Paul's Love for the Church
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (2:1-7)
If someone were to ask you to suggest the most important qualities a minister can possess, you might argue for intelligence, education, leadership ability, boldness, holiness, or speaking ability. Although all those are essential components, perhaps the most necessary ingredient in the life of any minister of Jesus Christ is love for the church. No one can truly serve God in the church without that motivation.
Jesus loved the church so much that He gave His life for it. Paul charged the Ephesian elders to "shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). In Ephesians 5:25 he said that husbands should love their wives "just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her."
Paul, too, had a deep love for the church and gave his life in service to it. He frequently expressed his love in his epistles. To the Corinthians he wrote, "You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men" (2 Cor. 3:2); "Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide" (2 Cor. 6:11); "I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls" (2 Cor. 12:15). He told the Philippians, "I have you in my heart" (Phil. 1:7).
Paul loved the church because he loved Christ. He knew well the truth expressed in 1 John 4:21, "This commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." It was his love for Christ and His church that enabled Paul to endure the physical suffering he went through (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-27). It also allowed him to bear "the daily pressure . . . of concern for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28). Because of that love he could endure defections, false teachers, and personal abuse. Indeed, he could "endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory" (2 Tim. 2:10).
Paul's love for the church caused him to write this letter to the churches of the Lycus Valley (cf. 4:15-16). He wanted them to know of the great struggle he had on their behalf and their sister church in Laodicea, even though they had not all personally seen his face. Paul's love was not selective; he loved the whole church, not just those personally known by or close to him. That kind of unselfish love should characterize every spiritual leader. Struggle translates agōn, from which we get our English word agony. It is a different form of the same word he used in 1:29 to speak of his striving in the ministry. Paul's deep love even for those he had never met reflects his love for Christ, the Head of the church.
Just as loving parents have goals for their children, so Paul had goals for the church. He lists five of them for which he had struggled. He desired the Colossians to be strong in heart, united in love, settled in understanding, walking in Christ, and overflowing with gratitude.
Strong in Heart
that their hearts may be encouraged, (2:2a)
The basic meaning of parakaleō (encouraged) is "to call alongside." Because a person can be called alongside for many purposes, the word has a wide range of meanings. They include to entreat, appeal to, summon, comfort, exhort, or encourage. In the present context, however, it could be translated "strengthen" because the Colossians were beset by false teachers and needed strengthening rather than comfort.
Commentator William Barclay cites an example of parakaleō from classical Greek that parallels its usage here.