Christ. That is All.

Colossians 2 resumes the strange idea of filling up what’s lacking in Christ’s afflictions that Paul spoke of in ch. 1. “I want you to know how much I struggle for you… and for all who haven’t known me personally.”

The goal of this struggle is knowledge of Christ. That is all.

But we need to be careful about how quickly we run to this conclusion. There are several paths we might take to get there, and in my western context the way to such knowledge is typically articulated as something personal and intellectual: I pray, and I know Christ. I study and I know Christ.

But Paul has another route in mind.

He prays for everyone’s hearts to be encouraged and united together in love (Col 2:2). There is a rich interplay between who we are as individuals and our life together in community. Christian epistemology is never an internal, private affair. We can know only as we know together and only as we love together.

Contexts determine much of what we can know, much of what we will find persuasive. One of the most significant functions of Christian community is to create an environment of love, where Christ as the all-in-all of God becomes a compelling and believable confession.

On the flip side, this corporate route to knowledge underscores why the failure of Christian community is such a grievous affront to the faith of individuals. If a community of love provides the context for sure knowledge that Christ is God’s all in all, then a community that destroys and discourages the hearts of its people, a community filled with strife and division, will disprove the message to the hearts of the hearers.

The assurance that Paul prays for, the assurance that leads to full knowledge of Christ as all, does not come from reading books or having our dilemmas solved through apologetics.

The assurance Paul prays for comes only from community—a community of encouragement and love that is, itself, the earthly manifestation of the body of Christ.

7 thoughts on “Christ. That is All.”

  1. over the last few years, i’ve been coming to the conclusion that we can’t experience the fullness of this salvation and transformation available to us in Christ without living together with a community of God’s people as God calls and enables us to be. i like how you (or Paul) puts it better. unfortunately, it was the absence of that kind of community that grew this awareness in me. but God is good. he provides people along the way.

  2. Very refreshing Daniel…and apt.

    Even the “mystical” knowing…or spiritual (as in by means of God’s Spirit) is not quite what the author of Colossians is after. However, there is a connection between thinking, praying, struggling with doctrine and community…in that some very bad theology often leads to very bad incarnations of the body of Christ…or malformations, not because say they failed to get the Chalcedonian mix just right, but because…losing sight of the extreme doctrine of Grace leads to practical elitism… a poor doctrine of Salvation or sin can lead one to judge the sins of the culture far worse than the dark places in every heart. A poor Christology may have pilgrims running to time management classes rather than arm in arm at the foot of the cross in penitent praise.

    Anyhow…thanks for this…short, elegant and BANG on!!!

  3. Daniel, beautiful!!! You are totally laying out my “message” for this coming Sunday for me. Thanks for the help. :)

  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. “The assurance Paul prays for comes only from community—a community of encouragement and love.” I come here. Though I don’t fit in. And I don’t want to – try too hard. Because I’m already confused enough. Fitting equally into ultra-liberal Quaker and also into conservative Vineyard Pentecostal – communities. And that – communities – is the confusing part. Tearing. Fractured. Fighting. Disagreeable. Forgetting – community – fused and sometimes confused in love. Cheers, ~ Jim

  5. “Christian epistemology is never an internal, private affair.” I love this simple sentence. Yes, if God is in relationship internally and eternally…or more simply put “God is love”…then why do we assume that Christian knowing can possibly grasp the mystery of Christ without community.

  6. I’ve seen Christ loving, Christ centered, mission focused communities periodically having to deal with strife and division; even a community of “encouragement and love”. And this because communities are made up of people. Do you think there can be too much “community idealism” where communities that DO have to deal with issues of contention can feel like second class citizens because they are struggling?

    1. Great question, Jim.

      I don’t think this is that big of an issue. In my experience, churches that are actually dealing with their crap (i.e., one out of every 250 or so) are mature enough to realize that this is part of being the kind of loving community where the love of Christ itself can be known.

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