We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made know to us your love in the Spirit”
Colossians 1:3-8 ESV
Within these verses, Paul recounts to the Colossians what Epaphras told him concerning their church. Epaphras was likely the planter of the church in Colossae, so he was a trustworthy source to inform Paul of fruitfulness of the gospel in their city. Ultimately, these verses show us the fruit of believing the gospel of Jesus Christ: a hope that leads to faith and love.
WE ALWAYS THANK GOD // VERSE 3
Herein, Paul expresses his thanksgiving over the faith of the Colossian church to God the Father. One interesting characteristic of the apostle is that when he gives thanks it is always to God. Paul is always giving his gratitude over to God, even for the work that other believers have done. Why is that? Paul believed in the grace and supremacy of God, along with the utter depravity of humanity; thus, all good things must come from God. Even our own righteous deeds are a grace of God working in our lives. Based upon this thought, I have three observations.
First, do we always thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Paul claims that whenever he is praying for the Colossian church he thanks God for them. The word always implies that this was a frequent and regular practice of Paul.
Second, how glorious would it be if we always surrendered our thanksgiving to God! Imagine a body of believers that loved and served one another with joy, and they understood that they were only able to love and serve because of the grace of God. Thus, instead of thanking one another for their service, they each thanked God for one another. Would this not keep them both humble and focusing upon the grace of God?
Third, how often (or do we even) pray for one another? The ultimate act of love for another person is to pray for them. If prayer is the act of coming before and communicating to God and if God is completely and totally sovereign over all things, then coming to God on behalf of another person is the greatest benefit that we can do for them. This is especially true concerning our family in Christ. If we do not frequently and regularly pray on behalf of our local body of brothers and sisters, then we are not loving them fully. Christians pray for people, especially each other.
FAITH & LOVE // VERSE 4
Now we find the reason for Paul’s thanksgiving for the Colossians. The fact that Paul heard about the faith of the church in Colossae is the prime indicator that Paul did not plant this church. Rather, the faith and love of the Colossians reached the ears of Paul, and he rejoiced. As we will see in verse six, Paul did not care whether he planted a church or not; his only concern that the gospel was becoming known. The evidence of their having believed the gospel was their faith and love, which are fruits that all Christians must bear if they are truly in Christ.
First, they had faith in Christ Jesus. The biblical definition of faith in found in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Essentially, faith is the act of placing one’s confidence in something. Every day we exercise faith in countless forms and fashion. We have faith that tomorrow will come, though there is no guarantee of that being the case. A common illustration for faith is that we trust chairs to hold us, though there is always the possibility that they might be poorly made and buckle beneath us. We place our faith in a plethora of things; however, Paul is referring to the supreme form of faith because it is placed in the One who is supreme: faith in Christ Jesus. Paul thanked God because the Christians in Colossae had placed their complete confidence in Jesus Christ alone. If we truly believe the gospel, there is then faith only in Christ.
Second, they had love for all the saints. Jesus once told His disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Christians love. That is what we are to do. That is who we are supposed to be. We know from 1 Corinthians 13 that many good works can be done, but without doing them in love, all is vanity. A follower of Christ without love is not a Christ follower. Now, we cannot go so far to the extreme, like many today do, by elevating love to the degree that we are essentially making love equal to God. Love is not God. However, John’s words must give us the gravity and importance of being a loving Christian: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Therefore, like their faith in Christ, Paul is not congratulating the Colossians on going above and beyond the normal Christian duties; rather, he is simply rejoicing that they are showing the markings of being true believers.
HOPE IN HEAVEN // VERSE 5
Having faith and love are the markers of true Christianity; however, Paul now states that they are rooted in something else: hope in heaven. The Colossians were faithful and loving because of their hope laid up in heaven. What hope of heaven does Paul mean that could possibly result in faithfulness and love? Peter writes about our glorious hope: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). This hope is the completed work of salvation that will occur, whether upon our death or the Lord’s return. But notice a bit of careful wording in both our text in Colossians and Peter’s statement, both Paul and Peter write that our hope is in heaven, not that our hope is heaven. Heaven is not the ultimate goal of the Christian; God is. Our hope is being able to stand before our Holy Father completely free from sin because of the work of Christ on our behalf. Our hope is to enter fully into the joy of the glory of God. Thus, a biblical fixation with heaven is actually a fixation with seeing God, not heaven itself. John Piper writes well of what this heavenly fixation should entail:
The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. Name three! The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world. The problem is that professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half enjoying and repairing what they spend it on.
It is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love. It is worldly-mindedness that hinders love, even when it is disguised by a religious routine on the weekend. Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like baubles, and the entertainment of the world is empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person?
He is not in bondage to TV-watching or eating or sleeping or drinking or partying or fishing or sailing or putzing around. He is a free man in a foreign land. And his one question is this: How can I maximize my enjoyment of God for all eternity while I am an exile on this earth? And his answer is always the same: by doing the labors of love.
Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love! It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise — these are the cords that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope. (Piper, 1986)
Indeed, the heart that is fixated upon the hope of the glory of the God will be faithful and loving. There are too many people today that view heaven as a sort of escapism from the world. A proper understanding of heaven, however, will not cause one to retreat from the world but into the world! The Christian who is continuously viewing the hope of glory set before him will proclaim and display that glory with his life. Heavenly-mindedness is not focused on a place but a Person, and it should not pull us from the world but into the world with great love.
How did the Colossians come to learn of this heavenly hope? They heard it through the proclamation of the gospel. The message of the gospel is the only source of heavenly hope that leads to faith and love. The hearing of this message requires a messenger. Brothers, we are the God-ordained means for sharing the gospel. Romans 10:14-15 shows that no one can call upon the Lord without first believing in Him, and no one can believe without hearing. No one can hear without someone first preaching, and no one can preach without having first been sent. We have been sent. We are called by the Lord to preach the gospel and to make disciples wherever we go. People will not know Jesus unless we tell them about Jesus.
Notice that Paul calls the gospel the word of truth. We believe that the life, work, death, and resurrection of Christ are true, that they are fact. Indeed, if the gospel is not true then our faith, hope, and love are in vain and we have misrepresented God (1 Cor. 15:12-19). However, we do believe in the salvific work of Jesus. We do believe that His death and resurrection have both forgiven us and made us righteous before the Father. We believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, regenerating us and making us children of the Most High. We believe that one day Christ will come again to complete the recreating work that He sealed upon the cross. Actually, the verses from 1 Peter mentioned above do a fantastic job of conveying the gospel. Through the resurrection of the Christ, we have been born again into a living hope. Indeed, the truth of the gospel is entirely contingent upon the validity of the resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection, all of Christianity falls apart at its seams. Our only hope beyond this life hinges upon the claim that Jesus conquered death.
THE FRUIT OF THE GOSPEL // VERSE 6
What a glorious sentence of truth! Just as the gospel went to the city of Colossae, producing fruit, so did the gospel go into the whole world to produce fruit and increase. In fact, the only reason that we are followers of Christ today is because the gospel is fruitful. It is important for us to remember that the work of God is not limited specific regions or ethnicities; rather, the message of the gospel is global in scale. Jesus sent His followers via the Great Commission with the goal of making disciples of all nations. Let us never, as a church, forget to pray and support the global effort to make the gospel known.
Notice the verb tense of the first clause. “As it also does” is present tense, while it is followed by past tense verbs. When speaking of salvation it is always interesting to note the tenses used because they are very telling as to the saving work of Christ in our lives. Both “heard” and “understood” are past tense. There was a specific date and time in which each believer heard and understood the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet from that day forward, the gospel “does” bear fruit and increase amongst us. Salvation is not a one-time, once and done, sort of thing. Instead, if we have truly believed the gospel, it will continue to bear fruit in our lives.
OF EPAPHRAS // VERSES 7-8
Most scholars believe, because of this verse, that Epaphras was the planter of the church in Colossae. This associate of Paul is not mentioned often in the New Testament, so we know very little about him. He seems to be a Colossian because Paul states, “Epaphras, who is one of you” (Col. 4:12). He is also mentioned briefly in the book of Philemon, which was believed to have been written and sent along with Colossians, as Onesimus was a Colossian as well. Some scholars argue that Epaphras is the short form name of Epaphroditus, who is mentioned as nearly dying in the book of Philippians; however, we cannot know for certain whether Epaphras and Epaphroditus are the same person or not. We do know that Epaphras was a beloved fellow servant. The word “servant” literally means slave. Paul often calls himself a slave of Christ but rarely refers to one of his coworkers as such. It means exactly what we would imagine “slave” to mean. Epaphras, like Paul, was completely owned by Jesus Christ, his entire life was exclusively designated for usage by Christ, and as such, he worked with the authority of serving Jesus.
Paul now calls Epaphras a faithful minister of Christ toward the Colossians. Minister here signifies more of what we would call a servant. For a Christian, being a servant is not any sort of derogatory title; instead, it is a glorious name. In all things, we seek to imitate Christ. The meaning of Christian is “little Christ” after all. Even though Jesus is God incarnate and the sustainer of the universe, He did not consider serving beneath Him. In fact, Jesus explicitly claimed that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, for Epaphras and every Christian, being a faithful servant of Christ is a magnificent honor because we are imitating our Lord.
The phrase “of Christ” is also important to notice because it shows the reason for our ministering and serving. Epaphras’ work was benefitting both Paul and the Colossians; however, he was not primarily serving them. Ultimately, he served Christ. Brothers and sisters, this is true of everything that we do. All of our acts of service and ministering is ultimately and finally for Christ. Paul will also state later in this letter that this same principle should apply to our work. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Christ’s Lordship in our lives leaves no aspect of our lives unaffected. Everything we do if for Christ’s glory and flows out of the love that we have received through the Holy Spirit.
Along with Paul, we should rejoice in the fruitfulness of the gospel. Even today, the good news of Jesus Christ is going forth into the world “bearing fruit and increasing.” It is transforming hearts by proclaiming that Christ alone is our hope, which leads to faith in Christ and love for others. As fruitful as the gospel is across the world, it is also fruitful here. The good news also transforms hearts in your hometown. So whether for the first time or the thousandth time: has the gospel transformed you? Where is your hope? Is it in a plump retirement plan? Is it in earning prestigious degree? Is it in having successful children? Or is our hope that we will one day fully behold the glory of Christ? Where is your faith? Do we place our confidence and trust in careers, family, stuff, etc.? Or do we trust solely in the grace and mercy of Jesus? Where is your love?