For many, church is an irrelevant institution filled with self-righteous hypocrites. The Letters of Paul the Apostle paint a very different picture of church – a picture of vitality, community and growth. We see this for example in Paul’s thanksgiving for the church in Colossae.
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit (Colossians 1:1-8).
A NEW COMMUNITY
Thanksgiving. Paul doesn’t thank God that the followers of Jesus in Colossae were ‘religious’. Instead he focuses on three features: their faith, love and hope.
Faith. The Colossians did not just have ‘faith in God’. Their faith was in Christ Jesus who, Paul tells us, enjoys a unique relationship with God the Father. People often say they believe in God, but it is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who supremely reveals God to us.
Love for all the saints. Their faith was not just intellectual, simply giving a mental nod to God. Rather, their relationship with God showed itself in their relationship with one another. They were a new community, the people of God. The love of which Paul spoke is one that binds people of different national and cultural backgrounds into a unique community.
Hope. Paul’s words, because of the hope laid up for us in heaven, are unexpected. There is a causal link between hope and faith and love. Hope is not the outcome of faith and love: it is the cause of it. And this hope is not just Christian optimism. It is the certainty of the coming again of Jesus and the new heaven and earth he will bring. The object of our faith is not yet in our full possession. All this opens up a different dimension of our understanding of life now. It suggests we need to learn to live now in the light of the age to come.
And there is something else: the theme of growth bubbles through Paul’s words. The expansion of Christianity is going on all over the world, Paul says. And, notice his emphasis on the truth. The gospel, he says, is the word of the truth. He could have omitted any reference to truth, but he didn’t.
Paul wanted to stress that the gospel message is true, as someone has commented, in a counter-intuitive sense: the statements it makes about God and men and women are beyond human invention and imagination. It is also true in an historical sense: the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were no fabrication. They are trustworthy. God’s gospel is also true in the experiential sense: when we put our trust in Jesus Christ who is at the center of the gospel message, we discover that our faith is not a hoax but a genuine experience.
Because it was the truth, the church in Colossae had formed and was growing. People there had heard and responded to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, in all its truth, preached by pastor Epaphras. And, consistent with what Jesus taught in John 3: God’s Spirit was doing his work of regeneration.
You may want to consider:
- the significance of the expression, faith in Jesus Christ, as the focus and meaning of faith;
- that the phrase, love for all the saints, implies that faith is not just intellectual or simply the expression of a relationship with God;
- Paul’s meaning of hope: it is not a pious ‘hope’ but confidence in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s original promise; we should see life now in the light of the reality that is to come;
- the implications of the way that people hear and respond to the gospel – why don’t we work at ways to introduce others to God’s gospel? Why don’t we pray that the Spirit will be at work opening blind eyes to God’s truth?
© The Rev. John G. Mason