November 12, 2013 by Daniel Gettemy
One thing that stands out to me about the Apostle Paul’s letters was how he would (typically) begin with a word of thanks and prayer for the person or people he was writing to. I mean, I would’ve loved to have been Paul’s friend simply because I know the guy would be praying for me! Consider the case of the Colossian church: He’d never even met most of these believers, and yet not only was he thankful for them but he was “praying always” for them!
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Paul prayed only for them and never prayed for anyone else; it means that he prayed for them faithfully, never forgetting them. The prayer pattern of religious Jews was to pray three times a day, and it’s quite possible that Paul (having been trained in one of the strictest sects of religious Jews) maintained a similar pattern once he came to faith in Jesus. Having a “structured” prayer regimen – where you pray at certain times, in certain places, for certain things, etc. – certainly can have its benefits! I’ve found, personally, that I need some sort of structure to my prayer life or I tend not to have a very consistent (or effective) one.
Now before we get into what it is that causes Paul to be so thankful for the Colossians, I want to point out the unique emphasis that Paul places on God the Father in this phrase from verse 3:
“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
The fact that Paul mentions his giving of thanks for them isn’t unique; he does that often in his letters. However, his typical rendering of thanks is expressed as “I thank my God…” That sounds somewhat generalized in comparison to the more specific phrase “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why is Paul so particular here? Why identify God as the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
As we’ll see in our studies of this letter, the apostle will go out of his way to express the omnipotence, eternality, supremacy and deity of Jesus. He’ll emphasize the vicarious life and death of Jesus; His finished work of salvation and how we are complete in Him. That through faith in Christ we’ve been united together with Him in His death and resurrection, being renewed in knowledge according to His image.
However, as glorious as Jesus is, we don’t think rightly about Him apart from recognizing who He is in relation to the Father: Paul gives thanks to God, who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and Son are uniquely and eternally united. I’m of the opinion that Paul’s intention in identifying God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” was to set the Father and the Son in relation to one another before he begins to emphasize the unique, human life of the Son. God is Jesus’ Father eternally and temporally, and we can call Him “our Father” as well (see verse 2) because of our adoption through His Son!
So, what is it that causes Paul to give thanks and pray for a people he’s never even met personally? Well, there’s something that’s a catalyst to his joy: Paul had been “hearing” certain things about the Colossian believers:
“…since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven…”
You may have noticed the three nouns faith, love, and hope: These are the threefold virtues that Paul most often ties together in evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of believers (see also Rom. 5:1-5, 1 Cor. 13, Gal. 5:5-6, 1 Thess. 1:3, etc.).
Paul and Timothy had heard of the Colossian’s faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all the saints. Faith in Christ Jesus means that Jesus was the object of their faith. They weren’t trusting in themselves or in their own works – nor in an idol or the god that it represented – but in Christ Jesus and His righteousness! This faith in Christ Jesus brought them into fellowship with Him and with the Father and with other believers, through the Holy Spirit.
That relationship with other believers, or “saints”, was practiced in love. The Colossians had the reputation of expressing love for all saints, or all Christian people. That is, in the household of faith (in the Church), there’s no selectivity as to who they would and who they wouldn’t love. All believers were loved; those they were familiar with, and those who may be traveling through their city along the Roman highway, having come from other cities. Sounds like a pretty wonderful group to be a part of!
Of course, Paul’s not saying that they don’t love non-Christian people, only that they are especially known as being loving to all amongst the universal Christian Community. There was no racism or classism – or any other “ism” for that matter – which would limit their love towards one another. Actually, this is what faith looks like: It is evidenced in love! Faith and love should go hand-in-hand!
There’s a real problem that exists in our life if we profess faith but lack love. The New Living Translation interprets the Apostle John’s exhortation in 1 John 3:16-19 this way:
16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? 18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.
John points out that love was perfectly displayed by Jesus in the giving of His life for ours, in payment for our sin, so that we might have life thru Him. Faith in Jesus brings us into union with Him in such a way that He, by the Holy Spirit, might love people through us, by our own sacrificial living. It’s a testimony to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples when we live in such faith, and when we love in such a way. The fact that the Colossians had such a testimony caused Paul to give thanks to God!
In the next blog post we’ll take a look at the third virtue Paul mentioned in his thanksgiving for the Colossians: Hope.
What about you? What do you give thanks to God for when you think of the local church body that you’re a part of? What about other church congregations that you’re familiar with?