“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” (Colossians 2:1-2, NKJV).
“Out of sight, out of mind” is a secular proverb that describes the attitude of many. Most humans tend to focus their attention and efforts on those people and things which are in close proximity to themselves. We don’t usually spend much energy on those whom we have not met, or on needs that are at a great distance.
Paul was not of that mindset. He wanted the Christians that lived in the cities of Colossae and Laodicea to know that they were important to him. Though they had never yet seen him “up close and personal,” he knew who they were, he knew of their faith, and he had great love for them. He also was willing to invest great energy, both emotional and physical, in their spiritual growth.
That attitude is one of the absolute requirements of a missionary, and of those who support missionary activity. If one cannot or does not love the lost whom he has not yet met, why would he travel around the world to bring the good news of salvation to them? Why would such a one give generously to support the preaching of the Gospel in places the giver had never been? The answer is obvious: those who do not love strangers do not usually go or give in order to bring them to Christ.
The question then becomes, “Why should we love those whom we do not know?” And, “How do we encourage such love in Christians and congregations?” Again, the apostle Paul is our example and guide.
First, Paul loved the lost because he perceived God’s love for him (Romans 1:8-16). How can one who has been forgiven fail to wish that forgiveness to come to others? God’s grace to Paul put the former persecutor under great obligation. As he said in another place, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). It is not that he would be condemned in judgment if he chose not to preach, but rather than he would condemn himself – he could not ignore the responsibility that God’s love placed upon him.
Second, Paul loved the lost because he identified with them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He understood that all humans are God’s creation, that they are all sinners, and that they all can be recipients of the cleansing blood of Christ (Romans 1:16; 5:1, 9). The billions of unbelievers in Asia and Africa are made in the image of God, just like those in Europe and the Americas. Christ died on the cross for them just as he did for us (1 John 2:1-2). To Paul they were brothers and sisters just as surely as those raised in his own home.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, they were loved by God, therefore they must be loved by Paul. If they were acceptable to Jesus, they were certainly acceptable to Paul. If Jesus loved them enough to die for them, then his apostles should love them enough to preach to them. And if that was true in Biblical times, it remains true today.
Have you prayed lately for people in a country which you have never visited? What about for a missionary to reach those whom you have never seen? Can you echo the words of the apostle that you have “great conflict” for all who have never seen your face? We will never reach the world with the gospel until we have come to love those whom we do not know. Let us pray and strive to achieve that goal.