CHAPTER 2: Part 5: Paul’s Aims in Writing
Meditations in Colossians 2: 1: The Absent Struggler!
Col 2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.
In the studies in chapter 1 I have commented a number of times how we come across phrases or concepts in the Bible that we tend to take for granted and skim over when we are reading it. This was especially so in chapter 1 for there were so many theological concepts to be thought through. However, as soon as we start chapter 2 we find ourselves with an intriguing picture which is not very clear at first sight. How, we might ask at the outset, was Paul struggling for people he had never met?
Now of course this is really just an extension of the previous two verses, the last two in chapter 1, where he had said, “(1) We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that (2) we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:28:29). There are, I am going to suggest, two things over which Paul struggles and the first is revealed in those previous two verses as Paul’s basic ministry and it is expressed as two parts in those verses.
The first part was to “proclaim him”, i.e. to preach Christ to all he met. When Luke records the start of Paul’s ministry on Cyprus he simply says that “they proclaimed the word of God,” (Acts 13:5) and that phrase is repeated in v.7, but when he moved on to Pisidian Antioch, in the synagogue there he first spoke about Israel’s history ending with David, concluding, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised,” (v.23)
- and then portraying him as God’s Son (v.33)
- and explaining the resurrection (v.34-37)
- and providing forgiveness for sins (v.38)
- and justification (v.39).
In this he followed the same pattern as Peter on the day of Pentecost even to the point of exhorting the people not to reject God’s word but to repent (implied v.40). Presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the first element of this part of his ministry.
The second part of his ministry was, according to that verse, to “present everyone perfect in Christ,” i.e. to bring them through to salvation, fully assured in Christ and well taught, i.e. well established. Initially, it seems, their main effort went into simply presenting the Gospel but then later we find, “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” (Acts 15:36) In other words Paul caught this idea that the believers needed to be well established. While his main efforts were clearly put into sharing the Gospel afresh, he also obviously sometimes stayed around to deepen their understanding, thus at Corinth we read, “Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:11) As an apostle he didn’t only want to share the Gospel but also make sure the church was built up in it.
Now while he poured out his heart in his ministry face to face, where he had contacts with other believers through other members of his apostolic team who reported back to him, we also finding him seeking to express his ministry through writing. In that he was conveying the gospel and seeking to impart teaching to build up the new believers in those places he had not yet visited but of whom he had been given reports – as with the church at Colosse of whom he had heard through Epaphras, and the church in Rome.
As we are focusing on the “struggle” we might suggest that this was a struggle in Paul’s heart, a frustration that longed to be fulfilled by him coming to them, but in the meantime he poured it out in the form we have been seeing. It may also have been the concern he had of arranging for members of the apostolic team to care for these people and make sure he can do everything he could to support them. Thus when he says, “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you,” he is basically saying, “I want you to know how much my heart yearns for you and how I am doing everything I possibly can to support and bless you with the Gospel and with teaching.”
Now earlier I said there were two things over which Paul struggled, the first being in sharing the Gospel and bringing teaching to build up the church.
The second we will find as we go on through the letter, which is the struggle to overcome heresies or wrong teaching. We see him being involved in this conflict fairly early on in his ministry: “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1,2)
The matter of circumcision and keeping the Law were recurring problems as long as they encountered traditional Jews and that of course, forms a large part of his letter to the Galatians. We will see growing hints of this: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments,” (v.4) and “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (v.8) His anxiety that the enemy not be allowed to undermine their faith is part of the struggle he refers to.
Remember, earlier in chapter 1 we read, “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (1:9,10) Those were the emphases we saw then and now he will build on them in the following verses. Get ready to read on.