Colossians1v3to8: PAUL'S THANKFULNESS
Paul didn't commence his letter to the Colossians complaining about his circumstances. He had a lot to be miserable about confined as he was to prison. He may well still have been troubled by his thorn in the flesh. The news from some of the churches he founded was not uniformly good. Sadly there were some serious problems in the Colossian church. But, in spite of this, Paul begins on a positive note; he starts with thanksgiving. Unlike Paul, I often find myself finishing a prayer without having thanked God for anything; I've been so preoccupied with myself and my circumstances.
(1) Paul gives thanks in prayer.
Let us look at:
(a) Who Paul thanks.
Paul thanks God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to start our prayers with God. Jesus taught us to pray: "Our Father who art in heaven .... ." I thank God for the little word,'our'. God is the Father of Jesus AND he is our Father too.
(b) Who Paul prays for.
Paul prays with gratitude for the Colossians. Whenever he prays for them he is thankful and that in spite of the fact that he has never visited Colosse and was not directly involved in founding the church.
I am afraid that Christians, and I include myself in this, are too parochial. I pray a lot for my 'own' church - the one I attend - and much less for other fellowships. The Association of Churches I belong to does email me each week with prayer requests from other fellowships. I read these requests out in the announcements each Sunday but I doubt very much if the members of the congregation remember to pray for the matters requested.
(c) Why Paul is thankful.
Paul is thankful because he has heard good news about the Colossians. Epaphras, for example, informed Paul of their love for him in the spirit. He was in their thoughts and prayers.
Paul had also received some disturbing news about certain errors creeping into the church at Colosse - but he does not commence with these.
We should encourage our fellow Christians as much as we can. There are things about my own church that I could complain about: poor attendance at the evening service, lack of public prayer, a paucity of volunteers to read at the carol service we hold with the Anglicans in the village. However, there are things to be thankful for: a good attendance at the mid-week Bible studies, lovely flower arrangements, excellent chapel teas and a willing participation in the ministry of visitation. Better by far to stress the positives.
(2) Paul gives thanks for the cardinal virtues.
Paul does not give thanks for some qualities that were highly regarded among the Colossians: erudition, spiritual insight or the observance of a demanding moral code. No, Paul is thankful that the Colossians possess the cardinal virtues: faith, hope and love. I will deal with each in turn.
The Colossians had faith in Jesus. I am in many ways a poor sort of Christian. I have succumbed to lust, anger and pride too often to have any hope of pleasing God in and of myself - but, I have faith in Jesus. I believe in his saving work; the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross to atone for my sin. I believe in his teaching, particularly the kingdom values outlined in the Beatitudes. I believe in his Spirit, the divine helper who comes alongside to help us serve our risen Lord. I believe in his promises - the promise to return, the promise of resurrection, the promise of a new earth and a new heaven, the promise that I shall see him and be like him forever.
Paul commends the Colossians for the: Love they had for all the saints. He doesn't praise them for loving their spouses, their children or their friends. Jesus makes it perfectly clear that this is not especially commendable. He said, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get. Are not even the tax collectors doing that." Mt5v46.
Some Christians are distinctly unlovable. They may be old and ugly, demanding, ungrateful, abrupt and dissatisfied. I used to give a man who exhibited these qualities a lift to church. Never once in all the years I picked him up did he thank me. He used to criticise my friend and fellow elder something awful. Yet, whenever he got into a muddle he would go to Edward to help him out. Edward never once refused.
We ought to remember that the Christians at Corinth had a low opinion of Paul because of his distinctly unimpressive appearance, his lack of eloquence and inability to provide any glowing testimonials.
If we love ALL the saints none will be outcast, neglected or overlooked. There was a tendency on the part of some Colossian Christians to look down on those who lacked understanding of the new ideas being introduced into the church.
We do well to stick with the teaching of Jesus who said, "This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you." Jn15v12. The apostle John wrote in his first epistle: We know we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. 1John3v14. If we find ourselves frequently running down our fellow Christians we need to seriously review or own standing with Jesus. Lack of love for the brethren is a fatal sign!
Paul reminded the Colossians that: Faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.
It might come as a surprise that Paul says hope precedes faith and love. However, we will neither believe in Jesus nor love the brethren but for hope in what Christ provides. I made a commitment to Jesus, and continue to do so, in the hope that my sins will be forgiven and I will pass muster with God. See Heb10v19to23.
We see the vital importance of hope in that wonderful statement of Jesus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." So, we believe in Jesus in the hope of not perishing and in the hope of receiving eternal life.
People will not believe in Jesus if there is nothing to hope for. We believe in him in the hope of forgiveness for our old wayward lives. We believe in him for the gift of new life and the promise of life with Christ in the hereafter. We read in Heb9v28: Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. No wonder the writer to the Hebrews goes on to write: Let us hold answervingly to the hope we profess. Heb10v23.
(3) Paul gives thanks for the gospel.
All Christians should be thankful for the gospel because:
(a) It is the word of truth.
The gospel is based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as described in the four gospels. As J.B. Philips once memorably said, "The gospels have the ring of truth."
Paul wrote to young Timothy with utmost confidence: Here is a trustworthy saying and deserves full acceptance; Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. 1Tim2v15. That is the heart of the gospel and as such it has universal appeal because every single one of us on this earth is a sinner.
(b) It is influential.
Paul observes: "All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it." Men and women of diverse backgrounds but united in sin, welcomed the gospel. It met their need and changed their lives.
This is still the case. There is scarcely a country in the world where the gospel has not born fruit. The gospel dispels superstitious fears; it provides hope to the despairing; it brings peace to troubled souls; it puts men and women on the narrow way that leads to eternal life.
The gospel transforms men and women's lives. It makes them better people, more caring parents, fairer employers and worthier citizens.
The lives of Christians should be adorned by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
(c) It is good news.
The word gospel means, 'good news'. Paul reminds the Colossians that when they heard the gospel they: Understood God's grace in all its truth. The gospel does make abundantly clear that salvation is by the grace of God.
It was God's grace that made Christ's sacrifice effective. A sacrifice is always a token payment. It depends on its efficacy to atone for sin on the one to whom it is offered accepting it by grace. It is also God's grace that makes belief effective. God chooses in grace to save those who have faith in Jesus and his sacrificial work. God is under no compulsion to save those who believe. It is his choice and it is a gracious choice. God could use other criteria but chooses not to do so.
(d) It can be made known to others by any believer.
Epaphras proclaimed the gospel to the Colossians. Paul wrote: "You learned it from Epaphras." He was Paul's fellow servant, Christ's faithful minister and the Colossian's champion.
Epaphras performed the very best of tasks in Colosse. He preached Christ and him crucified. He also enjoyed the greatest of rewards; he witnessed the transforming power of he gospel in the lives of many Colossians. Epaphras established a church, a church that loved Paul, a church that sympathised with him, thought of him and prayed for him.
The churches of Britain need more men like Epaphras today - men anointed by God's Spirit to win souls for Christ.
There is no greater blessing than to witness men and women responding in faith to the gospel. One of the things that has made my life worth living is being instrumental in bringing a few to Jesus.