Paul makes his struggle – what he referred to in 1:29 – very personal for the Colossians. He struggles on their behalf that they may realize the full riches of what it means to know Christ. He encourages them with the love and assurance that are theirs in the Savior. In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and Paul longs for the Colossians to know this and not be drawn away to something that could never measure up to all they have in Christ alone.
Paul just told them that he strives according to God’s power which mightily works within him. That was in the context of proclaiming the gospel and wanting to present every man complete in Christ. Now he tells the Colossians he strives for them personally. He struggles on their behalf and on behalf of those in Laodicea (a larger city roughly 12 miles away where the church may have been started by Epaphras also, along with a third city – Hierapolis – that Paul mentions later in the letter (4:13) – all three cities appear to go together as part of Epaphras’ ministry). He struggles for the two cities even though he has not personally ministered to anyone there (all those who have not personally seen my face refers to the residents of the two cities – the context does not justify including future readers of his epistles).
Verse 2 explains what he struggles for. He strives to present every man complete in Christ. This verse seems to define what that means. The one who is complete in Christ is knit together in love with others who are in Christ. They understand the love of God poured out on them through the gospel, and share that love with others. The love they share with fellow believers knits them together because the love is from God. Since it is not their own it is in common with others. They love because of God, and in that love they unify with others who share God’s love. We ultimately share what is not our own.
The ones complete in Christ are not only united in love, they are united in truth. They understand that all truth and all wisdom are found in Christ. Nothing else is necessary for wisdom and understanding. They know the gospel and understand the privilege of knowing it. And ultimately they center their lives around knowing Christ – having a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.
The one complete in Christ is thus looking for nothing other THAN Christ. Complete in Christ means wholly committed to Him and fully assured in Him and solely focused on Him. Complete in Christ includes spiritual maturity (growing instead of falling away) but also single-mindedness. The one growing in his knowledge of Christ is not looking for something in addition to Him, because he longs for the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding Christ.
Verse 3 completes the thought. The man complete in Christ does not look elsewhere because he knows that ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. There is nowhere else to search and no one else to follow. There is nothing outside of Christ necessary to please God or necessary for wisdom and understanding. We do not search outside of Christ for knowledge, we strive after Christ to increase in our knowledge of HIM. To know Christ is the ultimate goal because nothing else is as worthy of knowing.
This is why the man complete in Christ is the opposite of the double-minded man of James 1. And this is why Paul is so careful to warn the Colossians away from adding anything to Christ’s gospel. There is nothing supreme over Christ and there is nothing worth knowing more than Christ. And there is nothing else in this world that can ultimately satisfy us like Christ. He is all we need for life and godliness (II Pet 1:3). The Christian has the hope of the gospel laid up for him in heaven, but he also has Christ now in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Think about the phrase all the treasures. All the value of understanding anything is in Christ. All the wonderment or awe or pleasure or satisfaction of finding something or experiencing something or knowing something is in HIM. ALL THE TREASURES! Not some or part or a few – ALL. Whatever we experience or understand in this life only has meaning to the extent it is experienced or understood in Christ. That is why God grieves when we choose sin. That is why the Spirit in us groans in prayer. Because God knows what He has for us and knows what we pass up when we foolishly choose anything other than the Savior. It is why one who walks by the Spirit does not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
So verses 2 and 3 are about both privilege and responsibility. We have the privilege of the gospel and the wealth that comes from understanding it. The believer no longer searches. We do not have to strive after satisfaction or meaning. We do not live wondering what the purpose of our living is. We do not have to wander aimlessly because there is no other alternative. We have the answer and we know the true meaning of life and we know the source of all wisdom. We have peace because all things have been settled. In one sense, we have all the answers. Not that we understand everything and are omniscient – but we know who does and is, and we know the One who gives all things meaning and why there is a reason to get up in the morning.
This is why, by the way, Paul says he wants to encourage the Colossians with this thought (first statement of verse 2). They are unified in love and have all the answers. They know Christ. There is no better encouragement than that.
However, there is also responsibility. If the Christian knows that in Christ is everything that gives life meaning and that there is nothing outside of Him worth pursuing – why does he still become tempted and waylaid by the shiny things of the world? If we know what it means to spend a day at the beach, why do we so often become enamored with the mud puddle? We have a responsibility to train our minds to pursue Christ. We must discipline ourselves to live in the Spirit so we look upward instead of inward, and have eyes full of Christ instead of the world. This is especially so for the western Christian in the 21st century who has access to all the world’s fruits.
So do my actions and priorities show that I believe the encouragement which Paul has for me in these verses? Does my life truly show that I am planted in the gospel and united with other believers in pursuing Christ, and that I truly believe that in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Do I really choose Him over comfort, status, sex, money, security, job, family, and – worth stating twice – comfort?
Every day when I get up I am faced with a choice – the world, or all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ. In writing it looks like an easy choice and that only a fool would choose anything other than all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And in fact that is the case. But in day-to-day living and through the eyes of an unrenewed mind it is not so clear. It is easy to choose the rewards of the world and think we are doing ourselves a favor by wallowing in the mud rather than laying on the beach.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – CS Lewis
Paul explains his purpose in reminding the Colossians of all they have in Christ. He is worried about them being drawn away by a false theology. If ALL the treasures are in Christ, then there is nothing else that any other teaching can offer them. The false teachers have told them that the gospel is not enough, so Paul encourages them with all they have in it. The gospel is everything and Christ is everything – so the false teachers lie by offering more. There is no more.
He ends by acknowledging that he is not with them in Colossae. He not only has not met them, he is not coming to them anytime soon because he is imprisoned in Rome. However, he is with them in spirit – he is one of the ones united with them in love. And he rejoices to hear of their good discipline and the stability of [their] faith in Christ. He loves where they are in their walk and wants to make sure they stay there and are not drawn away.
Notice that good discipline is included with stability of faith. This goes along with Paul’s words about striving in God’s power which mightily works within him (1:29). We are responsible to strive after God and pursue Him above all things – but to do it in His mighty power according to His glorious might (1:11). It is both/and. We work hard but not alone. We work hard but in His strength. And every day we make a million choices about where we find the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.