Three Good Desires

1 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, 2 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1-5)

Paul is speaking there to the church of Colossae, and he’s expressing some desires in his own heart, what he would like for them to know, experience, and live. Before I get into the specifics of those verses, I want to say a few things by way of introduction.

One of the most unusual passages in the Bible for me is found in Jesus’ words from Matthew 26:26. This is a verse that we repeat often when taking of the Lord’s Table. These are words spoken by Jesus to His disciples. Here is what He said…

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26)

If taken literally, this is terrible. But it is not the literal body and flesh of Christ that He is encouraging His disciples to eat. We understand this to be symbolic. What Jesus was giving them was bread. We know that because the Bible says so. We read, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it.” He gave them bread, but He gave it to symbolize something else. It symbolized His body.

So the picture here is the disciples being given, and taking in the body, or the person, of Jesus Christ. The picture is a very powerful one. So even today when we as Christians are taking of communion, we take the bread into our bodies to represent the person of Christ, who was crucified for us. It is a picture of union with Christ, of intimacy with Christ, of a certain oneness with Him. It says, “I am with you, Jesus, and you are with me.” We have entered into a relationship that goes even to the core of our being. Do you see that? Can you picture that? The picture is more emphatic than a simple statement of belief or shallow words that may indicate a relationship. The picture is one of being “all in” with Him, joined with Him, a special tie with this one whom we call our Lord, our Savior, our Master.

This close, intimate relationship that we have, that we can have with Jesus is rooted in the kind of relationship that Jesus has with the Father and the Spirit. Within the Trinity, there is a oneness. Within the Trinity there is richness in relationship that transcends all others. It is a perfect relationship of good favor, of love, of unity. If we want to find an example of perfect love, of perfect relationship, we wouldn’t go to the latest Disney fairy tale or the latest pop love song, because they would utterly crumble in comparison to the perfect unity and love found in the Trinity. 

In John 17 we see repeated statements of the oneness in the godhead. Jesus declaring in John 17:11 that He and the Father are one – a statement of full unity. He says similar things in verses 21 and 23.

The Trinity dwells in oneness, and we as Christians are to live in oneness with Jesus, taking Him in as we do at the Lord’s table, that representing the oneness that should be between us and our Lord.

But in addition, we are to be as one with each other. Do you see a theme here? God is very interested in relationship. Relationship within the godhead, relationship with Christ and His followers, and relationship even between believers.

Back in John 17, Jesus not only talks about oneness that He and the Father share and that He desires to have with His followers, but also relationship that Christians are to share with each other.

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:23)

Jesus wants us to be one with each other! He even says it will show the world Jesus is the Savior and is loved by God.

We read from John last week, but let me repeat it again to emphasize once more the importance of love between Christians, and God’s desire for that.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

This love is one of strong concern, unity, intimacy, genuine relationship that is rooted not just in how we feel day to day, with our up and down emotions, but is rooted in the very image of God, the unity of the godhead, the unity that we are to have with Christ. Our love and unity with each other is to be based on the character and the person of God. It requires sacrifice often times, as we understand from 1 John 3:16…

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)

What I am trying to convey to us this morning is the necessity for the Christian that we be truly involved with other Christians around us, even to the point of entering into their struggles, pain, and trials when the opportunity arises. 

This is what Paul is conveying to us from Colossians 2:1 that we looked at last week – “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you.” Paul struggled for them because he was with them, in spirit, in their trials. He was not with them physically, he was with them spiritually, and emotionally. He felt for them when they were in danger, he was united with them. He was not an uninterested third party, a professor simply handing out information that may be helpful, or an army officer barking out commands. No, he was as a loving father who cannot help but be emotionally connected with his dear children. If they were struggling, he was struggling with them. It is the same idea of bearing with one another, bearing others’ burdens. In Ecclesiastes 4:12 we are reminded of this principle.

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

The question for us may be, to what degree are we willing to go the distance, to struggle with those who are struggling in this Christian walk? Will we show the world that we belong to Christ by how we walk with other Christians in this short life? Will we represent God well by our love for each other? Love often times requires real struggle. Remember, that word “struggle” can also mean “agony.” Agonizing together, in love, for God’s great glory.

A question that we may ask is, what might this look like practically? I mean, if a brother or sister is in trouble, what does it look like that we go with them through it, struggle with them? Does it look like simply sitting in a room and weeping with them? Or trying really hard to feel their pain? What does it, what should it look like to enter into someone’s troubles, to bear with them in their trial?

Let’s see what Paul did, how he handled this…

2 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)

Paul mentions three things. These are three things that Paul desires for his fellow Christians in their struggles, and as we look at them, notice too that these are safeguards for them in their struggle. In other words, if they embrace these things, then these things will protect them against the danger that lies ahead. Sometimes a shoulder to cry on, many times a shoulder to cry on is helpful, but that is rarely enough. Gently, lovingly, carefully sharing truth is very important.

Here is what Paul wanted them to know and to embrace, how he wanted them to live: he wanted them to be encouraged in heart, united in love, and assured in their understanding.

The first thing Paul mentions that he deeply wants for them is that they be encouraged in heart – “that their hearts may be encouraged.”

Encouragement as it is translated here is a word from Greek that has a wide range of meaning. When we say the word, we may mean simply a soft and gentle word of encouragement or a pat on the shoulder. That is one aspect of its meaning. Paul often uses this word before a command, which gives it the nuance of urging or exhorting. That is to urge or exhort to obey. In those cases it is usually translated as “urge.” Here, encourage carries the added idea of “strengthen.” I say that because Paul wants their hearts to be encouraged.

When we see the word “heart” we may think strictly of emotion. We have all heard someone say things like, “Follow your heart.” If someone says that, what are they saying in our culture? They are saying, “Follow your feelings. Do what feels right. Let your emotions drive your actions.” That is a dangerous way to live, by the way! 

In our western culture we talk about the heart as being emotion and feeling. But in the Bible it means more the center of personality, including the mind and the will. So Paul is saying, “Be encouraged, be strong, be of good courage in the depths of your being, especially in your mind and in your will.” He is urging them on much like a football coach may urge his players in the final minutes of a hard fought, exhausting game to keep going, be strong, don’t give up, even if your emotions are saying enough is enough. 

We need people like this in our lives. I hope you have people like this in your life. People who see beyond your strength and see God at work, God who is faithful, God who gives us strength and says, “Keep the faith, be strong in the Lord, fight the good fight, finish the course.” For Christ, in Christ, be encouraged – when the laundry piles up, when the car won’t start, when rest won’t come, when you are beaten up by evil men, when no one seems to stand with you, when God seems distant, when sin seems to be unavoidable, when people betray you. God is faithful, God is good, He is strong, He is in you, and He deeply loves you. Paul says to those who are facing trials, that their hearts may be encouraged, “This is not all there is, God is near, life is short, and Christ is gloriously at work, be encouraged!”

16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:16-17)

God often does that work through our fellow believers. Jesus told Peter…

“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

Do we want that for each other? If so, how are we doing conveying that to each other? If we are going to be united together, to each other in Christ, as the Trinity is united and as we are united in Christ, then we ought to be about encouraging one another in this faith.

Secondly, Paul not only wants them to be encouraged in their hearts, but he also desires, strongly desires to the point of struggling with them, that they be united in love. He says, “being knit together in love.”

Remember, Paul is wanting them and desiring for them that they be able to withstand false teaching and false teachers. This withstanding will go better if they are living in a community of love toward one another. There is an implied plea here for harmony. Encouragement to be strong flows from an environment of love. And an environment of love is fertile ground for giving encouragement. They go hand in hand, and in both there is created a solid front for what is false and against God.

Unity and love go together. Think of family life. No family is perfect, every family falls short of what is ideal. However, in a home, in a time where love is strongest, there is also real unity. That doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on every point, it simply means there is a spirit of deferring to one another’s desires, of sacrificing for one another. When there is love and unity, there is also strength to work together and to support one another. This is what the church should be. The extreme example of love as John tells it was Christ giving of himself sacrificially for sinners. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)

Most of us probably won’t have the opportunity to actually die for each other, so I’m glad John goes on in the next two verses to give us more insight into what this sacrificial love for each other looks like.

17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

If we are not giving to each other in love, then we will not stand with each other during difficult times, or times like the Colossians were facing, as trials enter into church life. We can be ready for such trials by practicing now how to lovingly sacrifice our time, money, gifts, and preferences for one another. Let us love not just in word, but in deed and in truth.

How can you, how can we give of ourselves to others in love? What do you see as needs in people’s lives around you? Who is suffering? How can you help? Who is facing a trial? How can you help? Who is struggling with sin and temptation? How can you help? Are we being “knit together in love?”

Lastly, Paul desires that they are assured in their understanding – “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The false teachers were preaching a different gospel, not the true gospel of Christ. Paul knew that if the Christians in Colossae would simply remember the true gospel of Christ, they could stand firm against falsehood.

This seems simple. Remember truth, remember truth of the gospel, of Christ, and you will not fall prey to false teaching. Simple? Yes. And yet how often are we tempted, and those around us tempted, to succumb to falsehoods here and there? We get caught up in a gospel that teaches legalistic approaches to living. Or as Paul says later in Colossians… 

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:16-23)

We can lose sight of the main thing and get caught up in man made rules. We can worship all kinds of things rather than Christ, like health, relationships, security, comfort, peace, so many things, while losing sight of our Savior and our Lord, our God who creates and sustains and gives us life both now and eternally. 

Paul said that he preaches Christ and Him crucified. What if we live constantly in the truths of Christ and Him crucified? What if we stand in awe of our Savior and His work and His words? What if we simply do that, and from that will flow love for him and for each other, and encouragement! 

In Him, in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge! What if we hold Him as the main thing in our lives, in our church, in our Christian relationships?

If we do, how might that change the dynamics of how we live? Would we then as a body be stronger in the Lord, more grounded in Him, more focused in Him, and would that then keep us from turning aside to false teaching or false teachers? 

Our unity with each other, with Christ, depends on how we choose to live in His truth. God desires unity for us as He enjoys within the Trinity. Will we live faithfully in Him, struggling together in this faith for His glory?

If so, we can be about encouraging each other’s hearts, uniting with one another in love, and assuring each other in understanding truth.

1 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, 2 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3)