Reasons for writing the epistle (2:1-7)

(reasons for writing the epistle)

Now Paul gives the main reasons for writing this epistle: “For I would that ye knew what great conflict (盡心竭力) 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, of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (2:1-3)

Three main reasons for writing the epistle:

  1. “their hearts might be comforted”;
  2. “knit together in love” with other churches;
  3. “full assurance of understanding…of the mystery of God”.

First of all, Paul says he wants to let the Colossians know “what great conflict I have for you” so that “their hearts might be comforted”. Paul is referring to his imprisonment in Rome, and in another Prison Epistle, Philippians (Chapter 1), we are given more information about his affliction. But why can the Colossians be comforted by his affliction? As stated in the verse, his suffering is “for you”, the Colossians. And he has said already in 1:24 that he “now rejoice in my sufferings for you” and “for his body’s sake, which is the church”. In another Prison Epistle, Ephesians, Paul says, “I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.” (E 3:13) So, the reason of writing these 3 Prison Epistles is the same: to comfort them rather than to discourage them in a religiously nervous period.

Laodicea is very close to Colosse both geographically and religiously. Paul asks the Colossians to “salute the brethren which are in Laodicea” on his behalf and charges at end of epistle that “when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea”. (4:15-16) There are several implications from this verse:

1. Paul has also written an epistle to the Laodiceans about the same period;
2. The two churches have very close relationship with one another;
3. Paul wants the church people to comfort and support each other by sharing Paul’s epistles.

Thus is the second reason: “knit together in love”. The churches need each other’s support in the unity of the Spirit during the time of tribulation. “Unity” is emphasized in both Ephesians and Philippians. In E 4:3, Paul beseeches the church as saying, “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. In Phil 2:2, Paul beseeches the church to “fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”. Unity in the love of Christ is the essential element of every church to combat oppression.

Thirdly, the Colossians need to have an extensive knowledge and understanding of Christ’s mystery, as introduced in Chapter 1: “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. (1:27) Since Christ has “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”, the more the Colossians know Christ, the less chance they will be deceived by the cult religions. That’s why in C 2:4, Paul says, “and this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.” Paul expresses the same concern in Ephesians: “let no man deceive you with vain words.” (E 5:6)

The deeper their knowledge of Christ, the more secure their faith against any deceptive saying. This is Paul’s hope and confidence in the Colossians. In C 2:5, Paul says, “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” “Though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit”--Paul uses the same concept in I Corinthians, except that in that epistle, Paul is rebuking the church of a member’s immoral behavior: “For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed (one should have his father’s wife).” (I Cor 5:1,3) On the contrary, Paul is commending the Colossians for their steadfast faith in Christ. In Ephesians, Paul in his final wording urges the church to stand against the wiles of the devil”, “withstand in the evil day”, “stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth”. (E 6:11,13,14)

Paul continues to stress the importance of steadfast faith: “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 (「信心堅固」), as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” (2:6-7) In Ephesians, Paul prays that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” (E 3:17-19) “Rooted” implies the foundation of a plant whereas “grounded” implies the foundation of a building. Our faith is strengthened and established in the love of Christ. To increase our knowledge of Christ is to increase our understanding of his unconditional love. Our faith is then “built up” by acting out his love among each other in church. Our faith not only needs to have a good foundation but also needs to grow up. A heart always filled with thanksgiving demonstrates a mature spiritual life with strong faith.