The first century world, like today, challenged Christians morally, doctrinally, and practically. The gospel barely had opportunity to reach people before false teachers, Satan’s lackeys, began sowing doubt and distrust through whatever means available. The Colossians’ doctrinal confusion over the deity of Christ, their relationship to the Mosaical law, and their susceptibility to philosophical sophistry proved this truth all too well. However, Paul confronted these issues forthrightly while making his motives and aims clear to all.
Despite not having personally met the recipients of this epistle, Paul assured them that he was doing all he could to help them, protect them, and stand together with them: “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh” (Col. 2:1). Paul wrote, in part, to explain how—despite the distance between them and not knowing one another personally—he still cared deeply for them, enough to engage the spiritual opposition that plagued them. Thus, through the truth of the gospel, Paul created an intimate tie despite not knowing these brethren individually in order to encourage spiritual unity, growth, and preparedness as they confronted spiritual adversaries (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:14-15).
Paul wanted these brethren to see his own commitment to them so that they might feel and find that same unity with one another. He continued: “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” (Col. 2:2a). Spiritual growth begins with seeing yourself from another’s perspective, a key component of the word translated “encouraged” here. More than that, the required perspective depends on the heart—a term more than just a synonym for mind and more than simply the emotional center of man. It describes an openness that allows us to be affected. Instead of shutting ourselves off from one another, we should welcome the opportunity to draw closer—to the point that we are joined together in true unity by means of love. This agape love reaches out to make a relationship possible through the exercise of character rather than some similarity of background or interest (cf. Rom. 5:8). This is how we build church unity: one relationship at a time rooted in love.
Paul wanted more than peaceful coexistence among God’s people; he fought for a unity rooted in and made stronger by truth, pointing the Colossians “to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2b-3). The apostle emphasized that the unity available in the church must encourage growth in spiritual knowledge if that unity is to mature and be meaningful. True spiritual wealth is the confidence we can have when our understanding of the gospel deepens and when we learn more and more about what God has revealed (1 Pet. 2:2; Rom. 1:16-17), and this, in turn, is designed to grow our understanding of God. Only by appreciating all that God has done in Christ and by working to comprehend how He has done it can we unlock the fountain of information available in the gospel and in Christianity.
Having encouraged their unity and growth, Paul still feared the Colossians’ vulnerability to the onslaught of opposition they faced through a combination of Judaizing teaching and philosophical musing. Thus, he explained that his work, their unity, and their growth were all essential to prepare them to reject the “pithy analogies” of those offering some alternative to the reason of the gospel, writing, “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (Col. 2:4). Unity, spiritual growth, and biblical admonition are therefore essential in preparing God’s people to face the tricky untruths of Satan’s minions.
Paul had never met these Christians, but he was fighting for them daily. They needed to know that. In fact, this alone likely served as valuable motivation for congregations without the privilege of an apostle’s personal preaching. In this Paul expressed the transcendent nature of spiritual unity: “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5). Paul did not have to be physically present in Colossae to enjoy unity with the Colossians. Establishing spiritual order and solid faith that was fully committed to Christ was sufficient for these Christians to enjoy unity with him just as it is enough for those of us separated from him by both distance and time. Paul’s struggle then makes our unity possible now, which is why we should give our hearts to the cause today as much as he did. If we do, we will be knit together with a bond that no one can break.