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Faith’s Great Conflict (Col. 2:1-5)

Only believers can understand the great conflict Paul here confesses. On the one hand, we have Christ in us, the hope of glory. His strength works in us so that we are able to be faithful to him. On the other hand, the flesh fights back (Gal. 5:16-17). The conflict makes us feel wretched, for we want to walk with Christ, but sin is ever present with us, hindering, attacking, sidetracking. Then, there are always those in the church who minimize the glory of Christ in us and want some other way to know and serve God. In Colosse, some advocated the worship of angels and the adoption of ascetic piety – “Do not touch, do not to taste” (2:21). Others laid upon believers a variety of “commandments and doctrines of men” (v. 22), which had an appearance of wisdom, but they were manmade worship and had no value in themselves or power to subdue the flesh. We have our own versions of these distractions. Anything that leads us away from the preeminence of Christ in our lives, his covenanted presence with us by his Word and Spirit, and from his cross would be such a distraction. We must hold fast to Christ and to none of man’s “isms,” crusades, or passing fads. It is Christ’s word that must dwell in us richly (3:16), so that we can have his wisdom and power in the world. Then, whatever our particular responsibilities and callings, we shall not be led away from the riches that are in Christ but learn better how to walk with our Master in every legitimate calling.


The Conflict for Christ in Us (vv. 1-2)


For Comforted Hearts


On account of this conflict of faith, Paul was in a sort of spiritual anguish, deep concern for their wellbeing and constancy in Christ. They were under attack by false spiritualism and worldliness. He had never met in person the believers in Colosse and Laodicea, but the entire Gentile church was on Paul’s heart. He heard of the situation from Epaphras, who was very zealous for the believers in that area (4:12-13). The doctrinal divisions would stir strife and party spirit. He prayed that the believers’ hearts would be knit together in the deepest love and common commitment to the truth of Jesus Christ. False teachers and doctrines and personality conflicts do more harm in the church than Satan ever can. The church is the body of Christ in which all are holding fast to him as our only life, the only source of grace and wisdom, and thus drawing from him the fruits of the Spirit. And the Spirit is our Comforter. He strengthens us in the finished work of Jesus Christ. He never leads men away from him to various rites and rituals that obscure the gospel and have no value to subdue the flesh. While we are in faith’s conflict, our hearts are easily disturbed, and our unity easily fractured. We need comforted, unified hearts, especially pastors and elders, who will answer for those under their charge. More than anything else, love must rule over us. This is not optional. The peace and love of God must rule the hearts and minds of every member of Christ’s body. All the spiritual experiences, gifts, and knowledge in the world are worthless without love (1 Cor. 13:1-2).


Unto the Riches of Assurance


That this is so may be seen from the way the Holy Spirit here connects love to assurance. Assurance of salvation in Christ is more than a personal matter. It is too often viewed in this light, and therefore assurance of salvation is viewed as a strong feeling of personal salvation. Assurance depends upon far more than personal feeling. It is connected to “comforted hearts knit together in love.” Think about how important love is, what love is. Love is God’s own act of self-sacrifice for sinners, in his Son, bearing our curse upon himself and giving what was most precious to him to redeem filthy and cursed sinners. Because God is love, nothing substitutes for love among believers. It is not that love is the highest gift; it is the defining gift. The presence of gospel love is the great evidence that we are born of God (1 John 4:7).

Love is when we give for one another, sacrifice for one another’s good. Love gives without expecting return. Love serves others without attracting attention or seeking commendation. We cannot have love like this, love that knits our hearts together, without the Spirit of God in us, without Christ in us. If we see his love growing in us, we can have full assurance that we belong to Christ – love is the family trait. As we see his love in us, especially in handling doctrinal controversies and departures from orthodoxy in a congregation, or forgiving when maligned, or serving when tired, we can be assured that we have a saving union with our Master. Assurance is more than strong personal feeling that we are going to heaven no matter what we say or do. Assurance is the fruit of having Christ in us and forming us to be his disciples. How do we know that we belong to Christ? That we are being conformed to his image, and his image is love (Rom. 8:29).


And Understanding the Mystery of Christ


The riches of assurance is tied to our acknowledgement or understanding of the great mystery of God, which is Christ in us. Who enables us to love like this? Christ in us, by his Spirit. He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the pride that quenches love is put to death by the power of our Savior’s cross. Who enables us to forget self? The high and holy One who humbled himself unto death. And this is the mystery. This same Christ is in us. He helps us love when we want to hate, speak the truth in love when we are tempted to lash out, and forgive as we have been forgiven rather than remember every wrong suffered. All the knowledge in this world, without Christ in us working love, produces an ugly pride that actually denies Jesus Christ and his transforming power in our lives. Can we really be knit together in love in the church when we see the world fractured by hate and suspicion? Absolutely. Christ in us. Can we hold fast to Christ when so many in the church seem to be bored with him? Can we speak the truth and hold fast to sound doctrine not because we like to argue and debate but because we love Jesus Christ and only want him to be preeminent? Yes. The Lord Jesus Christ indwells us by his Spirit. We are bound to him in a union and communion of grace and life. He does in us what we cannot do in ourselves.


Jesus Christ the Wisdom of God (v. 3)


Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge


Who can teach us this new way of life? Christ in us. All true, useful, and substantial knowledge is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It could not be otherwise. He is the Logos, the Word of God. In Proverbs 2, a likely background to this verse, the Lord is the One who gives wisdom (v. 6). Out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. This is his world, and he knows all things. He has defined all things, including man, according to his wisdom and eternal purposes. And he has made it known that through Christ alone are wisdom and knowledge given. He is the Mediator of the covenant. Angels will not help us here, or other esoteric sources and forms of knowledge, or human philosophies, which are the doctrines and commandments of men. Nor will the various forms of asceticism and spiritualism that regularly make their rounds. Some promise men escape from reality and creaturely limitations; others promise a more “fundamentalistic” clarity in moralism and following the charismatic leader. Still others promise meaning in mysticism and manmade forms of worship. But all lead away from Christ and his word. Therefore, they lead men away from understanding and wisdom.  The Father has laid all up in his Son. He is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). In Jesus Christ, the Father has determined to condemn the foolishness of this world in a crucified Savior (1 Cor. 1:20). Sinners must be humbled. They must look to his Son in order to have their darkness cleared away and true understanding given to them.


Treasures Hidden in Christ Alone


This is not a spiritual platitude. It is one of the most concrete truths a soul can know and believe. If you are a mother, where do you go to find out how to be a parent? You can talk to older mothers, but where did good ones learn? At the feet of Jesus Christ. They went to his word, prayed for his Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, and obeyed him. Where would a wise statesmen go today to learn how to help morally and economically bankrupt nations? He would have to come to Jesus Christ and enroll in his school. He would have to become a diligent student in the word of Jesus Christ, for he is the wisdom of God for kings and judges (Ps. 2:10-12) as much as for fathers and pastors. These treasures are not “hidden” from us in Christ, but for us in Christ. All the truth of God, the knowledge needed to understand this world, the God who made it, and ourselves as his image-bearers are found in Christ. All the wisdom to know the way to live for God’s glory in the world is found in Jesus Christ. It is hidden in him, like a treasure. We must therefore learn better to appeal to him for everything – financial wisdom, relational wisdom, doctrinal understanding, family and parenting wisdom, time management wisdom. All are found in Jesus Christ. And the only way to have them and therefore to lead a joyful, peaceful, and righteous life is to walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God.

“All” is a very important word in verse 3. All is comprehensive; all is exclusive. “All” in Christ means that it is neither possible nor permitted to us to divide up reality into areas in which we need Christ’s wisdom and others in which the world’s wisdom is sufficient. All the treasures are in Christ. The world certainly has a kind of wisdom in its own affairs, where its passing interests, pleasures, and comforts are concerned. Do not call this wisdom, however. For even when it comes to pleasure and pastimes, should we call that “fun” or “enjoyable” or even a “pleasure” which leads so many to everlasting pain? And, how, as we look at all wisdom in Christ, is the world doing in running its society, conducting its wars, and trying to secure prosperity and peace? It is not doing well, not at all. As the world runs faster and farther from the light that is in Christ, common grace diminishes, so that it loses the sparks of sanity that it once received from the presence and activity of believers. Thus, we must hear and heed this “all treasures.” Asking Christ, seeking in Christ, and knocking for Christ to guide us is the only path to wisdom. He and his cross have made all the world’s wisdom foolish. Let us build upon him in every pursuit and part of our lives. The Father will have all men come to his Son to be taught. He will have all the nations not only find cleansing and righteousness in his Son, but also the wisdom that leads us to peace and righteousness in our families and society as a whole. Do not expect there to be any wisdom outside of Christ, any fruitful path except the one that runs humbly from the foot of his cross.


The Joy of Steadfast Faith in Christ (vv. 4-5)


Faith Besieged by Beguilers and Clever Talkers


We can lose this great treasure. We can be beguiled or deceived out of it. Many lose fortunes on telephone scams, pyramid schemes, and the other speculative activities of our fiat economy. These do not compare with being cheated out of Christ.  If we lose him, we lose everything. One way we lose him is by deceivers. They can either add their own inventions to Jesus Christ or take away from him by diminishing his significance and sufficiency. We need nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. But clever talkers with persuasive arguments deceive many. We can hear enticing words about “saving America” or “ending this or that evil” or “follow this tradition” and think this is where Christ is. He warned against this. “Look! Here is the Christ! No, there. There he is” (Luke 24:23). Our Lord said, “Do not believe them.” No human guru or movement defines or controls who Christ is.

Some came into Colosse or originated within the congregation who said that we can know him better or serve him more intelligently by penetrating into cosmic mysteries and angels. “Secret” knowledge was all the rage in that day, as it is in our own – truths that supposedly no one else knows and that make the knower “enlightened.” Many get bogged down in the esoterica of religious and spiritual ideas, secrets of the universe or of present-day cabals, but these are competing mysteries that destabilize and lead us away from Christ. He is the only “secret” truth, and he is now revealed for all to know and worship! Any doctrine, idea, claim, movement, or person that unsettles us away from the Bible and simple, pure love for Jesus Christ is not from him. All that is from him, for he is the wisdom of God, breeds humility, settles us in godliness, lifts high the cross, leads us away from speculative abstractions and brings us back to “take up your cross and follow me.” Any doctrine or movement or man that creates fear of man and human movements is not from him, for his truth breeds fearlessness, hope, and confidence in his sovereign reign and loving headship over our lives.


Faith’s Order and Steadfastness in Christ


Epaphras told Paul that the faithful in Colosse were rejecting these competing mysteries and were holding fast to Jesus Christ as God’s great mystery of grace and fellowship. Paul was in prison, but he rejoiced from afar at their good order in Christ and the way they held fast to their Lord. It is a sign of grace when we can be concerned about others while we are burdened with our own sorrows. We can lighten the burdens of those who are suffering, not to mention our pastors and teachers, when they see us holding firmly to the plain old gospel of Christ crucified, raised, reigning, and indwelling by his Spirit. This is our order and stability – not wanting to hear something new but when we want to hear about Jesus Christ. Mature believers always do. They can never get enough of their Savior. This is the reason they are mature. They are learning of Christ and from Christ. They are steadfast in the faith, not because they are strong and are already in heaven. They are steadfast because they have learned that Jesus Christ is the only Rock. Better to hear a simple sermon about him, what he has done and is doing for us in heaven, how he loves us and is in us, than all the latest cultural and religious gossip. We are not strong and stable when we know what has been swirling in man’s head and spewing from his mouth but when we are holding fast to our Master. The more we learn of his love and grace, the more we are settled in him and desire to know nothing else but Jesus Christ…and then to walk with him.

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