The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 2
William Banks, Hamilton, Scotland
The two prayers, vv. 3-14
The two prayers can be outlined as follows:
- Thanksgiving, vv. 3-8 – two hearings:
‘Since we heard of your faith . . . love . . . hope’, vv. 3-5;
‘Ye heard’ vv. 5-8. Note it is stated twice, vv. 5, 6.
- Petition, vv. 9-14 – two requests:
‘That ye might be’, v. 9;
‘That ye might walk’, vv. 10-14.
The two prayers are based directly on what Paul and Timothy had ‘heard’, v. 4, and ‘since . . . we heard’, v. 9. Presumably the communicator in each case was Epaphras, vv. 7, 8. The first prayer is based on hearing of their ‘faith . . . love . . . hope’, vv. 4, 5, while the second is based on their ‘love in the Spirit’, v. 8. The prayers take their character from the communication received. In the first case, the thanksgiving is extended to embrace the doctrine of the gospel (note in passing that there was doctrine in prayer and doctrine in the gospel!) which was the basis of their faith emanating in love, and both their faith and love being on account of their hope. In the second case, the work of the Spirit, giving effect to ‘spiritual understanding’, v. 9, resulting in: ‘being’, v. 10; ‘increasing’, v. 10; strengthening, v. 11; and ‘giving thanks’, v. 12, is to the fore. It is to be observed that the prayers are full of spiritual vitality – surely a very salutary lesson today for emulating at our assembly prayer meetings!
The first prayer – thanksgiving, vv. 3-8
Again, there is an inbuilt couplet with the apostle and Timothy reminding the Colossians ‘since we heard’, vv. 3-5, and balancing this with the fact that ‘ye heard’ twice, vv. 5-8.
The prayer is essentially one of thanksgiving for the evidences of the triad of Christian graces in the lives of the Colossians. Thanksgiving is very much to the fore in the Epistle as a whole and mentioned six times.1 The triad of Christian graces are also mentioned in two other Epistles, 1 Cor. 13. 13; 1 Thess. 1. 3; 5. 8. There is comprehensiveness in the address to ‘God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The address in Paul’s prayers is consistent with their contents, cp. Eph. 1. 17; 3. 14. In this case the comprehensiveness of the gospel is being emphasized emanating from the God of love, resulting in their faith in Christ Jesus, and all on account of a hope laid up in heaven. Paul had a busy prayer life, which gave him the moral right to encourage others to ‘pray without ceasing’, 1 Thess. 5. 17. He had also a large prayer list – ‘praying always for you’.
The saints at Colossae had evidenced faith, 1. 4; 2. 5, in Christ Jesus, 1. 4. This was not only a past act which brought them into the blessings of God’s salvation but was the ‘living environment within which their faith is exercised (c.f. 1. 2; 2. 19)’.2 Their love was comprehensive, embracing ‘all the saints’.3 This is an important lesson for today when discord is so much to the fore. They were not selective in their affection.
The apostle then goes on to indicate the basis of their faith and love, v. 5 – it is on account of [for = dia] ‘the hope which is laid up for you in heaven’, Christ Himself.4 Confirmation of the fact of the focus of their hope being on Christ Himself is found later in the Epistle where Christ is described as ‘the hope of glory’, 1. 27, and the culmination of their salvation, 3. 4. In 2 Timothy chapter 4 verse 8, Paul speaks of a ‘crown of righteousness’ being laid up for him and all who love His appearing. Thus, the believer can not only look forward in hope to seeing the One he faithfully serves now, but in wondrous grace, to having any service faithfully rendered to Him appropriately compensated at the judgement seat.
What the Colossians had heard, vv. 5, 6
The comprehensiveness of the Christian graces which the believers had come to experience was based on hearing – ‘whereof ye heard’, v. 5; ‘since the day ye heard’, v. 6. It is important to hear! We must be careful, of course, as to what we hear, Mark 4. 24, and how we hear, Luke 8. 18! What they heard as the basis of their hope was ‘the word of the truth of the gospel’, cp. 1. 23. This is a lovely expression indicating the dignity and carefulness which has to be exercised in the presentation of the gospel message. The same idea of divine truth being at the heart of the gospel message is also seen in other New Testament passages.5 ‘Faith cometh by hearing’, Rom. 10. 17, so the gospel must be proclaimed clearly and scripturally lest the faith exercised be spurious. Maturity in divine things and a comprehensive awareness of divine truth must be the hallmark of the gospel preacher. Perhaps we would be saved from lightness in professions if this were the case.
The potential of the gospel they believed is expanded in verse 6. It has come to the Colossians as an example of its ability to spread, but there is no limitation at any time, ‘the gospel . . . is come unto you, even as it is also in the entire world’ RV. In other words, this is not only prophetic of the universal potential of the gospel, but indicative of the fact that the gospel is available to all, and at all times, no matter their geographical location. The message is universal as confirmed by Romans chapter 10 verse 18, ‘But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth and their words unto the ends of the world’. The same truth is stated further in Psalm 19, from which the above verse is quoted, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard’, vv. 1-3. We can rest assured that God has left mankind everywhere without excuse.
But there is further amazing truth about the gospel in the balance of verse 6. It is unique, in that it not only bears fruit, but it is ‘bearing fruit and increasing’ RV. These two don’t normally coincide in fruit-bearing plants or trees, but there is potential in the gospel not only to be fruit bearing but at the same time developing intrinsically the Christian graces necessary for spiritual development in the life of the believer. This was the case in the experience of the Colossians, v. 6, who, ‘knew [full knowledge] the grace of God in truth [truly or with truth]’, cp. John 1. 17 – the two cannot be divorced.
The ministry of Epaphras, vv. 7, 8
Epaphras had been responsible for communicating the above message to the Colossians – ‘as ye also learned of [from=apo] Epaphras’, v. 7; 4. 12, 13. At this time he seems to have been Paul’s fellow prisoner in Rome, Philem. 23. His work and ministry had been outstandingly effective, perhaps because of his ‘labouring fervently . . .
in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God’. Paul uses a lovely couplet to describe him – he is a ‘fellow servant [fellow slave]’, totally committed to the work, and also a ‘faithful minister of Christ’, v. 7. It is lovely and rare to have brethren who can simply be trusted! ‘Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men’, Ps. 12. 1. Perhaps he was involved in establishing the assemblies at Hierapolis and Laodicea, 4. 13, as well as that at Colossae?
It is not at all surprising that a man of his calibre should give an accurate report, v. 8, looking beyond the external and appreciating the work of the Spirit of God in their lives – their ‘love in the Spirit’. It is a demonstration of God’s love, ‘the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost’, Rom. 5. 5. This is the only reference to the Holy Spirit in the letter.