Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Colossians, Colossians 1:1-12

Under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trail before the Emperor, Paul gets a visit from a brother in Christ that he’d not seen in years, a preacher named Epaphras from the city of Colossae a little over a thousand miles away. I imagine it must have taken him a couple months or so to get to Rome. They hug and express how excited they are to see each other. And then Paul says, “What’s going on, Epaphras? I know you didn’t travel over a thousand miles just to see me. What is going on, brother?”

Epaphras says, “It’s the brothers and sisters in Colossae. I’m really concerned about them. They don’t know that they’re okay. They’re not sure that in just adhering to the gospel Christ, in just following Christ, that Christ supplies all their spiritual needs.”

“Why is that, Epaphras? Why are they doubting? Why are they unsure?”

“They’ve got Jewish friends quoting to them from the Law of Moses and telling them that they can’t possibly be right with God unless they’re circumcised and they quit eating pork chops and bacon and trout and catfish and such and stop working on Saturdays and start observing Passover and Pentecost and such. And then they’ve got friends making them feel like they’re unspiritual and unholy because they don’t fast very often and they wear soft clothes and sleep on soft beds and they don’t treat their bodies severely enough. And then they’ve got people telling them that they need to be worried about having the favor of other spirit beings, and that they’re not going to be alright unless they have in addition to Christ the help and protection of some angels and the spirits of their ancestors as well. And they’re just getting all kinds of religious input and they’re not for sure what to believe.

And Paul, I’ve tried and tried to tell them that Christ is all they need. But they say, ‘Epaphras, you may be right, but how do we know that you’re not mistaken? I mean you’re not an apostle of the Lord. You’re not an inspired spokesman for God. You’re just an ordinary Christian like us.’ And that’s why I’ve come to you, Paul, because the brothers and sisters in Colossae will listen to you. Paul, they know that you speak for Christ and for God. They know of many of the miracles you’ve performed. They know you usually don’t take money from those you preach to, that you’re not a conman who just claims to have a message from God so people will pay you to preach. They know of the extreme suffering you’ve endured over the last couple decades for your ministry. They know your body is covered in scar tissue and that the only way to explain that makes any sense how you have kept on preaching all these years though it’s just been causing you so much suffering is that you really believe what you say, that you have seen the risen Lord and He’s given you a message to spread to the world that saves human souls. They know of the churches all over the world full of beautifully transformed people that have resulted from your ministry. They know the other apostles acknowledge your apostleship. Paul, they’re convinced that you speak for God. They’ll listen you. So I’ve come all this way that you can you tell them about what they need and what they don’t need and that they might come to a full assurance of the truth.”

And so Paul sends for his faithful assistant Timothy and tells him to bring some sheets of papyrus, some ink and a pen. And then Paul dictates this letter for the troubled Christians in Colossae.

Perhaps the most debilitating heart condition there is for a Christian is uncertainty about the kind of God that God is and His will and your own salvation. And perhaps the most energizing motivating strengthening joyous heart condition there is for a Christian is to know for sure who God is and His will and His plans and that you’re saved. It really is blessed assurance. It really is a foretaste of glory divine to know that Jesus is mine, heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His spirit, washed in His blood. When you know the truth and you know that you know it that makes for joyous, grateful, loving, serving, on fire for the Lord kind of Christians. So Epaphras and Paul want the Colossians to know for sure the will of God.

So let’s read here the first 8 verses of what Paul had to say for the Colossians. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

There’s 2 main points I think that Paul wants to get across in this opening thanksgiving section. The first is this…

You Christians in Colossae, from what I can tell, are saints and faithful brethren in Christ (v2-4)

That’s what he calls them in v2. Though others are telling them that they’re not okay, Paul says, “From what I hear you’re saints and faithful brethren in Christ.”

The word “saint” did not in that day have the connotations that it does today. Today we hear the word “saint” and we maybe think of great men and women of the past who were martyred for their faith or elite super Christians. That’s not what it meant in the 1st century. Saints simply means holy ones, set apart ones, special ones. It means simply those who have been set apart from the world as God’s people. So Paul’s saying “From what I’ve heard about you I think you’re God’s people. Your faithful to the Lord. You’re my brethren. You’re part of the family of God with me. You’re in Christ. You’re fellow members of His body with me.”

And Paul tells them in v4 the 2 primary evidences that have convinced him that they are saints and faithful brethren in Christ.

#1…

Paul says that he has heard of their faith in Christ Jesus.

Somebody else had noticed their faith in Christ Jesus and told Paul about it. Now, faith is an inward thing, it’s something you have in your mind and your heart. We can’t really see into the minds and hearts of each other. Guess what number I’m thinking of? You don’t have any idea. You can’t see in my mind and heart. So how could somebody have noticed faith in Christ Jesus in the hearts of these Colossians? Well, these Colossians must have been doing something observable that showed that they had faith in Christ Jesus in their hearts. 2:11-12 refers to how in response to the gospel they did away with the body ruled by the fleshly nature and they were buried and raised with Christ in baptism. 3:5-7 tells us that walking in immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed became something of their past. Their baptism and the fruits of repentance in their life demonstrated that in their hearts they really believed that Jesus is our risen Lord and Savior and His word is the truth. That’s the first evidence that told Paul of their relationship with God.

#2…

Paul says that he has heard of their love for all the saints.

Somebody noticed their love for all the saints and told Paul about it. Love like faith is an inward unseen decision. It’s a decision inside to value somebody, to see them as important, to want good things and happiness for them. And they must have been doing something observable for somebody to notice that in their hearts and be able to tell Paul about it.

We all know what the observable kind of things are that show love. It shows love when you greet the person when you see them. You don’t ignore them. And when you inquire about how they’re doing, how’s their job, their health, their kids, their interests, and when you’re there if they need help with something, and when you give your time to listen to them when they’re hurting and want to talk, when you take positive action to encourage, to lift their spirits, to bless them in some way. Like somebody the other day, they saw a brother’s car outside the church building and they knew he was in this room over here studying and they just decided to drop by out the blue and give him a coffee and a muffin.

And almost everybody loves some people somewhat. If you’re a half way normal human being you love some people. You love your family. You love people who love you. You love the loveable people in your life. You love the people who have taken care of you. You don’t have to be a follower of Christ to love some people.

But Paul is not talking here about just having love for some people. He’s talking about observable kind of love for all the saints. And remember “saints” doesn’t mean elite super Christians. Saints just means people in the family of God. And some people in the family of God are kind of odd. Do we have any odd people here? Shall we point them out? No, let’s not do that. And some people in the family of God have obnoxious personalities. They just rub you the wrong way. But God accepts imperfect people like that. Some people in the family of God will hold different political opinions than you. It’s not a term of salvation that you be republican or democrat or whatever in your political opinions. Some people in the family of God will believe differently than you on various Bible topics. God doesn’t require that you have everything all figured out before you can be in His family. So He accepts people who aren’t going to agree on everything. Some people in the family of God will have bad hygiene. And some people in the family of God will offend you and disappoint you, because not a one of us is perfect.

And when you see those odd brothers and sisters and the kind of obnoxious ones and the ones that disagree with you on some things and the ones that have offended you and the ones that you have nothing in common with except your faith in Christ, and you greet them and you see how they’re doing and you try to encourage them and you pray for them and if they ever need anything, you’re there, that to Paul was an identifying mark of a child of God.

Do you have these 2 primary identifying marks of a Christian? Observable faith in Christ Jesus and observable love for all the saints?

Now, here’s the second point Paul wants to get across as he begins the letter.

You Christians in Colossae did not receive an embellished inaccurate message from Epaphras (v5-8).

What you heard, what you understood, Paul tells them in v5-6, was the word of truth. That was the gospel that God’s servants have been spreading all over the world. You did not get a different message from Epaphras. He tells them in v7 Epaphras is our beloved fellow bond-servant. He’s a trustworthy servant of Christ.

And Paul tells them here that “Those  parts of the gospel they heard that almost sound too good to be true, those parts about the hope laid up for you in heaven and about the grace of God are not wishful thinking that Epaphras added into the message. That’s actually the message that God has given us. That’s the same stuff I preach and that the other apostles preach that we received from God.” It is reality that God forgives every sin we’ve ever committed, even the worst of them, when we put our trust in the risen Lord Jesus and we repent, we decide that He’s going to lead our lives now, and we’re baptized in His name. God really does at that moment count all our sin paid in full by the death of Christ, and not just forgives us, but He accepts us as His sons and daughters and makes us heirs of eternal life and the world to come in the hereafter. And all He requires is not that we be perfect, but that we be faithful, that we keep trying to do His will and be like Him. And as long as we’re trying, the blood of Christ just keeps on cleanses us of all our failures and no thing and no being in heaven and earth can snatch us away from Christ and the salvation He has for us. “Epaphras has not been embellishing the gospel by telling you that. God’s grace really is that big.”

May you be filled with the “knowledge” of God’s will (v9-12)

v9-12, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it [your reception of the gospel, your faith and love], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

Let’s define an important word here. The word translated “knowledge” in the phrase “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will.” Epignosis is the greek word. It’s a compound word. The word gnosis is the word for knowledge. And joined to it is the little intensifying preposition epi, epi-gnosis. It means not just to know about something, but to recognize it to be what it really is. One Greek dictionary I read said it involved intellectual understanding and existential recognition. It’s more than just intellectually understanding something. Like, it’s one thing to know your Bible, to intellectually understand the truths it teaches. But it’s another thing, it’s epignosis, to realize that what it teaches is reality and to feel that, for that to really sink in and register and change your life. That’s epignosis. A lot of times in the NT the verb epignosko is translated realize or recognize or acknowledge (Matt 14:35; Romans 1:28; I Corinthians 14:37).

It’s that knowing that what they know is reality part that these Colossians seem to have really been lacking. They intellectually understood what Epaphras was telling them about what God has done through Christ, what God’s plan of salvation is, what God requires of them and does not require of them. They understood the concepts. But they were lacking the total realization that that’s the truth. They were full of uncertainties, doubts and questions. So Paul’s prayer is that they may be filled with knowing for sure the will of God.

And the will of God here I don’t think is just how God wants us to behave. It’s more than that. It’s what God has decided to do and what God has decided that He will do, His whole plan of salvation in Christ, what He wants for us and from us. The will of God includes all of that.

And Paul prays that with knowing for sure the will of God that they may also have all spiritual wisdom and understanding so they can see the implications that God’s will has for their personal lives, so they can see how to apply it, so they can see what they need to do about it.

And you’ve heard the expression “knowledge is power.” Knowledge about many different things is powerful. But the most powerful transforming thing in the heart of a person is the realization kind of knowledge of God and His will. In the rest of the passage we read, v10-12, Paul explains why he wants them to be filled with the epignosis of God’s will. It’s because it’s so powerful.

Why do we need to know God’s will and know that we know it? v10 “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects“. Without epignosis of God’s will you lack the know-how and the motivation to live a life that’s pleasing to the Lord.

Now, what does that mean to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects? Paul gives us four, what are called, participles to explain what that means. Participles are verbal adjectives that further explain. They are usually translated with “ing” words. There are four of them here that explain what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him. Here’s the life the Lord wants you to live, four descriptions.

#1 it’s…

Bearing fruit in every good work.

People who are pleasing the Lord in their lives are people who are not just thinking about themselves all the time. They’re outwardly focused on the souls of the people around them. And wherever they go they are seeking not to be served but to serve.

They walk into church their mindset is not notice me, welcome me, compliment me, entertain me, make me feel good, invite me to lunch. Certainly it’s okay to get some of that at church. But what pleases the Lord is the selfless mindset, “I’ve come to welcome others, to encourage others, to see how others are doing, to worship, to bless the lives of others.”

At home it’s not “My spouse should do this for me and take care this chore and serve me in this way, and my neighbor should do this and that for me.” It’s “What can I do for my spouse and what can I do for my neighbor.”

At the job it’s not “How can I do the least for my employer and get paid the most?” It’s “How can I reflect Christ to the people around me and draw them closer to the Lord?”

That mindset has us bearing fruit in every good work and that’s walking in a manner worthy of the Lord. That’s pleasing the Lord. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

#2 it’s…

Growing in the knowledge of God.

It could be growing in the knowledge of God or growing by the knowledge of God. And certainly both are what the Lord wants us doing. Growing in our knowledge of God through His word and growing in our character and conduct to be more like Him.

The Lord doesn’t expect us to be perfect. But he expects us to just keep growing in that direction. Striving to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Are you more like Jesus today that you were say a few months ago?

#3 it’s…

Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.

Pleasing the Lord involves receiving strength from God to keep on serving and learning and growing toward the image of Christ no matter what affliction, what criticism, what hardship, no matter what Satan throws you, you stay steadfast and patient, you keep on keeping on.

And God provides us with the strength to do that. There’s different things God does to empower us. But one great indispensable source of strength He’s made available to us is the knowledge of Him and His will and His plans and what He has in store for us. That gave Paul the strength to persevere through almost unbelievable suffering for his ministry. He said at the end of II Corinthians 4, “We do not lose heart… For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Paul could see the unseen things the Bible reveals to us. More than just getting the concepts, he could see those things are as real as the things that are seen. He could see the power of the gospel to save souls. He could see that the Lord was with him. He could see what awaits us when this short life is over. He could see what was at stake eternally for himself and the people around Him. And it gave him strength to be steadfast and patient.

And then the 4th description of walking in a manner worthy of the Lord is it’s…

Joyfully giving thanks to the Father.

Did you know giving thanks is fundamental to being a Christian? Paul’s going to emphasize that in every chapter of this letter. In every chapter we’re going to see instructions about being thankful.

Think about the memorial feasts that God has commanded of people in history, like the Passover feast for the Jews where they were to remember how they were slaves in Egypt and how God delivered them from that. And the feast of Harvest or Pentecost and Feast of Ingathering or Booths where they remember that the produce they’ve harvested from their fields and vineyards is from the Lord and they remember other things God had done for them in history. And the Lord’s Supper where we remember what Christ has done for us and our covenant with God. What’s the purpose of those feasts? There’s probably more than one purpose to them. But is not a main purpose to instill within our hearts the gratitude that should be there toward God? It’s very important to God that we thankful for His goodness to us.

And it’s also very important to living the rest of the Christian life. You’ve heard “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…” Well, a thankful spirit is a root of all sorts of good. Think about it. If we have a thankful spirit we’re not going to be jealous or envious of what others have. We’re not going to be greedy. We’re not going to be whiners and complainers. If we’re thankful and feel indebted to God as we should we will desire to worship and serve and please Him. It’s much easier to give and share and let go of stuff, isn’t it, when you know you have more stuff than you deserve. A thankful spirit makes for a joyful, a friendlier, kinder, more encouraging person. And it gives you strength to get through the trials of life. When you lose stuff, when you lose your health, when you lose friends, when you lose family, when you lose a job, it’s not as devastating when you realize that you are still blessed far beyond what you deserve, that God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints.

So here’s walking in a manner worthy of Lord, pleasing the Lord. It’s four things. It’s bearing fruit in every good work. It’s being others focused, seeking not to be served, but to serve. It’s growing in and by the knowledge of God. It’s becoming more like Jesus each day. It’s being strengthen to stay steadfast and patient. It’s joyously giving thanks to the Father. And if we’re going to live that life we need the power of knowing the will of God and knowing that we know it. And that epignosis of the will of God is what Paul is going to try in the rest of this letter to help these Colossians to have.

3 things to do this week.

#1 examine yourself for observable faith in Christ Jesus and love for all the saints. If somebody didn’t know you would they be able to look at your life and be able to tell from what they see that inside your heart there must be genuine faith in Christ and love for all His people? And are you bearing fruit in good works, growing, strengthened to where you’ll never quit or compromise no matter what, and joyfully giving thanks on a regular basis to our Father?

#2 pray this prayer that Paul prayed for yourself and for all of us. Paul apparently believed this was a worthwhile prayer. Paul believed that God can be moved by prayer like this to work in the hearts and lives of people to fill them with a knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. So let’s do that.

#3 let’s not just pray about it and expect God to just infuse it within us. Let’s also do our part to attain it. Let’s read Colossians again, because Paul wrote this letter that Christians may be filled with the epignosis of the will of God.

– James Williams

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