Studies in Colossians and Thessalonians
1. Colossians 1:1-14 - Already in the Kingdom
Colossae was a small city in Asia Minor, not important for much of anything — it is known to us chiefly because the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believers who lived there. The church was started by Epaphras, who had learned about Christ from Paul, so even though Paul hadn’t started the church, he felt a sense of responsibility for its health and growth.
Strange ideas were circulating in Colossae. False teachers were saying that knowing about Jesus was a good beginning, but that believers needed deeper wisdom and some new ascetic practices in order to reach their true potential. Epaphras had tried to set them straight, but Paul thought it would be helpful for him to assure the Colossians that the gospel they heard from Epaphras was indeed the complete gospel.
Address information (verses 1-2)
The letter begins by saying who wrote it: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.” Greek letters didn’t normally name companions as co-authors, so it is likely that Timothy helped write this letter.
Next, the recipients are greeted: “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” Paul believes that they are faithful; he does not seem to think that they are in serious danger of apostasy — they just need some reassurance.
Prayer of gratitude (verses 3-12)
Greek letters often began with a prayer or blessing; Paul modifies this custom to tell the Colossians what he prays about. He praises them indirectly, giving God the credit for their faith and love: “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 God’s people.”
Their growth comes from knowledge the gospel has given them: “The faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message, the gospel that has come to you.” By the word “hope,” Paul is referring to the object of our hope — a heavenly reward. Christian life, including faith toward God and love toward others, is given a foundation by knowing that God gives us eternal life.
Paul reminds them that they are part of a growing movement: “The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” He assures them that they have heard all the truth — they do not need any supplements or add-ons to bring them to a higher level of spirituality.
“You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” Since Paul could not go everywhere, he trained people like Epaphras to be part of a missionary team that carried the gospel into outlying areas. He brought back news to Paul that the people in Colossae were responding to the gospel.
After this, Paul resumes the description of his prayers for the people: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” Paul did not wait for a crisis to pray for the people — as soon as he heard about their love, he started praying for their growth in wisdom. He did not need additional information — he wanted them to grow in their understanding of the message they had already received.
Why did he pray for this? Because he wanted to see their faith and love be evident in the way they lived: “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.” Paul then lists four ways in which believers might please God:
- “Bearing fruit in every good work,
- “growing in the knowledge of God,
- “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and
- “giving joyful thanks to the Father.”
Paul wanted the believers to know God’s will so they would do good works, learn more about God, have strength to withstand difficulties, and remain thankful.
Already qualified (verses 13-14)
One reason to be thankful is that God has already “qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” We could not qualify on our own, but God did it for us. How did he do that? “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Our sins would disqualify us from the kingdom of light, but God, in Jesus, has forgiven our sins, so we are now qualified, and we are already in! Just as God redeemed the Israelites out of Egypt and gave them land as an inheritance, he redeemed or rescued us from the dominion of darkness and sin, and has given us our inheritance.
Things to think about
- How often do I pray that others might grow in wisdom and knowledge? (v. 9)
- Is it possible for people to live a life worthy of the Lord and do everything he wants? (v. 10)
- Do I feel like I am in the kingdom of Christ? (v. 13)
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD, 2007, 2012