Colossians 1:3


Good news from Colossae had been brought to Paul at Rome by Epaphras. This devoted servant of Christ (Colossians 4:12) had probably been the first evangelist sent by Paul to Colossal, and the founder of the Church there (ver. 7, Revised Version). He brought also news which caused the apostle much anxiety (Colossians 2:1, 2, 8, etc.). But before he utters cautions he pours forth thanksgivings. We are thus reminded of two things.

1. Paul's largeness of heart. Love "rejoiceth in the truth" and "envieth not" those who have either more spiritual gifts or more temporal blessings (Romans 12:15). The fruit of Epaphras' ministry was a source of joy to him. He felt grateful for the gifts in money from the Philippians brought by Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:17, 18), but more for "the love in the Spirit" of the Colossians reported by Epaphras.

2. Paul's sympathy with the mind of his Master. Christ also dictated Epistles. Wherever there is anything to commend in the Churches of Asia, the Lord mentions this before he utters a word of censure. The apostle, writing earlier, but taught by the same Spirit of Christ, pursues a similar course in nearly all his Epistles (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). "The meekness and gentleness of Christ" enable him to praise and congratulate even the disorderly Church at Corinth. The apostle blends thanksgivings with his prayers, especially on account of that triad of graces, faith, love, hope, which elsewhere he rejoices in (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Their faith worked by love and was sustained by hope. Their permanent fruitfulness proved the reality of their spiritual life. We must, however, observe that the term "hope" is used here in a sense somewhat different to that in the other passages quoted above. It is the object of hope (as in Galatians 5:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18), implying subjective hope. That "hope set before us" "we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil." Following the suggestions of this figure, we may notice some of the links of the chain of spiritual blessings by which the souls of converts are connected with that anchor, and on account of which ministers may give thanks on behalf of Christians who in these respects resemble the Colossians.

I. WE HAVE HEARD "THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL." No gospel, no hope (Ephesians 2:12). We did not come to the gospel; it "is come unto" us. The Physician sought the patient, the Saviour the sinner (Isaiah 65:1; Luke 19:10). The gospel in its triumphant progress throughout all the world reached Great Britain, an Ultima Thule, brought by unknown missionaries who "for his Name's sake went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." We ourselves have heard "the joyful sound," the genuine gospel, "the grace of God in truth" (Galatians 2:5; 1 Peter 5:12), the gospel of Christ which alone is "the power of God unto salvation."

II. WE. HAVE TRUSTED OURSELVES TO CHRIST. "Your faith in Christ Jesus;" We have not only heard, but we know,"the grace of God in truth." We know it because we have had a Divine Teacher. "In coelo cathedram habet qui corda docet" (Augustine). Our faith is the gift of God; it rests not "in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." Thus we "know whom we have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:13, 19, 20). Belief conducts to knowledge (John 6:69).

III. WE ARE BRINGING FORTH FRUIT. Wherever the gospel comes, i.e. comes home to men's consciences and hearts, it must be a fructifying power. "Even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit," etc. Ours is not a faith which "is dead in itself because it has not works." "Can that faith save" us (James 2:17, 14)? Ours is a "faith working through love." The quickening Spirit within us will bring forth "fruit after his kind" (Galatians 5:22, 23). One of the most characteristic fruits is love. "The love which ye have toward all the saints." We cherish love toward them because, in spite of all their failings, they are beloved children of our Father God (1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1).

IV. OUR FRUITS ARE VISIBLE AND PERMANENT. They are such as an Epaphras could discern and report. Our lights shine; our good works are seen (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 3 John 1:6). This fruit bearing is prompt. "Since the day," etc. The fruit itself multiplies; the gospel is "bearing fruit and increasing." Side by side with the outward growth of the gospel (which may be illustrated by the notices of the increase of the Church in Judaea from the "about a hundred and twenty" to the "many myriads" of Acts 21:20; and from progress in our own days), there is the ripening of Christian character (2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10) and the leavening influence of the gospel on modern society. For all these things we thank God, but especially if our fruit is permanent. The gospel still is bearing fruit in us (Psalm 1:3). Our hearts are not the stony or thorny ground. Christ's object is being fulfilled (John 15:16). We have not forgotten our first love; our last works are more than our first. "The past things perish if those things which were begun cease to go on to perfection" (Cyprian). Growth and persistence are causes for sincerest thanks.

V. "THE HOPE WHICH IS LAID UP IN THE HEAVENS" SUSTAINS OUR FAITH AND LOVE. "Faith... and love... because of the hope." This hope laid up is itself one of the things "hoped for." It is a reserved blessing, part of that great goodness of God "laid up for them that fear thee" (Psalm 31:19; 1 Peter 1:4, 5). But the links in the chain of spiritual blessings we have examined unite our souls here to the inheritance yonder (Romans 8:24, 25). Such hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:5; Jude 1:20, 21). If our souls are not firmly moored to that object of hope "laid up for us in the heavens," let us ask - Which is the missing link? - E.S.P.







We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. A THANKFUL RECOGNITION OF CHRISTIAN EXCELLENCE AS INTRODUCTORY TO WARNINGS AND REMONSTRANCES. Almost all Paul's Epistles begin thus. Gentle rain softens the ground, and prepares it to receive the heavier downfall which would else mostly run off the hard surface. These expressions are not compliments, or flattery used for personal ends, but uncalculated expressions of affection which delights to see white patches in the blackest character, and of wisdom which knows that the nauseous medicine of blame is most easily taken if wrapped in a capsule of honest praise. All persons in authority may be the better for taking this lesson.

2. The praise is cast in the form of thanksgiving to God, as the true fountain of all that is good in men. All that might be harmful in direct praise is thus strained out of it. Christian excellences are God's gifts. The fountain, not the pitcher, should have the credit of the water.

3. There were two points which occasioned his thankfulness.(1) Faith. This is sometimes spoken of as "towards" Jesus, which describes the act by its direction, as if it were the going out of man's nature to the true goal of all active being. "On" Christ, describes it as reposing on Him as the end of all seeking. But more sweet is faith considered as "in" Him as its home, where the seeking spirit may fold its wings, be strengthened, and tranquillized.(a) In all, faith is the same — simple confidence. But how unlike are the objects! — broken reeds in the one case, and the firm pillar of Divine power and tenderness in the other. And how unlike, alas! the fervency and constancy of our trust in each other and in Him.(b) Faith covers the whole ground of man's relation to God. Everything that binds us to the unseen world is included in it.(c) From that fruitful source all good will come, and that faith lacks its best warrant which does not lead to whatsoever is of good report.(2) As faith is the parent of all virtue, so it is the parent of love — the whole law of human conduct packed into one word. But the warmest place in a Christian's heart will belong to those in sympathy with his deepest self. The sign on the surface of earthly relations of the central fire of faith to Christ is the fruitful vintage of brotherly love, as the vineyards bear the heaviest clusters on the slopes of Vesuvius.(3) So here we have two members of the familiar triad, and their sister, Hope, is not far off. And the hope laid up in heaven is a motive for brotherly love. This hope is not the emotion, but the object, and the ideas of futurity and security are suggested by that object being laid up. This is not the main motive, but it is legitimate to draw subordinate motives for holiness from the anticipation of future blessedness, and to use that prospect to reinforce the higher motives.

II. A SOLEMN REMINDER OF THE TRUTH AND WORTH OF THAT GOSPEL WHICH WAS THREATENED BY THE BUDDING HERESIES OF THE COLOSSIAN CHURCH.

1. He begins by reminding them that to that gospel they owed all their knowledge and hope of heaven. Its sole certainty is built on the resurrection of Christ, and its sole hope on His death. All around us we see those who reject these surrender their faith in the life beyond.

2. The gospel is a word of which the whole subject and contents is truth. It is of value, not because it feeds sentiment or regulates conduct only, but because it reveals knowledge about the deepest things of God, of which, but for it, man would know nothing. It is not speculation, but truth; and truth because it is the record of Him who is "the Truth." "To whom shall we go?" If elsewhere, to will-o'-the-wisps and Babel.

3. This gospel had been received by them. "You have accepted the Word; see that your future be consistent with your past." Blessed are they whose creed at last can be spoken in the lessons learned in childhood, to which experience has but given new meaning.

4. This gospel was filling the world. "All the world" must be taken with an allowance for rhetorical statement, but the rapid spread of Christianity then, and its power to influence all sorts of men, were facts that needed to be accounted for if the gospel were not true. All schisms and heresies are partial and local, suit coteries, and are the product of circumstances; but the gospel goes through the world, and draws all men. Dainties are for the few, and the delicacies of one country are the abominations of another; but everybody breaks bread and lives on it. Do not fling away the gospel, which belongs to all, for that which can never live in the popular heart, nor influence more than a handful of "superior persons."

5. Another plea for adherence to the gospel is based on its continuous and universal fruitfulness. It brings about results which attest its claim to be from God. Our imperfections are our own; our good is its. A medicine is not shown to be powerless if a sick man has taken it irregularly. This rod has budded at all events; have any of its antagonists' rods done the same? Don't cast it away, says Paul, till you have found a better.

6. They have heard a gospel which reveals the "true grace of God" — another argument for steadfastness. In opposition to it then, as now, were put various thoughts and requirements, a human wisdom and a burdensome code. They are but bony things to try and live on. The soul wants something more than bread made out of sawdust. We want a loving God to live on, whom we can love because He loves us. Will anything but the gospel give us that?

III. THE APOSTOLIC ENDORSEMENT OF EPAPHRAS, the early teacher of the Colossians, whose authority, no doubt, was imperilled by the new direction of thought, and Paul was desirous of adding the weight of his attestation to the complete correspondence between his own teaching and that of Epaphras. We know nothing of him except from this letter end that to Philemon. He is a member of the Colossian Church (Colossians 4:12). He had brought the tidings which filled the apostle's heart with joy and love for their Christian walk (vers. 4-8), and of anxiety lest they should be swept away from their steadfastness. Epaphras shared this (Colossians 4:12). He was in some sense Paul's "fellow-prisoner," and alone of Paul's companions receives the name of "fellow-servant," which may be an instance of Paul's courteous humility. "Don't make differences — we are both slaves of one Master." As He had truly represented Paul, so he had lovingly represented them. Probably those who questioned Epaphras' version of Paul's teaching would suspect his report of the Church; hence the double witness borne from the apostle's generous heart to both parts of his brother's work. Never was leader truer to his subordinates than Paul.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

I. THE DUTY.

1. Arises out of an express command. We are bound to be thankful for all things (Job 1:21; Isaiah 24:15).

2. Is a test of Christian character. All the saints have been distinguished by it, and have treasured up their mercies that they might render it. To be lacking in it is to lack the chief distinguishing grace of Christian character, and to incur the greatest sin- ingratitude.

3. Must always form a prominent feature of spiritual worship- witness the Psalms.

4. Is most reasonable in itself — when we consider that it is the best return we can make for any blessing.

II. ITS SPECIAL SUBJECTS. The graces of the spirit in ourselves or others.

1. Faith takes the precedence, because it is the first and root-grace. Think of what faith does — saves, is the evidence of things unseen, casts all care on God, etc.

2. Love which is fruitful in blessed effects. The loveless man is miserable.

3. A good hope through grace — which anticipates heaven.

(T. Watson, B. A.)

I. ITS SPIRIT.

1. It is unselfish. We hear the prisoner praise and exult for the joys of others. Arthur Helps says: "It is a noble sight. That man is very powerful who has no more hopes for himself, who looks not to be loved or admired any more, to have more honour and dignity; but whose sole thought is for others, and who only lives for them."

2. Ungrudging. He is about to deal with their errors, but is eager first to recognize what is laudable. There are two sets of men, those who first see the blemish, then the beauty; and those who first admire and then criticise. To the first of these Paul belonged.

3. Constant.

II. ITS SUBJECTS.

1. The spiritual possessions of the Church. Sometimes Paul views faith and love as leading up to hope: here he depicts hope as kindling faith and love.

(1)The faith is Christ-centred.

(2)The love is practical.

(3)The hope is secure.

2. The means by which these possessions had been obtained.(1) The gospel.

(a)In its universality.

(b)In its fertility. The gospel is not only vital, but reproductive.(2) The preacher.

3. The source and sphere of their possession. "Love in the Spirit" is the life of all the saints.

(U. R. Thomas.)The custom of the apostle to begin his Epistles with thanksgiving showed the devout habit of his mind, his constant recognition of the source of good, and his interest in the spiritual condi tion of those to whom he wrote.

I. THANKSGIVING AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN PRAYER. "We give thanks, praying always for you."

II. THE BEING TO WHOM ALL THANKSGIVING IS DUE. "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

III. THE GROUNDS OF THIS THANKSGIVING.

1. The reputation of their faith in Christ.(1) Christ is the object and foundation of all true faith. He is so as the Divinely-consecrated Deliverer of our race. The grandeur of His work and the glory of His character are suggested by the titles here given.(2): Faith is the root-principle of Christian life.

2. Their possession of an expansive Christian love. Love to Christ is necessarily involved, for love to the saints is our affection for Christ's image in them. Love is all-embracing. Peculiarities, defects, differences of opinion, are no barriers. It is the unanswerable evidence of moral transformation (1 John 3:14). It is the grandest triumph over the natural enmity of the human heart. It is the indissoluble bond of choicest fellowship.

3. Their enjoyment of a well-sustained hope.(1) Its character. The prospect of heaven — of possessing a spiritual inheritance whose wealth never diminishes and whose splendours never fade — of seeing Christ, and being like Him and dwelling with Him for ever. This prospect lifts the soul above the wearinesses, disappointments, and sufferings of the present limited life.(2) Its security "laid up" — safely deposited as a precious jewel in God's coffer. There no pilfering hands can touch, no breath tarnish, no moth corrupt it. Earthly treasures vanish, and to God's people sometimes nothing but hope remains. Where this treasure is there the heart should be.(3) Its source — the gospel. It alone unfolds the mysteries of the future. How dismal the outlook where hope is unknown.Lessons:

1. We should thank God for others more on account of their spiritual than temporal welfare.

2. Learn what are the essential elements of the Christian character — faith, love, hope.

3. The proclamation of the gospel should be welcomed, and its message pondered.

(G. Barlow.)

The participle marks the thanksgiving as part of the prayer, and the adverb makes it prominent, indicating that when they prayed for them they always gave thanks. There is no true prayer without thanksgiving. Gratitude intensifies the soul's sense of dependence on God, and prompts the cry for the needed help; and, on the other hand, earnest prayer naturally glides into fervent thankfulness. As one sin is interlinked with and produced by another, so the Use of one grace begets another. The more temporal things are used, the more they wear and waste; but spiritual things are strengthened and increased with exercise. Every spiritual grace has in it the seed of an endless reproductiveness. Underlying every thanksgiving for others is a spirit of tender, disinterested love. Moved by this passion, the apostle, from the midst of imprisonment and sorrow, could soar on the wings of gratitude and prayer to heaven. "Thanksgiving will be the bliss of eternity."

(Passavant.)

I. CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. It consists in —

1. Faith.(1) That which leads us to accept as true the testimony of the gospel concerning Christ.(2) To depend upon Him for all the blessings promised by Him.(3) To constantly apply to Him for all that He has revealed and accomplished.(4) To lay hold of His friendship, and find Him in every respect a faithful, suitable, ever-present, all-sufficient friend.

2. Love, the constant attendant of faith, and by which faith works.(1) It produces universal benevolence to all the world, and compassion for perishing sinners.(2) It especially delights itself in the saints as related to and bearing the image of Him who is the supreme object of love.(3) It will evidence itself in love to Christ's commands, ways, people.

3. Hope.(1) Its object is heaven.(2) As a grace it dwells in the heart, always in some measure accompanying faith and love.(3) It is with the Christian even in his darkest moments.

II. CHRISTIAN COMMUNION consists in —

1. Joy and gratitude to God on behalf of those who give evidence of being partakers of His grace in truth. This is quite distinct from ordinary friendship.(1) It is founded on personal attractions or intimate intercourse.(2) It is oneness of soul which subsists in the absence of every other consideration, and notwithstanding unfavourable circumstances.

2. Fervent prayer for the establishment and perfection of those graces in the beginning of which we rejoice (vers. 9, 10).

3. Cheering and animating each other to perseverance, notwithstanding all the trials and difficulties we may meet (ver. 11).

4. Encouraging each other constantly to keep in mind our infinite obligations and glorious prospects (vers. 12, 13).

III. CHRISTIAN RESOURCES.

1. The word of the truth of the gospel (ver. 5). Till this came the Colossians were strangers to faith, love, and hope.

2. The instrumentality of ministers. Epaphras and Paul were dear fellow-servants and faithful ministers, one preaching to the Colossians, by which they believed, and both labouring for their establishment and edification.

3. Prayer for the supply of all those spiritual blessings which the saints have learned to appreciate and desire (vers. 3-9).

4. The operations of the Holy Spirit, which gives efficiency to all love (ver. 8) is especially said to be in the Spirit, who is indeed the agent of every grace.

IV. CHRISTIAN PRACTICE (ver. 6). Wherever the gospel is preached, and attended with Divine power and efficacy, it brings forth fruit.

1. In the conversion of sinners.

2. Where vital religion is possessed it is evidenced by exemplary deportment and diffusive benevolence. There is fruit that both the Church and the world can see. They cannot see our love to Christ or our hope of heaven, but they can see our conscientious dealings in the world, our charity, our unworldliness. These are fruits which give evidence of vitality and vigour in the root.

V. CHRISTIAN EXPECTATIONS. Christians have a hope that is laid up for them in heaven.

1. As to themselves, it is secret and out of sight. It is only faith that can realize it. They are yet in their minority in a world of discipline and education; heirs, indeed, but not of age. Supplies are sent them here, but their hope, their portion, is laid up in heaven.

2. It is treasured up in a place of perfect security, so that no enemy or thief can reach it.

3. It is laid up where none of the changes of time can affect it. If we carried it about with us, we might lose it. When we die we should drop it; but it is safe in heaven, out of the reach of disappointment.Conclusion:

1. If we desire spiritual prosperity, let us be much in prayer for ourselves and others. Nothing more enlarges our capacity for holy enjoyment.

2. If we possess a hope in heaven, let it be evidenced by superiority to the world and love to our fellow-heirs.

3. If these blessings are imparted to sinners through the instrumentality of the gospel, be concerned to spread the gospel.

(J. Hirst.)

H. W. Beecher. .
Love, amid the other graces in this world, is like a cathedral tower, which begins on the earth, and, at first, is surrounded by the other parts of the structure. But, at length, rising above buttressed walls, and arch, and parapet, and pinnacle, it shoots spirelike many a foot right into the air, so high that the huge cross on its summit glows like a spark in the morning light, and shines like a star in the evening sky, when the rest of the pile is enveloped in darkness. So love, here, is surrounded by the other graces, and divides the honours with them; but they will have felt the wrap of night, and of darkness, when it will shine, luminous, against the sky of eternity.

(H. W. Beecher. .)

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