We continue through the book of Colossians. We turn now to the first part of the greeting. Greetings appear in all of Paul’s epistles, besides Galatians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Titus. Keep in mind Paul has never stepped foot in this church and not seen them face to face (Col 2:1). Paul will address some form of heresy in this epistle; however, he first is thankful to God for this church he heard about from Epaphras. The greeting starts by saying, “We always thank God… when we pray for you.” Later in the letter, Paul speaks of himself in the singular (cf. 1:24). However, the greeting is found in the plural. The greeting could just be from Paul and Timothy (Col 1:1). However, I believe Epaphras is still in prison (Phm 23) and is included in this plural we (Cf. Col 4:12-13). The thanksgiving is given to ‘God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Interesting that Paul, and others, give thanks to God, although throughout his gratitude, he mentions their faith, love, hope, fruit, and their hearing. Thanksgiving should be given to thanks is due. Ultimately God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (Jam 1:17). The second interesting point is that Paul writes, ‘OUR Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is interesting for two reasons firstly Paul has never met these people; however, he writes to them because they are all Christians. They are united in the Church of Jesus Christ. The second point is that Paul writes this about a majority gentile audience. To us, we think, of course, gentiles are included in the church, but this is very different from the thoughts of the day. Paul calls them brothers in Colossians 1:2. This is the mystery which we will see later in the book.
I. Faith in Christ
Since Paul and the others had heard of the Colossian church’s faith in Christ, they give thanks to God. When they come to God in prayer, their thankfulness is on their tongues for the faith this church in Colossae has in Jesus. Paul might not have known of this church and churches until he met Epaphras. He was speaking with him in a prison cell about these believers that meet together in Colossae. He praised God for their faith. But also, he praises God for their love for all the saints. The letter does not inform us about how the Colossians have a love for all the saints, but it does tell us the motive behind their love. The hope laid up for you in heaven. The inheritance that they will share with the saints of light (Col 1:12). Their drive for their love is because of the hope they have in heaven. The outward love towards the saints is also founded in their love in the Spirit (Col 1:8). We need always to be reminded of the love of saints is not in the saints themselves, but that are saints (holy ones) because of Christ. They love others as Christ has loved them. It is essential to love your neighbor (Mark 12:34). Even more important is how you love your neighbor in your pew and other brothers and sisters in Christ. It is this love for another. Jesus says, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).” We love one another because we love Christ, we are united to him, and I am united to him, and you are united to him then we are one body. This is the point Paul makes in Ephesians 4:1-16. They give thanksgiving to God for the Colossians, Faith in Christ, Love for the saints, and love in the Spirit because of their hope in heaven.
II. Foundation of the Gospel
Paul, and the others, give thanks secondly to God that the church heard and understood the gospel. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10:15). In this case, for the Colossian church, the beautiful feet were attached to Epaphras (Col 1:7). He was a faithful minister who came to Colossae and preached the good news of reconciliation. Many cities in the book of Acts were not receptive to the gospel. Paul was driven out because of riots. They give thanksgiving to God for them hearing and understanding the gospel. Many seeds will fall but will not bear fruit. Many people may hear the gospel but not believe the gospel. Paul gives thanks that this church, through Epaphras, heard and understood the gospel. The church heard the word of truth and the grace of God in truth. Might this be our prayer as well that we would give thanks to God when people hear and understand the gospel. The gospel is so simple that a child can understand, yet many people hear it but are deaf to its truths. Paul gives thanks to their reception; however, they will get reminded that they forget this truth later in the message. How quick, we also can hear the gospel and think we understand but forget. May the Word of God be our foundation and let us not stray to the left or the right of it.
The final thing Paul, and the others, are thankful to God for is the fruit which they see around the world and in this local church. Maybe Paul had heard of other churches that were planted around Asia Minor. Fruitfulness is often the measurement which is the one churches seek. Often this fruitfulness is about quantity; how much money do we have? How many members do we have? How many baptisms did we have last year? Fruitfulness becomes the measure of all things and if we could be more fruitful at the expense of the foundation on the word or faithfulness to Christ. They water the gospel down to be to acceptance and good feelings. The Colossians had the issue of believing they needed to add to the gospel, but ultimately at the expense of the gospel itself. Having a tree full of poisonous or rotten fruit is worthless if not dangerous. The other end, you can believe any fruit is compromising the word or faith. You see a church growing, you then think they have watered down something. You can have high-quality fruit and a high quantity of fruit. We should seek to be faithful and fruitful, and you can be both. The word produces 30, 60, and 100-fold (Mt 13:23; cf. Rom 7:4). Selling out is elevating one at the expense of the other. Paul, later in verse 10, explains that bearing fruit is doing good works and increasing in the knowledge of God. We will look at this more next week, but for now, it is the balance we look for. Some people love knowledge of God, while others prefer to do good works. A Christian fruitfulness is found in both good words and growing in our knowledge of God.
Paul, and the others, Thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the churches Faith in Christ, Foundation in the word, and their fruitfulness. But what we notice that God uses ordinary people and ordinary means. Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights (Jam 1:17). This is why we thank God. There is nothing special about the church in Colossae or the minister who proclaimed the gospel to them. They were ordinary people. They heard the gospel with ordinary words. The reason Paul, and others, thank God, is it is because God uses ordinary people and ordinary means to do extraordinary things. We should have a posture of thankfulness in our hearts, home, and church for God working through sinful people to proclaim the grace of God in truth. We should thank God for the gift of faith, the word, and even the fruit which he causes to grow.