Paul writes from prison to a people he’s never met, but who heard the gospel through his extended ministry. He greets the Colossians and expresses to them all that they have in the gospel. He tells them how thankful he is to God for their faithfulness and love, and then reminds them of the hope that is laid up for them in heaven. Interestingly, he says hope is the basis of their faith and love. As believers we are to live with our focus on eternity and the gospel, which will enable us to live in the Spirit and love the saints.
Paul begins his letter with a fairly typical greeting establishing that he writes as Christ’s apostle. His words are ultimately the words of Jesus and though he did not start the church in Colossae he has authority over it by virtue of his office. He is what he is by the will of God – God miraculously saved him and Jesus personally commissioned him on the road to Damascus.
He writes to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae. Notice how he identifies them. They are first in Christ – then they reside at Colossae. They are first and foremost followers of Jesus – that is their identity. They live in Colossae and are Colossians, but once they believed in Jesus their identity became defined by Him. They belong to Jesus and every other means of identification is secondary. Their belief is not a part of their life – it IS their life. Believers are not people who practice religion, believers are people who are IN Christ.
He sends them grace and peace from God our Father. As followers of Jesus they stand in God’s grace and enjoy peace with Him because of Christ’s work on their behalf. They are not at war with their Creator because of sin – they stand justified before Him. It is all of God. God has justified them because of Christ and they live in peace with Him because of His grace bestowed on them because of Christ. They do not earn their standing and there is nothing for them to do to improve their standing. They live in grace and peace.
It would be hard to come up with two better words for the believer to celebrate. We are at peace with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. We do not live under His condemnation – as we justifiably should. We instead live every day under His grace – His favor – and this is because HE decided we would. We do not have to work our way to Him nor work out our peace with Him. We instead bask in His gracious love and enjoy the privileges of family at perfect peace with Him.
Paul tells them he prays for them continually (people he has never met – this gives us a picture of his heart) and thanks God for their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all the saints. It is interesting that he thanks God for their faith and love. You might expect him to thank them for the good they are doing. Instead he thanks God. This points again to God’s grace. They are what they are because of God.
They are characterized by their faith and love. Their faith is in Christ and their love is for each other. The two go together. A believer does not have faith in Christ without also having love for the brethren. This goes along with Christ’s words about the greatest commandment – love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). The believer with his eyes on Christ will be characterized by love for his brothers and sisters who are also in Christ.
The third characteristic he praises them for is hope. They have a hope in what awaits them in eternity. By bringing in hope he completes the threefold sign of the believer that he refers to in other epistles – faith, hope, and love. Note that this is not hope as we often use the word. It is hope laid up for you in heaven. It refers to the content of what is hoped for – not the feeling of hope. This is hope in what is sure – not, “I hope everything works out OK tomorrow.” What is laid up in heaven cannot be changed or ruined or eliminated (where neither moth nor rust destroys, and thieves do not break in or steal – Matt 6:20). It is certain, it already exists in heaven, and it inspires glorious anticipation in those who know the promise is theirs. Believers know eternity in paradise with their Redeemer is what awaits them after the grave.
Paul later defines this hope in 3:4 – When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Peter also says, “This living hope is an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away and is waiting in heaven for you” (I Pet 1:3-4).
The first word of verse five is telling – because. Paul says the basis of their faith and love is the hope laid up for you in heaven. The hope of ultimate salvation is what spurs faith and love in the lives of the Colossians. They are eternally minded and it affects everything in their lives. They are not so focused on heaven as to be useless in this life. To the contrary – their focus on eternity spurs them to a deeper faith in Christ and an active love for the brotherhood. Their love comes from their eternal mindset.
This is somewhat counterintuitive. We would expect that as we focus on this world we would more effectively address its problems. But Paul says to focus on the next life and it will make us more effective in this one. If we want to see the world as God sees it and see others as God sees them and love others as we are commanded – we must focus on the hope of eternity.
Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love! It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise—these are the cords that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope.
I say it again with all the conviction that lies within me: it is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love on this earth. It is worldly-mindedness. And therefore the great fountain of love is the powerful, freeing confidence of Christian hope! (John Piper, The Fruit of Hope: Love; Sermon on Colossians 1:3-8)
Peter illustrates this by telling us how to live in light of the hope we have in Christ – Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Pet 1:13). Having our focus on the next life causes us to gird our minds for action in this life. We do not become less effective in this world when we look to the next – we become more effective as we live for a higher purpose.
The writer of Hebrews hits on another benefit of the eternal focus – it reminds us that this is not our home. When we see this world as an alien place – I Peter 1:1 – we view our circumstances and problems and economic situations differently. We look at our status and how others treat us through the lens of being a visitor in a place where we do not entirely fit in. We also see the temptations of this world as relatively unattractive when compared to what awaits us at home. All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Heb 11:13-16).
The rest of verse 5 and then verse 6 give us clues as to how we can develop this eternal focus. Paul says the Colossians heard of the hope they have through the gospel. And it is through this word of truth [this is noteworthy language and sets the stage for what he will later tell them about adding anything to the gospel – 2:8ff – the gospel is truth, and by saying it is truth he means that it is complete and needs nothing added to it and is the true message of God’s salvation] that they understood the grace of God. He uses the past tense to discuss these things. But note that this gospel is constantly bearing fruit and increasing in both the world and in the Colossians. They did not hear the gospel and then move on. The gospel continues to bear fruit in their lives and in turn set their focus on the hope that is laid up for them. A gospel focus brings about an eternal focus.
So we must celebrate the gospel every day. It must be present tense in our lives. It is God’s word of truth that continues to teach us and redirect us to the hope laid up for us in heaven. There is no way to focus on things above (3:2) apart from dwelling on our redemption.
Paul ends this section by praising Epaphras, the man who brought the gospel to them. What probably happened is that Epaphras was saved during Paul’s multi-year ministry in Ephesus and then took the gospel to his hometown of Colossae. Paul will later say that Epaphras – who is one of your number (a fellow Colossian) – sends his greetings (4:12), so apparently he is with Paul in Rome as he writes. Epaphras is the reason they know the gospel and thus have hope.
Along with a general report on the Colossians that prompted this letter, Epaphras told Paul and Timothy of the love the people have in the Spirit. This further clarifies the characteristics Paul celebrated before. The love the Colossians have for all the saints (v. 4) comes from their hope in eternity and from the Spirit working in them. Their love is supernatural – it is not just a facet of their personality. The fruit the gospel bears in them is love from the Spirit. This goes right along with what Paul told the Galatians (5:16-24) – the one who lives in the Spirit bears the fruit of the Spirit, and the foremost fruit of the Spirit is love.
This again is why Paul thanks God for their faith and love and hope. God is the reason they have these three characteristics. The Colossians are not just naturally good people – God has worked in them through the gospel to bear fruit that ultimately glorifies Him. And Paul knows this and so thanks Him for the evidence of His work in the church.
Thus they have faith in Christ and love for all the saints because of the hope laid up for them in heaven and because of the Spirit working in them through the gospel. And through the gospel they live in God’s grace and peace. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5:1-5).
So what are we to do to deepen our faith and increase our love and fully enjoy God’s grace and peace?
- Celebrate the gospel continually.
- Live in the power of the Spirit.
- Set our minds on the hope laid up for us in heaven.
(#1 leads to #2 which leads to #3 which leads to #1 and so on…)