Paul’s Gratitude for the Colossians (Col. 1:3-8)
I. Doctrinal: The Person and Work of Christ (1:1-23)
A. Introduction (1:1-14)
1. Paul’s Greeting to the Colossians (1:1-2)
2. Paul’s Gratitude for the Colossians (1:3-8)
Verse three presents the main assertion of verses 1-8,46 namely, Paul’s thanksgiving for the Colossians, but it also demonstrates the circumstances and character of his gratitude. Verses 4-5 then express the cause and underlying conditions that formed the powerful stimulus for such thanksgiving. According to Vaughn, “…Appeals for thanksgiving run through Colossians like the refrain of a song (cf. 1:12; 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2). This passage, which expresses the apostle’s own gratitude, shows that what he enjoined upon others he himself practiced.”47
The Circumstances and Character of Paul’s Gratitude
1:3 We always give thanks to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
As we move into the body of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we again get a glimpse of the prayer life of the apostle that is evident in all of his epistles. Somewhere in the early portion of his epistles, Paul begins with either thanksgiving or with praise to God, Galatians being an exception. His prayer life clearly demonstrated a God-dependent attitude and a perspective that formed the foundation and source of the apostle’s ministry, indeed, his very existence. And this becomes even more significant when you stop to realize that Paul wrote this letter while chained daily to a Roman soldier in his own house. His attitude of thanksgiving forms an instructional illustration for us today.
The apostle begins with “we always give thanks” and not “I give thanks.” While some have argued that this is simply an epistolary plural, it is more in keeping with Paul’s team spirit (cf. 1 Thess. 1:2; 1:3; 3:9) that the “we” is a reference to his prayer life in the company of others like Timothy with whom he regularly prayed.
In addition, Paul’s God-dependent perspective in life is seen in the fact his thanksgiving was addressed to God. While the apostle’s thanksgiving followed the pattern of expressions of gratitude found in intimate letters of the Hellenistic period, his thanksgiving, as with his greeting, was flavored through and through with Christian theology. Typically, his thanksgiving illustrates how he saw himself as but an instrument in the hand of God (2 Cor. 4:6-7). Wonderful things had occurred in the Lycus Valley, but rather than congratulate themselves for a job well done or the Colossians on their faith, love, and hope, they (Paul and Timothy) raised their voices in thanks to the heavenly Father for it was all the work of God. Paul expresses the principle in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.
3:5 What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. 3:7 So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. 3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters are united, but each will receive his reward according to his work. 3:9 We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building.
Carson has a timely word when he writes, “In a day when Christians too easily slip into the worldly attitude of glorifying men, even though they be godly men, here is a salutary reminder of a basic principle of Scripture: ‘My glory will I not give to another’” (See Is. xlviii.11.).48
There is some question regarding the adverb “always.” Because of the lack of punctuation marks in the Greek text, “always” could be taken with “we give thanks,” even though several words separate them. It would then mean “We always give thanks for you when we pray.” But “always” could also be taken with “we pray,” i.e., “we give thanks, always praying for you.” Though difficult to decide, the adverb should probably be taken with “we give thanks.”49 Regardless, the persistency of his prayer life is suggested by the word “always” and the fact the words “give thanks” and “praying” are in the present continuous tense in the Greek text. Paul’s prayer life was regular, persistent, and faithful. He was a man who, because of his sense of inadequacy and dependence on the Lord (see 2 Cor. 2:16 & 3:5), prayed without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). God was real to Paul. God was no vague or mere intellectual concept to the apostle, an idea he clung to just in case. His absolute confidence in God and his own sense of inadequacy drove Paul to his knees—he was a God-dependent man.
Some thoughts on praying persistently. It means:
- To pray daily in scheduled times either alone or in the company of other believers: Christians are never to give up the practice of praying. We are to pray regularly regardless of the opposition or circumstances whether good or bad (cf. Ps. 5:1-5; Neh. 1:6). We must remember that prayer is not for emergency use only.
- To pray spontaneously: to be quick to go to the throne of grace. Our lives are to be filled with prayer and thanksgiving (cf. Neh. 2:4).
- As already seen, it means to pray corporately, as a part of a team; it means to join with others at regular times to seek the face of God.
“To God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” points the reader to the person to whom Paul prayed. Paul’s prayers were never ambiguous or lacking in biblical clarity and accuracy. Theology or biblical truth guided every aspect of his life. He did not pray to the man upstairs or to the big guy in the sky or some such nonsense. Being confident of God as his spiritual Father through Jesus Christ (vs. 2), he prayed personally to God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can know God and pray to Him confidently with access into God’s presence because God has revealed Himself in the person of His eternal Son. Who can better reveal God than His own Son who shares the Father’s heart, purposes, and character (Heb. 1:2-3; John 14:8-10; 1:14,18; so cf. Heb. 4:16; 10:19)? The fact that God is the Father of the Lord in no way depreciates the absolute and total deity of Christ as Paul will make clear later on in this epistle.
The Cause for Paul’s Gratitude
The Condition of the Colossians Spiritually (1:4-5a)
1:4 since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. 1:5 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven…
“Since we heard of your faith…” explains why they could give thanks for the Colossians since Paul and Timothy had evidently never been to Colossae and did not know the church personally (cf. 2:1-2). Paul expresses gratitude for the Colossians because of the good report he received regarding their love, faith, and hope. The Christian triad of faith, hope, and love appears often in Paul’s writings with either one or more of the three as a basis for thanksgiving or motivation or exhortation (Rom. 5:2-5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Eph. 1:15; 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8; 2 Thess. 1:3).
First, Paul naturally begins with thanksgiving to God for the faith of the Colossians. Faith, as used here, includes their initial trust in the person and work of Christ. This formed the root and that which brought them into a living relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit.
A depositor’s money is not safe in proportion to the depositor’s faith in the bank in which the money is deposited. It is safe in proportion to the bank’s solvency. So, the Christian is not a Christian because he possesses faith, but because he possesses faith in Christ. It is not simply faith that matters; it is faith and its object.50
But it is important to also note that their faith is defined as “in Christ.” “In” is the Greek preposition en, which may point to the object of their faith,51 but it most likely points to the sphere in which their faith lived or resided and acted since it is not at all certain that en with pistis (faith) refers to the object.52 This may be a matter of splitting hairs since one’s faith cannot reside in Christ if He is not also the object of that faith. But a faith that resides in Christ would stress not only the past initial act of trust in Christ, but also the present focus of the faith of one who seeks to live by virtue of who and what Christ means to believers. Regardless, the issue is not just the presence of faith, but of a faith that resides in Christ. “It gives the thought of reliance going forth to Christ, and reposing on Christ, so as to sink as it were into Him, and find fixture in Him; as the anchor sinks to the floor of the sea, and then into it, that it may be held in it.”53 The apostle will deal with this concept in more detail in 2:6-10.
Second, Paul also thanks God for the love of the Colossians, a love that was being expressed toward all the saints, to believers in Christ. Here the focus is certainly on the present outworking of an active faith that resides in Christ and all that He means to believers. It is the fruit and evidence of fellowship with the Lord Jesus through an active faith in His blessed life (John 15:1-9; 1 John 3:14, 23). A faith that resides in Christ and a love for others are twins that should walk together in life. It is also important to note that “…such love was directed toward all the saints, not to those of the same social class or intellectual stratum. It is to all the saints without exception that true Christian love is shown. The communion of saints means, not a series of loosely related cliques, but an all-embracing and self-abnegating fellowship.”54
Finally, Paul was thankful for the hope of the Colossians, but rather than coordinating hope with faith and love as in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, it is set forth as the cause or motivating factor in the spiritual welfare of the Colossians. While this phrase may be taken with the main verb as the ground of the thanksgiving,55 it is better to take it with the words “faith” and “love” as seen in the NET Bible’s translation, or with “love” only, which is favored by word position. “Hope,” which is the Greek elpis, refers to a “confident expectation or prospect.” Both the noun elpis and the verb elpizo were used by the apostle to refer to the act of hoping and to the object, the content of hope. Hope is oriented to that which is both future and not immediately seen. The exact content of hope is defined variously by the context. Here are a few illustrations:
- “The hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). In the context, this is deliverance from the coming wrath of the Tribulation.
- “The hope of righteousness” (Gal. 5:5). This may refer to imputed righteousness or, because of the context, to the Spirit-produced character of righteousness described in 5:16-26.
- “The blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13). This is the confident expectation of the imminent return of the Savior as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
- “The hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). This is undoubtedly a reference to ultimate glory in God’s presence with a resurrected and glorified body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:19, 52-55).
- “The hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). In the immediate context, this may refer to the confident expectation of a changed life as one learns to trust in who he or she is in Christ rather than looking to the substitutes offered by the false teachers (cf. 1:28-2:23). It could also refer to the ultimate hope of Romans 5:2 and Colossians 3:4. Perhaps both are envisioned.
Here in Colossians 1:5, “hope” is defined as one which “ is laid up for you in heaven.” “Laid up” is the present continuous tense of apokeimai, “to put away, store” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8). Though centered in the person of Christ Himself (1:27), the place of storage is heaven, a place of security and protection where the corruption and sin of this present world cannot touch it. Peter gave a three-fold description of this. It is (1) a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (2) a hope that is an imperishable, undefiled, and an unfading inheritance, and (3) that is kept by the power of God (see 1 Pet. 1:3-5 and Matt. 6:19-20). This includes the whole of our salvation—being in God’s presence at home with the Lord immediately after death, eternal glory, a future resurrected body at the resurrection of the just, and eternal rewards (2 Tim. 4:8). In other words, the “hope laid up” includes all that goes with the gift of eternal life and the blessings of the eternal state according to the many promises of Scripture. Here is a hope that cannot be compared to any earthly hope no matter how exquisite.
The point we must not miss is that when Christians live by a faith that resides in Christ, that faith will produce love for others that may result in losses and crosses, but the Christian’s expectation goes far beyond this life into the eternal future. As Barclay expresses it:
Think of it this way. Loyalty to Christ may involve a man in all kinds of loss and pain and suffering. There may be many things to which he has to say goodbye. The way of love may seem to many to be the way of a fool. Why spend life in selfless service? Why not use it “to get on” as the world counts getting on? Why not push the weaker brother out of the way? The answer is—because of the hope that is set before us.56
In a context that speaks of sufferings for the sake of others, the apostle Paul expressed it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:
4:14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 4:15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 4:16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 4:17 For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 4:18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:14-18). (emphasis mine)
Some see an appeal to rewards as selfish and therefore carnal, but true self-centeredness or selfishness is preoccupation with self at the expense of others and God’s will in one’s life. This kind of behavior is carnal and inconsistent with the leading of the Spirit. But we should not ignore the fact that Christ often motivated His disciples with the prospect of eternal rewards. He warned them that they should lay up treasures in heaven where their treasures would have complete security and an eternal rate of return. He told them “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20).
The Character and Power of the Gospel (1:5b-6)
1:5b …which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel 1:6 that has come to you. Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.
With these verses, Paul covers a number of issues that describe the character and power of the gospel of the New Testament.
First, the gospel is good news. The term gospel is found ninety-nine times in the NASB and ninety-two in the NET Bible. Gospel is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion (occurring 76 times), “good news,” and the Greek verb euangelizo (occurring 54 times), “to bring or announce good news.” Both words are derived from the noun angelos, “messenger.” In Classical Greek, a euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai (the middle voice form of the verb) meant “to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news.”57 Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy.58
That both the noun and the verb are used so extensively in the New Testament demonstrates how it developed a distinctly Christian flavor, use, and emphasis because of the glorious news it represents. As the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news59 that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). The gospel announces the only genuine salvation and victory over sin and death. This God offers to man through the person and accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But the good news does not stop there. Its power and eternal value are proven by Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and session at God’s right hand. In the New Testament these two words, euangelion and euangelizo, became technical terms for this message of good news offered to all men through faith in Christ.
Second, the gospel is truth. In Colossians 1:23, the apostle spoke of “the hope of the gospel,” i.e., the hope which comes from the gospel or which the gospel gives. This is now the focus of verses 5-8 and introduces a key point that Paul sought to emphasize to the Colossians. The words, “which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel” reminds them that the means by which they came to this hope was faith in “the truth, the gospel” as they heard it before they began to listen to false teachers. These teachers may have been denying the future hope of believers, but it is certain that they were distorting the grace character of the gospel itself (cf. vs. 6b with 2:6-23). Thus, verse 5b sets forth the essential nature of the gospel they heard; it is the truth. Truth is the very essence of the gospel, but Paul was referring to the gospel as they originally heard it from Epaphras (vss. 7-8). This is the gospel, the truth that is based on factual historical evidence in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
This is very relevant for us today because we live in a day when people worship at the idol of an uncritical tolerance. This is the claim that all religions can be equally true. From the standpoint of religion, what is true for you may not be true for me, but that’s okay since truth, especially religious truth, is strictly personal. Everyone can make up his or her own rules for what is true. But this is absurd and illogical.
When Christ claimed that truth exists, of necessity He also implied that falsehood exists. Your personal opinions about religion may be true; but if so, they are also true for everyone else. If you meet a friend who says, “Christ is true for you, but not for me,” tell him lovingly, ‘You are entitled to your own private opinion, but you are not entitled to your own private truth!
Mathematics is transcultural; it is foolish to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is simply a Western idea. Science and technology also rely on universal principles that apply in every country, in every era. When an astronomer finds a new star, he has not changed the nature of the universe; he has only found something that was already there. Truth exists objectively outside ourselves. We do not create it; we can only discover it.
Does this objectivity also apply to religion, or is religion purely personal and subjective? Logic requires that if there is one God then there are not two, three, or ten. If what Christ said was true, then what Bah llh said was false. You may live next door to a fine Mormon family, but Mormonism and Christianity cannot both be true. Both may be false, but both cannot be true. And if one religion of the world is objectively true, it is true for everyone. The issue is whether we have committed ourselves to a religion that reflects the way things are in the universe.
We must resist the modern notion that there is a sharp distinction between the world of objective facts (mathematics, science, etc.) and the realm of religion, which many believe should be relegated to the private world of personal opinion and individual preferences. Religion, if it is worth the name, claims to make factual statements about spiritual reality. This means that every religion has the responsibility of giving evidence for its truth claims. Such evidence should be accessible to believers and nonbelievers alike.60
The New Testament emphatically presents Jesus Christ as not only the truth (John 14:6), but as the one and only Savior by whom people might be saved.61 Thus, “The last phrase of verse five sets forth the essential nature of the gospel. It is the true word from God. Ultimate truth is not found in the sciences, or philosophy (such as had now penetrated Colosse). The truth of the gospel is the only truth able to span the grave and reveal the hope which lies beyond it.”62 “All previous religions could be entitled ‘guesses about God.’ The Christian gospel gives a man not guesses but certainties about God.”63
Third, the gospel is universal. It is for all men. This is seen in the words, “which has come to you, just as in all the world.” Paul was not saying that it had been preached in every town and village all over the world, though it had already made amazing advances in the ancient world. This statement does, however, point to its universal design by God and, in keeping with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, it is surely prophetic of the penetrating course and power of the gospel around the world. With its universal appeal, the gospel
…is not confined to any one race or nation, nor to any one class or condition. Very few things in this world are open to all men. A man’s mental calibre decides the studies he can undertake. A man’s social class decides the circle amidst which he will move. A man’s material wealth determines the possessions he can amass. A man’s particular gifts decide the things he can do. But the message of the gospel is open without exception to all men.64
Fourth, the gospel is alive and fruitful. The words “is bearing fruit and growing” stress that the gospel is alive and fruitful. “Is bearing fruit and growing” stresses the continuous activity of the gospel due to its inherent power. With the temporal indicator that follows, “from the first day you heard,” the construction here stresses the past as well as the present fruitfulness of the gospel.65 In addition, “bearing fruit” is in the middle voice (an intensive middle), which again stresses the inherent power of the gospel. “The Gospel is essentially a reproductive organism, a plant whose ‘seed is in itself.’”66 The combination of the two participles, bearing fruit and growing, is probably designed to stress both the inward (bearing fruit) and outward (growing) activity of the gospel. With the accompanying ministry of the Holy Spirit, the gospel not only has the power to break through the darkness to bring men into a relationship with God through Christ, but it transforms and energizes their lives. Those who receive this truth should become fruit-bearers as the Word works within them (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13). Such fruitfulness is a mark of its authority, authenticity, and superiority over all other religions of the world. Thus, this gospel is a message that is alive and powerful because it is the living and enduring Word of God (Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23). “The fruit, which the Gospel bears without fail in all soils and under every climate, is its credential, its verification, as against the pretensions of spurious counterfeits.”67
Fifth, the gospel is a message of grace. The words, “understood the grace of God in truth,” declares the fact that the gospel in all aspects (justification and sanctification) is a message of grace. Indeed, grace is nothing less than a synonym for the gospel. Any message that fails to proclaim the grace element of the gospel of the New Testament is no gospel at all (cf. Acts 20:24, “the gospel of the grace of God).” “Grace” refers to the free, unmerited favor of God; to the favor or kindness given to those who can never deserve or earn it by anything they do or refrain from doing. As Swindoll aptly puts it, “Every time the thought of grace appears, there is the idea of its being undeserved. In no way is the recipient getting what he or she deserves. Favor is being extended simply out of the goodness of the heart of the giver.”68
To know the gospel as the grace of God in truth is to trust in the Lord Jesus and His work on the cross for our sin apart from human merit of any sort and to live by virtue of that grace as the means of the sanctifying power of God.
…This grace is absolutely free (Rom. 6:14; 5:15; Eph. 2:8), and it is that which conquers sin both in its penalty and its power (Rom. 5:12-21; 6:1-23). When that grace which was revealed in Christ is received by the believer, it then governs spiritual life by compounding favor upon favor. It equips, strengthens, and controls all phases of his life (II Cor. 8:6; Col. 4:6; II Thess. 2:16; II Tim. 2:1). Consequently, the Christian gives thanks (charis) to God for the riches of grace in His unspeakable gift (II Cor. 9:15). Throughout the New Testament, then, the predominant thought is the grace of God in Christ which redeems us, governs us, and gives us everlasting consolation and good hope.69
This reference to the gospel as “the grace of God in truth” is naturally aimed at the false teachers who were seeking to add some form of religious works to the gospel in a meritorious sense. The apostle will deal with this in chapter two.
Sixth, the gospel must be humanly transmitted or proclaimed. The reference to hearing the gospel (vs. 6) and to learning it from Epaphras (vs. 7) also reminds us that the gospel is a message that God has chosen to be humanly communicated. It is a message that must be proclaimed by other believers in the body of Christ whether by personal testimony or the written word. In the Tribulation as detailed in the Book of Revelation, God will at times use other methods to communicate the gospel (cf. Rev. 8:13; 14:6), but even then, God has chosen the human channel as His primary method for communicating the gospel.
…There must be a human channel through which the gospel can come to men. And this is where we come in. The possession of the good news of the gospel involves the obligation to share it. That which is divinely given must be humanly passed on. Jesus Christ needs us to be the hands and feet and lips which will bring his gospel to those who have never heard it.70
The Confirmation of the Man, Message,
and Ministry of Epaphras (1:7-8)
1:7 You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf—1:8 who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
Verses 7-8 inform us how the Colossians heard the gospel. A faithful servant of the Lord named Epaphras brought the gospel to the City of Colossae. Paul had just spoken of the fruitfulness of the gospel and here we have an example of the process involved in its fruitfulness. First, it touches the lives of men and brings them to God through Christ. Then, through fellowship with the Savior and the enabling work of the Spirit, the gospel changes those men or women by transforming them into willing servants who use their gifts and abilities for the Savior.
But the purpose for mentioning Epaphras is his approval or the confirmation of his message and ministry. This demonstrates the need and importance for biblical confirmation of a man, his message, and his ministry. This has some very clear applications for today because of the dangers facing the body of Christ. Scripture warns us against several things that are relevant to the context and historical background of this passage. For instance:
1. Christ warned the disciples, “Take care what you listen to” (Mark 4:24). This warning concerns the messenger, his message, and his ministry. Does the man, his message, and ministry line up with the Word?
2. Christ also warned, “Therefore take care how you listen” (Luke 8:18). This warning concerns the motives and manner in which one listens. Are we really hungry or are we apathetic or biased against the truth? Do we have ears to hear? Are we seeking the spectacular or sensational, the new and entertaining? Do we simply want to be stroked and made to feel good? What are we seeking? Is it God or some form of self-gratification from our worship while we withhold our hearts from God and His Word? (cf. Isa. 29:13)
3. As seen in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Scripture also warns against false standards of judgment by which congregations or people tend to evaluate and respond to men, their messages, and their ministries. This especially includes eyes on personalities and style rather than biblical substance and teaching that is truly in accord with the Scripture. As a result, people end up seeking and listening to everything from watered-down messages (sermonettes) that cater to the whimsical trends of the time to various levels of heresy. They become sitting ducks for anything that appeals to their self-centered appetites (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Understanding this makes this passage tremendously significant because in it we have Paul’s seal of approval on Epaphras—the man, his message, and his ministry. What counts with God? How does Paul confirm this man to the Colossians? What does he call attention to?
The Message of Epaphras (vs. 7a)
Literally, the Greek text has, “just as you learned it from Epaphras.” “Just as” is a conjunction that, in this context, lays stress on the source where they learned “the grace of God in truth.” This not only highlights the ministry of Epaphras and puts Paul’s approval on his ministry, but also contrasts it against the destructive heresy that was being taught by the false teachers. It is also significant that Paul used the verb “learned,” the Greek manthano, “to learn from someone as a teacher, to be a disciple.”71 The use of this verb “…probably indicates that Epaphras had given them systematic instruction in the gospel rather than some flimsy outline and that these Colossians had committed themselves as disciples to that teaching (cf. 2:6, 7).”72 What the Colossians had heard and learned from Epaphras was God’s truth; it was in accord with the true Word of God as the Lord had revealed it through the apostles. In other words, the content of his message was biblical. This is the first requirement. Does a man’s message line up with the Word, God’s index for truth? (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10-11; 4:1-6; 6:3; 2 Tim. 2:14-19; 3:14; Tit. 1:9).
The Ministry of Epaphras (vss. 7a, 8; 4:12)
First, the clause, “just as you learned” (kathos emathete) suggests that Epaphras was a disciple maker. “Learned” is the Greek word manthano, “to learn” especially through instruction. When we consider 2:7, “just as you were instructed” (kathos edidachthete), it seems clear that Epaphras had systematically taught the Colossian believers as his disciples (mathetes). While the Great Commission involves several responsibilities for the church, the main one is to “make disciples.” The Great Commission does not stop with evangelism or the salvation of the lost. We are to make disciples. A disciple is one who is devoted to following Christ in obedience to His Word. This requires teaching and spiritual growth. Epaphras was a disciple maker, one who was committed to building men in Christ and in the Word. Naturally, disciple making begins with evangelism, but for a ministry to be confirmed by the Bible, it needs to be committed to building men and women in the Word of God so they mature in Christ (cf. Col. 1:28).
Second, he labored in prayer for his disciples (cf. 4:12). As a disciple himself, Epaphras had grasped the grace perspective of the apostle and knew that spiritual growth and progress are deeply dependent on the blessing of God.
Third, his disciples were productive—they grew and changed (vs. 8). This is evident by Paul’s statement, “who told us of your love in (by) the Spirit.” Believers can, of course, labor in unproductive soil. This is one of the points of the parable of the sower, the seed, and the soil in Mark 4. The fact of love manifested by the Spirit was a proof that God had not only prepared the hearts of the Colossians for the gospel, but it demonstrated the quality of Epaphras’ message and ministry among them. It had changed their lives and demonstrates something of the content of what Epaphras was teaching. He had not only taught them about the Savior and His redemption, but he had taught them how to live the Christian life in the power of the Spirit.
The Man Epaphras (vs. 7b)
The name “Epaphras” is undoubtedly a shortened form of Epaphroditus and may be related to the word Aphrodite, which denoted charm and loveliness. His name is mentioned again in 4:12-13 and in Philemon 23. This Epaphras should not be identified with the one mentioned in Philippians 2:25 and 4:18 who was apparently from Macedonia. The Epaphras of Colossians was not only a resident of Asia but also a faithful minister of the gospel who had brought the gospel to the Lycus Valley (4:12-13).
Paul describes him in a three-fold way. First, he is called “our dear fellow slave.” “Fellow slave” is the Greek sun-doulos. The prefix is sun is a preposition that expressed “association, fellowship and inclusion.” The inclusion of this prefix stresses the truth mentioned in Phil. 1:27; all believers in Christ are to be working together for the faith of the gospel, which lays stress on the community aspect of our lives together as believers in Christ. It reminds us that we need each other, that we are a team, and that the cause of Jesus Christ is sorely hampered when we do not act accordingly—when we do not use our gifts and talents to work together and strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
“Slave” stresses his relationship and attitude to Christ. The second part of the word is doulos and means not merely a servant, but a bondslave. A bondslave was one owned by another and so completely that he was dependant upon his master for everything in life—for his daily supply of needs, where he lived and how, for his vocation or area of service, and for the supplies needed to do his work. It shows his submission and who controlled his life. His life was not his own, he had been bought with a price. He was the Lord’s possession who guided his life and supplied his needs.
But he was not just a “fellow slave,” but “our dear fellow slave.” “Dear” is agapetos, a verbal adjective that means “beloved.” This description not only demonstrated Paul and Timothy’s love for this man, but also pointed to him as their approved and trusted representative, a fact expressed even more in the next description.
Second, Epaphras is described as “a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” “Faithful” is the Greek word pistos, which may be used in the active sense of “believing” or in the passive sense of “faithful, reliable.” The basic idea of Scripture is that the faithful person is a person who is also full of faith. That which makes a person faithful is his or her trust and faith in the Lord and His sovereignty, love, provision, and support. A man or woman of faith is faithful because he or she is resting in God’s sovereignty and knows their work is never fruitless (1 Cor. 15:58).
“Minister” is diakonos, “servant, attendant, helper.” It is used technically of the office of “deacon” and generally of some form of service for the sake of others. Other New Testament synonyms like doulos, “bondservant,” therapon, “a servant” who acts voluntarily, and huperetes, “servant, attendant,” by etymology suggesting subordination, all imply a relationship to a person while diakonos represents the servant in relation to his particular work.73 As seen previously, his work was that of training and building the Colossians in Christ (cf. 2:6-7), but in that work, he was first “a servant of Christ.” This means that he served under the authority of Christ and for His glory. As Wiersbe points out:
…we who disciple other believers must be careful not to get in the way. We are not to make disciples for ourselves, but for Jesus Christ. We must relate people to Him so that they love and obey Him. Epaphras faithfully taught his people and related them to Jesus Christ, but the false teachers came in and tried to “draw away disciples.” (For Paul’s warning about this problem, see Acts 20:28–30.) Human nature has the tendency to want to follow men instead of God—to want “something new” instead of the basic foundational truths of the Gospel.74
Also, Epaphras was “a servant of Christ on our (your) behalf.” “On our behalf” introduces us to a manuscript problem. Some later manuscripts read “on your behalf,” but the external evidence is somewhat superior for “on our behalf.” Both make good sense here and it is easy to see how copyists could have altered the text since “for us” and “for you” are so similar in the Greek text. It’s the difference between huper hemon (for us) and huper humon (for you). Scribes often confused the plurals of first and second personal pronouns, the e (h) and u (u). For a discussion of the issues, see the textual notes in the NET Bible on this verse. The context also seems to favor “on our behalf” since Paul is confirming the authenticity of the message and the messenger as his representative. Epaphras was acting on Paul’s behalf.
Paul has now given a third reason for thanksgiving. He first thanked God for the Colossians, for their faith, love and hope. He then thanked God for the gospel and its inherent power and fruitfulness. Now he thanks God for the faithful and trustworthy ministry of Epaphras. In this way, he gave further assurance concerning the source of their spiritual life as set against the deceptions of the false teachers and their teaching.
Finally, with “who also told us of your love in (or by) the Spirit,” Paul again called attention to the love of the Colossians, only now he linked it to the work of the Spirit. “In the Spirit” (en pneumati) is probably best understood as “love inspired or promoted by the Spirit.”75 Their love for one another was a work engendered by the Spirit (cf. Rom. 15:30). This would again highlight the effectiveness of the teaching and ministry of Epaphras for it was through him that they had learned about the Spirit-controlled walk (see also Gal. 5:23). Too often, Christian teachers fail to communicate the truths of the Christ- centered, Spirit-controlled life and as a result, they end up in a mode where they try to force, browbeat, and manipulate people into Christian behavior.
46 Verses 1-8 form one long complex sentence with “we always give thanks) being the main assertion of these eight verses. The NET Bible breaks this long sentence down into several sentences for easier reading.
47 Curtis Vaughn, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992), electronic media.
48 Herbert M. Carson, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, An Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1960), 29.
49 At least two reasons support this position: (1) this corresponds to the customary Pauline epistolary formulae (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:2; Phil. 1:3; Eph. 1:16); and (2) in NT Grk. an adv. generally follows the vb. it modifies (A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J. H. Moulton, vol. III, Syntax, by N. Turner [Edinburgh: Clark, 1963], 227-228). See Murray J. Harris, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Colossians & Philemon (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1991), 15.
50 S. Lewis Johnson, “Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part II,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, vol. 118, #472), 338.
51 One would normally expect either eis or epi to express the object of faith.
52 Cf. C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1963), 81, and Peter T. O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon, gen. ed., Glenn W. Barker, NT., ed., Ralph P. Martin (Word Books, Publisher, Waco, TX, vol. 44), 11.
53 C. F. D. Moule, “The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon” in The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge: University Press, 1957), 57.
54 Carson, 31.
55 This is unlikely since the ground of thanksgiving is stated in the words, “since we heard.”
56 William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Revised Edition), n.s. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, c. 1975), electronic media.
57 Colin Brown, general editor, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976), Volume 2, 107.
58 Colin Brown, 107.
59 “I proclaim good news” is euangelizomai, the middle voice of euangelizo.
60 Lutzer, 53.
61 For a couple of excellent books setting forth evidence in support of these biblical claims, see Christ Among Other gods by Erwin W. Lutzer, a Moody Press publication, and The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, a Zondervan publication.
62 Johnson, 339.
63 Barclay, electronic media.
64 Barclay, electronic media.
65 “Bearing fruit (karpophoroumenon) and growing (auxanomenon)” are present participles. With the to be verb “is” (estin), this stresses continuos activity, but because of the temporal indicator that follows, this construction could be translated, “has been bearing fruit and growing.” See the translator’s note 11 in the NET Bible.
66 J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1879 reprint, 1961), 135.
67 Lightfoot, 135.
68 Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, (Word Publishing, Dallas, London, Vancouver, Melbourne, 1990), 9.
69 Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God, (Moody, Chicago, 1963), 25-26.
70 Barclay, electronic media.
71 Walter Bauer, Wilbur F. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979), electronic media. Here after referenced as BAGD.
72 Peter T. O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon, gen. ed., Glenn W. Barker, NT., ed., Ralph P. Martin (Word Books, Publisher, Waco, TX, vol. 44), 15.
73 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1973), 108.
74 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Complete (Victor Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1986), 26.
75 The en plus pneumati, the dative case of pneuma, is best taken as a dative of means or instrument pointing to the means by which their love was produced.
Related Topics: Prayer