In our last chapter we covered Paul's introductory remarks where he introduces himself and establishes his authority as an Apostle and teacher in the face of the false teaching and teachers that have been active at this congregation and elsewhere. He blesses them with grace and peace from God, two important spiritual gifts that they are in danger of losing if the heretics have their way.
In the following section of the letter Paul will offer a prayer which will serve as a bridge to his first major point in this lesson: Christ is pre-eminent, or first and foremost, in their relationship with God.
Christ Pre-Eminent in Relationship
In this first section Paul will review the establishment and progress of the Colossian church. He does this in prayer form.
1. The History of the Colossian Church – 3-8
Verses 3 to 8 is one long sentence with many sub-clauses.
Vs. 3 – We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Paul establishes the fact that he and his associates constantly pray for this church.
As a matter of fact, prayer is one of the main functions of church leaders. In Acts 6:4 the Apostles said that they did not want to take up their time with benevolence work (this they gave to deacons) because they wanted to focus on their main tasks of prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Paul quickly establishes the position of Jesus Christ as equal to the Father. He prays to God the Father of Christ – they are of the same divine nature. He prays to one, but both are included. And his prayer is one of thanksgiving, which was not always the case when praying for a congregation (e.g. Corinth).
This congregation has been making good progress, they have not yet fallen but rather are in danger of doing so.
Vs. 4-5a – since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven,
The reasons for his prayers of thanksgiving are found in these verses:
A. Faith – These Christians have faith in Jesus Christ. They believe in the Lord, they have not yet been moved away from this. Paul is thankful for brethren of like-minded faith.
B. Love – He is enthusiastic about their faith because it is sincerely and authentically demonstrated in love. And not just any type of love but true Christian love of the brethren and love of the church.
So then while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
- Galatians 6:10
C. You cannot be for God and against the Church. He is happy for them and thankful as well as prayerful because of their future. In the past they believed in Jesus, in the present they express that faith in love for others, especially Christians. In the future there is this hope (this confident assurance) that there is a reward for them in heaven.
Paul equates the reward (eternal life with God) with the hope (confident assurance) of the reward. This is a literary device known as "METONYMY" where one word is substituted for another. For example, the President is the head of State. He is not a head; a state does not have a head. The word head is substituted for the word leader. Paul gives thanks because they have a sure reward awaiting them in heaven; he refers to this as their "hope."
Vs. 5b-8 – of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
In this section Paul expands his comment concerning the hope/reward that the Colossians are anticipating by saying several more things about it and its relationship to the gospel message.
This is another literary device that Paul uses where he talks about one thing and then, without pausing or beginning a new sentence, he builds a bridge to a different idea. In these verses he builds a bridge from the idea of the reward the Colossians will receive to where they received this reward and who brought it to them.
A. Where the Information About the Reward Comes From – verse 5b
This faith that leads to this love that produces this reward/hope all begins with the message of the gospel. Paul assumes that his readers know what he is talking about when he says "gospel" or "good news." That Jesus died to pay the moral debt for all men and now forgiveness and eternal life are offered through faith in Him.
Gospel is short form for this (compression). He refers to the gospel as the word of truth.
Remember to keep your eye on what these Colossians are struggling with here – false doctrine leading them away from the simple message of the gospel. Paul establishes himself as an Apostle, Christ as God's Son and now the gospel as the truth as opposed to what they have been receiving from the false teachers.
B. What the Gospel is Doing – verse 6
They are not the only ones to receive this good news that initiates faith and love and hope – but everywhere else the gospel is preached, the same pattern of faith, love and hope has been repeated and increased. The same thing happens every time the grace of God is perceived in the gospel message.
Faith, love, hope is produced and increased as people cling to the message and the promise.
Paul assures them that theirs is not a unique or isolated experience, but the same pattern that occurs everywhere the gospel goes – this faith, love, hope is produced.
C. Who Delivered the Message – verses 7 to 8
Paul informs them of how he has come to know of their progress in the faith (and between the lines, of their problems). He reminds them of the preacher who first brought them the gospel, Epaphras, and gives him a commendation as a loving and faithful minister. Perhaps since Epaphroditus was from this congregation, the false teachers were trying to undermine his teaching and efforts at ministry.
Paul confirms his standing, his teaching and his faithful report of their condition and attitude (he did not bad mouth the congregation to Paul). His report was that their love was in the Spirit, not the flesh.
2. The Future of the Colossian Church – 9-12
Paul continues his prayer format but turns from a discussion and thanksgiving for their past, to a prayer request of blessings for their future. In these verses he asks God to bless them with very specific spiritual blessings.
A. Knowledge of God's Will
Vs. 9 – For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Since they are faithful and loving and hopeful, Paul asks God to add to these things a special kind of knowledge. Not a worldly knowledge of politics or finances or philosophy, but the knowledge of God's will.
Remember, in those days there existed only a few letters written by the Apostles, very few collection of gospels and epistles, and so Paul asks God to give them the knowledge that they need that we can have through the New Testament – which they had no access to. Spiritual wisdom and understanding is to know the things of God and Christ revealed and disseminated by the Apostles.
Paul prays that God will somehow reveal and supply this wisdom and understanding to them. In the context of this letter it would probably be the ability to understand and apply what he, Paul, was about to share with them regarding Christ.
B. The Ability to Please the Lord
Vs. 10 – so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
There is a difference between what we see as the right thing, what we want to do and what we end up doing. The spirit is often willing but the flesh is weak. Paul asks God to help them live in a way that will be pleasing to Him, and this would include:
- Obeying Him and having the strength to do His will in every area of life. Reducing the sin quota.
- Bearing the fruit of good works in His name. The ability to see and do those things that honor God and witness their faith.
- Increase in their knowledge not just of His will, but of Himself as a being.
They do not have the resources to do these things even if they wanted to, Paul asks God to intervene and provide whatever is necessary to obey Him, to grow in Him and to know Him personally.
He prays for their increased knowledge and ability…
C. Increased Power
Vs. 11a – strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience;
Paul finishes by asking God to increase their power – again not mental or physical power but their spiritual power. And not the power to do miracles, speak in tongues or prophecy. He asks for the power to attain two virtues:
Patience – not just the ability to wait around but rather the ability to bear under a load of persecution, trials, and opposition without anger, resentment or self-pity.
Steadfastness – the ability to hold out against provocation. One who is not ruled by temper or passions but rather by love, by faith, by hope.
They are being tested in their congregation and Paul calls upon God to increase their knowledge, their spiritual abilities and their power to resist quitting or divisiveness.
Finally, he prays that they have:
D. Joyful Attitude
Vs. 11b-12 – joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Along with all of these he prays that they can exercise their spiritual virtues with an attitude of joy and thanksgiving because despite the difficulties, they have the privilege of sharing in the "inheritance" of the saints in light. Before he called it the "hope", now he calls it the "inheritance."
He is still speaking of the promise of God to all who believe and obey Jesus Christ His Son:
- forgiveness of sin
- resurrection from the dead
- eternal life in heaven
He finishes the section by referring to Christians as "saints in light" because in the next section he will refer to Jesus as the King of the kingdom of light. So the reference to light sets up a visual bridge to the next verse where he will compare the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (which is light).
In our next chapter we will be moving into the central theme of the letter: Christ who is all sufficient in every relationship. In this introductory phase we can draw important lessons for our own lives:
1. Jesus Christ is Lord of All
Others may deny it or call this claim narrow minded or intolerant, but they cannot deny that this is what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that there is only one Lord, one Savior, one intermediary and that is Jesus Christ – (Acts 4:12). He shares this role with no one and He is replaced by no one. Yesterday, today and tomorrow He will always be the only Lord of all.
2. We Have Something to Look Forward to
Paul calls it a hope, an inheritance, a light but it all points to a sure and beautiful future for those who have heard and obeyed the gospel. Whenever we become discouraged with this life, remember that we are exercising faith in this life not for a reward in this life but for a sure reward to come in the next life.
Remember, even if it gets really good in this life or really bad in this life - the reward is not in this life.
3. Ask for Spiritual Blessings not Just for Material Blessings
Look at the things Paul prayed for:
- Knowledge of God and His will
- Ability to be fruitful
- Spiritual power in Christian virtues
- Joyful and thankful hearts
These are the type of things that enrich our lives beyond anything money could ever buy. So when you pray, ask for heavenly things not just earthly things.