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, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 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.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:1-7 ESV
After detailing the heart and purpose of his ministry in the closing verses of chapter one, Paul begins chapter two by expressing his hope that the Colossians will continue to grow in their understanding of the glories of Jesus Christ. He longs to know that their faith will endure because it is rooted and built up in Christ. Though the Colossians were not yet swayed by the heretics among them, Paul urges them to continue their walk with Christ each day, just as they were taught. Likewise, it is important for us to understand that the gospel is not a Get Out of Hell card; rather, we must faithfully walk with Jesus our Lord every day.
HOW GREAT A STRUGGLE // VERSES 1-3
Paul expresses his struggle for the Colossians, Laodiceans, and everyone who had not personally met the apostle. Obviously, the structure of this verse should lead us to conclude that both the Colossians and Laodiceans are among those who did not meet Paul face to face. Though Paul did not personally know the Colossians, he struggled for them greatly. This verse perfectly attaches his present thought to the description of his ministry at the end of chapter one. In verse 29, Paul wrote that he toiled to present everyone mature in Christ and struggle towards that goal with all the energy that God gave to him. Now Paul stresses all the more how great his struggle for them is. In fact, in his first letter to Timothy, the apostle uses the same word “struggle,” saying: “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). Thus, Paul claims that he is literally engaging in a great fight for the Colossians.
How was Paul able to struggle for them without ever meeting them?
First, we are reading a letter that Paul wrote to them. Paul was concerned about the presence of false teachers in the midst of the Colossians, so he wrote them a letter of encouragement to stay steadfast in the faith.
Second, Paul prayed for them. As we read in verse 9 of chapter one, Paul and his companions did not cease praying for Colossians since the day that Epaphras first told their account to Paul. We must never underestimate the great value of prayer. Whenever we pray for someone, even if we have never met them face to face, we are engaging in a great struggle on their behalf.
Notice also that Paul’s great concern for the Colossians is not that they would be prosperous, healthy, or happy; instead, the apostle struggled for their hearts to be encouraged. Paul was far more anxious for their spiritual condition than he was for their physical circumstances. In speaking of the heart, Paul is aiming for the core of personhood. He longed for the Colossians to be encouraged in the very fiber of their being. Perhaps, Paul feared that his absence from Colossae caused them to unnecessarily fear that they would be swept away by false teaching. However, Paul assures them that he is still faithfully fighting on their behalf, though he has never met them in the flesh.
Next, Paul hopes that their hearts would be knit together in love. This sort of spiritual knitting is “the antidote to the dividing schismatical effect of false doctrine” (Jamieson, 375). Paul will write in the next chapter, “And above all put on love, which bonds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Often the church is marked by anything but perfect harmony; however, unity in Christ is the goal toward which we must strive. Because the grace of God is poured out upon all people, this means that we will inherently be different from one another, yet the power of the gospel is sufficient to unite even the most diverse of peoples. Of course, this is easier said than done. This type of harmony will only come with the sort of self-denial of Jesus spoke. Each day, we must die to ourselves and place others above our own wants and desires. Here is what Paul told the Philippians about this issue: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:1-4).
The apostle then states that his desire is for the Colossians to reach all the riches of full assurance that is based in the understanding and knowledge of Christ, God’s mystery. Let me discuss a few points from this sentence.
First, Paul is praying that they would know full assurance in Christ. Assurance means having certainty or confidence in something. Thus, having full assurance means possessing absolutely no uncertainty. Paul longs for the Colossians to be entirely assured of the grace that is found only in Christ. He prays that they would fully believe the truth of the gospel, understanding that the death and resurrection of Christ has bought them the privilege of becoming children of God.
Second, there are riches to be mined within the truth of assurance. David gives us an idea of these riches by describing the rules of God as “more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). If David saw the rules and laws of God as greater than gold and sweeter than honey, how much more should we value the gospel! Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds a treasure buried in a field. The man then sells all of his possessions in order to purchase the field (Matt. 13:44). So it is with the gospel. Jesus does not tell us to die to ourselves in order that we may receive nothing in return. Instead, Christ offers us a greater treasure that is far more valuable than anything that this world can offer. Paul was certainly one who knew the cost of following Christ well. He suffered repeatedly for the sake of Christ; however, read how Matt Chandler describes Paul’s treasuring of Christ from the book of Philippians:
He is the man who when threatened says, “Well, to die is gain.” In response his captors will say, “We’ll torture you, then.” He says, “I don’t count the present suffering as worthy to even compare to the future glory.” You can’t win with a guy like this. If you want to kill him, he’s cool with that because it means he gets to be with Jesus. If you want to make him suffer, he’s cool with that, so long as it makes him like Jesus. If you want to let him live, he’s fine with that, because to him, “to live is Christ.” Paul is, as Richard Sibbes says of everyone united with Christ, a man who “can never be conquered. (Chandler, 23)
Finally, in verse 3 Paul further emphasizes that all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. This statement is particularly important for the Colossians to hear. The gnostic teachers that were attempting to deceive the believers of Colossae highly valued knowledge and understanding. They thought that we could only get to God by acquiring levels of secret knowledge until we reached full understanding (compare the Gnostics to present day Scientology). Paul is shooting that entire ideology down by saying that all wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. True, there is great gain from knowledge; however, proper knowledge flows from the grace of Jesus.
THAT NO ONE MAY DELUDE YOU // VERSES 4-5
Here is Paul’s reasoning behind this section of text and the letter as a whole. He wrote to the Colossians so that they would not be deluded by faulty arguments. Because the Gnostics valued knowledge highly, they were often extremely convincing in their arguments. Nevertheless, Paul warns them that the arguments of the Gnostics were enticing but not sustaining. By arguing for lies, the Gnostics were pushing fallacies upon the Colossians. Poythress describes fallacies as “a kind of argument that may sound plausible but that uses tricks rather than solid reasoning” (Poythress, 30). This is exactly the sort of tactics that the Gnostics were taking. They were attempting to deceive the Colossians through logical-sounding arguments that simply did not hold up under scrutiny. Though, of course, we should not seek to argue anyone into Christianity, we must still be prepared to defend biblical logic.
In verse 5, Paul seeks to encourage them by stating that he is present with them in spirit. Here the apostle means that his heart and prayers are always with the Colossians, even though he has yet to meet them personally. Spiritually, Paul will continue to struggle in prayer for the Christians in Colossae because of his love for them. Physical distance is no excuse for breaking of community or a cessation of prayer. Though we are separated from brothers and sisters in Christ by thousands of miles (having known some and not known others), we still are called to struggle in prayer for them as members of the body of Christ.
Apparently, Epaphras’ report was so great that Paul speaks as though he witnessed their faithfulness firsthand. Concerning the Colossians, Paul is thankful for at least two aspects.
First, the Colossian church had good order. From a Baptist view, we could easy think that Paul is referring to their organization of meetings and events; however, I doubt that the apostle meant their organization skills here. Instead, I believe that Paul is praising their unity. The church was operating as a unified and functioning body. Thus, Paul’s prayer in verse 2 is that they would continue to be knit together in love.
Second, they were firm in their faith. Though they were surrounded by enticing and plausible arguments, the Colossians were standing firm in their faith in Christ. The connotation is of being planted in concrete, unable to be moved.
WALK IN CHRIST // VERSES 6-7
Whenever studying the Bible, one of the most important words to notice is “therefore.” It always acts as a linking between two related thoughts. Practically all of Colossians until verse 5 of chapter two has been Paul rejoicing and thanking God for the faithfulness of the Christians in Colossae, but now he transitions into giving his first command of the letter.
“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord” is meant to summarize all of the letter written thus far. The Colossians faithfulness in following Christ was only because they first received Him. “He says not merely, “Ye received” the doctrine of Christ, but “Jesus” Himself; this is the essence of faith (Jn 14:21, 23; Ga 1:16)” (Jamieson, 378). Christianity is not about accepting a particular ideology; rather, it is about receiving and having faith in one Person, Jesus Christ. Of course, we cannot simply say that we believe in Jesus. Many believe Jesus was real, including the Islamic religion. The entire reality of Christianity is based upon Jesus as Lord. Calling Jesus Lord means that we are acknowledging that all authority and dominion belong to Him. In fact, this seemingly simple statement is what caused so many problems for the early Christians. It was common in the Roman Empire to proclaim the Emperor as lord, as sovereign in all the earth, but Christians declared Jesus as Lord instead. This was often seen as a direct attack on the Roman Emperor’s authority and, therefore, treason against the empire. Just as many of our brothers and sisters died for the belief that Jesus is Lord, we must not overlook that statements importance. In a point of application, we must understand that to claim Jesus as Lord means demoting ourselves. If Jesus is our Lord, then we cannot be our own lords. Calling Jesus Lord gives Him the authority to command us, correct us, and guide us. By receiving Jesus as Lord, we surrender our very lives into His hands that He may do with them as He wishes.
Paul continues then to make his first command of the letter: walk in Him. If we have called Christ our Lord, we must then walk in Him. In this context, walk means to live out our lives. If we surrender the authority over our lives to Christ, there will be visible evidence of such. An employee cannot go every day to a new job wearing the branded clothing of his previous employer. Likewise, we cannot claim that Jesus is our Lord, only to live as though we are in command of our lives. Instead, if Jesus is truly our Lord, we will walk in Him, which is according to the Scriptures that He has given us. This means that we will commit to obeying the Scriptures, even when we dislike what they command. For instance, evangelism does not come naturally to me. I would much rather keep my beliefs to myself. However, the truth of the gospel compels me to proclaim Christ to others. Because Jesus has lordship over my life, I will submit to His commands, even when I would rather not obey.
Verse 7 further describes how we must walk in Christ by using three verbs (rooted, built up, and established), which also reflect verse 5’s phrase firmness of faith. Thus, in verse 5, Paul rejoiced that the Colossians have been firm in their faith, and he is now urging them to continue being firm in the faith as they continue their walk with Christ. Being rooted in Christ is vital. Planting seeds in rich soil will cause them to grow vibrant and healthy, while poor soil will provide no means of growth. Likewise, Christ is the soil of Christian growth. We can only mature and survive when we are rooted in Him.
No one receives Christ without being taught. Just as Epaphras taught the Colossians, so must all believers be taught. Paul states in Romans that no one can “hear without someone preaching” (Rom. 10:14). The gospel comes through proclamation, through faithful teaching of the Scriptures. Therefore, we must be faithful both to receive teaching and to share with others that they may believe in Christ.
In terms of the Colossians daily walk in Christ, Paul wants them to be rooted, built up, and established in Christ, but He also wants them to abound in thanksgiving. “A thankful spirit is a mark of Christian maturity” (Wiersbe). How is a mature Christian a thankful Christian? Paul writes in Ephesians for us to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). We give thanks for everything because the mature Christian understands that all things come from God. From the air that we breathe to our family to our illnesses, everything is in the hands of God our Father, and all things are meant for our good as believers (Rom. 8:28). Though it may be difficult to understand why something like cancer is a blessing from God, we can trust the Scriptures that God brings everything about for our good and our sanctification. We are even explicitly commanded to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Ultimately, Paul’s prayer and hope for the Colossians is that they would walk in Christ. This too is the great hope for us today. We must long to have a firm foundation in the truth of Jesus Christ as our Lord, for it is only upon that rich soil that we will grow into thankful maturity in Christ. “A grounded, growing, grateful believer will not be led astray” (Wiersbe). May this be our daily prayer.