3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:3-14
I am excited to dive further into Colossians with you today! We have the context of the letter – the author (Paul), the recipients (the churches at Colossae and Laodicea), and some of the history and purpose, but, today, we are going to see what motivated Paul to write to them.
The passage listed above (ch. 1:3-14) will be our passage over the next few weeks so that we can keep our study in context. This is important because it is easy to forget that the verses and sentences are part of paragraphs and sections and chapters (and in this case whole letters or books). It is also important because there is a lot that can be mined from this section that we still need as the Church today.
The verses in this section are a prayer of thanksgiving from Paul to God on behalf of – and because of – the church at Colossae. It might help you to see it broken down a little bit.
- Paul thanks God often for what he has heard about the church at Colossae – their faith in Christ, love for each other, and hope found in Him – because of the gospel bearing fruit in their midst (vv. 3-8).
- Paul prays specifically for their continued growth in knowing God and walking with Him so that they can continue the gospel work in Colossae (vv. 9-12).
- Paul reminds them that the gospel that they believed is the basis for their faith in Christ and his prayer for them – which is enough to combat the false teaching they are encountering (vv. 13-14).
Today, we will dive into verses 3-8.
Thanksgiving for the Work of the Gospel in the Colossians (vv. 3-5a)
I mentioned in the last devotion that one of the things I love the most about Paul’s letter to the Colossians is how relatable it is to churches today. It was planted by a regular, everyday guy named Epaphras who cared enough about the people in his town that he shared the gospel with them. This is also important because it reiterates God’s design for the spread of the gospel – for all who are saved to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The gospel is spread through us sharing. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Holy Spirit through Paul tells us that we are “ambassadors for Christ” and that God makes His gospel “appeal through us” to “implore [people] on behalf of Christ [to] be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Epaphras did that. He was God’s ambassador. And, now, Paul writes to the embassy – the church – that God planted there regarding how thankful he is to God for the work!
Paul prayed for the Colossian church often, which is cool, but, what strikes me even more is why Paul said is the reason he is thankful in his prayer for them: faith, love, and hope. Let us look at these one-by-one.
He tells them that he has been praying for them “since [he and those with him] heard” of those at Colossae’s “faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). This is important because this is the basis of what a church is – and what it is not. This is not a group of like-minded people who decided to start a social-religious organization. It is not a group of people who share moral values who want to reform their community to certain standards of living and behavior. No, this is a group of people who were formerly “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2) who God, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us…made…alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4)! They were the local body of Christ, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [they] should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
He is rejoicing that people had been saved from their sins by putting their faith in Jesus Christ alone. That same faith should be a pillar in our churches today.
Paul was also thankful for “the love that [they] had for all the saints” (v. 4). We may think that this is an amazing attribute to be seen in a church today, but Paul mentioning here shows that this is something accomplished by God’s Spirit in churches – not in the ability of people to tolerate or be polite. Love is part of the fruit of God’s Spirit dwelling inside of you (Galatians 5:22-23). This love occurs because of the love that God showed us in Christ Jesus, and it is to be the hallmark of a genuine church (1 John 4:9-10, 19). It is such a big deal that the Holy Spirit had John write that if someone had hatred for a brother while professing to love Christ that the person “is a liar” (1 John 4:20-21).
Just as Paul saw the faith of the Colossian church and thanked God for it, he recognized the love that he heard about (remember, Paul had not been there to see this in person) – by reputation – and thanked God for that fruit (evidence) of their faith.
Just as their love flowed out of their faith, the hope that the Colossians had did, too. Their hope was “laid up for [them] in heaven” (v. 5). This may seem like a moot point, but I think we need to be reminded that Jesus is the prize – not heaven. In fact, He is the reason heaven is worth having! The Colossians came to faith in Christ not to escape hell. They loved one another because they had been loved well. And their hope was found in trusting that the object of their faith had a place prepared for them (John 14:2-3). Their hope was that “living hope” that the Holy Spirit wrote of through Peter that was rooted in “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [them], who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
To truly have hope in Christ that impacts now and echoes into eternity, is something to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving for the Work of the Gospel around the World (vv. 5b-6)
Paul’s next area of gratitude is that “the Word of Truth, the gospel” is “bearing fruit and increasing” (vv. 5-6). I know that we have looked at what the gospel is many times in these devotions, but we should never tire of hearing it or think we have grown past it. Rather than trying to sum it up myself, I would rather point to a passage that sums it up very well; after all, the Bible says that “the Word of Truth” is the basis for hope (Psalm 119:43):
For I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….”1 Corinthians 15:3-4
That message has power because Jesus is alive! For two thousand years people have been proclaiming the gospel – the good news – that Jesus died to save people from their sins and rose again.
I believe that was particularly good news for Paul to hear about – that the gospel was working through others – because he was nearing the end of his life. But the end of his life was not a lengthy retirement reaping the benefits of his 401k; no, Paul was in chains in the Mamertine prison in ancient Rome awaiting execution for preaching the gospel. Paul was encouraged that the gospel was still being preached. He was thankful to hear of the faith, love, and hope that it produced.
Paul has now been dead for the majority of those two thousand years, but the gospel is still “bearing fruit and increasing” (v. 6). It is still working because God’s Spirit is still working. It is His power that moves on the hearts of men and women who hear the Word preached (Romans 10:9-10, 17). And it is still “bearing fruit and increasing” long after Paul’s death and then after Epaphras’ death. In fact, if Jesus’ tarries, it will bear fruit and continue to increase after my death and yours. The gospel is not dependent on men and women who can die. It is dependent on Jesus, and He’s still alive!
Thanksgiving for the Worker Who Took the Gospel to Them (vv. 7-8)
At the time that Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, apparently Epaphras was with him. I love the descriptions that Paul gives of Epaphras having shared with him about the Colossian church. This proud pastor did not boast of numbers or programs but of faith, love, and hope. He did not brag on accomplishments but of how people were hearing and understanding “the grace of God in truth” (v. 6).
This is refreshing.
Paul is not jealous that Epaphras planted the church instead of him. Epaphras is not seeking recognition. They are both celebrating what God is doing through His gospel and the power of His Spirit. This is the same sort of spirit that John the Baptist displayed when Jesus came, which effectively ended his ministry: “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Remember how I said that I loved how a regular, everyday guy brought the gospel to Colossae? Look at how Paul described him here. Paul called him a “fellow servant” – a syndoulos – which is basically honoring Epaphras by saying that he was of the same service as a bondservant of Jesus that Paul was. Epaphras surely would have never described himself as such, but Paul did. Paul recognized the love that he had for his flock as their “faithful minister of Christ on [their] behalf” (v. 7).
Reflecting & Closing
I pray that at least some of what we have looked at has caused you to think and reflect on your own situation. Most of all, I pray that you find yourself reflecting on your relationship with Christ.
Since this passage (which we will continue to cover in the coming weeks) is focusing on a prayer of thanksgiving, I want to close with an opportunity for you to be able to pray, too. I am not going to write out a prayer for you to pray because I do not think we have to be eloquent pray-ers. Feel free to look at these points to help you get started or guide you, but, ultimately, prayer is you talking to God. I do not want you to feel limited by only the things I have listed. If you are thankful, He would love to hear from you!
If you come to places that talk about having faith in Christ or a relationship with Him and you do not, please do not hesitate to reach out. I would love to talk with you about that or help point you to someone where you live and help you learn more about that.
If you come to the part where the prayer guide points you to pray for your church and you do not have one, I would like to help you find one of those as well. I know there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the continual pandemic, but, reaching back to God’s call on us as “ambassadors” earlier, we cannot do this work alone or without an embassy! If you do not have a church home, I would love to help you find one. If you have not been back with your church family in a while, I pray that they will welcome you back with open arms and the love we saw in the church at Colossae!
Thanksgiving for the Gospel in Your Life
- Thank God for your getting to hear the gospel and come to faith in Him.
- Thank God for loving you and giving His life for you.
- Thank God for the hope of eternity with Him.
Thanksgiving for the Gospel in Your Church
- Thank God for having a faith family.
- Thank God for the way the gospel worked in building your embassy.
- Thank God for the opportunity to be part of His Kingdom work.
- Thank God for your pastor like Paul did for Epaphras.
Thanksgiving for the Gospel in Your World
- Thank God for the opportunity to get to be an Epaphras – a regular, everyday person with the best good news anyone could hear.
- Thank God that His gospel is still bearing fruit and increasing around the world.
- Thank God for those involved in preaching that the gospel and pray for people who have yet to hear to have the opportunity to come to faith in Christ.