2:1 For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. 2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. NRSV
In the previous passage Paul recounted his general calling or commission “to make the word of God fully known” (Col. 1:25). In Colossians 2:1-5 he states his specific desires for the Colossians and the specific aim of his letter. He is concerned that the Colossians avoid a certain deception that threatens the church and his letter is designed to further this end.
Colossians 2:1-3 Commentary
In Col. 2:1 Paul connects the general struggle and toil of his commission to his special struggle on behalf of the Colossians and the church near them in Laodicea. He is working hard and suffering for them in particular. We are reminded here (as in Colossians 1:3-8) that Paul has never met the Colossians or the Laodicean church face to face. Rather, Paul has only heard about them from Epaphras, who, it seems, was the one who founded the churches (see Col. 1:7-8). Paul’s desire for these followers of Jesus, then, is that their hearts “be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3).
Paul’s idea, here, is interesting and quite counter-intuitive. His suggestion is that the encouragement and unity of the community in love is a means to understanding and knowledge of Christ. The implication is that, as individuals disconnected from the community—lacking in love and unity—they will be unable to realize the riches of understanding and knowledge of Christ. Such knowledge is only (or at least primarily) available to a community of encouraged, united, and loving followers of Christ.
The list of goods that Paul says is available to such a community is decidedly cognitive: “assured understanding,” “knowledge of God’s mystery,” “wisdom and knowledge.” As I suggested in my comments on Colossians 1:27, it seems these are at least some of the “riches” of Christ’s glory that are available to his followers. While the riches of Christ’s glory are surely not restricted to such cognitive goods, it may be that Paul emphasizes these goods due to the proto-Gnostic nature of the heresy troubling the Colossians. If the Colossians have been duped into seeking secret knowledge (“gnosis,” transliterated from Greek) by false teachers, Paul’s counter-argument seems to be that any knowledge they might want or need is to be found in Christ.
Thus, these cognitive riches have a very different role in Paul’s story than they do in the proto-Gnostic story. For the proto-Gnostics, special knowledge was the means to liberation from an evil material world. For Paul, a kind of knowledge and wisdom—namely, knowledge of Christ and wisdom about how to live this earthly life—are the end result of proper communal attachment to Christ. Thus, Paul directs the Colossians not to mere knowledge, but to Christ and his community as a means to knowledge and wisdom. He also suggests that in Christ our understanding is “assured” in a way that it is not otherwise (Col. 2:2).
Colossians 2:4-5 Commentary
In Col. 2:4 Paul states that his purpose in reminding the Colossians of the true route to understanding, knowledge, and wisdom—Christ himself—is that “no one may deceive” them with “plausible arguments.” Here we have the first hint in the letter that certain false teachers have been tempting the Colossians with plausible but deceptive arguments. Since Paul’s teaching in Col. 2:2-3 is meant to counter this deception (“I say this so that no one may deceive you…”), it seems that the deceptive arguments pushed the Colossians toward a rugged individualism and disunity contrary to the loving unity Paul urges on them, and toward a kind of knowledge apart from Christ that left them unsure of themselves, contrary to the assured understanding and knowledge that Paul says is to be found in Christ.
Finally, in Col. 2:5 Paul reminds them that although he is not physically with them, he is with them “in spirit.” This phrase seems to suggest that Paul views himself as connected with the Colossians by God’s in-dwelling Holy Spirit—“Christ in you” (Col. 1:27)—and that the Colossians are on his mind and in his heart despite his physical absence. Moreover, Paul’s joyful hope is that they would have firm faith in Christ, and that they would have strong morale. The word translated “morale” here suggests a state of good order or discipline, akin to military discipline. Thus, Paul’s hope seems to be that they would be firm not only in their faith in Christ, but also in their disciplined resistance to the false teachings.
What can we learn from this passage? Paul’s idea that wisdom and knowledge of Christ are goods to be attained communally is an important corrective for the prevalent contemporary individualism that tends to accept Jesus but reject his church. Here Paul suggests that you really cannot have assured understanding, knowledge of Christ, and wisdom apart from a loving union with Christ’s people—the church. Indeed, Paul suggests that it is deception to think that one could go it alone—“Just me and Jesus”—and have the kind of firm, living faith in Christ that is able to resist heresy. If we are to maintain a firm hold on the truth, we must gather together in our pursuit of Jesus. Alone, we are all too vulnerable to discouragement and plausible but deceptive arguments.