Struggling for the Saints – 2:1-5
1 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Paul continues his use of the athletic metaphor from the end of chapter one by using the word “contending” to describe his work for the churches. He is not simply putting in his hours; he is actively engaged in a competition, of sorts, on behalf of the Gentile churches. As he says in Ephesians 6, Paul recognizes that he is not contending against other human beings (as tempting as it may be, at times, to think of it that way), but against the cosmic forces of darkness that are manifest in temptation to sin and heretical teaching.
As Paul uses the metaphor of athletic competition, it is important to ask what winning looks like for him. When Paul envisions a victorious church, he sees three elements, each building upon the previous:
- Unity in agape love and encouragement in heart;
- Possession of the full riches of complete understanding;
- Knowledge of the mystery of God, who is Christ.
A unified and encouraged church is a victorious church that is capable of possessing, together, the vast wealth of complete understanding and knowing, in a full and radical way, the mystery of God, who is Christ our Lord. In contrast, a divided and discouraged church cannot access the glorious storehouses of knowledge available in Christ Jesus. Paul’s hope for the church in Colossae (and the church in Laodicea, and elsewhere), was that the congregation would be united in the self-giving love of Jesus, and through this love, mutually enacted every day by and to each member, to come to the full, lived knowledge of Christ. This is a high calling, and not one that can be accomplished by any single member. “Christ’s love for them provided a basis for unity and formed a common bond between them. Christian growth is a group task! The individuals of the church needed each other.”[i]