How Great a Struggle
Colossians 2:1-3 NASB
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) that their hearts may be encouraged, having been
knit together in love, and attaining to
all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself,
(3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of
wisdom and knowledge.
Praying for “Them”
Perhaps this is a problem you have never thought about.
Christians are often asked to pray for a church in a distant location,
frequently one led by missionaries sponsored by their own home church. As long
as this is done as part of the worship service, somebody else has to think up
the prayer. But when you’re asked to put it on your prayer list, you’ve got to
do the thinking. So, how do you pray for a church that’s “over there?”
The answer often depends on just how much you know about
that church over there. There are certain degrees of connection:
You might just know someone from that church. For example, a
young lady from our congregation joined the work in Haiti that dealt with
disabled children. We knew her parents. As a result, we have a lot of
information about what was going on and were able to pray specifically.
More commonly you know something about the church in question.
You might know, for example, what tribal groups they are evangelizing; you
might know the area in which they work. It gives you some clue as to what ask
for in genuine concern.
Sometimes you just know that they are “out there.”
Paul has the advantage of knowing someone from this
congregation — Epaphras. It makes his connection with them more personal. It is
very revealing that he describes his prayer as a “great struggle.” Therein lies
the secret of praying for another congregation. It’s not just a laundry list of
things you’d like God to do for them; it’s joining in spiritual warfare with
them so that they might be upheld in the face of Satan’s attack. Interestingly,
this is one of the reasons why in today’s church we often do not pray for
someone “over there.” It is politically incorrect to pray for the church which
is being persecuted in the Muslim world — after all, we wouldn’t want to appear
to be Islamaphobic. If you cannot struggle alongside them in prayer your
prayers will sound trite and meaningless. We don’t like that feeling; therefore
we sometimes refuse to pray at all.
What to Pray for
Unlike Paul in this situation, we most commonly get a prayer
request for another church in the form of some special and specific need. This
apparently was not the case in this instance; that’s fortunate for us, because
it gives us Paul’s thought on what you can always pray for.
First, he asks that their hearts may be encouraged. This is
simple enough; most of us need a little encouragement now and then, because
the, attack of Satan is to produce gray day Christianity. Each day tends to
blend into the next one; there’s nothing particularly outstanding or terrible
that’s going on; we get bored. When we get bored we often get discouraged,
Next, he prays for the unity of the church, asking that they be
“knit together in love.” If you’ve ever seen someone knitting a sweater or a
scarf you know that the end product hangs together quite well. That’s rather
surprising when you consider that you started out with a straight line of yarn.
It’s that kind of cozy, comfortable loving each other atmosphere that Paul is
He then prays for the full assurance of their understanding. This
sounds a little vague, but what he’s doing here is praying that they will
overcome the doubt that is normal in the church which has never met one of the
living apostles. That’s our situation as well.
We must begin by clearing up a bit of a problem in the
English language. To readers since the second half of the nineteenth century,
the word mystery implies a particular type of literary fiction. Think of
Sherlock Holmes. That’s not what the word means here in the original. God has
not asked us to solve some sort of puzzle to figure out who Christ is. Rather,
the word refers to the fact that God had kept the Ministry of Christ locked up,
with only certain prophecies sufficient to make recognition sure, during the
times of the Old Testament. It’s possible we could better translate this word
as “secret.” Paul’s prayer includes the idea that the Colossians will get a
true knowledge of this — that is to say, a true knowledge of Christ himself.
Christ is the central mystery of the Old Testament; the answer to this mystery
is revealed in the New Testament.
This is why Paul prays that they will get a “true
understanding” of Christ. The nature of Christ is not something that can be
readily deduced from nature, nor, for that matter, from the writings of the Old
Testament. Those writings make sense as prophesying Christ, but they leave out
an awful lot of the detail. In particular it’s rather vague that Christ’s
sacrifice would apply to someone other than the Jews. This is the part that God
was keeping hidden from the Jews, to be revealed at the right time. Because
this is revealed knowledge, rather than deductive philosophy, it’s important
that you get your revelation right. As we shall see, Paul is worried about the
Gnostic influences on these people and the very real possibility that they will
get a knowledge of Christ which is based upon somebody’s brilliant deductions
rather than on what the Scriptures reveal.
See to It
Colossians 2:4-8 NASB
I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. (5) For even though I am absent in body,
nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and
the stability of your faith in Christ. (6)
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, (7)
having been firmly rooted and now being
built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (8) See to it that no one takes you captive through
philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to
the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Permit me to introduce you to one of the great developments
in the art of thinking:
This is the “Good Idea Fairy.” Generally not visible, this
being is detected by the sound of a loud “klonk” followed by somebody saying,
“I have a good idea!” The idea in question usually is anything but good. Paul
evidently had encountered the same thing. The word translated “persuasive” in
verse four can also be translated “seductive” or “enticing.” It does not carry
with it the idea of a logically sound argument but one that sounds good. It’s
particularly difficult to counter these things, especially when the person
putting forward is better educated or more intelligent than you are. But better
education and more intelligence do not necessarily imply that the person is
right. So how do you know when you’re getting enticing philosophy?
Ask the first question: where did this idea come from? If it came
out of something that’s traditional with men around you, something which is
ingrained in your society but absent from the Scriptures you are probably
dealing with the Good Idea Fairy. Klonk!
It may not be something traditional; it may be something that
people have dreamed up as a logical argument. A very good example of this is
the impact of feminist extremism on the church. Once upon a time the church
taught that the husband was to be the head of the marriage relationship, just
as Christ is the head of the church. But this doesn’t make logical sense to us
now that we know that men and women are completely interchangeable parts. Logic
should come after the facts, not before.
Sometimes the problem is not philosophical argument but just
plain deception. Paul calls it “empty deception.” We have a sufficient number
of examples of this, both in heresy and in fraud. Televangelists are not a
total loss; they can always be used as a bad example.
The first question most people ask about this is simply
this: why would anybody do something like this? The answer may be found in
verse eight; the phrase that Paul uses, “take you captive,” is used to describe
what pirates always call booty. Sometimes the reason for this is that someone’s
ego needs inflating.
So what is it that Paul thinks is necessary for these
The first thing he mentions is “good discipline.” The word itself
is the Greek word which is the root of our word “taxonomy.” It means to keep
things in good order. Discipline, in our time, has come to be synonymous with
the word punishment. That’s not what Paul is talking about here; what he’s
trying to get across is that things have to be done in the right way in the
right order. And he praises these people for doing it that way.
Interestingly, the next thing he mentions is the stability of
their faith. Their doctrine does not change with every wind of new thinking.
The Orthodox Jew begins his prayers with, “Our God and the God of our Fathers.”
The reason is simply this: you must pray to “our God” because praying to somebody
else is just isn’t going to help. But so that you do not get disturbed by every
new thought, you look back upon the tradition of your fathers in the faith. You
need both; faith should have stability. Doctrine is not a roller coaster ride.
Such a disciplined, stable faith is rooted in the fact that you
follow the instruction given by Christ and his apostles. It is not something
that you reinvent. Most people know this, but every generation has its share of
people who are boldly going where no doctrine has gone before. If your faith is
not both disciplined and stable, then I suggest to you that you need to examine
it in the light of the Scriptures.
There are two results that Paul gives here. If you do it
right, and your faith is stable and disciplined, rooted in the teaching of the
apostles, these are the results you should expect.
The first is that your faith will be firmly rooted, well built up
and solidly established. Such a faith is often admired by people who have no
idea how to get it. The reason for this is that we keep looking for cheap
tricks that will suddenly and magically increase our faith. Such a faith is
built slowly but steadily upon prayer, study and the ongoing positive
discipline of the church. If you do it God’s way the first time, it works.
This should not surprise you: the second effect is that you will
be overflowing with gratitude. As you grow to appreciate your faith even more,
there dawns on you a sense that you did not deserve this. You were given
something is a gift which her own efforts do not justify. The only real
parallel I can think of for this is a long-term, stable marriage. After forty
years or so you regularly thank God that he gave you such a wonderful wife.
Fullness of Christ
Colossians 2:9-12 NASB
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (10) and in Him you have been made complete, and He
is the head over all rule and authority; (11)
and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in
the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; (12) having been buried with Him in baptism, in
which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who
raised Him from the dead.
Paul now begins his discourse on correct doctrine.
One of the key point to the Christian faith which astounds a
lot of new Christians is that we believe — and have since the beginning of the
church — the Christ himself is both fully man and fully God. Most of the
Gnostic heresies deny one or the other of these things, if not both. What does
For Christ to be fully man, that is to say, fully human, carries
with it the implication that he understands and shares in our suffering. He
knows what it is to get up with his back aching and his feet cold. He suffers
as we suffer, and therefore can be the source of our consolation. He’s been
there and done that, as the phrase goes. So when praying to Christ we’re not
talking to someone who does not understand what it is to be human; he is a man
But he also is fully and completely God. Most Christians will
tell you that they don’t understand how he can be both. That’s one of those
things but Revelation; he never said you’d understand it, he just said that it
is so. It certainly carries with it the implication that if you pray to him,
you are asking for the power of God in your own life.
This is not just dry dogma. If you want to have a personal
relationship with someone, you have to do with a person is. If the person in
your Internet chat room says there twenty-five and really crazy about fat old
bald married guys, you may be in for a bit of a surprise on your first
face-to-face meeting. The relationship just might not work out. Knowing who the
other person is, is absolutely critical to developing a good relationship. That
applies to Christ as well as to anybody else, if not more so.
For in Him
We said that this is not just dry dogma. Look at some of the
implications that Paul draws for us.
The first is that you are complete. Make the comparison to the
religions that were around at the time. You might have to worship it more than
one temple, because the fertility goddess and the crop about us and the war god
were three different places. In Christ, you have everything you need.
Not only that, Christ is the one with all authority. He is
entitled by right to rule over the church and each of its members — including
you. For Americans who typically like to reject authority whenever possible,
this may seem somewhat strange. But I submit that’s our problem, not His. If
you are obedient to him you are doing what is right.
So how is it that one follows Christ? Just what is it that
you do that makes you a real Christian (other than taking communion)?
First, there is obedience. Even if you don’t understand, you can
obey the commands. This may be the beginner’s way of doing it, but it works.
Next, the Christian principle has always been the imitation of
Christ. The fad of “What Would Jesus Do” is fading, but the principle of the
imitation of Christ is still sound.
If you know him for the God that he is, then your worship of him
will come naturally. He is worthy of all praise, for he is God.
Christ gives you an excellent example of those three
principles in his own baptism. John the Baptist didn’t understand why Christ
should be baptized — but he was obedient, and did it. Just as he was baptized
(by immersion) so we should be baptized too. One of the reasons he was
baptized, according to Chrysostom, was so that no member of the royalty would
think it beneath him. If the King of Kings is baptized, surely the archduke can
Just why is baptism so important? Well, first it is a
parallel to circumcision; that is to say, it is the entrance ritual to
Christianity. Why do we have entrance rituals? So that the person being
initiated can point to a definite, specific time and say, “at that moment I
became a Christian.” We need that; otherwise we will always have the question
of whether or not we really have done everything to become a Christian.
Symbolically — and most rituals are simply acted out
symbolism — baptism signifies are sharing the death, burial and resurrection of
Christ. The catch, of course, is the same one that happens with all other
rituals: how do I know this really works? The answer is simple: God raised
Christ from the dead. He promises he will raise you from the dead if you will
follow Christ. No one else in human history predicted his own death burial and
resurrection — and then made it happen. As the great philosopher Leo Durocher
once put it, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it”.