Thanksgiving That Makes a Point (Colossians 1:3-8)
Rhetoric, they tell me, isn’t practical. But if anyone studies the Apostle Paul, they might think differently. Paul uses every word with advantage, addressing the issue from the very first word, from the salutation to the farewell.
Colossians certainly provides plenty of examples of this. Paul greets a people who have met with Gnostic error concerning the nature of Christ by saying, “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” From the get-go, rejecting the Gnostic teaching that Christ was an emanation of God, created by God and thus a little less God than the Father. Paul declares in a most definite manner that God is the Father, not the Creator of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although Paul writes the believers at Colosse in order to correct error, yet he still loves them. Although he has never met them face-to-face (2:1), yet he still thanks God for them. And although they have strayed from the pure gospel that Epaphras preached, yet Paul still prays for them. Always praying for them, he says.
But even in this, Paul makes a point. He gives thanks for what they have become, and in doing so, makes the point that this is still what they need to be. “Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…” a faith that false teaching would draw them away from. “…And of the love which ye have to all the saints,” which Gnostic error would spoil. This faith comes through the hope that is laid up, reserved and waiting in heaven for them, and they had heard of it before in the word of the truth of the gospel. Note the word “truth.” Because it was ‘truth’ that would defeat Gnostic error.
The Colossians were having a Garden of Eden moment. The truth set them free, gave them life, brought forth fruit, but now the serpent is presenting another option. “Consider this,” he says. “Decide for yourself. ” In their ignorance, the Colossians stepped back and made themselves the judge of God’s Word. Now Paul holds up the truth — this is what is come to you, just as it is come into all the world, and is itself bearing fruit, just as also it has in you since the day that you heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth. Paul is very passionate, very pointed in all of this. Each “you” is punctuated, emphasized.
Gnostics claimed to have obtained fuller knowledge, but Paul reminds these believers that in fact the fuller knowledge (epiginosko – verse 6 “knew”) had already come to them, that the fuller knowledge reached them.
All of this they learned from Epaphras. And Paul wants these believers to understand that Epaphras is no light-weight in the things of God. Paul calls him his “beloved fellowservant,” and for your sake (again, emphatically), Paul says, he is a faithful minister, a faithful servant (the word is diakonos) of Christ. And, Paul throws in a subtle reminder: “Epaphras is the one who has declared unto us your love in the Spirit.”
Paul has a wonderful way of urging these believers. Think of a father talking to his son, in the grip of temptation. Realizing that his son could make a life-altering decision, dad says,
“Son, I thank God for the work He is doing in your heart. He has brought you to believe on the Lord Jesus alone, and that is good, because Christ is the only Savior. He has taught you to love the people of God, and that is good also, because “he that loveth not knoweth not God.” He has laid up an inheritance for you in heaven, just like the Bible teaches. And the Bible, as you know, is absolutely true. I am so thankful that God grabbed you through His Word, and I am so thankful for the fruit that God’s Word has produced in your life. This is what I have labored to teach you through all of these years.
Now, son, you’ve gotten into some wrongheaded thinking, and if you continue in it, you will be destroyed. We need to discuss this…”
You get the picture. Paul’s thanksgiving makes a point, and that point introduces the message of Colossians.