For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Col 2:1-5 ESV)
I heard a meditation this morning that included this passage, and it seemed to me very apropos for this time.
The point that shocked me the most (which really shouldn’t have but did) is that isolation ministry is by no means a new thing. Yes, we know that Paul spent a lot of time in prison, and that much of what we have in written from him in the New Testament is a consequence of that fact. Certainly Paul spent time with many people in face to face ministry, but for large chunks of his ministry, he simply couldn’t. Hence we have
how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face
He has extreme concern for these people and for the fruit of the gospel in their lives, and he expresses it in useful and powerful ways in his writing, though they have not yet seen each other face to face.…
So I think the point here is to take this time of isolation as a time of enforced creativity. What can we do now, because we must? One scholar in my field wrote a book while laid up with a broken leg. Bad for him in isolation, but it brought great results for our field. I’ve gotten to know WhatsApp a lot better, as that is my only contact with our local church here. One of my colleagues is even getting new language data through WhatsApp. Not something to do if you have alternatives, but I was encouraged to see him forging a way forward given that he didn’t.
The systems I would normally use for online collaboration didn’t get set up (between me and any Cameroonian language groups) before isolation orders came down, so one strategic change this will make in my work is that collaboration (including online data backups) will be the first agenda item in any work that I do. And it really should have been all along, but it just seems like one of those things you can let slide (until you can’t, much like backups.…)
The other point in this passage relevant to our time is one of the why’s Paul states:
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
I talk with my children about plausibility a lot, since it seems like an important concept in this phase of the information age. That is, in the time where what is actually true is less important than what sounds plausible. That is, if we hear something from a news source we trust (when did that become a thing?!?), if we can say “that sounds right”, then we believe it (or at least we’re more inclined to).
The result of this appears to be that the internet seems full of people saying all kinds of unproven (and at times unprovable) things, which align with one worldview/narrative enough that it can be accepted, because it “sounds right” from within that worldview. But is it actually true? We seem to have stopped even asking that question. So each one accepts only what sounded right based on assumptions and beliefs held before the information was ever heard. The consequence of this is the phenomena of echo chambers all around, with no one actually listening to opposing views, and no one (apparently) open to seeking or hearing the truth.
This is problematic for me, because I worship the Truth. He also called himself the Way, and the Life (John 14:6). What this means to me is that when I seek truth, it is part of my worship of Jesus. And when I ignore (or don’t care about) the truth, I ignore (or don’t care about) Jesus. So it is important to me to help push people into caring about the actual facts of a matter, before casting judgement on the basis of what is plausible alone.
But the phrase translated “plausible arguments” in the ESV actually has a number of different renderings in different translations: “well-crafted arguments” (NLT), “fine-sounding arguments” (NIV), “smooth rhetoric” (BSB), “persuasive argument(s)” (NASB/HCSB), “persuasive words” (NKJV), “arguments that sound reasonable” (CSB/NET), “false arguments, no matter how good they seem to be” (GNT). So whether the idea of plausibility means much to you or not, I hope it is clear that arguements that sound right but are not (by whatever means) are not good. And Paul is explicitly fighting against these arguments, as part of his Gospel ministry. And he brings this back to the fact that he is not physically present with them:
For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
So perhaps what I’m saying is that I’d love the Christian church to be known, especially in this time, as people who take twitter and facebook (or whatever way we communicate other than face to face) as opportunities for ministry. That we would seek to make our communication based on reconciliation (between each other, and with God; 2Cor 5:20, Eph 2:14), and on truth –valuing it both in our own truthfulness, and in the reverence for the truth that we encourage in others. Because after all the online debates are done, after each viral video passes, the fundamental truth of our universe is that we should worship
Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col 2:2b-3 ESV)