Meditations in Colossians 2: 4: Complete Understanding
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 two meditations 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 two of these three aspects, that of being encouraged in heart and being united in love,” Now we move on to the third aspect of Paul’s purpose which is to bring complete understanding to the church.
What is sad about so much of modern day Christianity is that so many people are unsure of their faith or unsure of the basics of their faith. If this assertion is right then I suggest there are two reasons for that. First, the quality of a person’s new birth experience (if I may put it like that) appears so often shallow. A well founded believer is hungry for God’s word, hungry for God, and longs to learn what the Bible has to say. This lack may be because of the day in which we live where materialistic desires compete with spiritual desires. Second, this lack of assurance must be put at the door of church leaders who convey so little (ten minutes on a Sunday morning to impart the invaluable teaching of the New Testament – even twenty is inadequate!) of the truth in a systematic way that is anointed of God.
Paul, I suspect, would be shocked by the state of the modern church when compared to his own heart. When he thinks about the teaching we find in the New Testament, he speaks of it as ‘riches’ and he wants us to have ‘full riches’, not just a bit. These teachings, that he has already been referring to in chapter 1 and now continues in chapter 2, throw light on reality, throw light on who God is, what He is like, who Jesus is, what he is like, who we are and what we are like before and after conversion. Understanding these things establishes, strengthens and stabilizes the new believer. One modern version speaks of “so have the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings.” That doesn’t bring out the wonder of the truth of what ‘riches’ brings but it does highlight the impact of these riches, that they bring a full wealth of experience.
Perhaps the most challenging word is ‘complete’. Not just partial understanding but complete understanding. Timothy admittedly was a leader and to him Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) The NKJV is stronger: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God.” Yes, it may be that he was a leader but if we are to apprehend the “full riches of complete understanding” isn’t the challenge for each of us to study His word?
In earlier centuries they used catechisms to teach and train new believers. As one famous Puritan catechism starts of,
“Question 1: What is the chief end of man? Answer 1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1Co 10:31) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps 73:25,26)
Question 2: What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him? Answer 2: The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Eph 2:20 2Ti 3:16) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him. (1Jo 1:3)
Question 3: What do the Scriptures principally teach? Answer 3: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. (2Ti 1:13 Ec 12:13)”
Some of these catechisms had well over a hundred questions, and every new believer was required to learn them. A bit legalistic we might say, but they certainly had a broader understanding of the truth of God’s word than many today!
There is a small point we have not yet touched upon n this verse: “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.” The implication of this translation is that understanding comes from encouragement and being part of the loving community of God’s people. Translators are unsure of the real intent of the joining words and so some simply say, “and they may have….” making the riches of understanding just another one of the things to be worked on. One can see that understanding the wonder of the New Testament teaching will come with the encouraging of heart brought in the context of the loving community. When the community of God’s people expect these things then they are more readily brought about and creating that experience and understanding is the role and duty of the leaders of the church.
These things, we have noted before, bring about an end product and we will go on to consider that in the next meditation.