In recent times I have really been enjoying reading and pondering on the Book of Colossians. There are some really marvelous truths in this book. The central theme of this book is the Centrality and Sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
Introduction and Background to the Book of Colossians
Paul is writing to a church in Turkey – then known as Asia Minor – which was most likely an offshoot of the Church in Ephesus which Paul planted. The church at Colosse was apparently planted by Epaphras, who Paul refers to in the letter. Epaphras is now with Paul. But it seems that false teachers had come in after his departure, telling the people that they needed something besides Jesus Christ – which was the extra information or knowledge (Gk: gnosis) that they were supplying. This was a common tactic of Satan to destroy people’s faith – and other apostles such as John also wrote against the gnostics. Today one can see gnostic tendencies in a lot (but not all) of the “truthseekers” who inhabit quasi spiritual forums dealing with esoteric subjects like UFOs and Illuminati conspiracies.
Paul addresses three main tendencies which can derail the faith of sincere people. One is worldly philosophy. Another is legalism. A third is carnality. We see Paul address these issues in the book of Colossians. In each case Paul points people back to the beauty and completeness of God in Jesus Christ.
Unpacking the Book of Colossians
The book begins as follows:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul knew he was sent by Jesus Christ and that he was in the will of God. Being sent out personally by the Lord to establish churches and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was an apostle in the truest sense of the word. Timothy was as it were an apostle -in-training – and elsewhere he is referred to as an apostle himself (in 1 Thessalonians 2:6).
Paul is writing to saints (holy ones) and faithful brethren. He wasn’t calling them “sinners saved by grace” or anything like that. It is important to call things by their right names. Paul wasn’t afraid to call himself an apostle, and he didn’t hesitate to call these believers “saints” and “faithful brethren”. This of course flies in the face of the current assumption in some circles that all Christian professors are in reality a bunch of flaky, compromised worldlings who have taken on board a few religious beliefs which allow them to live as their own masters while still expecting heaven and acceptance with God when they die. No, Paul was writing to “holy” people. The gospel demands not only faith, but a dedication to Jesus Christ which results in transformation and the manifestation of a new creation. Please understand that this is not a matter of works, but of genuine loyalty to a Person.
Paul in sending greetings “grace to you and peace from God” was not simply wishing them well – he believed that he could actually impart grace – which is unmerited spiritual blessing and power, and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace are two things we are always needing a fresh supply of. We can never live the Christian life or fulfil the will of God without these gifts of God.
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit,[b] as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:4-8)
Thanksgiving is always a great place to start whenever praying, and that is how Paul prayed. Thanksgiving should be given to the Father. I think its more biblical to say “Thank you Father” than “Thank you Jesus” in daily life because there is a lot of emphasis in the Bible about thanking the Father.
Paul said he prayed for them always. This activity was obviously to the exclusion of every other kind of prayer or even every other kind of activity. Paul would have regularly mentioned them to God on a daily basis. This is quite something considering that he did not have the internet, instant messenger, email or even phone as a way of staying in touch. They relied on written letters in those days. Buy they also relied on God. If we have God’s ear, we can make a difference in the lives of those we love that we cannot speak with. Perhaps our very recent tech advances if not handled correctly could tempt us to reduce our conscious dependency on God for spiritual results. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
Paul said he heard about their faith towards Jesus Christ and their love for the brethren – meaning love for other true Christians. Faith and love and the two most precious qualities a Christian can have – the true measure of a Christian in God’s eyes is the measure of their faith (which can develop and grown through use) and the abundance of their love. Its important for us to think the same way. We have this carnal tendency to evaluate Christians in terms of their prominence, their business success, the size of their platform. Those latter things depend also on what God has called a person to do. But God, who looks on the heart, is looking for faith, and looking for divine love expressed.
This means, at the very least, that these Colossian Christians had confidence in God’s Word, were acting on it, and also were orientated to be a blessing to others. With love comes a willingness to help practically and also to consider the spiritual and emotional well-being of others.
Paul says that this faith and love comes because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. It has become somewhat unfashionable to preach on heaven these days. The pendulum has swung and now the Church is trying its very best to show that it is highly relevant to the “here and now”, with hardly a mention being made of Eternal Realities. Perhaps we have become spiritually dull and therefore the Eternal things like the blessedness of heaven seem unimportant to us. In any case, if this is true, we have lost something, because “faith” and “love for the brethren” can only find full development in the context of HOPE of what is laid up for us in haven which God has given us through the gospel.
“… of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel …”
The gospel, or good news, includes a message about heaven and the good things there. Its really is important for people to understand that this present age is not the measure of all things for us. God did not intend for us to build our hopes on the things of this present age.
“… which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit,[b] as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; …”
The gospel is going out all over the world. It happened fast in the 1st and 2nd centuries, in the 19th and 20th centuries and now even faster. Thank God that people are spreading it today.
The gospel will bring forth fruit if it is communicated enough. The WAY it is communicated and the heart condition and spiritual atmosphere around the people hearing it also makes a difference regarding the kind and quantities of fruit it will produce.
The grace of God must be known in truth. There are many false conceptions concerning what the grace of God actually is. The worst of these false conceptions is the idea that the grace of God was given so that people could serve their own lusts and still be fully accepted by God eternally – without repentance. The book of Jude explicitly warns against that doctrine, and sadly, it is a very popular one today in some “evangelical” circles.
The grace of God is about God’s divine action on the heart to transform a person’s life. The mercy of God has to do with God not condemning a guilty person. They are two related but different concepts.
Paul acknowledges and does not downplay the role of Epaphras who was the man God used to plant that church there and bring the gospel to the Colossians the first time. Notice the tender choice of words Paul uses “our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf“.
In the Kingdom of God, greatness is SERVING and being useful. Amongst God’s people, being served is not a measure of greatness in the Kingdom.
Epaphras was obviously pleased to report about the LOVE of these Colossians. Not just any “love” but a love inspired and motivated by the Holy Spirit.
I hope you will check out my next post on the book of Colossians coming soon.