Paul has a personal stake in this controversy. He is well aware of his own tenuous status at Colosse: he has never visited this congregation and does not have firsthand knowledge of the falsehood he is addressing in this letter. His opponents may well counter, "What does Paul know about our situation, anyway? What gives him the right to speak so pointedly about it?"
Nevertheless, Paul promises that although absent from you in body he is present with you in spirit. This intriguing connection between his bodily absence and spiritual presence, which reflects his apostolic self-understanding, reflects his understanding of Christ, who while absent in body continues to be present with us through his Spirit. For this reason I am inclined to take Paul's statement of his spiritual presence quite literally rather than as a metaphor for his personal support. The spirit of his apostleship, not unlike the Spirit of the Risen Christ, is alive and active through available writings or remembered sermons and continues to minister to congregations where he is now bodily absent (see my comments on 4:7-9). It may be that Paul's discernment of the Colossian crisis is the result of intercessory prayer, when his spirit is illumined by Christ's Spirit (see Rom 8:26-27) quite independently of others' reports and letters. In this sense, prayer has enabled Paul to see how orderly youare and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Maintaining an orderly and firm faith is necessary for the community's nurture (compare 1 Cor 14:33, 40). Some commentators suggest that these are characteristics of a battle scene and so of an embattled congregation. Yet Paul expresses delight in their already orderly and firm faith, probably because he is present with them in spirit; and while Paul's tone throughout this section is harsh toward his opponents, it remains gentle toward his readers.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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