Commentary on Colossians, 1:1-8 (Fruit of the Gospel)

Colossians 1:1-8

“1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother.”

“through the will of God”

Paul was made an apostle through the will of God. This is not something he sought after. Indeed, when he received the call he was still an unsaved man, spearheading major persecution against those who professed Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:1-21; Acts 26:12-23).

Paul’s call to service as an apostle was unique, for he received the call of service at the same time as his call to salvation. When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul as Lord and Savior, He also revealed how He would use him. Furthermore, when Jesus called him, he was obedient, as Paul himself testified:

“Therefore, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: but declared both to them of Damascus first and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judaea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.”  (Acts 26:19-20)

Blessed is the Christian who knows God’s will for his or her life. If we walk with Christ in sincere surrender to His will, He will surely reveal His will to us. And when He does call us to a particular area of ministry or vocation, we must be obedient. When God calls, there is no debating about it within ourselves. We simply say, “yes Lord.” Then we allow Him to lead us step by step. As we do, He will use us to make a difference in people’s lives. We miss out on great and eternal blessings when we block out God’s will and turn and go the other way. Furthermore, this sort of disobedience always has consequences. It not only affects our relationship and walk with Christ, but we will likely end up doing something with our lives that brings us great dissatisfaction, if not misery.

“Timothy”

Timothy’s father was a Greek (Acts 16:1), and his mother was a Jewish believer. His grandmother also was a believer (2 Tim 1:5). Paul referred to him as “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2), thus he apparently led him to faith in Christ. However, I think we can be confident that the Lord used his mother and grandmother in his life to help prepare him for his day of salvation. How much time the two of them must have spend in prayer on his behalf. How many discussions they must have had about Jesus. That serves as a great example and encouragement for us who are parents or grandparents. Let us never give up praying for our children and grandchildren. It may take time, perhaps many, many years, but let’s keep trusting that the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts to lead them to the cross. 

Timothy and Paul were very close. They traveled together and ministered together. What a special privilege it would have been to be mentored by Paul as Timothy was. How much he must have learned from him. What a difference Paul must have made in his life. We too should be alert for opportunities to mentor younger Christians. We can play an important role in the life of someone who has a new relationship with Christ. With the temptations and allurements of the world coming at us from all sides, mature Christians can help provide the encouragement and stability that they need.

“2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

“saints” (Gr. hagios – 40)

Most holy thing, holy ones, separated, sanctified.

This is a common word that is used to refer to Christians. We are all most holy unto God. We’ve all been sanctified and separated unto God. As those who have been forgiven and cleansed of all sin, born again with a new nature, this word “saint’ describes our position in Christ.

“faithful brethren in Christ”

Notice that Paul does not simply address them as “brethren,” but as “faithful brethren.” Regardless of whether all the believers there were faithful, faithfulness is the norm for those who are “in Christ.” To think of those who are in Christ as anything but faithful, is contradictory to who we are as children of God. To be an unfaithful Christian is an oxymoron. 

To be “in Christ” refers to our spiritual union with Him, as branches connected to the vine. As a vine imparts life to the branches, so does Jesus impart His life to us. 

“grace to you and peace”

This salutation is something that characterizes Paul’s letters. I suppose he opens this way because he knows that in this world of hardship and persecution, we need above all things grace to deal with it. We also need peace in our souls when everything on the outside of us is seems out of control. 

“3 We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love that you have for all the saints,”

Paul and Timothy (and likely many more in their company), had been praying for the Colossian Christians ever since they heard of their faith in Christ. They gave thanks for their salvation and prayed for their spiritual development. It’s probable they heard about their conversion through Epaphras, but it’s not known how they met him. Epaphras himself labored much in prayer for them, who was probably the one who first preached the gospel message to them (Col 4:12; Col 1:7).

We as fellow believers need to be in prayer for each other. Those whom we know, those in our circle of Christian friends and acquaintances, all of us need to be praying for one another regularly. We need to be praying for those in our churches. We need to be praying for our pastors and leaders. We need to be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are suffering for His name. We are dependent upon one another. We can’t just assume that all is well with those we know as followers of Christ. We are all have weaknesses and we are all susceptible to failing and giving in to the daily temptations of life. We need to be strengthened by the prayers of others to keep us pursuing God and His will.

“and of the love that you have for all the saints”

One of the evidences of the new birth is a new heart for God and for those who belong to Him. We share a special bond for one another. We feel a special love for those who share our love for Jesus. Those who profess Christ, but feel closer to unbelievers, are likely not saved. If a professing Christian feels more at home with unbelievers, then we’re probably looking at a false conversion.

This love for fellow-believers is what characterized the Colossian Christians, which confirmed the sincerity and genuineness of their faith in Christ. For this Paul was thankful.

“5 because of the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel.”

“because of the hope that is laid up for you in heaven”

Again, this speaks of evidence of true salvation. Their love for fellow-believers revealed that they had a genuine faith, a genuine hope for the eternal blessings of heaven. Their hope originated in heaven and was secure in heaven. This hope is what produced this love. It all works together as the fruit of salvation. The mention of faith, love and hope, reminds us of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

“But now remain faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)

The Colossian Christians demonstrated that because of their faith in Christ, they were now living with eternity in view. “Hope” here does not mean the same thing that it normally does today, as when we hope for something to happen, but it’s not known if it will or not. Hope here refers to that which, while not yet experienced, is nevertheless, absolutely certain. They knew that all the eternal blessings that we have in Christ is real, and that it’s something to look forward to with total assurance. Thus they felt a kinship with those who shared their faith, love, and hope.

“of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel”

This hope of eternal blessings is something they had been taught previously when the gospel of Christ was preached to them. Here would be a good time to discuss the gospel message. What is the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is indeed the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s is indeed that He paid the price for sin that we owe, as He hung on that cross. 

However, while the death and resurrection of Christ is the central message, the gospel of Christ is more than that; it’s really about His whole life. We have four books in the New Testament that are titled, “The Gospel According To….” That tells us that the message of Christ is more than the simple “A,B,C’s” of salvation that we hear so often in churches today. The more we share about Christ, the Christian life, and about eternity with God, the more the Holy Spirit has to work with when dealing with someone’s heart, as Paul said in Romans 10:17: “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The more truth a person hears, the better they understand the message, and therefore, the better they understand the life-changing decision they’re making when they place their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. So many today understand the gospel to be nothing more than a ticket to heaven, when in reality, it’s a whole new life, and whole new direction, a whole new purpose, a whole new relationship with God. 

“6 which has come to you, even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;”

ESV:  “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”

“in all the world bearing fruit and increasing”

This fulfills what Jesus taught in the “Olivet Discourse,” about the gospel being preached to the whole world prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Matt 24:14; Mark 13:10). Paul also mentions this in Ro 1:8. The gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed throughout the whole known world at the time of this writing.

“since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth”

The gospel that they had heard and received was bearing fruit among them, as it was throughout the world. It was changing lives everywhere. If we profess Christ, but it doesn’t change our lives, then what we have is a false conversion. Perhaps you’ve heard the following description about meeting Jesus: 

“If you have an encounter with a Mack truck, it’s going to change your life. In the same way, if you have an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s going to change your  life. There’s no way you can walk away the same as you were before.”

“grace of God”

Salvation is according to the grace of God. It’s offered as a gift (Ro 6:23; Eph 2:8-9). It’s freely offered, and it’s to be freely received through faith. Let me be clear; faith IS NOT a work! The Bible clearly contrasts faith with works. Calvinists insist that faith is a work, but that’s simply not what the Bible teaches. It teaches that faith is the opposite of works, and therefore the two cannot be put into the same category (Ro3:24-28; Ro 4:1-9; Gal 2:16). 

Calvinists must ignore the obvious in order to support their theology. They believe that regeneration must precede faith (instead of the opposite), which, according to their view, faith is completely God’s doing, and has nothing to do with the will of man. What their theology amounts to, is that it’s God who does the believing for us. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. In order to be consistent with their theology, they must explain away the contrast the Bible makes between faith and works, and call faith a work. They believe that if faith comes from the heart of man, then that would be meritorious, the equivalent of works, which would give us something to boast about. But again, the Bible teaches that faith is the opposite of works, and cannot, therefore, be regarded as a work. Just one of many things about Calvinism that makes absolutely no biblical sense.

What the Bible actually teaches is that it’s the Holy Spirit who works in our hearts, convicts us of our sins, opens our eyes to the truth, and frees our will – which allows us to freely believe, without being made to believe irresistibly. If the Word of God does not regard the exercise of faith as meritorious, then neither should we. The only reason to do so would be to support one’s theology.

“in truth”

The “grace of God “in truth” is what I just explained above. What’s not the “grace of God in truth,” is what Calvinism teaches. God offers the gift of salvation as a gift, and like any other gift, we simply receive it. And like any other gift, it can be refused. Jesus paid the price for sin for us. He provided the way of salvation for us. All we have to do is receive it from a willing heart of faith – a heart that’s been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. That’s the grace of God.

“7 even as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,”

As I already mentioned, the Colossian Christians probably first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ from Epaphras. He was a minister not only to them, but possibly, also to the churches of Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 4:12-13). He was faithful in his calling to spread the gospel of Christ, and to provide instruction regarding the Christian life. At that point in time, Epaphras served on behalf of Paul and of the others who served with him. He was a representative not only of Christ, but of Paul too. It was truth-confirming to have the Apostle Paul validate his ministry. This would have given the the Colossians much confidence about what they were being taught by Epaphras.

In today’s world there is so much unfaithfulness among pastors and Christian leaders. It’s so important to be single-minded about our service to Christ. If we don’t remain totally focused on Jesus and what we’ve been called to do as His representatives, we can become easily distracted by the things of this world….to the point of sin and disgrace. There is nothing more serious than dishonoring the name of Christ. At all costs, we must uphold the honor of His holy name in a world that is without honor.

“8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.”

Epaphras knew firsthand the sincerity of their love for Christ and for those who shared their faith. This he passed along to Paul and to those who served with him. What a testimony to have, to be known for our sincere love. True love can only come from the Holy Spirit. It’s a fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce in us (Gal 5:22). There’s the world’s kind of love, and there’s the Spirit’s kind of love. The Holy Spirit will always lead us to love God above the world, and above all other things. He will always lead us to live selflessly for Him and for others. Paul gives a wonderful description of love in 1 Corinthians. I will end with that:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” ESV (1 Cor 13:4-7)