Thanksgiving and prayer: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on Colossians)
by John Lowe
Lesson 1b: Thanksgiving and prayer (Colossians 1:3-14)
Scripture: Colossians 1:3-14 (NIV)
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—
5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel
6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant (Or slave), who is a faithful minister of Christ on our (Some manuscripts your) behalf,
8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (, or all spiritual wisdom and understanding),
10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you (Some manuscripts us) to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
3 WE ALWAYS THANK GOD, THE FATHER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHEN WE PRAY FOR YOU,
After the opening salutation it was usual, in an ancient letter, to add a few conventional words of thanks for the welfare of the persons addressed. Paul, too, likes to start with a thanksgiving though it is always a Christian and not merely a conventional one. The thanksgiving in Colossians, addressed to "God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"—that is, the God whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father—is woven around three short but very important words, which we are given in verse 4.
“We” in this verse probably refers to Paul and Timothy. Paul is directing thanks where it should be directed: “we always thank god, the father of our lord Jesus Christ.” It is God, the Father of Christ, whom we should thank, for in His relationship to us He is our God—but He is also our Father. He is “the father of our lord Jesus Christ,” our Savior; we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; therefore, in the sight of God, we have the same standing as Christ the Son, and God is our Father-God. The spirit-directed heart pours itself out to God in praises and thanksgiving.
Paul is pouring out praises and thanksgiving to God even though he was chained in a Roman prison cell. Why was he so happy? It was because he and Timothy had heard of the spiritual growth of the church at Colossae and instead of congratulating each other on their fine work among the Colossians, they both glorified God. The hearts of Paul and Timothy were so closely knit together in love and fellowship that Paul did not hesitate to say, "WE give thanks to God."
“WE ALWAYS . . . PRAY FOR YOU.” Paul prayed continually for the believers at Colossae, so deep were his interest in them, so great was his sympathy with and for them. He bore them always on his heart, and from his heart, he carried them to the throne of grace in ceaseless prayer, even though he is in jail, cut off bodily from their presence. Paul prayed the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man, and such a prayer always brings success—regardless of whether the need is for rain, grace, strength, mercy . . . or "whatsoever God supplieth."
4 BECAUSE WE HAVE HEARD OF YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS AND OF THE LOVE YOU HAVE FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE—
There are three very important words here; "faith," "love," and "hope." We are all familiar with this trilogy from 1 Corinthians 13:13: "So faith, hope, love, abide." These may have summed up for Paul the essence of the Christian life. They could even have been a common early Christian way of describing, in a nutshell, the Christian life.
Paul was in prison, but he had received the good news through Epaphras, who was his co-laborer in the Colossian church. His heart was gladdened by the news of their consistency, spiritual growth, and expansion. With a heart full of joy, he offered thanks to God for the Colossian Christians, and especially “the love you have for all God's people.” Please note: it is not their love for all men as such, but for all God's people. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also, ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
5 THE FAITH AND LOVE
THAT SPRING FROM THE HOPE STORED UP FOR YOU IN HEAVEN AND ABOUT WHICH YOU HAVE ALREADY HEARD IN THE TRUE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL
THE FAITH AND LOVE THAT SPRING FROM THE HOPE STORED UP FOR YOU IN HEAVEN
“Faith and love . . . spring from hope.” This states the cause or reason for their love. What does this imply? Simply, HOPE is the source of FAITH (the plant) and of LOVE (the fruit). In other words, a believer's hope or confidence in what God will do in the future leads to a greater faith or trust in God and a deepening of love for others.
Paul places hope last, because he saw faith and love springing from it. How does the hope of heaven cause faith & love to come forth? I would explain it this way: As pagans, the Colossians had been “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Then Epaphras came to them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Some believed and for them, Hope is “put in safekeeping” (“stored up for you in heaven”) which could have referred to a Royal Persian custom. Hellenistic rulers would lay up in store goods for faithful servants. This reminds us, “We can labor in the present without ever receiving a reward, for we look for a reward in the world to come.” Faith rests on the past; love works in the present; and hope looks towards the future.
AND ABOUT WHICH YOU HAVE ALREADY HEARD IN THE TRUE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL
“The true message of the Gospel” is very similar to a statement in Ephesians 1:13―“In Him (Lit. whom), you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed (Or believed in Him, you were sealed―Eph. 4:30; Acts 2:33), you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” If the Gospel were not true, it would not be good news but only cruel deception. It is just possible that here the apostle has in mind the false teaching that is currently invading Colossae, which he will soon attack openly in his letter. In his other controversial epistle, he refers twice to the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:5, 14). The best way to deal with false teaching is to hold it up to the light of truth which God has revealed. “The true message of the Gospel” is the contents of the Word, and the Gospel defines the character of the truth. In this context “the true message” is a proper definition for the Gospel. The phrase “The true message of the Gospel” is used instead of simply the word of the gospel to form a contrast with the false teachings being spread in their midst. There is a true Gospel and there is a "different" Gospel, which is really not another (Gal 1:6-9). Have you heard the true Gospel? Do you tell others the true Gospel? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate, eternal reality!
6 THAT HAS COME TO YOU. IN THE SAME WAY, THE GOSPEL IS BEARING FRUIT AND GROWING THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE WORLD—JUST AS IT HAS BEEN DOING AMONG YOU SINCE THE DAY YOU HEARD IT AND TRULY UNDERSTOOD GOD’S GRACE.
The apostle continues his discourse on “hope,” which became yours when the Gospel was first brought to you. It is, of course, part of the Gospel itself, which has reached you as it spreads all over the world. Wherever that Gospel goes, it produces Christian character, and develops it, as it had done in your own case from the time you first heard and realized the amazing fact of God's grace. It is that Gospel which they have already received, not the local perversion of it that has recently been urged upon them, but that which is spreading throughout the whole world―its truth authenticated by its ever-increasing popularity and the growing influence it has on its supporters, and which manifests the same excitement and energy among the Colossians themselves, in the form in which they learned it from their teacher Epaphras.
• The Gospel has snuggled close up to the Colossian saints and they have taken it into their hearts.
• The Gospel is present among you, that is, it has come to, and remains with, you. The Gospel had not only come to them, it was an abiding force among them.
• He speaks of the Gospel as if it were a living person present among them.
• The Gospel is universal. It is for all the world (see Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15; Rom. 1:8, 14, 16; 1Thess. 1:8) It is not confined to any one race or nation, nor to any one class or group. Very few things in this world are open to all men. A man's IQ decides the studies he can undertake. A man's social status decides the circle in which he will move. A man's material wealth determines the possessions he can accumulate. A man's particular gifts decide the things he can do. But the message of the Gospel is open without exception to all men.
There was nothing new here for the Colossians, because they had heard all these things before in the Word of truth, the Gospel (1:5). “Before” probably means, “before the heretics began unsettling you with their false doctrines.”