“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” (Colossians 2:1).
A person in the midst of a conflict is usually someone who is facing a difficult choice between two or more alternatives. However, Paul the Apostle’s conflict regarding the first-century churches in Colossae and Laodicea went far beyond a struggle to choose between two viable options.
You see, Paul described his feelings towards these churches with the word agon in the original language of this verse. This word was used to identify a stadium or arena and came to describe a struggle or contest by extension. It was also employed as a military term to depict a battle or used in a legal sense to define a trial. (1) These word-pictures offer some insight into the internal conflict Paul faced in praying and working for two groups of people he had never met.
The city of Laodicea was located about 10 miles (16 km) from Colossae and had a reputation as an important financial center within that region. It was also known for its textile production, including a black colored wool that was produced from specially bred sheep. In addition, Laodicea was recognized for producing an ointment that was used to treat certain eye conditions as well as other medications.
Near the end of this letter to the Colossians, Paul will go on to offer the following directive regarding the church at Laodicea: “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). This tells us that the false teachings that had infiltrated the church at Colossae had likely spread to the Laodicean church as well.
Unfortunately, Jesus would later issue a critical message to the church at Laodicea in the final book of the New Testament…
“I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other. But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16 NIV).
Judging from Jesus’ message to the Laodiceans in the book of Revelation, it seems that Paul’s letters did not have much of a long-term impact. This serves as important reminder for modern-day readers: if we do not make the right spiritual corrections today, it may lead to larger issues tomorrow.