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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Paul's Prayer of Thanksgiving
Text:Colossians 1:3-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

How Great Thou Art

How Deep the Father’s Love

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

O Word of God Incarnate  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving”
Colossians 1:3-8
Although the Apostle Paul appears to have never visited Colossae, he wrote them a letter with great urgency. He was concerned as he heard how many of the members were being led astray by false teaching. Some of them had become legalistic and were trying to reenact the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Others taught that they needed to go beyond the teaching of the gospel in order to realize the fullness of what it means to believe in Jesus. The people were told that they needed the further wisdom of Gnosticism. Still others taught that while worshipping Christ was good, it was better to also worship angels.
So you might expect that after the greeting in verse one and verse two, (which we looked at last week), the apostle would get to the heart of the matter and give the Colossian church a good rebuke. But instead, how does he begin? Verse 3, We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you… It is a good reminder for us of the importance of looking at the best quality that God has placed in His people instead of looking at the worst direction that even professing Christians might take. By nature we are often so quick to criticize. But the Apostle Paul, in this letter, used great tactfulness and told the Colossians of his prayers of thanksgiving for them.
Admittedly, sometimes a situation is so critical that bluntness is needed right from the beginning. Paul used that bluntness when he wrote to the Galatians, who were also being led astray by false teaching. After giving them the initial greeting, in Galatians 1:6-8, he writes, I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
But here, in this letter, we find the apostle Paul thanking God for His spiritual blessings to the Colossian church.
Giving Thanks for Faith, Hope and Love
First, he thanked God for the faith in Christ Jesus which many in the Colossian church had. Perhaps you noticed that he thanked God for their faith and was not thanking the Colossian believers for their faith. The reason why is that faith in Christ Jesus is a gift of God’s grace to us for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our faith is not of ourselves but rather it is part of the grace which we looked at in verse 2, where the apostle spoke of the grace and peace that believers have.
He also thanked God for the love for the saints which was evident in the church. In verses 3 and 4 he writes, We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…
Wherever there is true faith in Christ Jesus there will be a love for the saints. Who are the saints?  The saints are those who believe in Christ Jesus, (as we saw last week). Biblically speaking, if you and I have faith in Christ Jesus for our salvation, we are saints.
The love that saints – believers – have for each other is not a love just on an emotional level. Rather, true biblical love always results in action. The great command is to love the Lord our God above all else, and to love our neighbor as our self.  Such love is not to remain just in our mind and heart, but true biblical love which springs from faith in Christ Jesus always results in action.
When Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another He was telling them to look out for the interests of others. Love is always shown by its actions. You can say that you love someone, or in this case that you love the fellowship of believers - your brothers and sisters in Christ - but the authenticity of that love is revealed by actions.
As 1 John 3:18 says, Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. It was that type of love-in-action that was evident in the congregation at Colossae, and it was that type of love that the apostle was thanking God for. It is defined in verse 8 as a love in the Spirit.
It is also that type of love that we all are to strive for as we look around us in the church to see what type of works of mercy, what type of helpful deeds we can do to love others around us, not just with words, but with our actions.
When the Bible speaks of faith in Christ Jesus and its natural outcome of love, the Bible often goes on to a third characteristic, hope. Those three characteristics are the focus of Scripture in many places. Perhaps the best-known description of that triad is the closing verse of 1 Corinthians 13, And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The apostle Paul brings up the triad of faith, hope and love by describing to the Colossians, in verse 5, how their faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for them in heaven. The reason that hope is stored up in heaven for all of us who believe in Christ Jesus is because Jesus is in heaven. He is the source of our hope and that hope overflows from Christ in heaven into our lives.
Hope in the Bible is defined differently than our common concept of hope. In the dead of winter most of us who live in cold climates hope that the January temperatures will rise into a lengthy January thaw. We may have hopes of many things, perhaps even that a favorite sports team would actually put together a good season this year. But human hope is always marked by uncertainty. Human hope is always placed on a variable. And when that variable changes, whether regarding an Arctic blast which prevents the January thaw from staying, or another miserable season for a sports team, then that hope is dashed.
But the hope that we have stored up in heaven for us is placed in the person and work of Christ Jesus. Because of that, the biblical definition of hope is a reality: The reality that we have all the heavenly blessings of Christ in our lives now and will see their culmination in the life to come. And there is no variable in that hope. 1 Peter 1:3-4 teaches that because our hope is in Jesus Christ, it is an absolute certainty. Peter writes, “(God) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you...”
Imagine what a blessing it was for the Colossian church to receive this letter. They not only struggled with false teaching, but they were also living in a town that was declining economically. They lived in a town that was overshadowed by the prosperous neighboring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis. The church seems to have been a small, struggling church, and yet they are given this wonderful reminder that their faith in Christ, and their love for Him and the saints, springs from the hope that is stored up in heaven for them.
But is it any different for us today? We are outnumbered by the world. We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. We are a small church, insignificant in the eyes of many. Furthermore, we all have our share of struggles and hardships, no matter what age we are. We often find that our circumstances seem overwhelming. But in God’s timeless Word these verses point us to Christ Jesus. And they point us to that wonderful triad of faith in Him, love for Him and for others, and the hope that we also have stored up for us in heaven because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Knowing the Truth Through the Gospel
How do we know these truths? How can we be certain that faith, hope, and love form an unbreakable triad of eternal blessings for those who are “in Christ” by God’s grace through saving faith?
We know these great truths the same way that the Colossian church knew these great truths. After describing faith, hope and love the apostle writes in the second part of verse 5, you have already heard about (these things) in the word of truth, the gospel.
Have you thought about how amazing it is that God was willing to reveal himself to fallen sinners?  When Adam and Eve sinned against God and were sent out of the Garden of Eden, God could have cut off all communication with them. I’m sure you have heard of people, or known people personally, who when someone does something to them that is hurtful, they quit talking to them. Unfortunately, that even happens in families. A rift comes up between family members and they quit speaking to each other.
But that is not the way God has dealt with us. He revealed Himself to us through the Scriptures, the Law and the Gospel, which go hand in hand and are inseparable. But not only did the Father reveal Himself through the Word He has given us, as the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture to bring us the good news of salvation, He also sent us His Son, who is the Word become flesh, the ultimate and final prophet. As Hebrews 1:1-2 says, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.
And this Word that God has given us – His inspired Word, the gospel – is far more powerful than we usually realize. As the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, through the gospel, lives are transformed completely. As verse 6 points out, All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.
We often have a tendency to underestimate the power of the gospel. That is why many churches today feature skits, liturgical dance, and drama to present God to others. But the means and the method that God has ordained to transform lives is the preaching of the gospel.
It was true in the first century for the Colossians. And it is true today, for our church and the church universal. Every true church will seek to proclaim and to emphasize the word of God, the gospel, above everything else. Every true church, and every true Christian, will echo the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:16-17, I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “the righteous will live by faith.”
Historians are on record with their surprise that Christianity grew from a little group of 12 disciples to more than half a million by the close of the Apostolic period, toward the end of the first century. And then the church grew to untold millions over the centuries as the gospel spread. And the gospel is still spreading around the globe. The gospel is indeed, as Romans 1:16 says, the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...
As the apostle Paul prayed for the Colossian believers, he prayed with thanksgiving: They were recipients of the gift of faith, they had genuine love for the Lord and for one another, they had hoped stored up in heaven in the person of Christ Jesus, and they had these blessings because they had the gospel.
Understanding God’s Grace in Truth
Paul points out in the last part of verse 6 that it is through the gospel that we understand God’s grace in all its truth. God’s word not only brings salvation as the Holy Spirit convicts with the law and soothes with the gospel, but the gospel is the source of understanding God’s grace in all its truth.
That verse served as a reminder to the Colossians to test the teaching they heard with what is taught in the gospel. False teaching, whether in the first century or twenty-first century, is exposed and corrected by studying the gospel, which is how we understand God’s grace in all its truth.
Because of that we are called today, as were people in the first century, to test the teaching we hear with the Bible. We are to be like the believers in the town of Berea. Acts 17:11 describes how the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
But how did the people in this little town of Colossae hear the gospel in the first place?  In verse 7 Paul writes, You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our (and on your) behalf.
Verse 7 is reminiscent of Romans 10:14 15, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
There are many things we don’t know about Epaphras. We don’t know if he had a wife and a family. We don’t know if he was a tentmaker like Paul. But we do know that Epaphras had beautiful feet. He had heard the gospel from the Apostle Paul, perhaps when Paul was in Ephesus, and then Epaphras brought the gospel to this little declining town of Colossae as well as to Hierapolis, Laodicea and other towns in that area.
From his witness to the people there, churches were formed as the Holy Spirit worked through the power of the gospel to transform lives. The work of Epaphras should impress upon us all the great importance of the mission works which we support as a church.
And also the witness of Epaphras should impress upon us the importance of looking at our own feet, to see whether in the words of Romans 10 our feet are beautiful. We all know people who have not responded in faith to the warnings and promises of the gospel. Some of them may be neighbors, others might be friends or classmates, and still other members of our families whether close by or in distant areas. But in each case are our feet beautiful? By our lives and the witness of our words do we bring the gospel to others?
Between the Lines
As we close this section of the first chapter we are reminded of Paul’s tactfulness. But we also see his wisdom. He is actually writing quite a bit between the lines. For instance, the false teachers, as well as the congregation as a whole, would be reminded that what Epaphras had taught them about the gospel was true and accurate. They didn’t need this added revelation about Gnosticism or worshiping angels or living by Old Testament ritual that the false teachers were giving.
The emphasis in the passage, which stresses that we know God’s grace in all its truth through the faithful proclamation of His Word, is a necessary reminder for every church in every age. We need no further revelation from God, no additional “word of knowledge” is needed today. The Bible is sufficient to teach us all we need to know about ourselves, about God, and His redeeming grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Rather than seeking new revelation from God we need more time in the revelation He has given us in His Word. 
May we also take these teachings to heart by always being immersed in the gospel, being faithful in spreading the gospel personally and through our missionaries, realizing that the Scriptures are indeed sufficient in and of themselves to teach us God’s grace in all its truth.
And then, knowing God’s grace as it is revealed in the gospel, may you and I live it out in lives of faith, hope, and love! Amen.
Bulletin outline:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…
                                                                                                           - Colossians 1:3
                         “Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving”
                                       Colossians 1:3-8
I.  The Apostle Paul prayed to God and expressed thankfulness for:
     1) Faith in Christ Jesus (4a)
     2) Love for the saints (4b, 8)
     3) Hope stored up in heaven (5a)
     4) The word of truth, the gospel (5b)
     5) Epaphras, a faithful minister and beloved colleague (7, 8)
II. Application: We are to understand God’s grace in truth (6) as we study the gospel and
    live it out through lives of faith, hope, and love (4-5)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Ted Gray

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