The object of the struggle
2. Love and understanding
3. Full knowledge
On the previous web page, I noted that Colcar began a new section at the start of Col 1:29 and that the logic behind such a division was fairly sound when understood as it being the start of Paul’s personal observations which run to their conclusion in Col 2:5 and which don’t recur until much later in the letter.
There’s a better division of the verses, however, which takes the section to begin at Col 1:28 and end at Col 2:5 for there’s a natural progression of thought throughout. Beginning with the statement of the apostolic commission that Paul includes all his fellow labourers in (Col 1:28), he continues on to declare that such a target is very much personally his own (Col 1:29) before turning his attention to apply it to the Colossian believers - and to those at nearby Laodicea - and showing that, even though he may never yet have made it to the city to proclaim the Gospel, he’s still concerned for their welfare and is labouring behind the scenes to contribute to their edification.
The passage does more than this, of course, and Paul will comment that he knows of the outworking of their faith and is rejoicing because of it (Col 1:25) but the main thrust of these verses follows the logical development
1. This is what we do (Col 1:28)
2. This is what I also do (Col 1:29)
3. This is how it’s worked out for your own benefit (Col 2:1-5)
Paul’s opening words to the verse which run
‘For I want you to know...’
can be easily overlooked as being merely an introductory formula that he uses to get from the statement about his general toiling to bring about maturity in each man and woman (Col 1:28-29) but, rather, it serves as a phrase which marks a specific introduction which the apostle uses elsewhere to highlight what he’s about to write.
Just this morning I was watching a preacher on one of our religious satellite channels here in the UK (I tend to channel hop, I confess, and have never yet listened to a speaker from beginning to end) when he paused and said ‘Listen!’ before proceeding with another point. It had the effect of making me sit up and take notice of what was about to be said, as if it was underlining the importance of what was about to follow.
The only problem was that the preacher said the word about once every thirty seconds so that I was soon turned off and flicked the remote onto something else. Paul, however, normally uses his own phrase sparingly in his letters (Rom 1:13, 11:25, I Cor 10:1-4, 11:3, 12:1, 12:3, II Cor 1:8, 8:1-2, Phil 1:12) - in both a positive and negative way (‘I want you to know’ and ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant) - but I Corinthians sees the most uses of the phrase in quick succession.
His phrase shouldn’t be understood to be saying
‘I want to let you in on a little secret...’
as if what Paul is now writing is some information which only a few are party to and which they should feel privileged to be told, but is a literary form of the first century to highlight a point which is considered to be of importance. Colbrien cites Mullins in his commentary and notes the title ‘disclosure form’ for this type of prefix to a statement which is about to follow.
This phrase is, perhaps, too strong for it sounds as if some new revelation is being made known that only the apostle knew upto that point - but I can’t think of a better one. It does, however, serve the purpose of the previously mentioned preacher who used the word ‘Listen!’ to wake the congregation up to a point which he considered to be important.
The disclosure in the NT isn’t restricted to the spiritual where a piece of teaching or instruction is being brought to his readers and listeners (Rom 11:25, I Cor 10:1-4, 11:3, 12:1, 12:3) but can be equally used of his personal circumstances (Rom 1:13, II Cor 1:8, Phil 1:12) or of a situation in the churches of another area which he wants to hold up as an example (II Cor 8:1-2). It is, therefore, an important tool in the apostle’s communication to the churches to whom he writes, but it’s rare use shows how it seems to have been drawn upon only to wake up his readers to the importance of what was about to follow.
And that’s how we should take these words, therefore, that run immediately after their use. Paul is wanting to emphasise the point of
‘...how great a struggle I have for you, and for those at Laodicea and for as many as have not seen me face to face’
(where we should note that the RSV has changed the occurrence of the noun ‘struggle’ into the verb which has been previously used in Col 1:29. These two words - Strongs Greek number 73 and 75 - are from the same word group and carry with them the same basic sense. The RSV’s ‘have not seen my face’ is a rendering of the more literal ‘have not seen my face in (the) flesh’ - the implication is that Paul’s struggle continues for all those who he’s never met and not just for the ones who he’s had a hand in converting to Jesus Christ).
The bottom line is that Paul wants to emphasise that he’s engaged in a struggle (see on the previous verse for a description of what the word conjures up by it’s use here) not only for those to whom he’s preached the Gospel but even to those who someone else has spoken to and who he’s never personally met. The inclusion of Laodicea here possibly pre-empts the statement of Col 4:16 where Paul orders that the two churches in the cities swap letters once they’ve read their own and it’s tempting to think that the apostle had already written the one to Laodicea (which could, of course, have been our letter to the Ephesians) - or at least have every intention of writing one - for their mention in the Colossian letter seems designed by him to make his words more personal.
His final phrase that he struggled for ‘as many’ who’d never yet met him is as wide and as general as possible but, to mention just one, we might include the inhabitants of Rome here (Rom 15:22-25) who Paul had always intended visiting but had never been able to do until, that is, he was committed there to be heard before the Emperor.
Col 1:2 will see Paul go on to speak of the aim of his struggles (an aim which is also defined in Col 1:28 as being part of that which the apostolic band also was going for), but the substance of them - that is, what exactly they were and how they related into the church’s spiritual growth - goes unmentioned and he seems to gloss them over in preference to move on to their purpose.
We may, however, take a little time to try and assess what Paul’s struggles were that he wanted to bring to his recipient’s attention. And the commentators are not without their various theories here. Colcar links the struggles with his praying, noting that
‘The depth is reflected in the intense travail of soul involved in his praying for them’
This is quite in keeping with the earlier mention in the letter of this (Col 1:3,9-12) and with the future one (Col 4:12) and is, to be fair, an extremely logical view to take. After all, what more could it be envisaged that Paul could do for the Colossian believers when he wasn’t in their midst?
Colbruce makes a clear statement at the conclusion of his words on this verse that
‘The conflict is waged in the spiritual realm; the opposition is the false teaching to which the churches of the Lycus valley are exposed’
and explains himself as this being ‘prayer’ in the following verse. In other words, he sees Paul praying against wrong teaching and agonising in prayer because he wants the Colossians to stand firm in the simple truth that Epaphras had brought to them. Colbruce goes a little too far with the text, however, for Paul’s words seem like more of a generalisation rather than a specific reference to erroneous doctrine (perhaps a person who writes doctrine takes it as the utmost evil that false doctrine should be spread? Or perhaps I’m being too psychologically interpretative of Colbruce’s words?!).
It’s all too easy to interpret Col 2:1 as being a reference to prayer and then to go on and, out of necessity, have to interpret Col 2:2 as being the substance of Paul’s prayer. That is, the apostle is agonising in prayer that the Colossians’
‘...hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery...’
but Paul and Timothy have already spoken about their own prayers for the fellowship in Col 1:9-12 and the substance there outlined is wholly different from what we read here, even though some of the same English words occur in both places (and one of the objectives in prayer appears to be similar - that is, the reference to ‘understanding’).
It seems strange also that Paul should retreat back into an announcement of his own private prayers when he makes no indication that this is what he’s writing about. Although prayer might be one aspect of Paul’s ‘struggles’, then, it’s by no means the sum total of what the apostle must mean.
We might also assume that he was referring to his spiritual input into Epaphras (Col 1:7-8) who had first brought the Gospel to them - that, somehow, Paul took a great amount of pleasure from knowing that the success of his teaching in this follower of Christ had begun to bear fruit in the church at Colossae.
But to think of Epaphras’ training as being a ‘struggle’ is really going too far - and being too unfair, as well. For we wouldn’t have expected the apostle to have spoken of his spiritual input as being something that he found difficult, the struggle reflecting on his understudy’s ‘dumbness’!
Colwright probably does what all commentators should have done and ignored being specific, moving on quickly to the next verse once he’s paraphrased the apostle’s words. It’s left to Colbrien, then, to ask specifically the question
‘But what was the precise nature of this conflict?’
He points out that Paul’s previous statement in Col 1:24 that spoke of his
‘...sufferings for your sake...’
could be construed as a parallel to this one in Col 2:1. Again, however, we would be unwise to limit an interpretation of the word for ‘struggle’ with one specific part of the apostle’s life and, as Colbrien comments
‘...this expenditure of his energies...are to be understood within the wider struggle for the spread of the Gospel and of the faith’
He mentions three areas of ‘concerns...prayers...and...letters’ that are easily demonstrable as being integral to the apostolic ministry but it needn’t stop here. All Paul’s hard work can be considered as being part and parcel of his work which leads towards the Colossians’ spiritual maturity and advancement. If he suffers, he does so on their behalf; if he travails in prayer, he wins victories which they’ll experience.
In short, if the Gospel advances in the earth a thousand miles away from where we are at this precise moment in time, we’ll feel the effects of it eventually because of the shockwaves that radiate out from it. There’s really no point in getting either jealous or angry about what God is continuing to do in, for example, Africa or the Far East - for, if we greet it with open arms, we find that what they have to offer becomes a part of our own experience. There’s no point adhering to that which is dead in our own society when that which is alive comes through a cultural channel that we react against.
Even at a more local level in the first century world, the Colossians would meet new believers as they travelled about in the line of their business and experience what the apostles had done there even once they’d moved on. Far from being a purely localised work in that particular area, it would become the place at which a deeper experience of Jesus Christ could be received and, hopefully, that from there, believers would go out to local fellowships such as Colossae and further strengthen them.
Paul’s work effects others and, even though he may find it difficult, even those who’ve never met him face to face will experience the benefits of those things which he does. The concept of Paul’s ‘struggle’, then, should be left as wide as possible in its definition and not restricted to one or two concepts that we feel happy with.
The object of the struggle
This verse continues Paul’s thought and defines the objective for his struggles which he declared are being carried out on the behalf of all those who have never seen the apostle face to face. Before we can look at the meaning of the text, however, we need to stop and consider for a moment the correct rendering of the verse seeing as there seems to be a plethora of different translations and opinions as to the correct structure.
I’m taking the basic flow of the verse to follow the translation
‘That their hearts [that is, those who haven’t seen the apostle face to face] may be strengthened
being knit together in love
and [being knit together] for all the riches of a complete fulness of understanding
for a full knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ’
where I’ve divided the verse into four lines deliberately to show how each of these stand on their own but also that they relate to what’s preceded them. I’ve repeated the verb ‘being knit together’ at the start of the third line because Colwright notes that
‘“United” [being knit together] properly governs not only “in love” but also the next phrase...’
so that this knitting together is not only achieved in love but to the end of achieving the riches. The RSV tends to obscure this structure, making out the phrase has something to do with ‘understanding’ and so it becomes a new train of thought.
We should also note the force of some of the words here employed by Paul for they give the reader the impression that the apostle is concerned to speak in absolute terms and not in mere incidentals. So, ‘riches’ (Strongs Greek number 4149) is observed by Kittels to be connected
‘...with a root meaning “to flow” which is connected to “to fill”. The basic sense, then, is “fulness of goods” and [the word] may mean either material wealth or spiritual wealth (of wisdom etc.,)’
This fulness or completeness is also present in the Greek word translated above as ‘complete fulness’ (Strongs Greek number 4136) which Kittels notes means that the subject is being spoken of as completely fulfilled or brought to fulness. Colcar comments that the word
‘...bears throughout its usage in the NT the same meaning of a sure conviction to which a man is led’
so that there’s no wavering or doubt in Paul’s mind as he thinks of the ultimate target of his struggles. He sees it bringing about an assured and certain understanding, a foundation upon which the believers can stand and build their lives.
Finally, ‘full knowledge’ (Strongs Greek number 1922) is defined by Vines as denoting
‘...exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition and is a strengthened form of [the transliterated] gnosis, expressing fuller or full knowledge, a greater participation by the knower in the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him’
All that we need to note for the purpose of this study is that Paul isn’t concerned to speak of a little improvement in the Colossians’ understanding - he says ‘the riches of a complete fulness...’. The use of words which speak of perfection twice is something which we might have criticised him for and felt that one of them was redundant - like speaking of something as being ‘perfectly complete’ or ‘completely perfect’, a style of writing known as ‘tautology’. Even worse, though, is that Paul uses ‘all’ preceding both words and we see a triple emphasis on the completeness of the understanding which Paul is wanting to bring out.
He also isn’t speaking about a fair increase in the knowledge of Christ but he employs words which bring the final outworking of his struggles to something which can’t be considered much short of perfection.
We should remind ourselves, therefore, that the Gospel which the early Church preached to the world wasn’t an additional commodity which they envisaged could exist alongside what was presently being experienced but, because the aim of the message was perfection, everything else was shown to be of no worth.
Strength comes out of unity. Paul speaks about his struggles bringing about a strengthening of the hearts of those who haven’t yet seen the apostle’s face and then immediately proceeds to expand upon it, speaking of being knit together both in love and for understanding.
This ‘strengthening’ has often been interpreted to mean ‘comforting’ and the Greek word is quite capable of holding this meaning when used. However, as Colbrien points out, it more likely means a strengthening in Col 2:2 because
‘...there is no mention of [in Colossians], or allusion to, distresses or persecutions that would have elicited consolation or comfort as the object of the apostles’ energetic activities’
Comfort may be seen as the maintenance of what one has in the face of concerted opposition but here the thought is of an advance in the stature of the individuals in Christ so that ‘strengthening’ is wholly better.
The Greek word from which we get the translation ‘knit together’ (Strongs Greek number 4822) is also capable of the alternative meaning of ‘instructed’ which Colbrien assesses as a ‘good case’ and observes that in all of its ten uses in the LXX, it must mean this in each and every one.
He opts for the more usual translation that I’ve chosen, however, and for good reason - the idea of instruction ‘in love’ and ‘for understanding’ seems to be incongruous with the rest of the text. Colbrien cites the reasoning of those who propose the translation ‘instructed’ by noting that it’s been observed that
‘...Paul’s preoccupation in Colossians was less the issue of unity than that his readers be enlightened in their faith over against heretical teachings and practices...’
The main issue to take note of here (whether Colbrien has accurately portrayed the arguments or not) is that Col 2:2 doesn’t refer to the Colossians themselves but (Col 2:1) to
‘...all who have not seen my face’
That is, the context is of Paul’s struggles on behalf of the universal Church of whom the Colossians are a part and they aren’t performed for them alone. The broader context has to be understood here, then, as referring to all believers and especially those who had not yet encountered the apostle. As we’ll see below, the idea of unity is a much more fitting understanding of the word than that of instruction.
But what type of unity is the apostle referring to?
In the next section, we’ll go on to look at the two targets of that unity which are here envisaged as being a result of Paul’s work on the Church’s behalf but its fundamental nature needs to be understood for we aren’t looking at the maintenance of a unity which already exists because of the work of Christ but for the acquisition of a unity which isn’t yet theirs, a unity which binds all believers everywhere together.
That Jesus has already brought all believers into unity in Him is clear from various passages in the NT. The apostle comments in Gal 3:28 (my italics) that
‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female...’
concluding by announcing the explanation that
‘...you are all one in Christ Jesus’
and, in Eph 4:3 (my italics), he urges upon his readers that they should be
‘...eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’
Because all believers have been baptised into the one body of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit (I Cor 12:12-13 - see also I Cor 10:17, Rom 12:5), all are on an equal standing in Him. There’s one salvation for all and one body into which all have come. This unity of the Spirit and of Christ’s work on the cross must be maintained - not sought - for it’s a completed work of God. It can’t, therefore, be this type of unity that Paul speaks of in Col 2:2.
There’s a unity, in contrast, that needs to be sought in addition to the unity that comes by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For example, Paul wastes very little time in his preamble in his first letter to Corinth, launching into an appeal in I Cor 1:10 (my italics) that
‘...all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment’
where the diverse opinions and doctrines that the fellowship held were causing it to teeter on the edge of fragmenting it into various factions that were serving their own interests. The apostle also notes that the fivefold gift of men to the Church (Eph 4:11) is for the purpose, amongst other things, of (Eph 4:12-13 - my italics)
‘...building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God...’
But I Peter 3:8 needs to be considered to a much greater length here. Peter writes, finally, his command that all of them are to
‘...have unity of spirit...’
Petgrude comments that
‘The term translated “unity of spirit” means “sharing the same thoughts and attitudes, thinking harmoniously” - a goal too infrequently attained in christian churches’
His application is to the local group of believers that the letter was primarily written but we should take his comments to be referring equally to the universal Church as Col 2:2 does. Petstib observes that believers
‘...should be united by a common interest and outlook; they should all “mind” the things of God and of the Spirit and thus imitate the mind of Christ...What Peter describes and desires...is not just human agreement together, but agreement reached by each and all receiving the truth of God’
When a believer comes to Jesus Christ initially, they come with differing views, differing ways of living that must be changed as they walk closer to Him. In identical situations, different believers can choose radically different ways to act or react if they live on a natural level and not by a revelation of Christ.
Even though they may think that they know Christ fully, it’s our differing views of Him that more often than not are the reasons behind our disunity and which incite church splits. Therefore, by growing up into Christ; by becoming more mature in Him; by deepening our relationship with Him; we become more like Him and, consequently, more like each other, of one mind, one purpose, one will.
I’ve applied this deliberately to one local fellowship in the last paragraph but, as I’ve already said, Col 2:2 is a comment on the universal Church and it must be applied this way as well. Though an individual fellowship might find disunity because of a lack of growth and maturity, the Church is so fragmented throughout the earth primarily because a growth into the fulness of Christ is shunned. Instead of revelation, we rely upon human precepts and doctrines - not only in the more traditional fellowships but in the ones who like to think that they’re at the cutting edge of what God’s doing in their own society or location.
Ecumenicalism, however, will never bring a unity amongst believers but a deeper (experiential) knowledge of Jesus Christ will. Unity can be worked at - but it isn’t attained by glossing over differences and overlooking fundamentals. Rather, it’s achieved by each believer aiming for maturity in Jesus Christ that, in growing more like Him, they might grow more like one another.
This unity which comes about through Paul’s struggles (Col 2:1ff) is seen as needing his definition and the apostle continues by noting that it’s a unification which is both in love and for understanding. This is what we’ll look at in the next section.
2. Love and understanding
Commentators persist in seeing the teaching here as being applied solely to the Colossian believers even though Paul states specifically at the beginning of Col 2:2 that the strengthening is for their hearts, referring to every one who hasn’t seen the apostle face to face (Col 2:1). We must understand this knitting together both in love and for understanding as being something of which the apostolic commission brought about the possibility even when their direct input into certain areas wasn’t possible for whatever reason.
We saw above that the phrase ‘knit together’ rightly governs both aspects of love and understanding (I’ve deliberately shortened the phrase to this one word. As we saw above, the idea is of something which has full conviction in the believer’s life and upon which their lives can safely be built) and we should take the apostles’ words not as two independent aims which can exist separately but as two aspects of the one target which are integral to a fully functioning Universal Church. Colwright comments that
‘...while the process of knitting together the church into a unified body clearly includes the growth of love, it also includes growth, on the part of the whole community, of that proper understanding of the Gospel which leads to the rich blessings of a settled conviction and assurance. Living in a loving and forgiving community will assist growth in understanding, and vice versa, as truth is confirmed in practice and practice enables truth to be seen in action and so to be fully grasped’
The commentator sees each aspect as being integral to the acquisition of the other. This may be going too far in an interpretation of the verse but, if a fellowship or the Universal Church of which it’s a small part is to stand undivided against what is error and what is seeking to destroy God’s work in it (Col 2:4), then it must experience the twin qualities of love and understanding - ‘love’ so that in their relationships they are bound together and ‘understanding’ so that, in their doctrine, they stand as one.
Love without understanding tends towards an introverted christian society, even a form of ecumenicalism, which is not enlightened. Understanding without love will bring theology which tends towards disunity as the church at Corinth found out to their cost. In their case, they were forming factions which proclaimed themselves as being follows of Apollos or of Cephas (that is, Peter) and Paul (I Cor 1:12) - in very much the same way as we announce ourselves as Brethren, Pentecostals or Baptists. Uncanny how they experienced the very same things back then in embryo as we do today, isn’t it? The only thing that’s changed in two thousand years is that we now fail to apply the Scripture to our predicament and, instead, make statements such as ‘God loves denominations!’. Actually, they make Him nauseous.
Therefore, Paul had to overemphasise the necessity of love (I Corinthians chapter 13) because, if they didn’t soon get hold of it in their own experience, there would have been ‘The Church of the Apostle Paul’ in one section of the city and ‘The Church of St Peter the Fisherman’ in another (gasp! That’s exactly what we have today!), each competing for supremacy, each announcing that theirs was the only way, the truth and the life and each forgetting that what was important was the proclamation of the Gospel and not petty bickering.
Either love or understanding on their own will bring a unity of sorts but each one will pull away from God’s full intention - together, a unity will be established with Christ at its centre. As we saw in the previous section, true unity occurs when individuals seek to grow to full maturity in Christ and this can only be worked through when the believer’s experience of both love and understanding are allowed to be transformed into what is an adequate reflection of the one that they profess to serve.
One can’t help but appreciate the concern of the more legalistic or theologically-minded types of churches who look at the larger, more charismatic, meetings and bewail the fact that sound doctrine is somewhat lacking or put down for the experience of a bubbly, carnival-like coming together that elevates love as the be-all-and-end-all.
Neither can one blame the charismatic who looks at the boring and irrelevant groups of believers who take great delight in hour-long expositions of theology that leave most of their listeners either brain dead or brain damaged.
The problem isn’t that either one is right at the detriment of the other - or that they’re both right and can’t accept the alternative - but they’re both wrong because the Universal Church is knit together by both love and understanding.
3. Full knowledge
We come now to the conclusion of Paul’s struggles which are continuing even for people who he’s never seen. The outcome of the twin-edged knitting together of both love and understanding (the two previous phrases) is the ‘knowledge of Christ’. Both aspects are exemplified by this knowledge but what does Paul mean by this word for, in the present day understanding of such a phrase, we might well expect that it’s some sort of doctrinal assent which is being promoted.
Colcar (my italics) notes that the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 1922)
‘...has the intensive meaning involved in the prefix [epi] and speaks of knowledge which is much deeper than mere mental grasp’
while Vines notes that it expresses
‘...fuller or full knowledge, a greater participation by the knower in the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him’
To have ‘knowledge of Christ’ is more than academic achievement or something that’s comprehended with the mind - it’s more than a creed or theology or teaching. Rather, it’s a way of life whereby Jesus becomes a part of an individual’s way of living in all situations and circumstances so that who He is and what He does is experienced as a reality.
In Gen 4:1 (my italics), we read that
‘Adam knew Eve his wife’
referring to sexual union (unless, of course, you’re using one of the more modern translations which has obscured the more literal meaning). Adam didn’t just ‘know about’ Eve (mind knowledge) but knew her by experiencing her and by her becoming a part of him (Gen 2:24).
In the same way, Gen 3:5 speaks of knowing good and evil with reference to the tasting of the fruit of the tree that was forbidden - it doesn’t refer to knowing in the mind what’s wrong (which, of course, Adam and Eve already knew for God had taught them - Gen 3:16-17) but to know by the experience of having done that which was wrong. Adam and Eve went on to embrace what was evil and so became joined to it by their action.
Unless knowledge affects the believer’s way of living, it’s worthless and remains just words in the mind - but the more that they gain knowledge of Christ, the more that they’ll become like Him and live like Him when that knowledge becomes experience.
For an explanation of ‘the mystery’ (that is, something which has been revealed to all rather than secret knowledge which is kept from all but the closest of followers) see my previous web page. Not only does the concept of the ‘mystery’ in the NT have content which can be shown to be the message of the Gospel, it’s also the revelation of the Person, Jesus Christ, who’s the sum total of all that the believer needs to know.
There are also a great many variations in the manuscripts at this point which needn’t be gone into. The RSV preserves the generally accepted reading (confirmed by quotations from the early Church writers which are not, of themselves, sufficient proof as many verses got interpreted as they were being cited) by making Jesus the sum total of God’s mystery, something that’s also confirmed elsewhere in the NT as shown on the previously cited web page.
The problem with Paul is that he gets side-tracked too often in his letters. I don’t say that critically, just as an observation. He’s so full with the depths of the Gospel that it only takes a word here or a phrase there to push him off into a different corridor from his original intention.
So, he mentions the Father and gets drawn off from telling the Colossians the content of their prayers into a revelation of the Father’s work (Col 1:12) - and he mentions the Son as being the object of the Father’s work and then gets drawn into a proclamation of the Son’s nature and relevance to the first Creation (Col 1:13ff).
So, too, here. Having mentioned that his struggles have the target of bringing all believers into the knowledge of Jesus Christ, he feels compelled immediately to expand upon the simple statement, observing that it’s in Him that
‘...are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’
another statement which makes Jesus the One who has the sum total of all that the believer might ever need. In passing, we should note that the Greek word employed here and translated ‘treasures’ (Strongs Greek number 2344) is transliterated ‘thesauros’ from where we get our own word ‘thesaurus’. The English word is the correct translation (though, perhaps, ‘store house’ would be a more colourful word) but it’s interesting to note that the statement
‘Jesus Christ is our thesaurus’
is incredibly apt even in the more modern understanding of the word. In Him are all the variations of the truth that a man or woman will ever need to know. If it’s not contained within the boundaries of the covers, you can be assured that it isn’t worth knowing and certainly not worth pursuing. I can’t help but think, though, that the statement may not be fully appreciated by the majority of believers!
Even when the children of Israel had moved through the land and taken large tracts for their own possession, YHWH was still able to say to Joshua (Joshua 13:1) that
‘...there remains yet very much land to be possessed’
and, even though the Scripture records that the land was already lying subdued before them (Joshua 18:1), the Israelite leader can still mildly rebuke them by asking (Joshua 18:3)
‘How long will you be slack to go in and take possession of the land which YHWH, the God of your fathers, has given you?’
Even though God had given the tribes of Israel the land of Canaan, there still remained a great expanse that was, as of that time, unpossessed. It wasn’t as if the land wasn’t available for possession but that they needed to assert themselves to ‘press in’ and conquer it for YHWH, bringing His rule to bear on it.
In like manner, there’s nothing about Jesus Christ that cannot be known, there’s nothing that belongs to Christ that cannot be possessed and nothing of the believer’s inheritance in Christ that cannot be experienced (even if it’s only a foretaste of those things which are yet to come). But, although Jesus has, figuratively speaking, subdued the land that we might taste of His achievements, we so rarely take hold of it and ‘possess our possessions’ (Obadiah 17).
The mystery, which is Christ, that was once concealed throughout the OT until the new, is now freely made known (see here), but the benefits are ‘hidden’ in Him who is revealed - like a mine that gives a rich supply of minerals as first one and then another seam is explored and worked. Colcar speaks of Jesus as being like a mine which has already been opened but
‘...from which by diligent search a constant supply of precious stones may be extracted’
There may be some work involved for the believer to fathom the depths of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, but whatever is in Him is available now that the new has come. This store house is connected with ‘wisdom and knowledge’, a phrase which has caused commentators to speak about various possible meanings. I’ll mention Colcar at this point only, because he seems to confine it’s meaning to something purely cerebral rather than to something which comes about through the believer’s growth in maturity through both love and understanding (Col 2:2). We should note, then, that whatever interpretation we give these words, they shouldn’t be thought of as undermining or negating what’s preceded them.
It’s best, however, to leave it as vague as possible so that the full weight of Paul’s proclamations that Jesus Christ is the ‘all-sufficient One’ might be allowed its full force. Those who see Paul and Timothy’s letter to have originally been put together to counter an error that was infiltrating the church’s ranks see his comment here to be nothing short of the undermining of whatever was being brought to them - and this it may, but we have no sure way of knowing whether this is a correct interpretation or not. Colwright summarises ‘the force of the verse’ as
‘Everything we might want to ask about God and His purposes can and must now be answered...with reference to the crucified and risen Jesus, the Messiah’
and this is the bottom line. What we can say, then, is that the apostle has consistently elevated the Person of Jesus Christ to a position of unequalled authority and of unsurpassable resources (note the ‘all’ which precedes ‘the treasures’ which has the effect of leaving nothing that’s worthwhile to the disciple outside of Jesus) that, unless the reader or listener had switched their mind off, they couldn’t failed to have perceived the insufficiency of anything and everything that was external to the work of the Gospel.
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