For I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea…
I. ST. PAUL'S ANXIETIES FOR BRETHREN HE HAD NEVER SEEN. We infer from this passage, as well as from other considerations, that the apostle had not visited Colossae and was not acquainted with the Church. Yet he felt much interest in them and had many anxious thoughts about them. Our sympathies are not to be confined to the narrow circle of our acquaintance. If a heathen could say, "Homo sum," etc., much more should a disciple of "the Son of man" respond, "I am a Christian, and consider nothing that concerns Christians a matter of indifference to me;" "For we are members one of another," and the heresies that may distract our brethren in France or the persecutions that befall the converts in China should call forth our anxieties and our prayers. The apostle has to utter solemn warnings. Most skilfully does he attract and conciliate these unknown Christians by telling them of his cares and his prayers on their behalf. There was an ἀγών in his public ministry (Colossians 1:29) and in his quiet hours (ver. 1; Colossians 4:12). It was caused by the care of souls (2 Corinthians 11:28). Absence intensified it. (Illustrations: Caged bird hearing the cries of its young. A mother hearing of the sickness or spiritual peril of a child far from home. Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2, 3; Galatians 4:19.) "The pastor," says Cyprian, "is wounded by the hurt of his flock." Paul's anxiety was for the spiritual comfort and concord of the Colossians. "Comfort" in its older sense includes the ideas of help and strength as well as of soothing and consolation. Error weakens as well as disturbs. The attitude of perpetual doubt and criticism is most unfavourable to growth and harmony. We notice three things that he was very anxious for the Colossians to enjoy as means of preserving them from the errors that encompassed and assailed them.
1. Ardent love. It is by love that we gain spiritual discernment, and are thus enabled to explore the hidden treasures of grace. The intellect is affected by the heart (Psalm 14:1). Love to a godly father may be our safeguard against scepticism; how much more may love to Christ be! Like a rocking stone, our soul may be somewhat swayed, but not "greatly moved" (Psalm 62:2). Like a magnet, our hearts may be liable to partial deflections, but still point towards the pole. Moreover, love will unlock many a truth. Pascal has said, "In order to love human things, it is necessary to know them; in order to know things that are Divine, it is necessary to love them." If we trust and love Christ we shall know him ("We have believed, and we know," etc., John 6:68, 69; observe the order of the words), and then all the controversies of Christendom need not shake us (2 Timothy 1:12).
2. Intelligent faith. "The full assurance of understanding," etc. Love as a mere sentiment may degenerate into a weak toleration of any error that disguises itself in the garb of love. Or, under the plea of jealousy for truth and love for souls, it may be depraved into an intolerant bigotry. Love must be a means to an end (John 8:31, 32). There are hidden treasures of truth in Christ "the Truth," which need manly intelligence inspired by childlike love and trust (Psalm 25:9; Matthew 11:25).
3. Steadfast consistency. (Vers. 6, 7; see next sketch.) We are thus reminded of three chief preservatives against error - a warm heart, a clear judgment, a clean conscience (Ephesians 4:14, 15).
II. HOW ST. PAUL SOUGHT TO ALLAY HIS ANXIETIES.
1. He strives for the Colossians in prayer. Like his ancestors Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, and his brother Epaphras (Colossians 4:12), he knew what it was to strive, to wrestle in prayer. No doubt, like his Master, he was sometimes "in an agony of prayer." Gather up Paul's references to his intercessions, and illustrate from the lives of others who have been mighty in prayer; e.g. John Welsh, the minister of Ayr, and son-in-law of John Knox, of whom it is said that he used always to sleep with a plaid upon his bed, that he might wrap it round him if he rose in the night to pray. Sometimes his weeping would awaken his wife, and when she asked the reason, he would reply, "O woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them."
2. He points them to Christ. (Ver. 3.) With an allusion to the false teachers who boasted access to some secret knowledge and wisdom into which they could initiate their disciples, Paul assures them that all the richest treasures of a wisdom they had not yet attained to were concealed and could be discovered in Christ himself (like pearls at the bottom of the ocean). The truth is even wider than the application the apostle gives of it. As all things were made "by him and for him" and "consist in him," so all branches of knowledge have a relation to him and find their truest meaning in him.
(1) He is the Key to history. Its treasures are not unlocked until God's education of the world in its history is connected with the advent of Christ (John 1:3, 4, 9, 10; Galatians 4:4).
(2) He is the Interpreter of science, which may reveal many of its secrets to a godless investigator, but reserves its choicest treasures for those who can see in them his handy work.
(3) The philosophy of mind and of morals is best understood if Christ be known. We see in him ideal human nature and the power which can recover men from that injury to human nature which philosophy no less than theology must recognize. We learn the supremacy of conscience, the dignity and value of the soul, and the fact of a life beyond death.
(4) Christ is the Essence of true theology. A knowledge of Divine things apart from Jesus Christ is, at the best, most imperfect and unsatisfactory (1 Corinthians 1:20, 21). But Christ is Light, Truth, Revelation, God (Luke 10:22; John 1:18; John 14:9).
5. Christ is the Wisdom of God and the Power of God unto salvation. In him we are made "wise unto salvation," and this pearl of great price is the most precious of all the treasures which can be found in him (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31). He alone can satisfy the hunger of the soul, and thus fortify it against the errors of those who would beguile with "enticing words" which are "not after Christ." - E.S.P.
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;