Colossians 2: Love and Insight
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Paul wants them to know . . .
So this chapter begins with Paul wanting them to know about his struggles on their behalf. That is why he went into all that stuff Mark discussed last week . . .
So their hearts may be encouraged. Paul is thinking of his audience now, and he is thinking, “I want them to be encouraged by these stories.” That is why he is writing this letter. He wants them to be encouraged.
And, he says something else he wants. He wants them to be “knit together in love.” This is simply a metaphor for the way he would like to see this community of Christians behave. Paul is sitting back and thinking of the church at Colossae. He is thinking of the church at Laodocea. And he is thinking, “Yea, I’d like to see those guys living like a church should, knit together in love.” That’s the picture he has in mind as he is writing this letter.
Love = Discernment
Now, when I say that Paul wants the Colossians to be united together in love, that’s certainly not surprising. Haven’t we made that point here before? Yes, I think so.
But what comes next is kind of interesting. Look at what he says love can do. In the NASB they translate, “and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding.”
NASB vs. NIV
But, as usual, the translators of the NASB have followed their translation theory to the point of obscurity. If you don’t know the translation theory of the various translations, let me tell you about it. The NASB translators worked on the belief that the most literal translation of the words, and a one-to-one corespondence with the original syntax would produce the most accurate translation. So, in other words, when they came to an idiom or complicated syntax, instead of smoothing it over, they left that to you.
Well, there are some advantages of that theory. It is easier to study the words and their usage from the NASB. But the disadvantage is that it obscures the real meaning of the original sometimes by rendering an unneccearily complex translation. And this is one of those cases.
Example: What connection is there between these disjointed phrases? “that their hearts may be encouraged . . . and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance . . .” I’m going to bet that darn few people would be able to read over that and explain what Paul meant. It’s just too awkward!
And that’s why it is that you will want to consult more than one translation of a passage like this one . . .
Here’s how the NIV translates verse 2:
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.
You see, the goal of these translators was clarity first. So, at times they may take more liberty with the text than the NASB translators. But often they will be more clear.
This is why it is that if you want to really study a passage, then you will read more than one translation. Don’t necessarily lean on one translation for your understanding. Compare them.
Love gives rise to knowledge
But let’s get to the point. The point Paul is making here is that, somehow, being knit together in love will give rise to what he calls here the “full riches of complete understanding.”
Let me re-phrase the idea. He is saying that somehow loving one another gives you insight and discernment. Hmm, I wonder how this is?
This, by the way, is not an unusual idea for Paul. He says the same thing in another book. In Philippians 1:9, 10 Paul says . . .
If you think this is an interesting idea, that love somehow is connected to knowledge, then I agree. Let me give you a couple ways this is true.
Because Christian love is cognitive
For one, Christian love involves knowledge. There is a cognitive aspect to Christian love.
Example: John talks about this in I John 3:18, where he says that we musn’t love in words only, but in deeds and in truth. In other words, as I think we all know very well, saying “I love you” means nothing, if it’s divorced from loving action. There has to be some weight behind those words.
And, he also adds that love needs to consist of truth. That is to say, there are certain things that are love and certain things that aren’t. And the truth, God’s truth, discriminates between them. Love has be carried on within the confines of knowledge.
Or, to say it more positively, knowledge gives us insight into how we can love.
Example: Tell me if this isn’t a common dilemma. You see something someone is doing, and you think, “That’s not right. I wonder if I should mention it?” And you’re puzzled because you really want to know if this is your own gripe, whether you’re just being petty, or whether it would really be the loving thing to do to bring this up to the person.
I know for some of us, just the idea of thinking about it before we speak up would be a major accomplishment.
But that is part of love, being knowledgable about what is good for people. When you love someone you want what is best for them. But what is best for them? What is good for them? Isn’t that the debate? Isn’t that what we all have differing opinions on?
So, we need God’s truth on the matter. And I think that one who intends to get into loving others will become knowledgable. The intention to love others demands that we know what is good for them. That means growing in knowledge.
Because love balances knowledge
But I think love gives rise to knowledge in a different way. And this may have been more crucial in the case of the Colossians. Love tempers, balances and corrects knowledge.
Real love of other human beings puts all your theories to the test. A lifestyle of love is the greatest good. It’s what it’s all about, as we’ve made the case in here repeatedly. And the question is, do the things you think, do the things you believe, still allow you, still encourage and enable you to love other people?
Paul is saying this is the litmus test for ideas. It is the acid test for ideas. And he can say this because we are human beings. We are relational. God created us to be able to love, and to actually thrive on love.
Everything we believe has to come to terms with who we are. Does it help or hinder you from effectively loving other human beings?
I say this is probably what Paul is thinking here because he knows these people have been buying into some wierd ideas. He knows they have been indulging some false teaching. We’ll be seeing this more as the chapter goes on. So, he is saying that they need to pursue this goal of love–being knit together in love. And that in itself will lead them to a knowledge of what is really true.
The human mind . . .
You see, when it comes to knowledge, when it comes to things we can think up and support, the human mind is absolutely incredible. It is possible to think up and support just about any idea you want.
And if you don’t believe that, just go spend some time at an institution of higher learning. And if it’s a seminary all the better. You’ll find people there who believe everything. And they have darn good reasons, each in his own little head.
Example: I know as I studied a couple years back, people would ask me, “What do you believe on this or that?” I could only say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to see.” Because I realized everything made sense in the fishbowl. Everything made sense in the vacuum. I had to see what worked. I had to see what viewpoint, what perspective actualy worked in the relational realm.
Example: I used to believe that when people had problems, they either needed a) proper instruction, or b) confrontation. So, people would come to me, “Buck, I’m feeling down,” or “Buck I’ve got a problem.” And I would hear them out, and produce the remedy.
I would say that that recipe worked great until I got married. I don’t know how many theories about people and the nature of reality changed from that experience. But here I was, stuck with a person who didn’t want to hear the truth. Here was a person who didn’t want confrontation. Here was a person who just wanted to be understood. That’s all.
Let me tell you, there had been other people who had tried to pull that line on me. They would get more instruction or confrontation than the rest! But nobody else could get away with it. So I was forced to go back to the drawing-board and figure out what I really believed on that issue. And I began to find that God deals with us in a remarkably different way than I dealt with other people. He understands us. He accepts us. And you know what? Sometimes that’s all!
I just remember thinking, “There’s some people I need to apologize to.”
There are many issues like that. There will be more. My faith, what I believe, is constantly being subject to the interogation of real-life relationships.
And I have to say, as much as I believe in the power of the human mind, it is hopelessly subjective. I mean, we simply don’t have the ability to tell if we have bad breath. That’s the way it is with our thoughts. They have to come out in the open and be tried in the arena of human relationships. They have to co-exist with what God tells us about sacrificial love.
Do you subject your beliefs?
Do you subject your beliefs to this test? Do you look at your life and ask yourself, “Is there real, meaningful, sacrificial love occurring between me and other humans?” And if it isn’t there, which belief, or beliefs are wrong? There must be some reason you are isolated and don’t have that rich quality of relationship.
Example: Perhaps it’s as simple as the belief that I’ve got to satisfy my own needs and wants, and then I’ll be happy. There are people right here who believe this . . . The person who believes that is a lonely and unhappy person. It’s not working!
Example: I talked to a guy this week who had lots of relationships with folks. But in all of them, there was a subtle feeling of tension and alienation. And he felt like that was OK. He must have, it had been that way for years!
Example: I know another Christian who tried to convince me that people needed to be punished for the wrong they did. “When someone wrongs me, there must be retribution of some kind!” Her favorite thing was to not associate with that person any more. She was really getting them back, boy! But you see, anybody who knew her would be able to tell whether what she was saying is true. Her marriage told you it wasn’t working. Her friendships, or lack thereof, told you it wasn’t working. And the absolute void of love in her life told you it wasn’t working.
I don’t know what you believe. I don’t know what doctrines or theories you hold to. But if love is defficient in your life, or if biblical love is lacking altogether, then you have to ask yourself, “What’s wrong here?”
That’s what Paul constantly reminded people of
That’s what Paul constantly reminded people of. In the book of Galatians, as he wrote to refute some false teaching they had, he came down to that in the end. In chapter 5 he takes the whole chapter to make that point. “If you bite and devour each other, if you’re boastful, challenging each other, what good is your stupid idea?”
And here with the Colossians, he doesn’t challenge them that way. As we’ve noted before, he doesn’t know them personally. But he does know that if he gives them the vision of being a community, knit together in love, and if they pursue that vision, then they will be that much safer against possible deception and false teaching.
God’s Mystery . . .
The next thing Paul sees as a goal is that they would come to a knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself.
Now what he is making a veiled reference to here is something that the Colossians liked very much, “mysteries”. Mysteries weren’t like they are today. Today, when you think of a mystery you think of an Agatha Christi novel, or something.
But a “mystery” in Paul’s day was a truth that was veiled. It was a truth that was hard to find. And yet, to the discoverer of that truth, that one would receive spiritual enlightenment.
This was a very popular thing. And people would do tricks, follow guru types, go through initiations, etc., in order to become enlightened and discover what lay behind the “mystery.”
There were literally hundreds of these mystery religions in the ancient Greek world. And they were very popular at the time of earliest Christianity. So, many feel, and there is good evidence to support this, that the source of some of the problems at the church of Colossae was that some of them were buying into these mystery religions. And they were mixing them with Christianity.
So Paul is brining up the “mystery” here. “Oh boy, you guys wanna know the mystery?” “Yea, we wanna know the mystery!” “Well get this. It’s not an idea. It’s not a trick. It’s not a way of life. It’s not even some secret information! It’s a person! It’s Jesus Christ!”
Relationship vs. Philosophy
There is a subtle contrast Paul is bringing up here. And it is one that would be more evident to his readers. Paul is telling them that the real scoop is a person. Christianity is not an idea. Christianity is not a philosophy. It is a living relationship with a person.
Not a philosophy
Now when I say it is not a philosophy, I don’t mean that Christianity does not deal with the answers. I’m not saying that it does not dialogue in philisophical terms. Obviously, being a skeptical and thinking person I believe that Christianity has answers for the questions raised by philosophy.
But that is not what it is. Christianity has answers for us. But it is not just a system of thought or a point of view.
It is a relationship.
Not a religion
Let me throw something else in here that Christianity is not. It is not a religion. I remember writing a paper on that topic for an English class: “Christianity: the anti-religion.” My professor had to call me in and make sure I had my head screwed on straight.
It’s not a religion. A religion is, by definition, a system. A religion is a system of behaviors, a description of a lifestyle.
Christianity is a relationship.
It was this kind of confusion that many of the books of the Bible were written to confront. Because we so naturally think in terms of religion. We so naturally asume that what God wants is a specific lifestyle, spelled out in a set of rules.
What God wants is a relationship.
I know what you’re thinking. Buck, so much of the Bible is full of rules, isn’t it? At least that’s what it seems like when I hear of it, there always seems to be some rule coming up.
Example: I was watching a show last week in which this liberal thinker had volunteered to give her point of view to a group of Christians (Don’t ask me how they found someone so stupid to walk into a group of angry Christians). But one after one they walked up to the microphone and quoted a bunch of rules at her. I’ll tell you, if I had been listening to that show as someone who didn’t really know my Bible, I would be glad I didn’t . . .
But I want to clarify why there are moral imperatives in the Bible. For one, God gives moral imperatives, rules if you will, as a paradigm, as an example of how to answer moral dilemmas. They are not intended to be followed slavishly. Now that’s human nature. We like to put them onto plaques and write them into rule-books. But that was not God’s intention. And so much is written in the Bible itself about the destructiveness of following an external, black and white set of codes. They are just principles. And God wants us to come to him personally for guidance. He wants us to rely on him personally for guidance, because Christianity is a relationship.
But there is another reason rules are in there. They show us our own moral neediness. Laws, moral standards like the 10 Commandment actually serve to highlight our inadequacy.
Example: I want to read you a passage, that if you are not familiar with it, will blow your mind. Romans 5:20 says . . . And Paul tells us elsewhere that the way it increases is by exposure. A law comes in a flushes out your own desire to do something wrong.
Example: I remember being up at school, and Mark and me were up there together. The first quarter we were up there, we read in the student handbook, about a rule where you weren’t allowed to climb this bubble. It covered an ice rink. And they threatened you with expulsion if you did. Well, I had seen the bubble many times before. But I could never see it in the same light again. Somehow it had changed. Instead of being the bubble to cover the ice rink, it was now the bubble you weren’t allowed to climb. I remember driving by it with Mark repeatedly and looking over, and both of us would be thinking the same thing, “Oh, we can’t climb that.”
And God actually gave the laws in the Bible for that reason. You see, the idea here is that God intends us to look at something like the 10 commandments and realize, “Hey, I’m not exactly a good person.”
His desire is for us to conclude that we won’t win his favor by being religious. What he wants instead is a relationship. And instead of trying to be good, and live up to some standard, what we need is forgiveness.
If you are considering Christianity . . .
If you are one who is here considering Christianity, and if this is new stuff to you, then I want you to take this home and mull it over. And if you want this relationship with God, don’t come to him religiously.
Instead, realize, “I am inadequate. I can’t come to you on the basis of my own goodness.”