February 20, 2012

Bible Study Notes on Colossians 1:3-8

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth. You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow slave. He is a faithful servant of the Messiah on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.”

In our prayers for you, we always give thanks -

  • The first thing to note is that Paul and Timothy are praying for the Church in Colossae and doing so on a regular basis. It’s not entirely clear in the original language whether the ‘always’ belongs to the ‘giving thanks’ (ESV, NIV) or to the ‘praying’ (KJV, NLT), but either way the sense from the passage is that they are regularly praying for the Colossians.

    • This is a common component of Paul’s letters, and in almost all of them you find him remarking about his earnestness in prayer for the recipients.

    • One of the most important things that we can do as individuals and as a church is to pray. Of all of the ministries and opportunities for service, this one is vital. Where it is missing, then our ministry and our witness is surely suffering. Certainly, this is a responsibility that falls upon the pastors and elders of a church to be praying regularly for their congregations, but the reverse is true as well. We should be actively in prayer on behalf of the church and its leaders. You can see this in Colossians 4:3, where Paul tells them to pray for him, that he might have opportunity and ability to proclaim the gospel. I can’t help but think that one of the main contributors to the state of Christianity in America is a lack of earnest prayer.

    • What are some barriers that stand in the way of having a consistent and faithful prayer life? How can we begin to overcome those barriers?

  • The next thing to note is that Paul’s prayers are an expression of gratitude. He has seen the work that God as done and is doing in Colossae and is giving thanks for it. In 1 Thess 5:18, Paul tells them to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

    • What about you? Do you find it difficult to give thanks “in all circumstances?” Is it easy to overlook things that God is doing in and around us and not be thankful for them?

To God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

      • In the next phrase Paul identifies the one to whom we pray and give thanks to – that is, God the Father. Just as today, the word God in Paul’s day is not a proper name or a title, but is a more general term. It’s important to know that every major religion appropriates the word God in some way (with a capital G). That’s one of the reasons that “God” is often permissible in public discourse in situations where more explicitly Christian notions would be opposed. Paul makes it clear that the God to whom he prays and offers thanks is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      • Who should we direct our prayers to?

Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus

  • The source of Paul’s gratitude and his motivation to prayer is that he heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all of the saints. You’ll often hear people speak about what their faith has done for them, or how their faith has helped them get through things. There’s even a song on Christian radio with the refrain “that’s what faith can do!” However, faith is only as strong as the object of the faith. Faith in an uncertain thing is no better than not having faith at all. The Colossians put their faith in the Lord Jesus, which is the only reliable object for our faith.

  • This faith in Christ is not simply a belief that Jesus is real, nor even a knowledge that He is the Lord God, but is more akin to a personal trust. John Calvin defined faith as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely-given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” It is trusting on the basis of the promise of Christ that we have been reconciled to God through his death and will be saved by him from the wrath to come.

  • This faith is the mark of the people of God and is how you identify your brothers and sisters in Christ. When we hear of those who have faith in the Lord Jesus, we rejoice with joy as if a newborn baby has just been born into our family. Paul says ever since they heard about it, they have been giving thanks to God for it and the fruitfulness that has abounded from it.

  • How would Paul have heard about it?

And of the love which you have for all of the saints

  • Along with this faith in Christ is a love for all of the saints. Now, this is not a love merely in the sense of feelings of good-will, or a general positive attitude, but is a love which can be recognized by its actions. It doesn’t exclude positive feelings but consists of more than that.

  • What is the relationship between faith in Christ and love for all the saints?

  • Consider some parallel passages:

    • Galatians 5:5-6

    • 1 Peter 1:20-23

    • 1 John 4:16-17

  • What kind of love is this? What does it look like?

Because of the hope

      • What is the driving motivation behind our love for other believers?

      • Here Paul adds the 3rd aspect of the Christian life, which is always associated with faith and love, namely hope. With the connecting word ‘because,’ we see that the underlying reason for our love to the saints is our hope.

      • What is our hope?

      • Ultimately, we hope for the resurrection and the realization of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God, the judgment of evil and the reign of righteousness. The ground of our hope is the resurrection of Jesus, which marks the beginning of the age to come. And when Christ ascended to the right-hand of God the Father, he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church – and he is the source of our hope, a down-payment of our inheritance.

      • Hope is our eager expectation for the realization of God’s promises which we believe by faith.

      • Consider this parallel:

        • Romans 5:1-5

      • Why does this hope result in love for the saints?

Laid up for you in heaven

        • Paul says this hope is laid up for you in heaven – this inheritance is a treasure which already exists and we are waiting to receive it.

        • The battle has already been fought and the victory won. There is an inheritance waiting for those who are in Christ and it will be revealed at his appearing.

        • Consider this parallel

          • 1 Peter 1:3-4

        • What is the significance of this hope being laid up in heaven?

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel

        • The Colossians we already aware of this hope because it is part of the very gospel which has given them life. There may be an emphasis on the fact that they heard it “before” in contrast to the most recent teaching they’ve been hearing from the false teachers.

        • The good news is that in his death on the cross, the sinless Jesus graciously suffered the penalty due to sinful men and was condemned as guilty by a sinful world. In his resurrection, God vindicated him as righteous and exalted him to his right hand and gave him heaven and earth as an inheritance. Those who put their trust in Jesus are freely counted as having been judged in his judgment, vindicated as righteous in his resurrection, and made co-heirs of God with him. What is true of him is true of those who have been united to him by faith. At the return of Jesus to judge the world, what has been accomplished on the cross will be fully realized in the lives of the saints.

        • Does our message still carry this hope? Are there presentations of the gospel that lack this hope?

which has come to you, even as also in the whole world

          • The last thing Jesus did on earth was to commission his disciples to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, making disciples of all nations and teaching them obedience to Christ. They would be going forth as emissaries of the King, in fact, the king himself would be with them as they went.

            • Matthew 28:18-20

            • Romans 15:15-21

              • Jesus commissioned Paul himself to this mission of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles (same Greek word as the nations in Matthew 28).

          • Paul testifies that the gospel has indeed gone forth, from Jerusalem to the ends of the Roman Empire. As you read the book of Acts, it’s amazing to see the variety of ways that God used to spread the gospel to different regions.

            • At Pentecost, the gospel was preached to Jews who had come to Jerusalem from places all over the world, representing many different languages and people groups. Undoubtedly, converts from this group brought the gospel with them as they returned to their home lands. Some believe that the church at Rome was founded by one of these early converts.

            • It was the martyrdom of Stephen that scattered the church into the surrounding regions, which led to churches being planted including the one in Antioch, which would later serve as home base for several missionary ventures.

            • There were also the planned missionary journeys of Paul, which resulting in churches being established and the gospel spreading throughout the empire.

          • We all know how we as individuals came to hear of Christ and believe, but have you given much thought to how the gospel reached your region, or the region of your ancestors?

          • This mission of Christ to the apostles is the chief activity of the church in the world. Until he returns, we are to be about the business of bringing the gospel to the nations and people groups who have not heard it, so that Christ may receive the worship of which he is worthy.

          • What are the ways that the church carries this mission forward today? What is your role?

it is bearing fruit and increasing even as also in you

          • The good news of salvation in Christ produces the fruit of a transformed life and contains within itself the seed of multiplication, as those who have been transformed are filled with the love of God and the desire to share the Christ with others.

          • This passage contains an echo of the original creation mandate given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28. Adam and Eve were commissioned to bear fruit and increase, filling the earth with their progeny, and in the process subduing and ruling over creation. In the Great Commission, which could be called the new creation mandate, Jesus commands his disciples to multiply and fill the earth with their spiritual progeny (go and make disciples of all nations), subduing and establishing Christ’s rule (baptizing them and teach them to obey all that he commands). Paul reports that this is happening, not only in Colossae but throughout the world.

          • Similar allusions in Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20

          • You’ll also find imagery throughout the scriptures of the Word of God as a seed producing fruit. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth

              • It is the message of God’s grace in the gospel that creates spiritual children. When the Spirit of God opens the hearts of unbelievers to hear and understand the word of truth, perceiving God’s graciousness towards them in Christ, they are reborn into this new creation.

              • The message of the grace of God is the truth, in contrast to whatever the false teachers would have the Colossians to believe. Those who would lead them astray through different forms of asceticism and legalism have error from the truth of God’s free grace in Christ.

even as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant

          • The Colossians are indebted to Epaphras for bringing the good news of salvation in Christ. He is their spiritual father, and a fellow-worker with Paul. Epaphras is the founder of the church at Colossae, and possibly also the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis. He clearly has developed a close personal bond with Paul, bringing him news of the churches and staying to care for Paul while he is in prison. He has endured great hardship and continues in faithful service.

          • Paul’s mentioning of Epaphras may serve as Paul’s statement of support for the gospel that Epaphras taught the Colossians over and against the false gospel tempting them now.

He is faithful on your behalf as a minister of Christ

              • The text here is either “your” or “our.” If the former, then Epaphras ministers on behalf of the Colossians, meaning that he works and serves for the benefit and well-being of the Colossians. If the latter, he is a minister of Christ on behalf of Paul, meaning that he is working in Paul’s stead as a delegate, preaching the gospel to the Colossians and others.

              • Paul has nothing but glowing words for Epaphras, both at the beginning and end of the letter. He has been a help in work, a personal support, and a faithful servant of the cause of Christ.

              • Has God placed any Epaphras’s in your life? How can you be an Epaphras to others?

And he has made known to us your love in the Spirit

              • Part of Epaphras’s ministry was to bring a report of the churches to Paul, so that he may continue in prayer and keep up to date with what is transpiring there.

              • The Holy Spirit indwelling believers serves as the One who unites them in love. Whatever differences they may have, in Christ they are united in one Spirit.

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