colossians - an exhortation for unity in love
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted And built up in him, and stablished in the fatih, as ye have been taught” (Col 2:7)
The first chapter of Paul’s inspired Epistle to the Colossians closes with the Apostle speaking of his “labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (1:29). So it is, that Paul, as with all faithful men, recognised that his product of his labours were not of his own might, but were according to the working of the Lord, which “effectually worketh also” in them that “believe” (1Thes 2:13). This is the true spirit of discipleship – to “strive” for the things of the Truth, yet entrust all things to the hand of the Father, that all things may be worked out according to His Will and Purpose.
But the Second Chapter describes one aspect of that for which Paul strove – unity amongst the believers: “I would that ye knew what conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicia, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love …” (Col 2:1). Here, the Greek for “conflict” is the word from which “striving” in 1:29 is derived, emphasising the point that the striving for unity was a central part of the labours of the apostle – he was not simply concerned about the work of preaching, but also about ensuring that those who received his words were united in a common understanding of those things.
The term “conflict” is, perhaps an unusual term to use as an expression of concern for unity, for it is usually employed to describe a state of disunity, with two or more parties contending against each other, being engaged in conflict (cp 1Tim 6:12, 2Tim 4:7). Strong defines the Greek as “prop. a place of assembly (as if led) i.e. (by impl.) a contest (held there); fig. An effort or anxiety”. The ideas contained within this word, therefore, involve a gathering together (uniting?) for the purpose of engaging in, or witnessing a contest, or conflict, being led to that place by one party or another. And this is the case with the Colossians – as we shall see in future studies, they were to contend against the Judaisers, who sought to “beguile” them “with enticing words” (Col 2:4), being led and encouraged in their conflict by the Apostle Paul. But in order to successfully resist these pervading philosophies, it was essential that the believers themselves be united upon the truths of the Gospel which they had been taught. So it was that the Apostle strove to exhort the believers to be united in battle.
But notice who it was that the Apostle strove for: “for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh”. Not simply for those at Colosse, or Laodicea which was relatively close – but all the believers, even those who he had never met, or even seen. The example here is most striking; it is easy to care about those who we know well, those we are close to, but the example of the Apostle is to “love the brotherhood” (1Pet 2:17), the greater part of whom we will never have met. Our concerns and strivings ought to be not just for those around us, but for all the household of faith, that even if it be only in a small way, we might contribute to the unity and general well-being of the whole body.
BEING KNIT TOGETHER IN LOVE
The object for which the Apostle strove, was that the believers might be “knit together in love” (that is, bound together with “charity, which is the bond of perfectness” – 3:14), “unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” (Col 2:2-4). Notice this – the loving unity of the brethren ought to be “unto … “The full assurance”, or “entire confidence” of “understanding”, and an “acknowledgement” of the revealed mystery of God. In our day, there are many who exhort us to put aside differences in belief and doctrine, to simply be united in love. Love is the principal thing, they say – doctrine is secondary, and so long as we can show love, we can be united, tolerating each other’s differing “views” on doctrinal issues. But such was not the teaching of Paul. His exhortation, being “moved” by the Spirit, was that the basis of unity is “the riches of understanding” – a correct understanding of the things of Truth. And this he said, lest the believers be beguiled “with enticing words”, that is, that they might not be led astray by false teachers.
As we saw in our introductory study, and as we shall consider in more detail in the next issue, if the Lord Will, the primary problem facing the Colossians were the Judaisers, those men who sought to impose their mixture of the Mosaic Law and their traditions onto believers of the Gospel. These sought to “spoil” the brethren, “through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8), by seeking to bring them into bondage to the Law, which was but “a shadow of things to come” (v 17), and which our Lord “took out of the way” (v 14) by his death on the cross. But the Colossians were Gentiles, “to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles” (1:27). The mystery, as we saw in our last study, was the manner in which Gentiles would be given a hope of salvation, subsequent to the cutting off of the Jewish olive branches – previously hidden and unknown, but now revealed by the apostolic preaching. So it was that Paul exhorted the believers to be “knit together” in a mutual understanding of these things; “to the acknowledgement of the mystery”, now revealed, that being so united they might be able to stand against the inroads of the apostate Judaisers.
The principle being taught here, is that unity is the greatest defence for the household of faith. Our Lord taught that “every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Mat 12:25), and similarly, his Apostle exhorted: “if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal 5:15). We truly live in “perilous times” (2Tim 3:1), and there is no time for there to be “wars and fightings” (Jas 4:1) amongst the members of Christ’s Ecclesia. Rather than to contend against one another, the body ought to be one “in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). The various members thereof ought to “exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any … be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:13), rather than to devour one another through petty squabbles emanating from those who seek to exalt themselves above measure. To be united in a “full assurance” of the revealed things of Truth is just as needful in our day, as ever before that the faith may be earnestly contended for (Jude 3) in the face of false brethren who would seek to beguile us by the enticing words of the world’s philosophy.
THE TREASURES OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE
The great and precious truths concerning how Gentiles might also obtain Salvation in Christ Jesus are styled by the Apostle, “riches” (Col 1:27, 2:2), or “treasures of wisdom and knowledge”, “hid” in the mystery of the Gospel, yet now revealed by preaching. Yet though the mystery was made manifest by the ministry of the apostles, the depth of those riches still remain unfathomable to the natural man. Hence the apostle exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom 11:33). Yet those riches can be found out to the extent to which they are revealed, and to the measure of spirituality of those who seek them. It is true that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God … neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor 2:14), but for those who have permitted the influence of The Word to transform their minds to become more in harmony with their Maker, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern spiritual things, the riches of wisdom can be found by patient and diligent searching. So we read in the wise sayings of the Proverbs: “if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God. For Yahweh giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly” (Prov 2:3-7).
Notice here, how that wisdom, knowledge and understanding (cp Col 1:9) are said to be laid up (cp Col 1:5), not for anyone, but specifically for “the Righteous” – that is, for those who desire to forsake the ways of the flesh to seek after them. And notice also, that the means by which Yahweh is said to give wisdom, is by imparting “knowledge and understanding” “out of his mouth” – that is to say, by His Word which he has caused to be make known and heard. So it is, that to obtain the hidden riches of wisdom, we need to search the word diligently, for so doing we shall obtain the gems of knowledge and understanding which are so necessary to direct our steps into a walk which is well pleasing to our Heavenly Father.
But how much effort is required to obtain such treasure? What is required of us to give? The Lord Jesus speaks of this in parable form, saying: “the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Mat 13:44). Here the principle is given, that although a man may, through much searching “find” the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven, he cannot partake of any benefit from it – unless he first forsakes the things of this life. We must sell all that we have – that is to say, we must give everything in order to obtain and partake of the treasures of wisdom. Only by ridding ourselves of the worldly things of this life, can we obtain the gems of Eternal life, and even having found, and obtained the Gospel treasure, we must keep searching diligently to find and obtain further hidden treasures, to learn the ways of wisdom.
From the day that the Gospel was preached to the Colossians, it grew within them to “bring forth fruit” (Col 1:6) to the Glory of God. They had a fervent love both for it, and also for others of like precious faith (1:4,8), seeking to edify one another in their zeal for the things of the Spirit. But trying times lay ahead as we have seen, for “the mystery of iniquity” (2Thes 2:7), or the iniquitous influence of Apostasy had already begun in the days of the Apostle. Indeed, by the time of the giving of the Revelation to John, nearby Laodicea had already fallen into a nauseating condition of malaise (Rev 14:14-22), and other ecclesias were to follow. So it was that Paul exhorted the faithful at Colosse to continue in their zeal as they had begun: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Col 2:6,7).
The exhortation is to be both “rooted and built up”. Here, two figures are used together to illustrate a common point; the figure both of a plant, and of a building; a dual comparison also used elsewhere by the Spirit through Paul, “ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1Cor 3:9). The believers remain “rooted” by remaining firmly grafted into the Israelitish rootstock (Rom 11:17), seeking to become securely anchored, obtaining their nourishment from the fertile soil of the word of God. Being well rooted, they are planted firmly, and well able to withstand the stormy trials which life brings, as the Proverb has it: “a man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved” (Prov 12:3), but shall rather in being nourished by spiritual things, shall blossom and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit (Prov 12:12, Gal 5:22) in all it’s various facets. And if believers are well-rooted in the things of God in this life, they shall receive due blessing by the Husbandman in the Age to Come, for it is written, “blessed is the man that trusteth in Yahweh, and whose hope Yahweh is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit” (Jer 17:7,8, cp Ps 1:3, Rev 22:2).
In addition to being “rooted”, the believers are to be “built up”. Interestingly in the Greek, the phrase is in the present tense – “being built up”, emphasising the point that it is a continual work. “The foundation of the apostles and prophets” has already been laid, “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:20-22), and it remains for each individual member (as “living stones” – 1Pet 2:5) to edify and build one another up in the way of Truth, until the final completion of the house at the coming of the Lord (cp Zech 4:7-9). The Scriptural appeal to believers is to be active in “building up yourselves on your most holy faith” (Jude 20), being bound together as a single edifice, strong and secure under Divine protection. And again, the means by which believers might be so edified, is by the Word of God. Hence Paul said to the elders of Ephesus on his departure from them: “now, brethren, I commend to you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32). The Word of God then, is the basis of loving unity for believers; it is able to nourish those whose roots seek to sink deeply into it; it is able to build up those who seek to labour in the House of God, and it is able to strengthen us to withstand the philosophies of men, that we might grow more pleasing to our Heavenly Father. The exhortation remains therefore, that we, as the Colossians might be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17), that being securely planted in the house of God (Ps 92:13), we might be renewed with life, and flourish in the glorious age to come.