Overflowing Thanksgiving (Colossians 1:3-8)

Have you ever been so full of thankfulness that you can’t do anything to keep it back and it just comes rushing forth? Perhaps your significant other has done something for you that you’ve needed done for a long time. Perhaps a friend gave you a meaningful birthday gift. Perhaps your employer awarded you a long awaited promotion. Perhaps your children or grandchildren gave you a drawing they worked hard on.

We can all think back to a moment when he felt this emotion of thanksgiving welling up inside of us. It may manifest itself in a tear, repeatedly saying “thank you, thank you, thank you,” or a smile that won’t go away no matter how hard you try.

And this is the state we find Paul at the beginning of his letter to the church in Colossae. Paul, overflowing with thankfulness for the state of the Colossian church, gives thanks to God.

Lets’s read our passage together:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, concerning you while praying, hearing of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints because of the reserved hope you have in heaven, which you heard beforehand in the word of truth of the gospel which has come to you. As also in all the world the gospel is bearing fruit and growing, as it does among you all, from the day you all heard and understood the grace of God in truth. As you learned from Epaphras, our beloved co-laborer, who is on your behalf a faithful servant of Christ, who also reveals to us your love in the spirit.—Colossians 1:3-8, my translation

We Always Thank God

The first thing Paul wants the saints in Colossae to know is how often they are in his (and Timothy’s) prayers. While it is highly unlikely that Colossae consumed all of Paul’s prayer life, it is more likely that every time he prayed, he thanked God for them.

Why did Paul thank God for them?

Faith in Christ Jesus

The first reason Paul thanked God for them was their faith in Christ Jesus. Faith is evidence that the saints in Colossae were growing as God’s people. As N. T. Wright points out

“Faith … includes not only personal trust and commitment, but also the belief that certain things are true … .

For Colossae, they committed themselves to Christ. But more than that, they believed the gospel was true and changed this changed their daily lives.

Love for the Saints

Not only that, Paul thanked God for them because of their love for one another. Note that Paul does not point out what they’re doing for God or their city as the defining characteristic. He identifies the love they have for one another as his second source for his thanksgiving.

This seems simple, but it is really earth shattering to understand. Today, we often characterize groups by what they hate. But Paul expressed thanksgiving because the city knew something was different about these people because of their love for one another.

Foundations

Faith and love are not foundation-less. There had to be a source for their faith and love. In this passage, we find out that they have a foundation and it’s rooted in what they’ve heard about the future.

Heaven

The foundation for their love is their hope in heaven. This is unique because Paul and other New Testament writers normally remind their audience of the importance of the gospel.[1] However, in this case, because they have heard the gospel proclaimed, they can look forward to what is to come: God’s kingdom established on this earth.

When God created all things, heaven and earth were together—man and God resided in the same place. However, the fall made this impossible. Redemption initiated the reintegration of these realms and 1 day, they will be entirely integrated again:

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.—Revelation 21:3, ESV

But how did they learn come across this hope?

The Word of Truth

The Gospel is described as the Word of Truth. The reason why the saints in Colossae could demonstrate this love for one another and maintain their faith in Jesus Christ is due to the gospel—the salvific focus of Christ’s work.

The gospel describes the world in 3 main ways:

  • The way things were
  • The way things are
  • The way things will be

Initially, God’s creation was good. However, sin entered his creation through the fall of Adam and Eve. The people of God expectantly waited for a Savior to come to redeem all things. This Savior came and died for what Adam and Eve did. However, he rose from the grave and ascended into heaven where he reigns to this day and will continue to reign forevermore. Currently, we see glimpses of the way life with be through things like faith and love, but we will have to continue to wrestle with this tension of sin present in our lives until then.

This message is the foundation of their hope. By Paul pointing them forward, he is indirectly reminding them of the story they have been told and believed. This Word is true because these events actually happened and produced change in people.

This change is not localized, however. Paul includes an interesting description of the growth of the Gospel: it is bearing fruit and growing. Although we may gloss over this saying, those familiar with the Old Testament would notice the echo back to the Garden of Eden. The original command to be fruitful and multiply is carried out in the spreading out of the Gospel.

Who proclaimed the gospel to this new church?

Epaphras

We learned about Epaphras in our last post. Although little is known about him, Paul uses powerful imagery to describe him and how he serves. While the Colossian church’s foundation came from the gospel, Epaphras modeled love and faith for them through his service.

Beloved Co-Servant

We know that Epaphras modeled love because Paul describes him as “beloved.” In Greek, the word for “love” is the same (although it changes parts of speech) from verse 4 to verse 7. Paul’s description of Epaphras as beloved signals that he modeled love for the Colossian church. This speaks to how much care he had for the people of God and how they observed his love towards them.

Not only that, but he was a co-servant or a co-laborer to Paul and Timothy. While Epaphras did not travel with Paul on his missionary journeys, Paul likely called him a co-laborer because of the work he did in planting churches in the Lychus Valley. Even though Paul’s missionary zeal desired to plant the churches there, he saw Epaphras’ planting as an extension of God’s work in this world.

Faithful Servant

Planting churches can be difficult, especially in an area that has no gospel presence. And yet, it can be deeply rewarding.

And this is what we observe with Epaphras. He is called faithful because no matter how tough the going got, he did not abandon God’s work in Colossae and remained faithful. He could’ve fled when the false teachings arose or when their affluence declined. And yet he stuck with them and continued to model the Christian life for them.

Living as Exiles

The main question we need to ponder is this: Do we have love from the Gospel that causes others an overflowing of thanksgiving?

As we’ve observed in this year alone, hatred tends to be the natural disposition of humanity. And yet God calls us not to hatred, but to himself, because he is love and he first loved us.

As we live across the globe in our cities, our love will be a light to the nations. Now, people in masses will not radically convert to Christianity. So we are called to faithfully show love, just like Epaphras faithfully modeled it for the Colossian church.

May it be known of us that we are a people of love. That we love God, one another, and our neighbors in a broken world.


Further Resources

Although I may not agree with N. T. Wright on everything, he does bring a helpful perspective to understanding the New Testament that Christians everywhere can find valuable. I will be using these commentaries along with the ones referenced on my last post to help guide our study in Paul’s letter.

  • Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters—This commentary is very readable and I highly recommend it for everyone. It is succinct so while it may not cover the questions you have, it sheds valuable insight into the New Testament text that everyone can appreciate.
  • Wright, Colossians and Philemon (Tyndale New Testament Commentary)—Another commentary he wrote on Colossians is more extended and technical, but equally valuable. if you know a lot about Colossians, you will find this resource easy and supplementary. If you know relatively little about Colossians, you will find this resource challenging but accessible.

Endnotes

[1] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series. 55.

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