A Study of Colossians 1:3-8
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:3-8)
After declaring the source of his authority in this letter, and the wonderful message of grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul begins to tell the Colossian saints and faithful brethren that he gives thanks to God for them. Notice, that Paul is very specific about the God that he is thanking. In our day, one can say “thank God” about many things and not draw irritation from any except the most militantly secular and/or athiest, but say “thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and watch the reaction! That is being very specific about the identity of the God that you are thanking. Now in a “Christian culture”, it seems obvious that to say “thank God” would be assumed to mean the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, or as some would say “the God of the Bible”, but during the time when Paul wrote this, there were many that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,), but he was certain to remind his readers that to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). He previously told them that we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. (1 Corinthians 8:4). Now often in this day in which we live, it will be stated that “Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God”, but is that the case? The God that we worship is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it is another god. It is interesting that the God that was known in the Old Testament as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now is known by a further (and far greater) designation. For the Lord Jesus Christ has a Name that is above every other name!
Now Paul is prayerful for the believers here, and we will find out what he prays for them later in the chapter, but now he letting them know of his thankfulness for them. How encouraging it must have been for the apostle as he was in prison in Rome to hear of an assembly that was bringing forth the fruit of the gospel!
Faith, Hope, and Love
Paul is thankful to hear about their faith in Christ Jesus. He is thankful to hear about the love that this assembly has for one another, and for other saints that they had not even met. He then remind the saints that he is thankful that they have a hope-IN HEAVEN! Remembering the past position of these Gentiles:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:11-12)
But praise God, that as Paul went on to teach the Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)
So he could now say to the Colossians that he is thankful to the GOD AND FATHER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST for the HOPE THAT IS LAID UP FOR THEM IN HEAVEN.
Regarding the faith of these believers, let us look at the direction, or the object of their faith: This is faith in Christ Jesus. He is the object of their faith. If one talks of the kind of faith that saves, or “what does saving faith look like”, this is what it looks like. It is faith in Christ Jesus. The strength of faith is another matter, but the faith that saves depends completely on its object. As an illustration, think of three skydivers. One has an amazingly strong faith in his parachute, and another is weak in faith about his. The third jumps with no parachute at all because he doesn’t need such silly things. We know what happens him, he becomes a crater in the earth’s surface. But let us discuss the other two: I imagine there would be four possible outcomes for their jump. The first possible outcome is that both of their parachutes open. The second possible outcome is that the parachute of the man with strong faith in it opened, and the parachute of the man with weak faith in it found his weak faith to be too strong in his unfaithful parachute, because it did not open. The third possible outcome is the reverse. The man with strong faith found his faith to be unfounded because his parachute failed, but the man with weak faith found that his parachute was worthy of more faith than he had in it, because it did what it was supposed to do: it opened, slowed his fall, and he floated safely to a landing. The fourth possible outcome is most tragic, for both the weak and the strong faith were misplaced. Both men’s parachutes failed, and they joined the man with no parachute as craters.
The lesson: other than the very obvious lesson of making sure that you have a well functioning parachute before jumping out of a plane, there is a much more important one. The man with no parachute needed one, whether he believed it so or not. The other two: their faith saved them if their parachute functioned correctly. Their faith did not save them if their parachute, the object of their faith, failed.
So it is when we speak of saving faith. If it is in Christ Jesus our Lord and in the gospel that the scripture tells us saves, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), we are saved, and our faith is counted for righteousness (Romans 4:5). This is true, whether it is a great faith so as to remove mountains, or a tiny faith as a mustard seed.
So faith is in Christ Jesus. Saving faith must be rooted in the word of God:
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
It will be in what God has said. It is not in what we hope to be true, but in what is true. If it is not faith in the revealed word of God, it is merely presumption or superstition. Some would add that faith is commitment. That could be true to an extent, in that faith in Christ is committing myself fully to Him to save me. It is not how fully I commit my life to Him. The result of that definition of faith results in what essentially becomes a works salvation-“Lordship salvation”-creating doubt and fear in all who hear it. “Lordship salvation”, like so many other errors, can trace its roots to not rightly dividing the Scriptures and bringing in to the present dispensation of grace teachings that are foreign to it, not understanding or even attempting to understand the context or the audience to which they belong.
So now that we have discussed the faith in Christ Jesus, let us explore the object of love for which Paul is thanking our God. He is thanking God that they have love to all the saints. They love each other, and their love goes out to all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul also is thankful to hear from Epaphras that the love of the saints goes out to him and Timothy as well. Now love to and from the saints is not only a feeling. In fact, a feeling is almost never what is spoken of in Scripture, but love is a choice, and love is an action. And it is good that love for and to the saints is not based on feeling. It is based on so much more than that. It is because we are in Christ. And because we are in Christ, we saints can love each other even when we do not feel love toward each other. We can love each other even when we are not lovable.
Another note of good news and exhortation-our love is to be directed toward the saints, not our faith. Faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ. The saints can and will let us down. Our Lord will not. Do not ever give up on the Lord Jesus if the saints or the church has let you down. Your faith is not in them. Your faith should only rest in Christ.
Notice that these three evidences which abide are spoken of throughout Paul’s epistles. 1 Thessalonians is thought of as one of the earliest and this could be the case. See how these three are bound together there:
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter devoted to love, translated charity in our King James Version. “Charity” is an excellent translation of ἀγάπη (“agapē”), the same word translated love here in Colossians, because of its similarity to the word χάρις (“cháris”). This word is most often translated “grace”. While not an expert at words, languages, or etymology, I can see the possibility of the relationship. And it makes sense, because the love of the saints for each other is because of grace. Grace was shown and given to us out of God’s good will. We are forgiven because of the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7), and we can love in spite of feelings. We can love, because of God’s grace.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
The Gospel that Brings Forth Fruit
These Colossian believers heard the word of the truth of the gospel. Paul spoke to the Ephesian believers in the book of Acts:
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
The Colossians heard the word of the truth of the gospel, and since the day they heard it, they knew the grace of God in truth. This gospel had gone to all the world, and it brings forth fruit everywhere it goes. This is the good news of Christ Jesus and His finished work of our redemption on Calvary’s cross for our sins.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (Titus 2:11-12)
All achievements of every kind pale in comparison to the salvation bringing grace of God. This grace of God will bring forth fruit. Do we want to see lasting change in people, cities, nations, and cultures? The grace of God preached in truth will bring the change that God wants.
Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on Colossians Be Complete writes of a man named John Seldon, who lived from 1584-1654. He was a leading historian and legal authority in England who had a library of eight thousand volumes. He was very recognized for his learning. This very learned man is reported to have said to Archbishop Ussher, “I have surveyed most of the learning that is among the sons of men, and my study is filled with books and manuscripts on various subjects. But at present, I cannot recollect any passage out of all my books and papers whereon I can rest my soul, save this from the sacred Scriptures: ‘The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men’ (Titus 2:11).”
How wonderful is the gospel of God’s grace! It is undeserved and unmerited. It blesses those that the law curses. God’s grace is the source of our salvation in Christ:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Romans 3:24)
There is nothing within any of us that merits God’s grace. It is not because He owes us anything, for He certainly does not. It will not be a reward that God owes:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (Romans 4:4)
Notice too that this fruit that the gospel of grace brings forth is the faith, hope and love that we just explored. What is more, Paul’s epistle to the Romans states that ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. (Romans 7:4) It is not the law that brings forth fruit, it is the grace of God in truth. More yet, the grace of God brings forth all of the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). This outward sign of inward faith becomes evident when the gospel of the grace of God is preached and believed.
Epaphras is mentioned here as a dear fellowservant. He is not mentioned in Paul’s apostolic greeting, but he is said here to be a faithful minister of Christ. Later in the epistle, in 4:12, Paul says that he was one of the Colossians, and a servant of Christ. From verse 23 in Philemon, he was also a prisoner with Paul.
In verse 8, Paul says that Epaphras “declared unto us your love in the Spirit”, and by this, he seems to be the messenger from the Colossians to Paul. How grateful the ambassador in bonds must have been to hear about the Colossian assembly and to hear that they declared their love! God used this message from the Colossians to Paul through Epaphras to also let Paul know that there was a group thinking of him. He may also have been used to let Paul know about what was necessary for him to write to them. In this way, God would have providentially used the imprisoning of this man Epaphras to be the catalyst responsible for the epistle to the Colossians that we are studying today.
I say he may also have been used for this because the Lord could have also revealed directly to Paul the need to write. In either case, this mostly unsung hero of the faith probably never would have guessed that his trip to prison would cause his name to be immortalized in the pages of holy scripture. He is remembered as a fellowservant, a faithful minister, a fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus, and a servant of Christ. How wonderful to be remembered this way! What will be said of us years from now? How will we be remembered? Will those who come behind us find us faithful?
As we close this study, I will leave you with another question as well: Have you heard the word of the truth of the gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again according to the scriptures? You have now read these wonderful words of life. Will you hear them? Will you know the grace of God in truth?