For I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea…
I. PERSONAL CONCERN.
1. Paul's striving. "For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you. and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." There is an advantage in the Revised translation, in carrying forward the word "strive" from the preceding verse. Having declared his striving in general, the apostle now shows ("for") how his striving was specially directed.
(1) His striving was remarkable as directed toward those who had not seen his face in the flesh. Among these are plainly included the Colossians. With them are associated their neighbours the Laodiceans. The Hierapolitans (to whom there is reference at the close of the Epistle) are not mentioned. But it is added generally, "as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." Spiritually present he had been (as he tells us in the fifth verse), and he must have had indirect modes of intercourse with them, yet they wanted the impression of his presence in the flesh - they wanted the impression of his personal ministry among them. It can be made out that in none of his journeys before this time did his route naturally lie by the valley of the Lycus. It is difficult to have an interest in those, whose faces we have not seen. There is something in the expression of the countenance, as also in the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice. We like these, not as substitutes for the spirit, but rather as helps to our getting at and fixing our impressions of the spirit. Paul, in the quickness of his sympathy, got over this difficulty. He had associations in many cases with countenance, with hand, with voice. But he reserved a portion of his sympathy for those, like the Colossians, with whom he had no such associations. His concern was simply founded on the fact that they had been rescued from heathenism, that they were exposed to perils, and on the information which he received from time to time regarding their condition.
(2) His difficulty in the circumstances in giving them any right impression of the greatness of his striving. "How greatly I strive." There was no ordinary conflict in his mind. There was the vehemence belonging to an intensely earnest nature. But how could he convey the impression of what his striving was (the moral fulcrum on which he depended for moving them) to persons in the position of the Colossians? If they had had an impression of his personal ministry, then he might have revived that wherewith to oppose the heretical teachers; but he had never been at Colossae. If he had been able then to go to the rescue, he might have given them an impression of his intensity in the way in which (like a good athlete) he grappled with those teachers. But he was in an imprisoned condition in Rome; and his conflict would be none the less because he was imprisoned and far away from them. Was he, then, like a bird beating its wearied breast against the wires of its cage? No; there was outlet for the struggle within. He could relieve himself at the throne of grace, and there, by his earnest pleading, move the hand that could move them. But that was not enough; he wished to have influence with them in impressing on them what his striving was, and so he writes; and, as he writes, feeling the difficulty that arose from their not having seen him in the flesh, he exclaims, "I would that ye knew how greatly I strive for you."
2. The end of his striving. "That their hearts may be comforted." There are positions in which Churches and individuals stand in need of heart comfort. Our English word "comforted" is etymologically "being made strong." "Fortified" belongs to the same root. And the one meaning passes into the other. If our hearts are sad, we feel unnerved for work. But if, amid our trials, we have comfort, we feel strong for work.
(1) Comforted in the way of having unity of feeling. "They being knit together in love." It is no ordinary union of Christians that is pointed to here. It is such a welding of them together as is not easily torn asunder. What an uncomfortable thing is division! How much to be desired in the way of comfort when, however assailed, Christians can present a united front! And the union which is not easily broken up can only subsist in love. And the love must not be a mere negative, or pretence; but must be a deep, pervading feeling. It is only when love avails to break down selfishness, to excite mutual interest between the members of a Christian society, that there is knitting together or the strong bond that is referred to in the third chapter.
(2) Comforted in the way of having unity of sentiment. "And unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding." Unity of feeling he desired for them; but as the cause (not the consequence) of unity of sentiment. When there is unity of feeling in a high degree, these questions can be calmly, patiently looked at without risk of a rupture. We have to aim at a right state of the understanding. "Give me understanding" is the repeated prayer of the psalmist. Our understanding is given us to examine into facts, to plan aright for our conduct, to avoid mistakes, to detect errors. And we are constituted so that we can not only judge, but have the assurance that we are judging correctly. There is an assurance which is begotten of ignorance, of self conceit. That is very different from the assurance which is the result of patient investigation, of steady contemplation. There is a self evidencing power of the truth. The words of God, when we closely examine them, shine in their own light, There is a peculiar satisfaction in our being sure of our seeing the truth. When our eyes have been enlightened by the Spirit, we can say with confidence," One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." It is this certainty extending over a wide range that is here represented as being the wealth of the understanding. This is of far more value than material riches which men heap up and know not who shall gather them. What a man gains in the way of clear convincing perception of things he can never lose. He who engages in the pursuit of these riches shall gather them in his own everlasting being. And, having begun to have an assuring view of truth, he shall go on to all riches of the full assurance of understanding. "That they may know [unto the thorough knowledge of] the Mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." This is parallel to the foregoing, and points to the Christian state of the understanding. All things are dark to us at first; we have, by reflection, to clear away the darkness. There is one thing which is pre-eminently dark, which we could never have found out for ourselves; it is here called "the mystery," and is explained to be Christ. He is the Mystery of God in this sense - that in him lay hidden all the thought and purpose of God. The theosophists spoke of hidden things, and made much of wisdom in general and also of a special insight. The apostle declares that all the treasures that they pretended by their sophia and gnosis to discover are hidden in Christ, and that it is by coming to the thorough knowledge of him that we get possession of the hidden treasures. The object, then, of the apostle's striving for the Colossians, as for others, was (in view of what follows) this, that, unitedly, in the use of their understanding, they might come to such an appreciation of Christ as would lay open to them all the hidden treasures. If they had that, then they would be carried away by no false sophia and ghosts.
II. RELATION TO THE SITUATION.
1. Exposure of the Colossians. "This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech." He directs himself specially to the Colossians. He has been telling them about his great striving for them, and about the key to the hidden treasures, in order to put them on their guard. They were in the presence of danger. There were teachers (of whom we shall hear more) that had designs on them, They used a persuasive form of speech (in a bad sense). They had not the persuasiveness that comes from the truth. They were conscious of no basis of reality for their speech. They taught a system for which there were not proofs. They pretended by their sophia and gnosis to open up hidden things; but it was only pretence. Their fine phrases, their plausible representations, their large promises, were delusive, leading away from reality, leading away from Christ in whom alone are the hidden treasures.
2. Spiritual presence with them. "For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." The spirit is freer than the body. The apostle was present in the spirit, where he was absent in the flesh. This spoke to a certain cognizance of them, from all that he had heard of them, and especially from the intensity of his sympathy with them. Transferred, as it were, to Colossae, his feelings (and to this prominence is given) were those of joy. He was not repelled (as from what was disagreeable), but was rather enchained. It especially gave him joy to observe two points which were important in reference to his purpose.
(1) Their order. They were (to take one of the associations of the word) like a well-appointed regiment. They were well organized as a community. They were organized for the advancement of the cause of Christ among themselves and beyond themselves. Hitherto they had been free from divisions. There was no disorderliness, such as there was in the Church of Corinth.
(2) The steadfastness of their faith in Christ. Their outward state (which was one of order) was conditioned inwardly by faith. They had an immovable object for their faith. "If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself." Their faith in some degree corresponded. It had such a hold on Christ that it was, as the word is, something firm, like a piece of solid masonry (in a fortification) not easily battered down. It would stand, he hoped, the assaults made on it by the false teachers.
III. EXHORTATION TO REMAIN TRUE TO THEIR STARTING POINT. He does not bestow praise without giving exhortation (in view of the danger). The spirit of the exhortation is given in the words of the Lord to the Church of Smyrna (where danger, however, had not been well met), "Remember therefore how thou hast received, and didst hear." In the force of the apostle's thought there is a certain disregard of metaphor (walk, tree, building). It is, therefore, necessary to present the thought (in our division) without keeping to metaphor.
1. We are to think and act from day to day in accordance with our first reception of Christ." As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him." There is an emphatic specification of the object. They received Christ (the person of Christ being in dispute). Whom did they receive as Christ? The historical Jesus (partaker of humanity). This Jesus they received and worshipped as the Lord (with supreme power over the universe and the Church). And the apostle holds rightly that they were bound by their past action. Having thus received Christ, they were not to cast him off. They were not to think and act according to their pleasure or according to the suggestion of heretical teachers. Bat their thoughts and actions (specially the former in the present instance) were to be controlled by Christ and his laws.
2. What is added in our development is to be in accordance with its beginnings. "Rooted and builded up in him." The change of tense is not brought out in the translation. It is literally, "Having been rooted and being builded up in him? They got a rooting in Christ at the beginning, viz. under Epaphras, who presented Christ plainly to them, giving them line upon line and precept upon precept, until they came to a clear conception of the truth. This rooting was effectual in the subsequent development. To change the figure with the apostle, they got a grounding in Christ (as we get a grounding in a language or science). Every successive layer was to be in accordance with their grounding. The building was to rise up in, and to take form from, that Christ in whom they had been so well grounded.
3. Our faith is to be established in accordance with our early teaching. "And stablished in your faith, even as ye were taught." All early teaching is not good, and the development is often hindered by imperfect or faulty grounding. The early teaching enjoyed by the Colossians was proved to be good by the subsequent development. There is a missing of the thought by Meyer and Ellicott, who interpret, "Taught to become established in [or, 'by'] the faith." The idea rather is that, under the teaching of Epaphras, they got a right hold of Christ. From him thus laid hold of by them they were not to be moved away, The whole carrying forward of their faith in the way of stability was to be toward no false Christ, but toward Christ Jesus the Lord. Subjoined exhortation to thanksgiving. "Abounding in thanksgiving." This comes in with a certain abruptness. But the duty of thanksgiving is so frequently (five times) introduced as to form a subordinate feature of the Epistle. An overflowing of thanksgiving to God for the faith by which they came in their early teaching, and for all the blessing opened up to them by faith (the hidden treasures in Christ), would be helpful to their faith being stablished in view of present danger. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;