Friday, August 03, 2007

Pray for strong heart and unity in love

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose 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, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1-3

It is not certain whether Paul planted the Colossian church. However looking closely from this letter, we found out that the Paul never met the believers there in person. The book of Acts does not mention that Paul ever visited Colossae. It is assumed that Epaphras was the one who planted the church. Epaphras was a native Colossians who was probably converted and discipled by Paul while they were together in Ephesus.

Paul was considered to be the great leader, church planter and pastor during this time. He was well known by the Colossian Christians through Epaphras and perhaps, they want to see and hear from the great apostle himself.

Evidently, Paul never made it. So the Apostle Paul wrote to them and informed them that this letter was equivalent for his visit as he said: For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is (v. 5) So this letter written in prayer was Paul’s expression of his love and concern.

He agonizingly prayed for them…

The word struggle agon (in Greek), where we got the English word agonize, renders as conflict in KJV implies earnest care and concern. The apostle was obviously agonizing for the Christians at Colossae by praying in their behalf. Even for people who Paul may had known only by name or to others he did know at all. Regardless, his concern for those he did not know was equally intense. As the verse says, he never met them personally but he struggles for them.

Indeed prayer is a struggle. It is not easy to pray. I admire Christians who seem to enjoy praying. Christians like them have different experience with the Apostle Paul who experienced prayer as great conflict and struggles.

I agree with a theologian description of prayer— "that prayer is an impossible possibility. Prayer is a miracle; prayer is resurrection from the dead. Prayer is a dangerous activity because when we pray we are changed and change hurts. For some prayer is not a richly rewarding experience. The apostle Paul has the same idea and more or less had the same experience about prayer. Nonetheless, we should pray because prayer is more than necessary and our prayer reflects our concept of God. Ultimately, the question of prayer is the question of God: What kind of God we believe in?"

Some commentaries state that the word purpose here is about the Apostle Paul’s plan of visiting Colossae. But after careful reading of the whole book it does not seem to imply that Paul had any plans of going there at all. It is possible that the word purpose does not refer to the Apostle’s visit but to Paul’s writing and especially in informing them that he was agonizingly praying for them.

Having said that, the Apostle’s purpose in writing and praying for them are:

So that their hearts may be encouraged…

Reading these words, we can safely assume that there had been circumstances that causing discouragement among the believers. So we may ask this question, why were they discouraged?

The Colossians Christians were being overwhelmed by false teachings. This idea is clearly supported in verse 4 when the Apostle Paul talked about teachers who deceive by using fine-sounding arguments. The believers were discouraged because these teachers were saying that Christ is not sufficient, that he is not supreme and is not worthy of all the faith, service, worship and adoration that they are offering to him.

Furthermore, young Christians were captivated by the enticing words of these false teachers. Obviously, this letter was written prayerfully for this purpose—to refute these false teachings. The term encourage here means to strengthen their faith and the result of this is strong heart. We all know that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us strength in Christian living. But God uses human instruments as well to strengthen our heart.

An important part of Paul’s ministry is encouraging, here it means strengthening other believers. Let us remember this; we should help other to have strong heart and strong faith. Perhaps sometimes we are the one who are feeling weak. Then let us ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to help make us strong.

Strong hearts result in a powerful Christian life. When we are empowered by the indwelling Spirit we could strengthen others and we will have the boldness to proclaim the love of Christ to unbelieving people.

And be united in love

Interestingly though, after the apostle Paul tells us that we should have strong hearts. He then says that we should be united in love. Strong heart should be balanced with fervent love. The apostle Paul knew that strong mind and strong heart without love results in mindless zeal and arrogance.

Here, the word united means knit together, to unite or bring together. The apostle Paul emphasizes that unity is impossible without love. We all know that our church is so divided in many ways. We come from different countries, we speak different languages, different countries, we have different colors; we come from different nations, from different religions and denominations. But I think none of those things will divide us.

What will divide us is the lack of love. When we think that who we are and what we believe is more important than the love of God for each other will hinder us for being united. Let us learn to set aside our differences even if it is a matter of unimportant doctrines and let the love of God reign supremes and we can experience the vision of Christ about unity among believers.

If we want to win people to Christ, then we should take the idea of unity in love seriously. I agree somehow with Francis Schaeffer when he says that the unity of the church is “the final apologetic” (defense) to the watching world. He further says:
In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here [in John 17:21] Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

The apostle Paul echoes the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ that Christians should be united and displays that unity. Practical unity is possible only through humility and love. Humility is the key that opens the door of love and unity. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of humility.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:3-5)
I believe that if we have our Lord’s humility and love then practical unity among us local believers and cross-cultural workers is possible. The Lord required this from us so that people may know that He is the only God.

*The place where Colossae used to be.

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