This section explains how Paul fulfills his role as a servant of the gospel (recall 1.23). The first half (1.24-29) describes how Paul contends for the gospel and the church in general, while the second (2.1-5) focuses more specifically on his ministry to the Colossians. And because I find this interesting, note the chiasm, which illuminates some of the main themes and demonstrates that one of the primary goals is to communicate how hard Paul, despite his absence, “is contending” for his fellow brothers and sisters:
rejoice, flesh 1.24
make known, riches, mystery 1.27
knowledge, riches, mystery 2.2
delight (rejoice), body (flesh) 2.5
1.24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
2.1 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is (TNIV).
The text is fairly straightforward; so, I’ll try to just comment on what I think might need further explanation.
1.24—“what is lacking Christ’s afflictions.” This does not mean that Paul believes Christ’s death itself is insufficient in any way. Rather, Paul is probably saying that his suffering (“in my flesh”) allows him, in some way, to take part in the suffering that Christ endured. Furthermore, suffering is the reality as we transition from the old age to the new, the age which was initialized at the cross (see comments on 1.18). First century Christians (as well as many other cultures today) understood suffering as something to embrace because it produces maturity in the believer. This is something that we in the western world ought to take note of—easier said than done, huh?
1.26-27: “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
A mystery refers to something that was formerly kept secret or hidden, but that has been revealed by God. This mystery has now been revealed to the Gentiles (or nations). This means that all people may experience and take part in God’s great plan of redemption that is in Christ. As Scripture continuously attests, the gospel is inclusive rather than exclusive. This is significant for a primarily Gentile audience (recall our comments on 1.13-14 and Paul’s commission to the Gentiles; see also 3.11).
The content of this mystery is “Christ in you.” And this is further qualified by, “the hope of glory.” What does all this spiritual talk mean? The language is best interpreted in context, from which we can appropriately conclude that believers are on a path toward glory (see esp. 1.5, 22, 23; 3.4, 10). This is all made possible by the indwelling Christ. As we yield to his Spirit and seek to learn from him, we allow Christ to carry out his work of reconciliation and grow us toward the intended goal of maturity/completeness (so 1.28). It is in the sense that we become presentable before God (1.22).
1.29-2.1: Paul stresses how hard he works for the church and for the believers in Colossae and Laodicea. Note how Paul recognizes that his hard work can only be carried out because of the divine power that is at work within him (1.29; cf. 1.11).
2.2-4: Verse 2 spells out the goal of Paul’s hard work: “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.” Note again that the mystery is Christ. And it is in Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The intent is to inform the readers that they need not supplement Christ with any other knowledge: in him, all wisdom and knowledge exist. Paul therefore warns the readers from being swayed from any other philosophies or religious “advances” (2.4).
2.5: That being said, Paul, as he does elsewhere in the letter, seems fairly confident of their faithfulness (“…delighting to see your discipline and the firmness of your faith in Christ,” translation mine). This most likely reflects the extent to which the antagonists are affecting the community. The Colossian believers have started strong (1.4-8) and seem to be continuing well, but Paul is concerned about their future (1.23, 2.4-5, 8). As Walter Wink states, “The epistle is a vaccination against heresy, not an antibiotic for those already afflicted” (quoted in Moo, 175).
The meaning of, “I am present with you in spirit” is probably much different and stronger than our modern use of the expression (i.e., although I’m not there in person, I’ll be thinking about you). Rather, through the Holy Spirit Paul has an intimate connection with the believers. Although he is away from them, he is connected through his prayers and through their mutual union with Christ.
Believe it or not, we are finally to the main body of the letter (2.6-4.6). And I’m going to leave you with the opening verses of the main body. Most scholars recognize these verses as the thematic statement or heart of the letter:
2.6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.