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Colossians

Prayer at a Distance

Colossians  1:1-15

Paul addresses this letter to the Christians living in Colosse, a town in what is now Turkey. For such a powerful letter, it is somewhat surprising that he sent it to those he had never met (nor, as far as we know, did he ever meet them). He learned about them from Epaphras, another evangelist. Colosse was a city on one of the east-west trade routes of the Roman Empire.

Map

The Colossians themselves, by the evidence of this letter, were firm believers in Christ. It is not certain, but the possibility exists that they had been disturbed by a false letter using Paul’s name.

One thing is remarkable: coming from a man who is chained up in prison, this is a remarkably upbeat and positive message.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

 

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

2To the holy and faithful£ brothers in Christ at Colosse:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.£

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. 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 and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our£ behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you£ to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption,£ the forgiveness of sins.

Greetings

Paul begins by removing any doubt as to the author of the letter. His signature was probably unknown to them – but Epaphras they knew quite well. It is likely that he authenticated the letter to them. But just to make the case certain, Paul tells them two things:

  • First, that he is an Apostle of God – one of those clothed with great authority and power.
  • Then he tells them that this is by the will of God. Paul earned none of it; God selected him.

That last is important. This letter is high and holy; things are said which require the apostolic approval. It was not for his merit that Paul was chosen; he is in chains as this is written. Thus, the writer is but the messenger of God. Timothy is briefly mentioned as well.

One of the purposes of this letter is to maintain the unity of the church. Paul’s humility is shown in his salutation.

  • Grace – given at the Cross.
  • Peace – found by looking to the Cross

These great things are his salutation; he points them to the Cross as the source of the church, for on it our Lord made the atonement for us.

Praying – for someone you’ve never met

It is a delicate business. Paul has kept these people in prayer, but he has never actually met them. As far as they know, Paul is just a name (and given his early reputation, not at all overwhelming in righteousness). So Paul begins by giving thanks:

  • He gives thanks to the Father. This is fitting for those he does not know, for there might have been some argument about Jesus being inferior to the Father. He can straighten that out later; right now, he wants all his hearers to be in agreement. (Remember that these letters were intended to be read aloud to the congregation.)
  • He will go on fairly quickly to talk about Christ – but we shall defer that to the next lesson.

Faith, Love and Hope

To cement this unity, Paul now brings to their minds one of his trios:

  • Faith – he points their faith directly to Jesus. There is no sense of being faithful to the church, the movement, the local leadership, or Paul himself. Faith is in Jesus, the Christ.
  • Love – this is the love they have specifically for the saints. Do you see how this enhances the unity of the church? They care for the least of Christ’s servants – and therefore for Christ. This love springs from the third member of this trinity.
  • Hope – the hope is indeed “other-worldly” – it is the coming return of our Lord, the resurrection of the dead.

Part of the team

Paul makes it clear that they are a part of the team, that is, the church universal. How is this so?

  • First, they have the same word of truth, the Gospel.
  • Next, they can see that word bearing fruit all around the known world. Paul makes this clear – by using the Colossians themselves as an example. Paul never went there – but the Gospel did.
  • And how does Paul know all this? From one of his teammates, Epaphras. In short, from a friend of a friend.

Epaphras impressed Paul. He describes him as a dear fellow servant, a faithful one – and from Paul, that’s high praise. Evidently Epaphras bragged about his home town folks.

What to pray for

Paul’s prayer for them is somewhat complicated for those who diagram sentences, but we can see its main points:

That God will fill you

Note, not just “give” but “fill”. He asks the father to give them so much that they are filled. And with what?

  • The knowledge of his will. Have you ever prayed to God that you might know his will in your life? Imagine then that the Apostle would pray that God will not only let you in on his will – but fill you with it, so that you know exactly what God wants done.
  • “Through all spiritual wisdom” That means that he wants you to know God’s will so well that it comes to you not as a blinding flash but from your ordinary, day to day one-ness with Him.
  • “And understanding.” So that this becomes so much a part of you that your very thoughts are in accordance with his will.
To what purpose?

God does not go about filling people with his will so that they can make themselves rich. He has his own purposes for doing this, and it may surprise you that they are so mundane:

  • “live a life worthy” – to live that life of ordinary holiness which so graces the sincere Christian. How do we recognize such a life? By the fruit it bears, both in evangelistic terms (easy for some) and in good works (easy for others). But see this too: this is not a static perfection, but rather a growing process. You must grow in your knowledge of the Lord. The more you know of him, the greater the fruit in your life.
  • “being strengthened” – you knew you couldn’t do this by yourself, right? No indeed, the intention is that you apply for and are given God’s power. But there is no mention of mighty works; only great endurance and patience.[1]
  • “giving thanks” – again, to the Father – but this time in that aspect of his character in which he has graciously allowed us into the kingdom of heaven – those who will inherit eternal life.
Why?

Paul now ties it together. Why would God do all this? It comes back to his deep love, shown to us at the Cross. The atonement at the Cross changed our relationship to God.

  • First, he has rescued us from spiritual darkness and hell itself. He loves us that much; he will not just rescue us but will provide as well.
  • How? By putting us into the kingdom of light, his own kingdom.
  • By what mechanism? By the redemption! We, the sinners, are forgiven; our sins weigh against us no more.

There it is. Upon this foundation – that Paul and the Colossians have so much in common – Paul will now write a powerful letter. It is good for us to remember that we are members in the kingdom of heaven, joint heirs, those who are redeemed – Christians, of all places and times. Whoever worships Christ is brother or sister to me.


[1] Chrysostom lends a practical note here. He notes that God is often shown with patience but not endurance. The reason is simple: patience is what we put up from those we could do something about; endurance is putting up with those we cannot change. God needs no endurance; but I do suspect that he definitely has great patience with us.

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