The Apostolic Labor of Love
A Study of Colossians 2:1–3
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and 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. (Colossians 2:1-3)
Now Paul begins to discuss the work that he labored fervently for throughout his ministry. The one thing that he does let the saints know, is that it is a great conflict “for you”, and for as many as had not seen his face in the flesh. This term “conflict” is the same word translated “race” in Hebrews 12:1. The Greek word is ἀγῶνα—agōna, which is related to our English word agony. It is a daunting task that he is undertaking, but it was an undertaking for the saints, because the Apostle has great love for his Lord, and for those that the Lord calls His own.
But what is this great conflict that he has for them? The thought is often that he is praying much for them from his place in prison for the saints, but it seems to me that this is superimposed on the text. While there is no doubt that Paul was praying for these saints without ceasing, this text is explaining something else. Much of it is discussing the “why” of this epistle. He is laboring diligently for them “that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God…”. The “agony”, is the blood, sweat, and tears that he is pouring into this letter. He is pouring his heart into this effort so that the saints would stand in correct doctrine.
The goal that Paul puts forward is for strong hearts. This term comforted is best understood as encouraged and moved on. Strengthened or helped is a great way to understand it, or even established, with help. See the definition and etymology for the English word “comfort”.
OriginMiddle English (as a noun, in the senses ‘strengthening, support, consolation’; as a verb, in the senses ‘strengthen, give support, console’): from Old French confort (noun), conforter (verb), from late Latin confortare ‘strengthen,’ from com- (expressing intensive force) + Latin fortis ‘strong.’ The sense ‘something producing physical ease’ arose in the mid 17th century.²
From this definition, when thinking of being comforted, it would be better to think of a “fort”, or being “fortified” than thinking of a pillow. Further, the Greek word, παρακαλέω —parakaléō—is very much the same as that used of “an advocate”, as in 1 John 2:1, and that the Lord uses of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7. This is used of the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter”, which, according to the Scofield Reference Bible is defined like this:
Gr. Parakletos, “one called alongside to help.” Translated “advocate,” 1 John 2:1 . Christ is the believer’s Paraclete with the Father when he sins; the Holy Spirit the believer’s indwelling Paraclete to help his ignorance and infirmity and to make intercession Romans 8:26 Romans 8:27.³
Notice that the next thing that the apostle say after the thought of being comforted is that the hearts of the saints would be “knit together in love”. This is part of the “comforting”, for fibers that are knit together are much stronger than the sum of the fibers on their own. And how could they be knit together in love, if they are not confident in their doctrine and not all speaking the same thing? The short answer is that they would not be, and that is the basic problem with the visible assemblies on earth to this day. Now, far from a call to “ecumenical unity”, this is a call to follow correct doctrine and practice, and allow “no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). Defective fibers that are knit together will never make anything but a defective product.
They are also being called “unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ”, because this is the most important component to being built up in the faith. If we do not know our God and know His word, His call, His workings, and His desires, how can we in any way be strengthened or enriched by any other knowledge? Our confidence in our God is surely, or at least should surely be increased as we increase in the knowledge of His Word. Our confidence in the knowledge of His Word must entirely rest on what He has said and what could be said that “it is written”. If our confidence is in religion, tradition, worldly knowledge, philosophy, psychology, or anything other than the Word of God as written, we are not standing on ground that we can put our confidence in.
Then we must look at something often overlooked: It is acknowledgement of the mystery of God. This mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ must be understood by its context as that which was spoken of in a few previous verses:
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the MYSTERY which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the GLORY OF THIS MYSTERY among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory… (Colossians 1:25-27)
So let us look at what this mystery is according to the previous verses, coupled with these. Paul was given a dispensation to fulfill the word of God. He next defines what he was fulfilling in the word of God as the “mystery hid from ages and generations, but now made manifest to His saints”. This mystery is now completely revealed in the Scriptures, and the Apostle Paul was given the task to reveal it. It is God’s prerogative to keep things secret until He decides to reveal them. As Moses told the children of Israel:
The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)
As it was revealed to the children of Israel the words of the Law which they were to keep, so it is revealed to us the “riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7), and the glory of our position in Christ, “in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. It is Christ Who is the wisdom of God:
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10)
Not only is it Christ as the Wisdom of God, but also as Paul stated earlier in the first chapter,
And He is the Head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)
This is the position of Christ AS REJECTED BY MEN, yet in full glory as the Head of the body, and reconciling Jews and Gentiles into one body without distinction by the cross. That Jews and Gentiles would be members of the same Body without distinction is a mystery only revealed in Paul’s epistles.
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power. (Ephesians 3:1-7)
Some would argue that since it is “now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets”, that all of the apostles were preaching the same message throughout their ministry. That is simply not the case. It certainly is now revealed, but it was not revealed when the Kingdom and the “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21) were being preached. How anyone can claim “no difference” between that which was “spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” and that which was “kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25) is beyond me. It is not a problem affecting the gospel of Jesus Christ in any way to say that the gospel and the mystery revealed to Paul is different than the gospel of the Kingdom which has been postponed because of Israel’s unbelief. It is only a problem for Covenant theology. God has every right to keep things secret, and to reveal them when He decides to do so.
It is also that it is in the mystery revealed to Paul, and we learn it from Paul, what is the current place of the Nation of Israel and its future:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. … For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto Him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:25, 32-36)
It is the ignorance of this mystery that has caused so many errors regarding who and what we as the body are now as compared to Israel, and has created the doctrines that state that “God has cast away His people which He foreknew”. The “Christian religion” has historically ignored a very important, Spirit inspired fact:
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office… (Romans 11:13)
God’s promises to Israel will indeed be fulfilled, as they are written, but now we are to understand and acknowledge what God is now doing in Christ. The apostle of the Gentiles labored fervently to the end that we all (believers, saints) would acknowledge the mystery. It interpenetrates all of Paul’s epistles, and he calls it on more than one occasion “my gospel”. It was given to him to make known, and now that it is made known, we are quite foolish to stay in ignorance of what God has made known.
Perhaps, as you read, you want to not be ignorant, but do not know where to start. First you must be saved—saved from your sins, and this is simply by taking God at His word and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31) and His death for your sins and His resurrection for our justification (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 4:25). Then, after you are saved, God sees you—even identifies you—as having died with Christ, having been buried with Christ, and having risen with Christ. Even more, you are now, since believing, seated with Christ in the heavenlies by position (Ephesians 2:6). When you believe that gospel, you are then saved and justified, sealed by the Holy spirit, and seated in the heavenlies. So when you believe, you are in Christ. So now that you are in Christ, and I hope you are, study His word consistently, paying special attention to that which is written to you and about you. As a full member of the Body of Christ, His word to you is found in Paul’s epistles. Read them. Know them. They are inexhaustible, and contain the unsearchable riches of Christ!
- Google definition and etymology
- Scofield, C. I., et al, (1945). The Scofield Reference Bible. New York: Oxford University Press. 1136
Charles Miller View All
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.
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