Posted by: Moses | July 14, 2006

Colossians 1:3-8

Thanksgiving and Prayer

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Paul starts out the body of his letter by expressing his thankfulness to God, for the work that he has already done in the Colossians’ church, specifically their faith, and the love that they demonstrate towards the other saints.

In verse four we see the reason for his thanksgiving, the foundational workings of the Spirit, faith working itself out in love (Galatians 5:6), are present already in their lives for all the world to see. The beautiful part is the motive that fuels this active faith, the gospel. This verse is quite an indictment of the limited modern American view of “salvation.”

There is more to salvation than just the “hope laid up for us in heaven,” the hope that the Colossians were so fixed upon. However, hope is the remainder of our salvation that is yet to occur; so for us, as saints of God, that is the part of the gospel that remains for us to focus and press on toward. So often we view “salvation” as a past act, something that happened to us at one point, that we look back on, and now we’re just trudging through the sanctification stuff on our way to heaven. Though not entirely false, this is a rather erroneous way of viewing our election when you look at many of Paul’s descriptions of how the gospel motivates his life. One of the most famous is probably Philippians 3 where he counts everything that this world has to offer as skubalon in comparison to the worth of Christ. He is able to endure and desire his God, because he is running headlong for a blinding glory, to which all of earth pales in comparison. There is no choice; when he fixed his eyes on the prize, one was plainly worthy and one was rubbish. By focusing on a future hope, choices involved in his sanctification now become simple. Did Paul have a moment on the Damascus road where he surrendered his life to Christ? One that he could have looked back to and said, “Well because of that, I guess I should do right?” Yes. Was that where he looked to motivate himself to fight the good fight? Never, that I am aware of. His justification there on the road, believing on Christ’s name, was done. However, he was living out his sanctification by pressing toward His high calling in Christ, running for a hope of glory because his “salvation” was not yet complete. He did not yet stand with Christ in glory; his body was not perfected; his thorn was not removed; his body was not resurrected; his salvation was not complete. So he pressed on with a zeal that the world has not seen since. As a result his life was consumed by a faith, an active faith working itself out in love, and every day he encouraged his children to fight because “the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12) “Salvation is nearer than when we first believed!” How amazing is that? Cast off your shackles of sin becaue our resurrection is nearer than it was yesterday, our Salvation is near at hand, Christ is coming soon and we will stand before him. Love those around you, it is the fulfillment of the law of God.

As the Colossians’ father in the faith, I can only imagine Paul’s joy to see them grasping this essential, fighting principle of sanctification. His brotherhood in Christ with the Colossians had him rejoicing and thanking God for this awesome work of faith in their midst. He specifies their hope as being a gospel hope in verse five, and still further he encourages them that the Word is not just bearing fruit among them, but also in all the world. Power. The gospel is at work rejuvenating lives and bearing fruit. They are seeing their hope of glory by hearing the word of truth. Oxymoronic but very cool.

He closes his thanksgiving by extolling God’s grace in their leader, Epaphras’s life. Epaphras had apparently traveled to Paul in prison and informed him of what was going on in Colossae, both the good and the ill. Interestingly, Paul doesn’t simply refer to Epaphras as his brother like he does Tim. Instead he chooses a more ‘case-specific’ term for one of the Colossian’s leaders, “our beloved fellow-servant, a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.” Paul’s titles are so loaded. He identifies Epaphras as being the same standing as himself as a minister of Christ, serving the Colossians, and he also identifies his humility as a serving, Christian leader. This unique deferential love distinguished Christian elders from any other religious leader that the Colossians would have known. In one simple phrase he substantiates, identifies, and expresses affection toward this ancient servant of Christ, Epaphras. Cool guy, and we do not hear much about him, but he pops up a couple places in different greetings and closings of Paul’s letters.

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Responses

  1. Meant to mention this earlier, but when Calvin talks about the “hope” that is related to salvation, he connects it to faith in Christ’s death by saying that the faith breeds the hope. Because we have faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross, we have a surety of hope for a salvation that is to come.

    In a weird way it’s sort of like saying the greater our faith in Christ’s grace, the greater our faith in Christ’s grace. It’s just different manifestations of His grace related to different time periods (past, present, future – not dispensations). And it all really focuses on future grace. Anyway, just thought I’d let you know what Calvin thinks b/c I’m came across that right after we talked about it.


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