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.