BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE/Paul’s prayer and thanksgiving
Please turn in your Bible to Colossians 1:3-8. In this letter, Paul is battling a heresy amongst the church at Colossae, which does not reject Christ outright, but claims to introduce these Christians to something in addition to what they had heard from Epaphras originally. As a result, Paul directs them to the sole sufficiency of Christ in his person and in his saving work. And in these verses specifically, Paul wants to reassure the Christians at Colossae that they have heard the gospel, and he wants to confirm the message that Epaphras has brought to them. This passage can easily be divided into three sections. First, Paul gives a thanksgiving in prayer. Secondly, he gives a description of the triad of faith, hope, and love. Thirdly and finally, Paul concludes this passage with a fivefold testimony.
I. Paul’s Thanksgiving In Prayer.
In verse 3, Paul begins by announcing a prayer of thanksgiving. He thanks God specifically for what God is doing in the Colossians. It is important to note Paul’s generosity here. He could have legitimately opened this letter with many words of criticism. But Paul’s first words are words of thanksgiving for what God is doing. As we read this passage, we have to ask ourselves, “Is that our attitude? Are we always looking to give thanks to God for what He is doing in our midst, in our friends, and in our families?” Now, very interestingly, Paul thanks God for the faith of the Colossians. If you read the letters of the Apostle Paul, he never once in his writings congratulates his readers for his faith. He always thanks God for it. And that reminds us that faith itself is the gift of God. Yes, we believe in Christ but it is God who works faith in us. It is wrought in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. Now I want you to note that Paul’s thanksgiving also has the effect of undercutting false teaching. The false teachers are saying to the Colossians, “What you have is good, but you need more.” However, Paul says, “I thank God that you do not need to seek a new and improved teaching, because you possess the truth already.” You see he undercuts the false teaching by his very thanksgiving. Christians must recognize the importance and power of thanksgiving. We ourselves must follow in this pattern. We must ask ourselves, “Do we imitate Paul’s thankful spirit?”
II. Paul’s Triad: Faith, Love, Hope.
Then Paul introduces this great triad of faith, love, and hope. Paul is not talking about natural characteristics or things that we have naturally as personality attributes. Paul is talking about qualities which are worked in us by the Holy Spirit. When you see these things in a person, you are seeing evidence of the work of God. In verse 4, Paul says, “We give thanks to God since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus.” As he speaks of this faith, Paul is speaking of that reliance on Christ, that trust in Christ, that belief in Christ, and that commitment to Christ which these Colossians have made. And it is important to note that he stresses the fact that Christ is the object of that faith. Then Paul says that he thanks God for their love. Again, this is not simply a human affection, this is self-denying concern which puts the best interest of others as a priority in our relationships to them. Notice again this is not just love to family or love to spouse or love to children, but this is a love of the Christian brotherhood, which is a distinctive gift of the Spirit. Jesus said that all people would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. This should teach us that there is no room in the church for any intellectual, spiritual, or social elite which separates itself from fellow believers whom Christ has accepted. Lastly, Paul points to hope. Note here that Paul says that hope is the cause of faith and love. Hope enables you to believe and to love. Hope is confident assurance and expectancy of the greater blessings in store for believers in the world to come. Hope expects what faith believes. Paul is telling the Colossians and us that we do not need to look for mystical experiences to see the work of God in us. Instead, we look to Christ, love the brethren, and hope for glory. That is the sign of the work of God in us.
III. Paul’s Fivefold Testimony.
In verses 5-8, Paul testifies to the truth that these Colossians have already received. First, Paul tells them, “You have heard the word of truth. You have heard the Gospel.” In other words, he is warning them that no one can come to them and say, “Okay now we are going to give you the rest of the truth.” Why? Because they have already heard the truth. He is saying, “Epaphras has already preached it to you. Do not be tricked.” Secondly, Paul says, “This word of truth not only came to you, but it is in all the world.” In other words, this is not some secret that only a few people know about. The whole world knows about the word of the Gospel. It is being spread everywhere. Thirdly, he says that this Gospel is working. You can imagine the false teachers saying, ‘Yeah, well what Epaphras is saying is fine but we have got something that will really work. It will just revolutionize you’re experience with God.” To those claims, the Apostle Paul says in verse 6, “It is working. It is bearing fruit and increasing.” Fourthly, in verse 8, he says, “You learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bondservant, who is a faithful servant of Christ.” In other words when these men come and say, “Oh Epaphras hasn’t told you the whole story.” Paul responds, “That is wrong. He has told you the whole story because he is a faithful servant.” And finally, Paul says, “Not only have you heard the truth, but you understood it. Do not be tricked by someone saying that you need a new and improved teaching. You do not because you understood the grace of God when he first taught it to you.”
My friends, let me ask you this. Do you believe Paul’s testimony that Christ and His Gospel is all-sufficient? Do you believe that the Christian life ought to be characterized by faith, love, and hope? Has God worked that in your midst? If you do not see those things, then come to Christ. Ask of him and He will fill you abundantly with faith and love and hope. Ask him to work in your heart a thankfulness which is befitting the Christian. May God, by His grace, make these realities for us, and may we truly become a people characterized by faith and love and hope.