A Powerful Piece of News

A Powerful Piece of News

Study #2 Colossians 1:3-8
by Bob Burridge ©2021

We all have things that excite us. I’ve seen people quietly listening during a group conversation, but not saying much. Then when a topic comes up that interests them they suddenly become animated with a lot to talk about. We like telling about things that are important to us. People enthusiastically tell stories about vacations or trips, and share pictures they’ve taken. They go on and on about exciting things that happened to them or to their loved ones, new or planned marriages, baby announcements, toddler’s first steps, graduations, favorite movies, or exciting football or baseball games.

There’s something that should excite us more than all those things. As Christians, our sin and its depressing and domineering effects have been conquered by our Savior! When we stop to think about it, it doesn’t make good sense to be quiet about it.

The Apostle Paul had studied under one of the greatest Rabbis of all times, Rabbi Gamaliel. In Galatians Paul tells us he’d advanced more than his peers in the Jewish religion. He had prestige, power, and a comfortable life secured for him in the rabbinic ministry. But he found something far greater. He discovered the treasure we know as the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When he wrote about this gospel, he seems to love telling about its wonder and unsurpassed value. He confesses the deep humility it produced in his heart. He was driven to pouring out thankful praise to God for it. All the other great events of life were nothing compared with God’s gift of grace. Paul began this important letter to the Colossian church by reminding them of the great value of the treasure they have in Christ. The first 2 verses are his greeting and introduction:

Colossians 1:1-2, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

A report he received about Colossae while he was in Roman prison moved him to write this letter.

Paul’s first response to the report was
to thank God for the gift
of this gospel message.

Verses 3 through 8 form one very a long sentence. It’s written in a fine Greek style, but it becomes a complicated sentence in English if you had to diagram it. If he had one of my Elementary School teachers they would have called it a “run on sentence”. But in that ancient Greek language, it was normal grammar.

3. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
4. since we 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. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
6. which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing– as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,
7. just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
8. and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

As we go through this sentence, it shows us that Paul begins with the wonderful results of the Gospel, then he looks behind the results to their causes.

First, it’s clear that Paul was very pleased with what God had been doing among the Colossian Christians.

3. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
4. since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,

He wasn’t saying he was impressed with their economic prosperity, their attendance numbers, or their special age-group programs. He doesn’t even mention things like that. His thankfulness for them was for the spiritual evidence that Christ was at work in them. In verse 2 he referred to them as “saints and faithful brothers in Christ.”

He gave thanks to God for that, not to them as if they were the cause of their own faith in Christ. Their decisions for Christ were not the cause of God’s grace. God’s grace was the cause of their decisions for Christ.

Paul knew that faith didn’t begin with the believer. He brings the reader back to the facts presented in Scripture. If there was true faith and love among the Colossians, it was God who should be thanked for it. It was his work that enabled those qualities in them.

Paul brought this thankfulness directly to God in prayer. One of the errors that had crept into the church in Colossae was the dualism of the Greeks. False teachers were saying that God was so far off in the spirit realm, that we need to call on angels to get help and protection.

God’s word teaches the opposite of that. We don’t need angels, or saints, or priests to get our message through to heaven. We don’t needs to be in some special holy place, or get in some special mood. Any believer can come directly to God at any time.

Jesus Christ removed the barrier of our guilt that separated us from fellowship with our Creator. Paul, just as Jesus taught, shows that it’s right to talk directly to God the Father, that is – as long as you remember that the work of Jesus is what makes you fit to come before him. He’s our living and always present mediator. We come to the Father in his name. Our union with him is what qualifies us for that immediate access.

The Colossians had faith. That’s not a blind trust in something imagined or accepted without evidence. It’s not a hope based on what personally feels or seems right. It’s a real and sincere confidence in God’s revealed promises. And it’s put into regenerated human hearts by the Holy Spirit.

John Calvin summarized the biblical idea of this imparted faith saying it’s “… a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (Institutes 3:II:7),

The biblical foundation for faith is the promise of God. Individuals believe what God says because the Lord puts that assurance in their hearts. Paul was thankful to hear that the Colossians had this true faith in Christ. They were once part of a culture lost in superstition. Now they showed evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in them.

Paul heard of their love toward all the saints. Love is the mark of the Christian. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Any faith that claims to know God, but doesn’t love as the Bible defines it, is a self-deception.

The love we’re told to have in the Bible isn’t just a strong and tender feeling. It’s a love that produces action in our lives. It drives us to want to obey and honor God. It also moves us to want God’s best for others, and makes us want to be a tool of God in truly helping them. I like to define this biblical love this way, “Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.”

In James 2:15-16 the Bible says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

If someone has no interest in showing an active love for God and others they should be very concerned. What had been seen in the Colossian church was genuine, and it produced this vital evidence.

Behind his thankfulness for their faith and love
was an underlying hope.

Verse 5 tells us that this faith and love is there …

5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,

Biblical hope isn’t just a dream or a wish that something might be so. It’s a certainty based on things God assures us are true and infallible.

There are two parts to what the Bible calls hope. It includes both promise and assurance.

First there’s the promise. God’s word is the foundation that assures us of the blessing of true hope. Without that certainty, our faith would have no reliable object. It would just be wishful thinking. Faith in things God hasn’t promised is unhealthy and foolish.

Without the Scriptures which God assures us are all true, love would have no clear definition. It would be something different to every person and in every circumstance. It would be self-seeking instead of being directed toward God’s honor and a sincere concern for others. We would fall into love and out of it depending on how well the situation satisfies us at the moment. God’s pledge and truth gives reality to what we believe. His word provides a sound definition of how we’re to love.

Second, along with the promise, there’s the personal assurance that the promise applies to us. In regeneration our dead souls are given life, and are restored to fellowship with our Creator. God implants a personal awareness that his covenant pledge is ours. We’re aware of it stirring in us. It implants the faculty of faith and the desire to obey God’s law.

In this way the presence of our faith and love prove that the promise has been applied to our lost souls. Of course that faith and obedience are still imperfect in this life. But these dispositions will be there declaring that we belong to Christ.

Both parts of this hope come from and are anchored in heaven. That’s where God specially reveals his sovereign glory and majesty. It’s from there that the words of promise in our Bibles originated. That’s where God, the Great Promiser, holds us and will not let us go. The assurance that those rescued by grace will spend eternity there is a great treasure.

The assurance of that hope is directly imparted to us by God. It doesn’t come from anything anchored in this fallen and uncertain world. It’s a work of our Lord who seals the truth of his promise upon our hearts.

Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:4 that we have, “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” This is obviously good news, which is what the word “gospel” means. The news was that the promised Messiah had come and has now completed the work of salvation. Jesus Christ died in the place of his people and satisfied God’s justice for them.

The news is good because our salvation doesn’t have to be earned. It comes to us by grace alone. Spiritual life was provided by God’s love to us undeserving creatures. Our Savior did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Then Paul explained the power of the gospel
which gave them that hope.

6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing– as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

This gospel isn’t just a set of ideas or a motivational frame of mind. It’s a message that comes with transforming power set in motion by God himself.

It bears fruit in people’s lives. In Romans 1:16 Paul calls the gospel, “the power of God for salvation.” What the Savior accomplished doesn’t just give us a “ticket to heaven” when we die. It radically transforms individuals right now. It produces godly behavior in apathetic and otherwise totally wicked people.

Paul knew personally how the Gospel changed him. He’d been a hater of Christians. He persecuted them. He had lived as a hypocritical Pharisee. Then the Holy Spirit regenerated him. His life was changed. Where there had been pride and vengeance, there was now humility and compassion. This change is a growing operation in us. It doesn’t stay in the baby stages. It increases. But it isn’t measured by external measurements like those we use to evaluate the success of a business.

The spiritual maturity of a congregation of believers isn’t measured by the size of its budget or facilities. It’s not measured by how many people attend or are enticed to join as members. It’s not seen in how loud and enthusiastic the people appear to be as they gather for worship. It has been said that, “The gospel isn’t measured in nickels, noses, or noise.” It’s evidenced in each individual as he matures in Christ.

Day-to-day, from faith-to-faith, we see the power of the Gospel at work in every true believer.We know we’re all very imperfect in this life. We still sin and may even have passing moments of doubt about how God’s promises apply to us. But we shouldn’t forget the evidences of God at work in our otherwise unruly lives. God doesn’t thank US for coming to worship. We should thank Him for moving us to go there. God doesn’t say, “Oh good, he decided to pray or read his Bible today.” We should thank God for putting it in our hearts to do so, and for giving us the opportunity.

The gospel of grace is pervasive. It was at work in the Colossians and “in the whole world”. Paul had seen similar results in Thessalonica, Ephesus, Berea, Antioch, even in Corinth. It still has the same effect in every life that rests its hope in the heavenly promise.

The message of that hope is the fact of God’s Grace. Actual truth is something uncommon in a Christless world.
When people get sick they need the truth about their disease. A doctor orders tests to know what he’s up against.
If he makes the wrong diagnosis the treatment won’t help.

When people are lost in moral depravity they need the truth, even if it hurts. The Christian messengers who came to Colossae did something astounding. They told them the truth! They were honest about their real moral condition, and about what God had revealed in his word.

The truth God revealed was this gospel of Christ. It came in power, and it produced results.

The gospel didn’t come only to their ears. It came to them with spiritual understanding. When they heard it they knew it was God’s truth. The Holy Spirit made them spiritually alive. He assured them of the truth of the message of grace.

There are many touching stories that move our hearts. There are stories about our children, weddings, new houses, new friends, special trips and events. But the greatest message of all is the gospel of Christ. It’s the only good news that empowers our hearts, and promises eternal blessings. This hope isn’t anchored in our feelings. It rests in heaven itself.

Paul tells about the report he’d heard
about their faith in this grace of God.

7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Epaphras appears to have been a minister and teacher in this church in Colossae. Paul commends him as a “beloved fellow servant”. He visited Paul while he was being held as a prisoner in Rome. He reported about some problems they were dealing with in the church. But he also told him about the faith and love Christ had been working in their hearts.

When we hear sermons or conversations about the faith and love God puts into needful and otherwise hopeless hearts, how can we be apathetic about it? How could we not be excited to tell others about it?

People bring back pictures of their vacations to show around at work, or with friends. They post the latest photos of their children or grandchildren on their desks, refrigerators, or on social media. They go to work or to school all excited to talk about a movie, last night’s football game, or TV show.

Does the word of Christ stir us with an irresistible urge to tell about it? We might never know how God uses our lives and conversations to encourage others, but it’s our duty to talk about God’s promises and blessings.

When we hear about how God touches lives, does it make us repeatedly come to God in thankful prayer? If not, this ought to become a major item on our prayer lists. Pray that God will stir our hearts to more appreciate the greatest gift ever given. We should ask God to use us to deliver the greatest hope we could ever offer to our friends. This is the greatest encouragement we can bring to those struggling day by day with life’s challenges.

As the Apostle John wrote in the 4th verse of his third letter, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

If the gospel is our greatest joy, then it ought to show in our lives and conversation every day.

Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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