For I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea…
The strain of the apostle's agony for the Colossian Church is here continued. Note the consummate art with which he prepares the way for his warnings.
I. THE CONFLICT ITSELF was that of the arena, and "great."
1. No external conflict can be meant, for he could strike no blows for them; but he could send them ammunition, and this Epistle has been a magazine and arsenal ever since. But the real struggle was in his own heart. In that lonely prison cell, and with burdens enough of his own, like some soldier left behind to guard the base, his thoughts were in the field.
2. For all Christians, sympathy in the battle of God, which is being waged all over the world, is a plain duty. Wheresoever our prison may be, we are bound to take an eager share in the conflict by interest, such help as we can render, and that intercession which may sway the fortunes of the field though the uplifted hands grasp no weapons. The men who bear the brunt of the battle are not the only combatants. In many a quiet home where wives and mothers sit there is an agony as intense as in the battle. It was a law in Israel, "As his part is," dec. (1 Samuel 30:24). So all Christians who in heart and sympathy have taken part shall be counted as combatants and crowned as victors.
II. THOSE FOR WHOM THE CONFLICT WAS ENDURED. "As many as have not seen," etc. The Colossians might think that he cared less for them than for those communities he had planted or watered. They had never felt the magnetism of his personal presence, and were at a disadvantage from not having had the inspiration and direction of his personal teaching. But Paul shows them that from this very fact they had a warmer place in his heart. He was not so enslaved by sense that his love could not travel beyond the limits of his eyesight.
III. THE OBJECT IN VIEW.
1. That their hearts might be comforted.
(1) Heart, in Scripture, means thought as well as emotion.
(2) Comfort is more than consolation. The cloud that hung over the Church was not about to break in sorrows needing consolation, but in practical errors needing strength to resist. So Paul desires that they may be encouraged not to quail, but to fight with good cheer. And what we want is the brave spirit and the serene assurance of victory in our struggles. What have we to do with fear, seeing that One fights by our side who teaches our hands to war?
2. The way to secure this is union in love.
(1) Love is the true bond which unites men, and therefore adds to the strength of each. Little faggots bound together are strong. The solitary heart is timid and weak, but many weaknesses brought together make a strength, as slimly built houses in a row hold each other up. Loose grains of sand are moved by a breath; compacted they are a rock against which the Atlantic beats in vain. A real moral defence against even intellectual error is found in the compaction of Christian love. A community so interlocked will throw off many evils, as a Roman legion with linked shields roofed itself over against missiles from the walls of a besieged city, or as the imbricated scales of a fish keep it dry.
(2) But the love is not merely love to one another, but common love to Christ, the bond of union and true strengthener of men's hearts.
3. This compaction in love will lead to a wealth of certitude in the possession of the truth. It tends to "all riches of the full assurance," etc.
(1) In times of religious unsettlement Christian men are tempted to lower their own tone, and to say "It is so" with less certainty, because so many are saying "It is not so." Some are so afraid of being thought narrow that they seek the reputation of liberality by talking as if there were a film of doubt over even the truths "most surely believed." Few things are more needed now than this full assurance.
(2) This wealth of conviction is attained by living in the love of God. If we love we shall possess an experience which verifies the truth for us. Rich in the possession of this confirmation of the gospel by the blessings it brings, and which witness to their source as verdant banks do to the stream, we shall have a right to oppose to many a doubt the full assurance born of love; and while others are disputing whether there be any Lord, or living Christ, or forgiveness, or providence, we shall know that they are ours because we have felt the wealth and power they have brought into our lives.
4. This unity of love will lead to full knowledge of the mystery of God.
(1) That mystery has its stages. The revelation is finished, but our apprehension of it may grow, and although we shall never outgrow it, reflection and experience will explain and deepen it. Suppose a man could set out from the great planet that moves in the outermost rim of our system, and travel slowly inwards to the great central sun, how the disc would grow, and the light and warmth increase with each million of miles, till what had seemed a point filled the whole sky!
(2) The stages are infinite because in Him are all the treasures, etc. These four words are all familiar on the lips of later Gnostics, and were no doubt in the mouths of the false teachers. The apostle would claim for his Gospel all which they falsely claimed for their dreams.
(a) All wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. He is the Light of men, and all thought and truth of every sort came from Him who is the Eternal Word. All other media of revelation have but uttered broken syllables. Christ still pursues this work.
(b) In Christ, as in a great storehouse, lie all the riches of spiritual wisdom, the massive ingots of solid gold, which when coined into creeds and doctrines are the wealth of the Church.
(c) In Christ these treasures are hidden, but not as the heretic's mysteries from the vulgar crowd, but only from eyes that will not see them; hidden that seeking souls may have the pleasure of seeking, and the rest of finding; hidden as men store provisions in the Arctic regions, in order that the bears may not find them, and shipwrecked sailors may. Conclusion: Such thoughts have a special message for times of agitation. We are surrounded by eager voices proclaiming profounder truths and wisdom than the gospel gives us. In joyful antagonism Christian men have to hold fast by the confidence that all Divine wisdom is laid up in Christ. The new problems of each generation will find their answers in Him. We need not cast aside the truth learned at our mothers' knees; but if we keep true to Christ and strive to widen our minds to the breadth of that great message, it will grow as we gaze, even as the nightly heavens expand to the eye which steadfastly looks into them and reveal violet abysses, sown with sparkling points, each of which is a sun.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;