest in the truth. The truth does that, you know. The truth about Christ brings assurance, it brings rest. That's the greatest wealth we can have. In the midst of life's storms to be able to rest assured in
the truth of who God is, and who we are in Him. If you don't have that, it doesn't matter how much money you have, you're living in poverty.
God has made all the provisions necessary for the Christian life in Christ by grace. If we understand that, we grasp "the mystery." It is crucial to understand positional truth. Positional truth is our status before God eternally in Christ. We hold a perfect status before God. The only thing that will give us ultimate poise is our understanding of our position before God in Christ.
Colossians 2:3 (NKJV) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
"In whom..." - one Greek commentator said this is the eighth time ( and we're only in chapter 2, verse 3) this expression "in whom" or "in Him" is used. The focus of Colossians is that everything is in Christ. Christ is the One: "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Treasures is a transliteration of "thesauros" from which we get our own word "thesaurus". A
thesaurus is a treasury of words stored up to compare with one another. God begins to give a
catalogue of treasures at salvation, and they continue throughout the Christian experience until
and including death. The entire plan of God revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ.
When we have a thorough knowledge of Christ, we have everything we need, because all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him. The construction here in Greek emphasizes the fact that all means: "all, without exception". In the predicate position with an article, the paus means: "all, without exception". That's the construction we have here. You'll have to take my word for it. I didn't write that. It comes from Murray Harris's commentary on the Greek text of Colossians. What I want you to pick up is that all means: "all, without exception". So in his translation, it reads: "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, without exception." Maybe you ought to circle all, draw a line and write in your margin, "all, without exception."
That's why Paul is struggling. He wants them to come into a true knowledge, a full knowledge, a thorough knowledge, a complete knowledge. We are never done. We never exhaust the knowledge of our God. Are you sufficiently knowledgeable of the Word of God to recognize and cope with false teaching?
Colossians 2:4 (NKJV) Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.
"This I say..." looks back to what the apostle has just affirmed regarding the person of Christ, and Paul's desire for his readers to have the wealth of assurance that comes from a clear understanding in the knowledge of Christ. In other words, why should anyone even want to listen to the false arguments of these heretical teachers, and their claims of special knowledge and insight, when they have the One in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge?
The word "deceive" is paralogizomai, which means literally: "to reason aside," and then "to defraud, delude, distort." This word is used in the Septuagint in Genesis 29:25 of Jacob's complaint to Laban, because Laban had tricked him with Leah rather than Rachael. The false teachers at Colossae were attempting to trick the Colossians by the method they employed. The method the false teachers used is seen in the statement, "with persuasive words." The term here is pithanologia:"persuasive speech." It is derived from pithanos: "persuasive," and logos: "word, argument, speech." In this context, Paul uses it in a negative sense of speech that sounds convincing and reasonable, but is actually false. This word only occurs here in the New Testament, but in other literature it is a word of the law court and refers to the lawyer's persuasive speech, and its power to influence an audience towards an unjust verdict.
Many commentators assert that the letter to the Colossian believers was primarily put together to combat the false doctrine that was circulating amongst them - even that had already engulfed their fellowship in beliefs that were pulling them away from the centrality of the simple Gospel message. But we find no specific statement that upbraids the believers for giving in to false teachings and of straying away from the purity of their belief in the Gospel. Rather, in Col 2:5, the opposite seems to be true:
Colossians 2:5 (NKJV) For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.
"Rejoicing to see..." is literally: "rejoicing and seeing your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ". "Good order," is the Greek word taxis, which means: "order, fixed succession, discipline," and even "unbroken ranks." Most see this as a military term. But this Greek word is used just ten times in the New Testament, and in eight of these, it's employed to refer to the order of the priesthood (Luke 1:8, Heb 5:6,10, 6:20, 7:11,17,21). In 1 Corinthians, having spoken concerning the free-for-all that was taking place in the meetings, Paul summarizes by writing:
1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (NKJV) Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order [taxis].
Here the context of "order" is: "ministry or worship". In our text in Colossians we could certainly understand the phrase "good order" to be a description of a church's worship or ministry. Paul being present in their midst, it seems likely that he means to be understood as commenting on their ministry, their corporate worship.
"Steadfastness" is stereoma, meaning: "solid bulwark, phalanx" - it is a military term. In ancient
times, a phalanx consisted of a formation of infantry carrying overlapping shields and long
spears. Soldiers were arrayed in rows of eight to sixteen making a solid block. This block could
sweep through the more dispersed enemy. The phalanx was originally deployed by the Spartans.
It was developed by Epaminondas of Thebes (362 B.C.). This method of war reached its apex
under Alexander the Great. He used the Macedonian Phalanx (16 soldiers deep armed with a 24'
spear). He conquered all of Greece and the Near East with this system of warfare.
The "steadfastness of your faith" speaks of the solidity of the Colossians' experience, another indication that the warning of Col 1:4 should be taken as a general one and not as a problem which Paul was already aware had infiltrated their fellowship. It's their strength of faith, then, that the apostle can testify to in his own spirit, something which assures him that the fellowship is being faithful to God the Father.
Colossians 2:5 (NKJV) For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.
Notice carefully what Paul says in the beginning of this verse. If taken at face value and with little or no interpretation, it can be employed to yield some peculiar theology.
NIDNTT states, "...Paul also thought of man as able, while still in this life, to leave his body temporarily and to project himself through the spiritual realm into the presence of others (I Cor 5:3, Col 2:5) or into Heaven (II Cor 12:2-4...)." Is Paul talking about astro projection? I don't think so.
The commentator, Dunn, has this to say: "The implication that Paul can actually see the state of affairs at Colossae ('rejoicing and seeing your good order . . .') is, of course, intended more as an expression of what he would hope to see were it possible." This view seems to ignore what Paul says.
Notice what Paul says, "...I am with you in spirit, rejoicing and seeing your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." He seems to be saying that he has first hand evidence of the state of the fellowship, because he's with them "in spirit", not just because he's had Epaphras run through the things that have been transpiring in their midst. We see a similar idea in:
1 Corinthians 5:3-4 (NKJV) For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Paul is saying that when the Corinthians met, he was spiritually present with them. We see this same thing in the life of Jesus:
John 1:48 (NKJV) Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."
So what do we make of this? I think that what we are seeing here is the spiritual gift called the "word of knowledge." In listing the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul says:
1 Corinthians 12:8 (NKJV) for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
As far as I can tell, the "word of knowledge" was a gift by which the Holy Spirit enabled a believer to grasp the truth about a present situation; seeing, knowing and understanding as the Holy Spirit sees, knows and understands. "The Word of Knowledge" is not knowledge that is acquired by diligent perseverance and hard work, it is a direct revelation from God.
I believe that what Paul experienced, that is, seeing their good order and the steadfastness of their faith in Christ, had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. He was able to know of their state, because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him. Even though Epaphras would have been able to tell Paul the state of the church (Col 1:8), it was further confirmed to him by what he was to know by the Spirit.
It may be worthwhile to stop and consider why Paul might have felt the need to speak this way to two very different churches. In I Corinthians, his word appears in a corrective capacity, but, by contrast, the mention of his presence in Colossians occurs as a method of encouraging them to continue on in the faith they have.
So far, then, although there's been a mention of the danger of false teaching which would undermine the all sufficiency of Jesus Christ, there's nothing in the letter that would indicate that the church has battened down all the hatches and is struggling to resist an advancing enemy that's gained the upper hand. The fellowship looks healthy, strong, and faithful. It was this way, because of their "knowledge" of Christ.
It always amazes me that so many Christians think that Christianity requires little or nothing from them. It amazes me that so few Christians really study the word of God. Many Christians believe that they can live the Christian life without any real effort on their part. If they were going to become a lawyer, they would go to law school and spend several years studying all aspects of the law. If they were going to become a doctor, they would go to medical school and spend years studying medicine. If they were going to be a plumber, they would have to spend years studying plumbing. Yet many Christians have never even read the Bible all the way through. We spend very little time with Christ, and we wonder why the Christian life is so difficult.
If you're going to really know Christ, you must discipline yourself to study, to pray, and to spend time with other believers. If our thinking is going to be strengthened, it will happen by means of being instructed in Christian love. The only way this will happen is if we spend time with other believers who genuinely love us. It will not happen by accident. And it will not happen unless you make it a priority.
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