In the second Bible study in this series on the Letter to the Colossians, titled Identification, we studied Paul’s introduction of himself and Timothy and his greeting to the church at Colossae. This greeting of Paul’s identified him as an apostle, a sent out one, of Christ by the will of God. Paul identified himself as a Christian and one who goes out to proclaim the Gospel. By this, the church of Colossae could recognize he was one to whom they should listen. Paul had credentials. Next in the greeting, Paul called Timothy “our brother.” With these two words, he identified to the Colossian believers that Timothy, too, was a believer and one who traveled with and learned daily from Paul. He was one they should consider highly, too. The people of Asia Minor, which included Colossae, knew of Timothy as one of their own since he grew up in their part of the world. The Colossians identified with Timothy as a man of Asia Minor. Paul, being from Tarsus, of Asia Minor, identified as one of their own, too. Between Paul and Timothy, their backgrounds covered people from Asia Minor who had Greek and/or Jewish backgrounds, just as the Colossian church comprised people from Greek and Jewish backgrounds. With the words of Paul’s introduction and greeting, he led the people to identify with him and Timothy and prepared them to listen and heed what he wrote to them in this letter.
With verses three through eight, Paul prayed about the Colossian brethren. This prayer was a thanksgiving to God for the faith of the Colossian Christians, love toward their brethren, and hope for their final reward. Notice, this prayer speaks of a multidimensional Christianity-upward to God, outward to other believers, and forward to eternity - shown by three words, faith, love, and hope.
“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, always praying for you…” (Colossians 1:3 [NASB])
Paul, as Jesus’ sent out one, who identified with Christ and the Colossian Christians, offered a prayer of thanks to God. The word “thanks” comes from the same Greek work from which eucharist comes. The Greek word is eucharisteo. It means to give thanks acknowledging God’s grace works well for our eternal gain and His glory. For God’s grace, Paul thanked Him. Each time a Christian partakes of communion/eucharist/Lord’s Supper, he or she gives thanks for the grace God gave him or her through Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a time of remembrance of what Jesus did for believers and thanks for His grace He gave through it. Paul said the same thing in this opening of his prayer. He remembered with and for the Colossae Christians what Jesus did for them with His life, death, and resurrection, and he thanked God for the grace He gave them, which they accepted as His gift of love.
With the phrase “to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul began reminding them of who Jesus is. He alluded to the theme of this letter - Jesus, the Son of God, fully divine. Paul prayed to God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the Son who died and rose from death to give grace, mercy, and salvation. To this One, the One in whom Paul, Timothy, and the Colossian church had faith, he interacted. In this prayer, Paul pointed anew to the supreme deity of God. Because of God’s grace works in and for the Colossian saints, Paul thanked Him. He acknowledged grace and faith come only from God. Paul prayed in faith, praying in the way the Father desires, according to the Father’s heart, that the Colossian church would be persuaded completely and be full of faith in Him. He said he prayed always for the Colossian Christians. Paul prayed according to God’s will continually and in the way He moved him to pray for them. He was connected intimately with God and, through Him, intimately connected with the Colossian believers. He identified with God as His saved and sent out one. Paul identified with the Colossian Christians, too, as one who was a sinner saved by God’s grace through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
“…since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love, which you have for all the saints…” (Col. 1:4 [NASB])
Paul had heard of the faith and love of the Christians in Colossae. He would have heard it from the man he discipled who was from their region, Epaphras. Because Paul spent lengthy periods of time in Asia Minor on his second and third missionary journeys, he could have learned about the believers in Colossae at those times or from the people who wrote to him. What Paul heard is for what Paul thanked God. He noted their faith, pistis, in Jesus Christ. Notice, this belief is not in one’s self to do things, such as good works, or be things. This belief is in Jesus, the One who saves people from their sins and makes them righteous. Pistis means belief and true faith in Jesus as a gift from God. This faith gift from God is what persuaded them of the truth of Jesus Christ. As they acted on this faith, it produced more faith, so they grew in their relationship with God and in their service to Him. As any believer applies what they know, hear, and receive from God, more faith grows in them. They mature and bear fruit.
This faith and its growth in a believer leads to agape love. Agape love can only come from being identified with Jesus Christ. People cannot manufacture it. This love that is true and devoted; it is pure. Nothing changes it. This love is not hot one day and cold another. Agape love is the pure love from Jesus Christ. Each characteristic of God - Father, Son, and Spirit - comes from this pure love. The agape love Paul said the Colossians showed was love “for all the saints.” These saints of which Paul wrote were other people whom Jesus made holy through the redemption He gives. The Colossian believers enacted their faith in Jesus with pure love for other believers in Jesus Christ. They showed the love of God to other Christians. This shows the Colossian believers’ identification with God. Their faith in Christ led to love of Christ pouring out from them towards the saints. They identified with Jesus and with other believers. These Colossian Christians grew in their faith and showed Christ’s love to others. They had a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with people that was Christlike, from agape love. For their faith acted upon as agape love lived out among other saints, Paul thanked God.
“…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel…” (Col. 1:5 [NASB])
Paul began this next section talking of the third aspect of believers, hope. The first two were faith and love. Paul said in verse five, “...because of the hope…” Hope motivated the believers in Colossae. Hope without substance isn’t hope. Without substance, this describes just possibility. Hope that has a basis, a foundation, such as the Christian hope in Jesus that leads to an eternal reward, is something onto which they could be sure. The Colossian believers could trust and put their confidence in this reward, not because people told them about heaven, but because they believed unto faith in Jesus Christ and received salvation by His grace given because of His shed blood. That truth is the basis for Christian hope. Jesus never fails or lies. He is victorious over sin and death as the fully divine Son of God. The believers in Colossae held onto this hope laid up for them in heaven, which they gained when they heard and trusted in the truth, the Gospel. They lived out their faith with God’s agape love toward other believers because of the hope they had in Christ. The Colossian Christians’ faith, as God gave to them, was genuine as acknowledged by their actions of faith and because they looked toward the future of their completed salvation and acted in the present.
“…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 since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth…” (Col. 1:6 [NASB])
Paul is famous for his unending and complicated sentence structure. This phrase begins with the last words in verse five. It speaks of the Gospel. The word “Gospel” comes from the Greek word euaggelion, meaning the truth of the good news of the Messiah. Paul stated the Colossians faith, love, and hope came from the Gospel, the good news of the Messiah. This Gospel that came to them and which they heeded was the word of truth. Remember, God is the definition of truth, the source of truth. His character is truth. So, if something comes from Him, it is the absolute truth. Understanding this was important for the Colossian believers because they lived in a city and region bombarded by Greco-Roman gods, Babylonian gods, Greek philosophical thought, and Jewish legalism. This combination of influences with bits and pieces of ideas taken from Christianity led to the beginnings of Gnosticism. The truth from God of the good news, the Gospel, is absolute. Paul inferred no other philosophical thought or faith system is truth if it differs from God’s truth.
Paul continued explaining how they could know for sure this word of truth they received is the truth. He said a faith in the word of truth constantly bears fruit and increases. He said this word of truth is the same as what had been and was being presented in the entire world. The increase is the number of people from different tribes, nations, and tongues who believed in the truth of God. Know by its increase, its fruit. Just as it bore fruit in the Lycus River valley with actions of godly character and conduct, it was effective beyond there and bore fruit elsewhere, too. This fruit of the Gospel in believers’ lives didn’t just bud then die away, but word came of its growth and maturity. It increased and spread. So, too, did the faith of the Colossians grow richer and deeper. It matured in them. God’s truth didn’t need supplementation by other thoughts or religions. People need nothing else for the Gospel to save them when they believed in Jesus Christ. This word of truth, the Gospel, as the believers in Colossae listened to and understood it from Epaphras, is the grace of God. The Gospel preached to them, which they believed with the faith God gave them and the faith that grew and matured, is God’s truth and is sufficient for salvation from sins and receipt of eternal life with Him. Paul said no person needs to add anything to what they received from God’s sent ones to give them salvation and eternal life. Writing this in his thanksgiving to God foreshadowed what Paul's purpose was for this letter. Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient.
“…just as you learned it from Epaphras, our bellowed fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf…” (Col. 1:7 [NASB])
Paul identified he knew from whom the believers in Colossae heard the Gospel. The verb Paul used is a prolonged verb. What they learned began at a point in time and they kept learning, so it became a part of their lifestyle, continuing to learn from experience as they walked with Christ each day. Paul acknowledged the believers in Colossae not only believed, but they kept on believing and grew in their faith. They matured and increased, as he said in verse six. They learned and kept on learning by living with Jesus every day. Paul mentioned Epaphras because he trusted what he taught and preached to them since he personally discipled him. He knew Epaphras taught the truth of God. Additionally, by mentioning Epaphras, Paul reminded the believers of Colossae to remember and hold on to the truth Epaphras told them. Don’t let anyone water it down with other philosophical thoughts or faith systems.
Paul called Epaphras a “beloved fellow bond-servant.” This phrasing meant Epaphras was one of them; they followed Christ together. Both Paul and Epaphras identified with Christ. He called him a bond-servant. A bond-servant is someone who voluntarily submits to another person. It doesn’t occur by force, authority, or monetary debt. Epaphras, like Paul and Timothy, accepted the truth of the word, the Gospel, and voluntarily submitted to Christ as His Lord and Savior. Wherever God told Him to go and to whoever God told him to speak, Epaphras would obey. God controlled his life because he gave it to Him. By this, Epaphras was a bond-servant of Christ. Besides being a beloved, fellow bond-servant, Paul said Epaphras was faithful. This word comes from the same root word as the word “faith” in verse four, pistos. Epaphras did not begrudgingly obey God. He did not say, “I’ll do anything, except not that, God.” He was a faithful servant. Epaphras, fully persuaded of the truth of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, lived a life of growing and maturing faith upon which he obeyed God. Inspired by Jesus, he carried out His plans for each person to hear the Gospel. Epaphras lived and breathed to tell the Gospel. He became a teacher of the Christian faith as a beloved and faithful bond-servant of Christ. Epaphras’ cause, his purpose for telling others about Jesus, was three-fold. He acted because of the call Christ had on his life. Epaphras identified with Christ. He, too, acted with other men and women to make sure each person heard the Gospel. Epaphras identified with other sent out ones. Finally, he acted out of agape love for other people. He did not want any person to die without knowing the grace, salvation, and eternal life that faith in Jesus gives. He identified with unsaved people because he had been an unbeliever. Because of Epaphras’ faithfulness to Christ, the Colossian Christians could trust completely in the truth Epaphras taught them. They didn’t need new teachers or to add other things to what Epaphras taught them. Epaphras’ faithfulness to God and to the people of Colossae shows pure love, agape love. Epaphras’ and Paul’s faith, hope, and love, resulted in proclaiming the word of truth and being faithful to Christ.
“…and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.” (Col. 1:8 [NASB])
In verse three, Paul said he and Timothy had heard of the faith in Christ of the Colossian believers. He did not state from whom he gained that information. In verse eight, Paul wrote that Epaphras told them of Colossians’ faith. A young pastor reported to his mentor/discipler what was happening in the church he planted in Colossae. He wanted Paul to know what was happening in the Lycus River valley. Epaphras excitedly told what was happening in Colossae and the growth he saw in the believers. The first sign of belief in Jesus in a Christian’s life is the love that flows in and through him or her, outward to people and upward to God. Epaphras told Paul of their love. He didn’t tell them of philia love, deep friendship, but of agape love, a love for everyone that has its source in God. The Colossian believers, according to Epaphras, identified with Christ and identified with other believers. He said they did it in the Spirit. Identification with Christ and other believers is not recognizing them, but more than that. Identification is recognizing and loving them without considering their worth. Just as God loves each person. The Colossian Christians’ identification with Jesus and other believers came from love. The Colossian Christians did not love from their own capacity, but with the capacity and unselfish love of God. Epaphras told Paul of the Colossian believers’ maturing faith, Paul wrote.
Have you understood everything Paul said in this six-verse passage of Scripture? Paul was very precise in what he said. He packed much into his sentences with many dependent clauses. Paul, like any good teachers and mentors, began this letter and his thanksgiving to God for the Colossae church with the good news of the growth of these children of God in love, faith, and hope, the three aspects, or as R.E. O. White says, “the dimensions,” of Christian experience. He thanked God for the people of Colossae who had become Christians because of their faith, which manifested itself through the love and hope that comes from God. Paul recognized these co-heirs in Christ identified with God and with other believers. Paul briefly reminded these believers that Jesus is fully divine, and His sacrifice is sufficient for salvation. They did not need to add another philosophical thought or faith system to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection to receive salvation and an eternal inheritance in heaven. Paul encouraged the Colossian believers further by telling them what they had heard from Epaphras came from a fellow beloved bond-servant of Christ, just as he himself is an apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will.
Consider these questions as you process today’s Bible study.
Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians to do more than boost their morale with his thanksgiving to God. He foreshadowed of the theme for this letter in his prayer we studied today. Jesus is fully divine, and His sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of every person who repents and believes in Him as the Son of God. As always, Paul’s love for other people caused him to teach and correct them so Satan’s deceptions would not lead them astray.
Paul would later pray for these believers to have the knowledge of God’s will with spiritual wisdom and understanding, to live a life worthy of God, bearing fruit, increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with God’s might and power, ensuring and being patient with joy, and giving thanks to God, the One who qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints. (Colossians 1:9-12)
For us today, we must ask ourselves if we are persuaded fully of the truth of the Gospel about Jesus Christ. Does it impel us to live a life of growing and maturing faith shown by obeying God? We should ask ourselves if we live a life worthy of God. Paul, Epaphras, and Timothy did. Where do you stand with Jesus now?
For next week, re-read Colossians 1:9-12.
If you want to talk about this Bible study or want to know about Jesus so you can receive the salvation from sins He offers, contact me through the contact form on my website. I will write back to you.
“[I] am giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Colossians 1:12 [NASB])