Colossians Study – Session 2

CrossPointe Community Church – Denton, TX

January 20, 2013 - Larry Reynolds, Teacher

 

2.  Prayer of Thanksgiving (3-8)

Some people just have a knack for saying the wrong thing...their words deflate people...make people feel badly about themselves...and their words are constantly a source of irritation and even pain for other people...on other hand, there are some people who seem to have an innate ability of using words in just the opposite way...they are by nature encouragers and their words are positive...they build up people...they speak in such a way that makes people feel better about themselves...I think the Apostle Paul was that second kind of person...while he could be strong, forceful, and very authoritative when necessary, Paul had the unique ability of using words in a way that made people feel good...an excellent example of that can be seen in the first chapter of Colossians...after a brief salutation in verses 1 & 2, the main body of Colossians begins in v.3...and in the first part of the paragraph beginning with Colossians 1:3 Paul makes a very complimentary statement about the Colossians...a statement which no doubt made them feel good about themselves...it is actually in the form of a prayer…

 

(1) Circumstances of the thanksgiving (3)

 

a.      It’s addressed to “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”  The term “Lord” is very important and the use of it in reference to ‘Jesus is the same as equating Him with God.  In the Old Test­ament the name “Yahweh” was generally translated “Lord.”  In the Old Testament it designated God as creator of the world, con­troller of the world, master over life, and redeemer from sin. To designate Jesus as “Lord” meant he was the same as God.

 

b.   “…praying always for you…” indicates it was a continuous thing.  His expression of thanksgiving wasn’t an occasional thing. Each time he prayed, Paul thanked God for them. This is remarkable in light of the fact that Paul had never been to Colossae.

 

(2) Three things for which Paul is thankful (4-8)

 

a.   For their spiritual welfare (4-5a) - Paul begins this prayer with thanks for their faith, love, and hope. This is a familiar trilogy of the basic fundamentals of Christianity (cf. I Cor. 13:13; I Thess. 1:3; 5:8).  True to the basic gospel they had experienced faith in Christ, love for each other, and hope for eternity.

 

·        “faith in Christ”

 

It is important to read the phrase about the faith of the Colossians in the first part of v.4 in its entirety...Paul did not say that he thanked God for their “faith”...he said he thanked God for their faith “faith in Christ Jesus...and that last phrase makes all the difference in the world...the Christian life is not merely a life of faith...Christianity is not a faith cult...we don’t worship faith for faith’s sake...the Christian life is a life of faith “in Christ Jesus...”  Point is, merely having faith is not enough...it is quite possible to have faith but for the faith to be misdirected...Christians are people who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus...now what does that mean?...want to mention quickly a couple of things...

 


·        Placing our faith in Christ Jesus means being obedient to Him... the word translated “faith” in v.4 is “pistis”...it comes from the root word “peitho” which means “to obey”...in the NT the concept of obedience is often linked to the concept of faith or belief...on at least three occasions the NT (Acts 6:7, Romans 1:5, and Romans 16:26) speaks directly of “the obedience of faith”....

o   And the clear teaching of the NT is that saving faith involves much more than mere intellectual assent to a set of theological propositions...and saving faith involves much more than an emotional attachment to a particular tradition...saving faith must include radical obedience to Jesus...Jesus said in John 3:36 - “He who believes (has faith in) the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”...and one day Jesus asked, “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”...genuine faith/ belief in Jesus is always accompanied by obedience...

o   Craig Larson wrote the following statement which was published in Decision Magazine which is put out by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association...listen to what he wrote:

“Many times we think we believe in Jesus, when actually we only believe about him.  He requires us to believe in his authority and leadership to be true followers.  If we do, there will be evidence. We will seek to obey God's Word.  We will welcome his authority in all areas of our lives.  We will follow Jesus through daily prayer and Bible study, church attendance, thanksgiving and praise.” ["Believing in Jesus: what does that mean?" by Craig Brian Larson. Decision, May 1988.  Pages 10‑11]  Another writer put it this way: “When a [person] obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God.” [W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of the NT, p.124]

 

·        Placing our faith in Christ Jesus means trusting our lives to Him...there is some debate among Bible scholars about whether the phrase “faith in Christ Jesus” in v.4 means that Jesus is the source of faith (“faith which comes from Jesus”) or whether it means Jesus is the object of our faith (“faith which is directed toward Jesus”)...I think the weight of evidence leans to the idea that Jesus is the object of our faith...we’re to place our confidence, our trust in Him...And the truth is, we’re not very good at doing that...while we give lip service to the idea of placing our lives in Jesus’ hands and trusting Him completely, it is ever our way to hold something back...Paul complimented the Colossians for depositing their full confidence, their full trust in Christ...the implication is that they held nothing back...

 

 

·        “love…for all the saints…”

 

There are always two sides to the Christian life—-loyalty to Christ and love for others.  The result of genuine faith is love for others. There is much we can learn about Christian love from the phrase “…the love which you have for all the saints…” in verse 4. 

 

·        That phrase tells us something about the nature of Christian love (Genuine Christian love is not so much something we feel as it is something we do)  It is interesting how Paul phrases this.  Not “…the love that you feel…” but “…the love which you have…”

o   The English language is rather imprecise in how it expresses the various aspects of love.  We can say “I love Mexican food …football…my wife…” and mean totally different things by the word.  Greek is much more precise in expressing the very facets of love...in the Greek vocabulary there are several words that we translate with the single English word “love”…I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but want refresh your memory  about those words...

§  EROS ‑ Carries the idea of loving that which is desirable or attractive...focuses on worth of object being loved...if she's pretty or he's handsome or rich, I'll love...loving for what can get in return...our word “erotic” comes from this word...it is not used on time in NT...

§  PIHILIA ‑ Means warm affection for others...it’s that sentimental feeling we often identify with love...used about 50 times in NT...

§  AGAPE ‑ Focuses not on worth of object being loved but upon  subject doing loving...never says, "I love you if...or even I love you because..."... simply says, "I have chosen to love you..."...it's self‑giving love that seeks nothing in return...this word is used more than 250 times in NT...

And so when Paul spoke of the love of the Colossians in v.4 he had several words from which to choose...and it is significant that the word he chose was agape, the self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love...as matter of fact, on five (5) different occasions in Colossians Paul mentions the concept of love, and each time he uses a form of agape...

o   And what I want you to see in that is genuine Christian love is expressed not so much by what we feel as what we do...the kind of love for which Paul praises the Colossians was not a cheap, emotional sentimentality...it was a deep, abiding concern for the welfare of others...a concern which expressed itself in sacrificial action...

 

·        Tells us something about the scope of Christian love (Genuine Christian love is not exclusive)

o   Notice what Paul says about the love of the Colossians...it was “for all the saints”...we saw last week that “saints” is just another way of referring to Christians...it doesn’t mean just a select few...means every person in the fellowship of the church...

o   And point is that Christians are to love each other...while our love should not be limited just to Christians (remember the words of Jesus when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you ... for if you love those who love you, what reward have you.”) ...our love should certainly extend to “all the saints” or to everyone in the fellowship...

o   That doesn’t mean that we will have the same emotional attachment to every person...while we cannot always control how we feel toward a person, we can always control how we act toward that person...in the classic book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."

o   But it does mean that we will go out of our way to treat every believer in the same way...we don’t have the luxury of being selective in expressing Christian love...we cannot choose to—

§  be kind to one person and unkind to another...

§  be gentle toward one and harsh toward another...

§  accept one and reject another...

§  forgive one person and hold a grudge against another...

 

 

·        “…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…”

 

“…because of…” - The Greek text v.5 begins with a preposition...the single Greek word is translated “because of” in the NASB...this preposition links v.5 with v.4...the effect is that what is said in v.4 is the result of what is said in v.5...v.4 speaks of the faith and the love of the Colossians...and the grammar indicates that their faith and love is a result of their hope... as one writer put it, “...hope produces faith, and faith in turn grows into love.  Hope is the root, faith is the plant, and love is the fruit.” [Ray Stedman sermon “Where Hope Begins”]…in other words, it is hope with makes it possible for us to live a full, complete life in this world...remembering that we have an eternal hope, that this world is not all there is, does not diminish the value of our current life...as matter of fact, it makes life today more fruitful and more productive...

 

“…the hope…” (elpis) - In our language the word “hope” carries the idea of wishing for something...if I say, “I hope it doesn’t rain today” I am expressing a desire/wish that it won’t rain.  However, Christian hope is based on a much more substantial foundation that wishful thinking.  It is based on the gospel, the good news of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

    

The last part of v.5 you will see that Paul says the Colossians were first exposed to the kind of hope being described in this verse through the gospel...that is, it was the gospel - the good news about Jesus - which brought hope to their lives.  What I want you to see in that is Christian hope is not wishful thinking.  That’s why the historical events of the gospel are so important and why they are emphasized time and time again in the Scripture.  The facts of the gospel are that Jesus—

--was born of a virgin in Bethlehem...

--lived and ministered in Galilee...

--died on the cross outside the gates of Jerusalem...

--was raised from the dead by the power of God...

--ascended to heaven...

--will return in glory to earth one day...

are the foundation of our hope...our confidence for the future is rooted in what God has done through Jesus in the past...the hymn writer said it so well when he wrote:

      My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness...On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand...

 

“…laid up for you in heaven…” - The word translated “laid up” means “deposited” or “stored.”  It was the word used to describe the storing away of a treasure.  The point is our hope is deposited/placed in a secure place.  It is in “heaven” or more accurately “the heavenlies” which is the abode of God.  Our hope is deposited in heaven.  That’s just another way of saying our hope is in God.  Christians don’t hope for something or in something.  Christians hope in Someone.  The Psalmist said it so well in Psalm 71:5 when he wrote, “For thou, O Lord, are my hope...”  And because our hope is in God and because of our confidence that God is completely trustworthy and faithful, then no matter what the difficulty or sadness or heartache we may face in our journey through life, we never lose hope.

 

b.  For the progress of the gospel (5b-6) - The basis for their faith, love, and hope is the gospel.  The word "gospel" appears about 90 times in the NT...in Greek it is is euangelion...  the first part of eunagelion comes from a Greek word meaning "well or good"...the second part comes from a word meaning "report, announcement, message, or news"...thus the word literally means "good news"…in the secular culture of the first century the word was used to describe any kind of good report, but in the NT eunagelion has a specific, technical meaning...it is not just any good news...it is the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ...the gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died to provide forgiveness of sins and rose again that those who believe might live forever...Paul describes the gospel as:

 

·        “the word of truth” (v.5b) – Essentially, that means it came from God and can be trusted ...to say the gospel is "truth" is a much stronger statement than merely saying the gospel is "true"...in his commentary on Colossians Warren Weirsbe points out that many messages and ideas can be called "true", but only the gospel can be called "the word of truth"...remember Jesus described Himself as "The way and the truth and the life..." and only through Him, through His gospel, do we have access to God...most people in our culture reject the idea of absolute truth...many do not accept the proposition that there are fixed, unshakeable, unchanging moral, spiritual, and theological truths which are the foundation of our universe...even many Christians have rejected such an idea...Dr. David Garland, one of my seminary professors, wrote this provocative statement:

"Christians used to believe that truth did not shift like a kaleidoscope, but pragmatic relativism increasingly rules in our culture today and has even infected many believers perception of things.  This relativism assumes an idea cannot be inherently true, but it is good if it works for now.  Fewer Christians today take for granted that Christianity provides the standard of truth and morality by which all life and all other religions can be assessed.  Many assume that we all worship the same God and that whatever a person chooses to believe about that God is valid or just as good as another's belief.  To question one's belief system is to be unpardonably judgmental and intolerant." [The NIV Application Commentary, pp.53-54]…Is there an objective body of truth upon which we can rely, depend, stake everything, even our lives?  I submit to you there is.  And that truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

 

·        “bearing fruit and increasing” (v.6) -  That is, the gospel is productive.  If you’ll look carefully at this verse, you will see that it tells us two ways that the gospel produces fruit.  In first part of v.6 Paul points out that the gospel as come “to” the Colossians.  In last part of v.6 Paul says the gospel has done something “in” the Colossians.  Those two little phrases, “to you” in first part of the verse and “in you” in last part of the verse, tell us two ways the gospel is “bearing fruit and increasing.”

o   In saying the gospel has come “to” the Colossians, Paul is reminding them of the amazing advancement of the gospel across the first century world.  Colossae was small, rather insignificant town tucked away in the Roman province of Asia, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem where the main events of the gospel --the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus-- took place.  The letter was written about 30 years after the resurrection.  And when think about it, it is amazing that in world where communication was primarily by word of mouth and where transportation was agonizingly slow by our standards, the gospel, in that relatively short period of time, had spread to a place like Colossae.  Even more amazingly, Paul makes the point that the gospel had not just come to Colossae, but that it was spreading to “all the world.” The number of converts to Christianity in the world is constantly increasing.  The true church of Jesus Christ is continually growing. 

o   Paul points out that not only had the gospel come “to” the Colossians, but the gospel also was doing something “in” the Colossians...they were being transformed, changed, made into new people from the inside out...many of the Christians in Colossae had come from pagan backgrounds...before their conversion they lead extremely immoral lives...Paul says of them in Colossians 1:21 that there was a time in their lives when they were “engaged in evil deeds”...But when the gospel penetrated their lives all that began to change...as the Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, when a person is in Christ that person begins to change...the old things--priorities, desires, habits--fade away and new things--priorities, desires, habits--begin to take their place...the gospel produces in us internal growth...

·        “the grace of God in truth” - The gospel is not the message of what God demands but what He offers. It does not tell of God’s demands on man, but of God’s gifts to men. (Romans 6:23)

 

c.  For the work of Epaphras (7) - This was the man who shared the gospel with the Colossians. We talked about him last week.    Four things are said about Ephaphras:

 

·        “beloved” - His name is very close to “Aphrodite” which means “lovely.”  And he was a very lovely person.  He was much loved by Paul and by the Colossians.

·        “fellow bond-servant” - The word “bond-servant” translates the Greek word “doulos”...that was the word used to described the lowest of slaves in the social order of the first century world...this was the person who did all the dirty work...whatever no-one else wanted to do, that task fell to the “doulos”...that’s the role unselfish Epaphras, as well as Paul, gladly assumed...instead of demanding a position of honor or authority, instead of seeking praise and recognition, Epaphras was the kind of person who willingly put himself in the background and put others first...

·        “faithful servant of Christ” - It has often been said that faithfulness is the primary thing the Lord requires of us...I Corinthians 4:2 that “...it is required of stewards [or servants] that they be found faithful...”... Epaphras was certainly faithful toward Christ...Epaphras was also faithful toward Paul...in Philemon 23 describes Epaphras as “my fellow prisoner”...some Bible scholars take that to mean that Epaphras voluntarily gave up his freedom to be with Paul and keep Paul company in prison...he didn’t abandon his friend in a difficult time...he remained loyal and true, even though it cost him his freedom to do so...

·    “informed us of your love” - Epaphras was the person who kept Paul apprized of the status of the church in Colossae...it was not a church without problems... the church in Colossae had been infiltrated by false teachers... some of the new believers there were being led astray by these teachers of heresy...some of these new believers were beginning to question the grace of God as revealed in Christ and were turning to such things as eating or abstaining from certain foods and drinks, observing certain rituals and holidays, and radical self-discipline as means of gaining God’s favor...they were abandoning grace in favor of works...as a result, there were many negative things Epaphras could have reported to Paul about the Colossian church...and while he no doubt sought Paul’s advice on how to deal with some problems in the church, his main word to Paul about the Colossians was a positive word...Colossians 1:8 says Epaphras informed Paul of  the love of the Colossians...

 

What does Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving at the beginning of Colossians, written from prison, say to you about how to deal with the difficult times in your life?

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