Date: February 3, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Scripture: Colossians 2:1–2:5
Our passage this morning is both similar and surprising. You may have noticed as we read, but there’s not a whole lot that is new in vv1-5, is there? In fact, you could say v3, which is the heart of the passage, is essentially a summary of all Paul has taught so far. Who is Jesus Christ? V3, he is the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” If knowing God is a priceless treasure, then Christ is the chest in which that treasure is contained. It’s striking how Paul is repeatedly coming back to this theme. Do you need spiritual wisdom to navigate life in God’s world? Then look to Christ who is the very wisdom of God. Do you seek to know the deep things of God? Then go to Christ, who reveals God in such a way that the Holy One of Heaven, who dwells in unapproachable light, becomes the Father of those who trust in Jesus Christ. Do you long for your life with God to be richer, fuller, and deeper? Then labor to know Christ, whose glory is like a well of crystal clear water that never runs dry and always satisfies the soul! All of those statements are profound. They’re glorious even. Yet in the context of Colossians, they’re not new. Paul has spent the entire first chapter proclaiming these wonderful truths. V3 is a summary, even a highpoint, of all that Paul has said, and that makes this passage very similar to what we’ve seen so far.
And yet, in the midst of this similarity, there is something surprising. It’s here, all the way in chapter 2, that Paul finally addresses the problem in Colossae. Notice again v4 – “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” That’s the first hint we have that there is something troubling this church. There are enemies of the gospel seeking to deceive the Colossians. Now, for such a serious problem, you would think Paul would have opened the letter with this warning. But that’s not what we’ve seen, is it? Instead, Paul began the letter with what? With doctrine – with the riches of Jesus Christ – how he is supreme and glorious and therefore sufficient for his people. It’s only now, after an entire chapter of teaching, that Paul finally addresses the problem, and that delay, we might say, is somewhat surprising.
But it’s here, at the intersection of similar and surprising that we find Paul’s point for this passage. According to Paul, what is of utmost importance for the life of the church is the knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is where God’s Word challenges us a bit this morning. When we think of the knowledge of Christ, we tend to think of mere propositional statements. We tend to reduce doctrine to facts that can be listed out in neat, logical order. And don’t get me wrong – doctrine is propositional. There are facts that constitute the knowledge of Christ. But for Paul, the knowledge of Christ is never merely propositional. It’s never merely facts. For Paul, the knowledge of Christ is active, it is life-giving, it is doing something in the gathering of God’s people. That’s why Paul began with doctrine and waited until chapter 2 to warn about false teachers. It’s not that Paul is unconcerned; it’s that Paul is utterly convinced the knowledge of Christ is sufficient to mature and protect those who believe.
Again, brothers and sisters, I know that we’ve seen much of this already in our study, but there is a challenge to us in this text that we must not overlook. The church in our day is constantly besieged with messages that claim some new spiritual insight or technique. You’ve got to learn this new way to meditate – it will really unlock your prayer life! You’ve got to go deeper in understanding yourself – it will finally lead to spiritual growth! You’ve got to read this book or listen to this talk or fill in the blank. And while I’m certainly not saying those messages are necessarily coming from false teachers, I am saying that if we’re not careful, the effect will be the same. The effect will be that our search for what’s new will slowly leads us away from what’s necessary – a whole-hearted dependence on knowing Jesus Christ. That’s the challenge, friends – do we believe, with the apostle Paul, that all we need for life and godliness is found in the gospel of Christ? Or do we assume, even unthinkingly, that we’re missing out, that there is something we need to add?
If you look now at the details of the passage, you’ll notice that v3 is truly the heart of this passage. The text has a wonderful symmetry that highlights the glory of Christ. Notice it with me. V1 and v5 both deal with Paul’s relationship to the Colossians, v2 and v4 describe Paul’s purpose in writing, and that leaves v3 at the center of the text. And what’s there in v3? The glory of Christ, the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. That’s the key, friends. The knowledge of Christ is the center of the Christian life. More specifically, Paul gives us four effects or four ways the knowledge of Christ works in the life of God’s people. Let’s look at each one more closely together.
The knowledge of Christ encourages our hearts
The first effect is found in v2 – the knowledge of Christ encourages our hearts. Again, we notice some similarity between our passage and what we studied last week. You may remember that chapter 1 ended with Paul describing his struggle in the ministry of the gospel – v29 of ch1. Paul toiled to see people reach maturity in Christ. As chapter 2 begins, Paul specifies that his struggle in ministry is for the Colossians’ sake. Notice again v1 – “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face.” It’s true that Paul has not met the Colossians, but that doesn’t change his relationship toward them. He ministers on their behalf. He struggles for them in prayer, and he labors now in writing this letter. And Paul does this for the Laodiceans too, who lived just a few miles from Colossae, as well as all those whom Paul hasn’t seen.
While we tend to think of Paul as a trailblazing missionary, he was really a pastor at heart. His concern was for the spiritual well being of Christ’s people. This helps us read Paul’s letters in the right way. Yes, Paul wants to correct and confront the false teachers, but his primary concern is not to argue over doctrine. Paul’s primary aim is caring for Christ’s people. He doesn’t argue and debate for argument’s sake. No, Paul argues and debates for people’s sake. Paul’s eye is always on the spiritual health of specific Christians. Let this remind us that the true purpose of doctrine, even doctrinal debate, is always to care for fellow believers, to the glory of God. That’s the reason we’re called to contend for the truth. It’s not because we want to be right or prove people wrong. It’s because, like Paul, we care about people’s souls. Paul struggles for these believers because he is a pastor at heart.
Then in v2, Paul gives us the purpose of his struggle. Why does he labor for their sake? Notice what he says, v2 – “that their hearts may be encouraged.” Encouragement, then, is the purpose of Paul’s struggle. Now, we need to understand that when Paul speaks of encouraging their hearts, he’s not simply talking about the emotional state of the Colossians. That’s how we tend to define the heart – as the place of our feelings or emotions. But in the Bible, the heart is much more than our feelings. The heart is the command center of life. The heart is the seat of personality. What we desire, how we think, how we act – all of that, according to Scripture, is connected to the heart. When Paul says his purpose is to encourage their hearts, he means much more than making them feel better. His aim is to strengthen them at the deepest part of their person.
Now, the question, of course, is where will this encouragement come from? What could possibly strengthen a person at this deep, personal heart level? The answer is what stands at the center of this passage – v3, the truth that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The answer is what Paul has spent the entire first chapter proclaiming – the unsurpassed glory and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Listen, Paul knows these believers are troubled. They’ve got these false teachers telling them they don’t measure up, that they’re going to miss out on salvation. Let’s not minimize that, friends. Imagine someone with apparent authority saying that you don’t really know God. Imagine someone insisting you lack what you need for spiritual life. That would be a powerful source of discouragement, not to mention fear and uncertainty and a whole other host of trouble.
But that is why Paul’s strategy is so brilliantly simple. He knows that at the end of the day, the only antidote to such powerful discouragement is the heart-strengthening truth that Christ dwells in his people by faith. The false teachers say, “You don’t really know God,” so Paul responds, “But Christ, who is the fullness of God, dwells in you by faith.” The false teachers say, “You need to do these others things to be saved,” so Paul responds, “But in Christ, we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.” That’s why Paul keeps coming back to this central gospel truth – because he knows the only remedy to error is truth, and specifically, the life-giving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Again and again and again, Paul gives them Jesus Christ.
If you’re discouraged today, brothers and sisters – if you heart is heavy with trouble and concern, I pray you would you take strength from the good news here in Colossians 2. Jesus Christ – the One whose name you claim in faith – Jesus Christ is enough to sustain your faith. His wisdom is enough to guide you in whatever you face. His knowledge is enough to protect you from delusion. His grace is enough to cover your sin. His mercy is enough to meet today’s trouble. His compassion is enough to weep with you in sorrow. His righteousness is enough to make you acceptable before God. His faithfulness is enough to meet your unfaithfulness. His strength is more than your weakness. His sovereignty is enough to hold life together. His patience is enough to bear with you in prayer again and again. And his glory is enough to satisfy your soul. By all means, I don’t intend to sound trite – but look to him, brothers and sisters. Go to God’s Word and read of Jesus’ life and glory. Go to the Scriptures and hear again how at the cross Christ bore all of God’s wrath for all the sin of God’s people. And if you’re discouragement is so deep that you can’t see those things in his Word, then go to a fellow believer and say, “Would you help me see what I just can’t see right now?” Often our discouragement is because we’ve lost sight of who Christ is and what he has accomplished at the cross. Go to the gospel, brothers and sisters, and as Paul says here in Colossians 2, let the knowledge of Christ encourage your hearts.
The knowledge of Christ strengthens our unity
Along with encouragement, Paul also tells us in v2 that the knowledge of Christ strengthens our unity. Notice the next phrase, v2 – “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love.” Now, the Colossians already enjoy unity in their church. Remember in ch1, where Paul thanked God for the Colossians’ faith in Christ Jesus and the love that they have for all the saints. What Paul has in mind here in chapter 2 is a strengthening of that unity. As we’ll see later in the chapter, whatever the false teachers were advocating, it was divisive. In fact, their ideas seemed to have an elitist attitude. Look down, just briefly, at v16. Paul says, “Let no one pass judgment on you.” That’s a call to resist disunity, divisiveness.
And look, it’s not hard to imagine how this worked. The false teachers claimed their practices were spiritually superior to those who didn’t follow them. And that claim of superiority, if not addressed, would then slowly tear the church apart. You would end up with factions – those who had attained a superior level, and those who remained less than spiritual. Again, we don’t have all the details as to how this was playing out, but it’s not hard to put the pieces together. And that, it seems, is why Paul mentions unity. He knows where this could go.
Even so, we still have to ask – how does the knowledge of Christ strengthen unity? It’s one thing to say that the knowledge of Christ equips me, as an individual, for life with God. I can see how it has personal application to me. But how does the knowledge of Christ strengthen unity in a church body?
It’s because the sufficiency of Christ destroys the roots of divisiveness. Remember, visible disunity in a church is only a fruit. It’s not actually the root problem. The root problem is much deeper. Its things like manipulation, rivalry, envy, comparison, contention. If the ugly fruit of disunity is on display in a church, then you can be sure that those things are at the root.
But the sufficiency of Christ is God’s sharp spade that can dig out those roots. Think about it. The sufficiency of Christ kills manipulation. When I know that I have all I need in Christ, I don’t need to use people to get what I want. I have Christ, and therefore, I lack nothing. The sufficiency of Christ kills comparison. When I know I am complete in Christ, I don’t have to compare myself with you or compete with you for position in the church. The sufficiency of Christ also kills envy. When I believe that Christ dwells in each one of us by faith, I don’t have to be jealous over what you have. We both have Christ in full measure! What reason is there to be envious? Do you see it, friends? It’s that sharp spade of gospel truth that is able to dig out those ugly roots that so often divide.
But here’s the most amazing part, friends. The knowledge of Christ not only digs out, but it also plants something new in the soil of my heart. The gospel plants a love for others that produces unity. When I understand who Christ is and how he provides all that I need for life – when I embrace that truth, then I am free to do the most Christ-like thing I could ever do – love you and put your interest ahead of my own. Instead of using you, I serve you. Instead of comparing myself to you, I encourage you. Instead of envying you, I minister to you, believing that your joy is my joy, your sorrow is my sorrow, your gifts are for my good, and my gifts are for yours. Where does that kind of love come from? It comes from the knowledge of Christ. That kind of love is a fruit of the gospel.
Nothing is more practically helpful for life and godliness than believing what is true about Jesus Christ. Show me a church that is wrecked with strife and division, and I’ll show you a church whose view of the gospel is too low. The knowledge of Christ strengthens our unity, for it binds our hearts together in the love of the Lord Jesus.
The knowledge of Christ fortifies our minds
The third effect again comes from v2 – the knowledge of Christ fortifies our minds. Notice now the final lines of the verse – “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” Now, we know from v4 that Paul is concerned the Colossians not be deluded or deceived. The false teachers have plausible arguments, Paul says. That means they sound persuasive. This is important, friends. Error doesn’t necessarily look dangerous. It often looks plausible. It often sounds persuasive. Just think about the very first instance of false doctrine in the Bible – the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent’s argument sounded good. It sounded like life. He didn’t slither up to Adam and Even and say, “Hey, you should eat this fruit because it will ruin your life, bring spiritual death, and plunge the entire human race into misery.” No, he said, “You’ll be like God because you’ll finally have the knowledge God has.” It sounded reasonable. It sounded persuasive. And so it continues to this day. From the Colossians down to us, Paul warns against these plausible arguments.
But here in v2, Paul gives us the provision against such arguments, and that provision is the full assurance of understanding. Note that word understanding, friends. We said this earlier about encouragement, but it bears repeating here. Paul is not simply concerned with how the Colossians feel. He’s not solely trying to comfort their emotions. No, Paul wants to fortify their minds. He aims to strengthen their understanding, so that they will think rightly about the things of God.
Specifically, Paul wants the Colossians to have full assurance. The idea here is certainty or conviction, and it comes from knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. When those plausible arguments attempt to creep in, the Colossians can say with certainty that they already understand the mystery of God’s will. They can say with conviction that they already know the One, True, and Living God. Why can they have that certainty? Because they know Jesus Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The knowledge of Christ is active, and it fortifies the minds of believers. It gives us the assurance we need to stand against plausible, persuasive arguments.
Brothers and sisters, we need to recognize that these kinds of plausible arguments are not limited to the first century. They aren’t limited to the Colossian church. We live in a world today that is full of plausible-sounding, persuasive ideas. And those ideas are not neutral. There is, actually, no neutrality when it comes to ideas and human thinking. Ideas have consequences; ideas lead somewhere. And as Paul warned his disciple Timothy, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching…but will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” That time is now. It’s been here since the birth of the church, and it will be with us until the return of Christ.
And that is why it is so vital that we know the truth of Jesus Christ, that we know the Scriptures, that we know what we believe and teach as a church. But here’s the key, friends. It’s not enough to just know it or hear it once. We have to keep knowing it, keep studying it, keep pursuing the truth of God’s Word. As Christians, our reflex should be that when we hear something, we ask ourselves, “What does Scripture say about that idea? How does this fit with the truth of God’s Word?” Now, I’m not saying that literally every topic is covered in the Bible. But I am saying that God’s Word is sufficient for life and godliness.
This full assurance of understanding – do you know where it leads? This is important. It doesn’t lead to superiority or smugness. No, it leads to humility and faithfulness. It leads to maturity in Christ. It leads to love for neighbor and obedience to God’s Word. It leads to being salt and light in the midst of a dark world. It’s not just about being right. It’s about being faithful. That’s why we seek to grow in the knowledge of Christ – so that our minds are fortified with conviction that overflows in humble faithfulness.
The knowledge of Christ confirms our faith
Encouragement, unity, assurance – the final effect comes in v5, where Paul says the knowledge of Christ confirms our faith. Notice again what Paul writes, v5 – “For though I am absent in the body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” Paul has never visited Colossae, but he stands with the Colossians in the fight of faith. He prays for them, he writes to them, he sends co-workers to them – he’s with them in spirit.
And through that partnership, Paul has been encouraged to see their firmness of faith. This is a key point. The Colossians have not turned from the gospel. Yes, the false teachers are a threat, and yes, the Colossians may be growing weary in the struggle, but they are standing firm. As one commentator has said, Paul’s letter is not an antibiotic but a vaccination. He writes to give them a dose of truth that will help them carry on in the fight. And so, Paul is encouraged by what he has heard so far. The Colossians are standing firm, and here in v5, Paul commends them for doing so.
And yet, at the same time, Paul’s commendation is also an exhortation. Notice in v5 how Paul clearly highlights the centrality of Christ. He rejoices to see the firmness of their faith in Christ. That little phrase in Christ is not a throwaway statement! It’s actually the key! What’s remarkable about the Colossians is not their faith per se, but the object of their faith – the Lord Jesus Christ. Why have the Colossians stood firm so far? Because they have remained rooted in Christ. They have held fast to the Lord.
This is one of the paradoxes of faith. While we trust in Christ, it is actually Christ who holds us firm in that faith. Christ is the anchor that gives faith its firmness. The more I see him and know him and trust him, the deeper my faith becomes. The stronger my faith grows. Am I the one trusting in Christ? Yes, to be sure, I am hoping in him! But am I the one anchoring my faith? No, it’s actually Christ himself, held out to me in the gospel. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again here in this passage. Faith takes its strength not from itself, but from the One in whom it trusts. Faith takes it strength from its Object.
Please catch what that means, friends. Being strong in faith is not something that wells up from inside of us. It’s something that comes from knowing and beholding the Lord Jesus Christ. A Christian with strong faith is a Christian who deeply knows the Lord Jesus Christ. And that means on those days when faith is weak, what do you need to do? Go to the Scriptures and read of Jesus Christ. You can’t make your faith stronger by yourself. You’ve got to go to the Anchor and have him hold you firm to the end.
Brothers and sisters, I pray this is a final encouragement for us today. I’ve really only had one application this entire sermon, and I’ll repeat it again here at the end. The Lord Jesus Christ is a solid foundation for your faith and trust. He is the unmoving, unchanging, ever-present assurance that God has redeemed his people from sin and death and hell. All the treasures of God are found in Christ, and if you belong to Christ today, then he dwells in you! God has given you all his riches in Jesus Christ. Those who belong to Christ lack nothing before the Father. Those who belong to Christ lack nothing for life in God’s world. Those who belong to Christ can stand firm against the plausible schemes of this world, and against the deceitful accusations of the evil one. Look to Christ, brothers and sisters, and find that his gospel is enough – more than enough – to confirm you in your faith.
I know we’re in Colossians, but it seems to me that Paul’s words from chapter 11 of his epistle to the Romans are a fitting way to conclude. The language, in fact, is the same. Paul says, “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!” Indeed, God’s ways are unfathomably rich, and those riches have been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. To be him be the glory forever and ever, Amen.