Meditations in Colossians 2: 3: United in Love
Col 2:2,3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,
In the previous meditation of the verse above we said we have made bold the three aspects of Paul’s purpose together with his end goal, and we went on to consider the first of these three aspects, that of being “encouraged in heart”. Now we move on to consider the second aspect, of being “united in love.” The problem, so often with Scripture, is that the writer was not seeking to go into great detail because, as in this case, it would make the letter incredibly long. So, when we come to this little phrase we are left to speculate on what he means. A good approach often with Paul’s letters (because his trains of thought often go round in a circle or repeat themselves or pick out specific aspects again and again) is to look before and after the point in question to see if there are other references that might shine light on the present one.
Earlier in chapter 1 we find several references to their love: “we have heard of ….. the love you have for all the saints,” (v.4) and, “love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven,” (v.5) and “Epaphras…. also told us of your love in the Spirit,” (v.7,8) They know about love; it is strong in them that reveals itself in their love for all believers, and it is a love that naturally springs out of the Gospel of hope, and is a love empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This is interesting because he is saying, “My purpose is that they may be …. united in love,” but it would appear that they already have it, so why is he mentioning it now. The first answer (and these reflect what he said about his ministry having various aspects that we considered in the first of these meditations in chapter two) has got to be that working to bring about a church united in love is part of his ministry of bringing the Gospel to people and then seeing them built up in it.
When you think about it, the Gospel is about love and should always be presented in love. The end product is a new believer who is newly aware of God’s love, filled with that love, and aware that they have a life ahead of them founded on and characterized by love. They were thus newly birthed by love and live lives founded and built in love, and now they find themselves alongside lots of other believers who have experienced the same things, all of them rejoicing in love.
What more could you ask for to produce a church “united in love”? If your local church fails to experience this love as an ongoing daily and weekly experience together, it is probable that love has not been emphasised in sharing the Gospel, and has not been majored on in building up and establishing the church, and so we fail to realise or remember the wonder of this love. If the Holy Spirit is within us (and He is!) and He is love (and He is!) and we are open to Him (are we?), then love will flow between us and we will be united in love in more than words.
Remember Jesus’ words in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (although they would not be written down by John for several decades yet possibly): “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) There Jesus prayed for a complete unity based on the wonder of lives loved by God and revealing that love in word and deed to the rest of the world. Paul may not have known about these words yet, but the Holy Spirit who inspired him was the same as the Spirit in Jesus and he would thus know that this was the intent of the Father’s heart and the heart of Jesus. Unity based upon love is thus a critical requirement for the Church to impact the world and glorify the Father.
But when we considered the reasons for Paul’s struggling for new believers we also said that part of the struggle was to counter the heresies and false teachings that abounded in those early centuries, used by the enemy to counter the Gospel. So perhaps another more subtle reason for Paul saying this is to do with those heresies that cause division and upset. Don’t let such divisions spoil the loving unity you have, is perhaps the message in his thinking at this point, and that is a very real and valid reason to present, not merely that such heresies are wrong, but they do damage to the love and unity of the church. One of the reasons for good, steady and consistent teaching within the Church is to avoid such heresies and thus avoid the splits and divisions that accompany heretical and wrong teaching.
Thus this little phrase is based upon what has happened to these believers, and is the Father’s heart for them, and is to be something to be guarded and protected from the wiles of the enemy. Never take this loving unity for granted, and if it is absent in reality in your local church, then work to restore and establish it. Amen? Amen!