The Fullness: Colossians 1:3-8
Getting Acquainted – 1:3-8
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
When Paul and Timothy pray for the Colossians, their prayers are full of thanksgiving because of the power of the faith and love the believers exhibit in Colossae. Though Paul did not plant the church in Colossae (his disciple, Epaphras did that), he still considered it one of his congregations, and assumed apostolic care for them in prayer. This is a powerful encouragement (by example) for pastors and leaders to pray, not only for those in their direct care, but also for those who may be in congregations nearby, or which are in some other way tied back to them.
The report Epaphras brought to Paul and Timothy about the church in Colossae emphasized their faith in Jesus and the love they had for all believers. Love for fellow believers is a big deal to Paul (see especially 1 Corinthians). The way that Paul constructed the phrase the love you have for all God’s people “reveals two truths about the nature of the church’s concern. First, it was sacrificial. The term agapē reminded them of the sacrificial love of Christ for them. Second, within the Christian community it was indiscriminate. The love was directed to all the saints.”[i] The love that defines Christian community is the same love Jesus displayed on the cross – both sacrificial and indiscriminate. Christians cannot love some and not others.
This love and faith do not grow on their own, but rather spring out of the hope established in the Gospel – the hope stored up in heaven. Paul makes clear that the true message of the Gospel, which he states most clearly and concisely in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, bears the fruit of hope. The core message of Christianity is unique in that it offers hearers a powerful and compelling hope for both this life and the next. This hope is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus (a core tenet of the Gospel), for if he has conquered death, then one day all who find themselves in him will conquer death, too. The hope is not simply for heaven, but it is in heaven; namely, it is Jesus Christ himself. “The hope of every Christian is a person, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.”[ii] Without this hope, it is impossible for a Christian to grow and mature.
The Christian hope is not simply for heaven, but it is in heaven; namely, it is Jesus Christ himself.
The Colossians heard about God’s grace from Epaphras. The Gospel is always personal. In his excellent book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Robert Wilken explains, “Though the knowledge of God is intimate and personal it does not come to us directly; it is always mediated, usually through another human being. Whether this be a mother teaching her child the Lord’s Prayer…or someone telling a friend how her life has been changed by Christ, the truth that Christians confess is transmitted through other persons. …There is no way to Christ without martyrs, without witnesses.”[iii] We come to faith not through reasoned argument, but through personal testimony. We believe in Jesus because we trust his martyrs, his witnesses. Seldom will a skeptic be won over by apologetics, but it is hard to argue against a trusted friend’s personal encounter with Jesus. This is because Jesus is not an academic subject, like philosophy, that can be discovered through study. He is, rather, a living person – the risen Lord – whom we encounter in surprising ways and remarkable moments.
The means by which Christians must relate to one another is the love of the cross, what Paul here calls agapē. We have no right to exclude anyone from this love, for it is the tie that binds the family of God. Are there people in your church that are difficult to love? Do you, like the Colossians, have love for all God’s people? Or are there groups of Christians that you wish you could expel from the faith? This isn’t allowed. Far better that we be known by our love for all of God’s people than to hide away and exclude those family members of whom we are embarrassed.
The hope we have is the hope of salvation, and it is securely stored up for us in heaven, far away from all dark powers and authorities that might assail it. “Hope is looking forward with eager anticipation and strong confidence to the sure promises of God. …Our hope is safe and secure, locked away in heaven far above anything that may threaten its integrity. This confident expectation is what motivates us to be able to love inclusively and nonselectively.”[iv] The Gospel bears the fruit of hope, from which spring forth both faith and love.
Far better that we be known by our love for all of God’s people than to hide away and exclude those family members of whom we are embarrassed.
The Gospel is still growing all over the world, and much more is happening in the kingdom of God than what you might see in your local church. The church in Colossae saw tremendous change in the lives of her members because of the true message of the Gospel. This same kind of transformation is still happening all over the planet. This serves as a helpful reminder that the kingdom of God is far bigger than we can imagine. God is not limited to your location, your church, your movement, your denomination, your parachurch organization, your theological expression, or your nation. Wherever the Gospel is preached and God’s grace is truly understood, the fruits of hope, faith, and love are growing in fuller and wider expression.
[i] Melick, R. R., p. 196.
[ii] Lane, Timothy and Tripp, Paul. How People Change, p. 15. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC, 2008.
[iii] Wilken, Robert Louis. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 180. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2003.
[iv] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 279). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.