We will look at the opening movement of this letter in two sections:
1. Formal introduction; Paul thanks God for the Colossians (1:1-8)
2. Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church (1:9-14)
Overview of Verses 1-8
The letter to the Colossians opens with a warm, affectionate tone. After his formal introduction (1:1-2), Paul informs the church that he regularly thanks God for the faith, love, and hope that has come to them through the good news of God’s grace (1:3-8).
Break it Down: Verse-by-Verse (ESV)
v1a: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,”
The introduction found in verses 1-2 is very similar to the beginning of Paul’s other letters. Unlike how we write letters and emails today, letter-writers in the first century put their names and official titles at the beginning of the letter, rather than the end. Paul refers to himself as an apostle, an official representative sent by Christ.
Contrary to popular usage, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is not a name for Jesus. Rather, it is a title. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew/Aramaic term Messiah; the Anointed One; the King. This Christ, of course, is Jesus, whom by the will of God has commissioned Paul to preach the gospel of the Jewish Messiah in the lands of the Gentiles (that is, non-Jews) and plant churches among them.
v1b: “and Timothy our brother,”
Timothy was a young man, a coworker and a disciple of Paul. More than that, the young Timothy was himself an apostle (1 Thessalonians 2:6-7) and was with Paul when Colossians was written.
It is worth noting that elsewhere (1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:1), Paul calls Timothy his son. But here, Paul refers to Timothy as “our brother.” This is a subtle display of Paul’s humility and love for Timothy. He presents his spiritual son as his brother; his student as his peer; his disciple as Christ’s apostle.
v2: To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”
As we established in verse 1, this is a standard greeting for Paul. However, we should not overlook it. Let us pray and make every effort to become faithful stewards of our Father’s grace and peace, both of which the world is in great need, today as much as in Paul’s day.
The word translated here as saints is the Greek word ἁγίοις (hagiois), which can more literally be translated as holy ones. The NIV often paraphrases hagiois as God’s holy people. Modern usage of saint might lead you to think that Paul is referring to a special kind of Christian, perhaps one who is especially devout. However, the word here is referring to the Colossian congregation as a whole. Every person who has trusted in Jesus is declared by God to be a saint, one of his holy people.
v3: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,”
Since hearing the report about them from Epaphras, Paul and his friends have been thanking God for the Colossians, and they are committed to regularly praying for them. This is remarkable when we remember that Paul has never met them. We see here in Paul an example to follow: of faithfulness in prayer, and a willingness to be shaped by the Spirit into the kind of person who has deep and sincere love for the family of faith, even our brothers and sisters that may be strangers to us.
v4-5a: “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
The apostle thanks God for the faith, love, and hope of the Colossians. Paul also mentions these three virtues in his first letter to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:3) and in his first letter to the church in Corinth, at the end of his famous love poem: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV). Biblical scholars often refer to these as the three theological virtues.
The English word faith is often used in reference to the views that a person intellectually believes to be true, especially those views that are deemed unable to be proven rationally. However, merely believing something in your mind does not qualify as Biblical faith. As Jesus’ brother James reminds us, “…even the demons believe – and shudder!” (James 2:19b ESV). It is helpful to replace faith with its easier-to-understand equivalent, trust. Paul thanks God for the Colossians’ loyal trust in King Jesus. We should follow their example and entrust ourselves to Jesus as the one true King. Let us trust that nothing will separate us from his love; that he is worth following even when we don’t understand; that he purifies us from all unrighteousness, picks us up when we fall, and helps us in our time of need.
Jesus taught that the two most important commands of the Hebrew Scriptures were to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). He also taught us that we are to love others as he has loved us, humbly and self-sacrificially. Paul is thankful that the Colossians have demonstrated this Christlike love for all the saints, that is, for their fellow Christians. The church’s unique, counter-intuitive love is what shows the watching world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35).
When we hear Paul speak of a hope laid up in heaven, we should not think of heaven only as the place we go when we die, to spend eternity disembodied in the clouds. That is an unbiblical, Greek philosophical idea and our hope is much more glorious. As Paul will go on to say (Colossians 1:20), Jesus reconciled all of heaven and earth to himself on the cross.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we can trust that brokenness, sin, and death will not have the last word. One day, heaven and earth will be reunited (Revelation 21:2), the saints will rise from the dead and our bodies will be glorified and transformed to be like Jesus’ post-resurrection body (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16; 1 John 3:2). Our hope is for a new creation (Isaiah 65:17-25; cf. Acts 3:21; Galatians 6:15; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:5) where we will reign with God as kings and queens (Matthew 24:45-47; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10).
v5b-6: Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”
The Colossians heard about this faith, love, and hope when Epaphras came and preached the gospel among them. Paul wants the church to know that the good news of God’s grace has been transforming the lives of people and communities all over the world, just as it has been doing in their city since the beginning of Epaphras’ ministry.
v7-8: “just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”
May we be like Epaphras and be faithful to whatever calling God has placed on our lives. May we see ourselves as servants of Jesus, seeking his glory rather than our own. May we stay connected to the Spirit, like branches in a vine. May the love of God be poured out into our hearts and through us out into the world.
This post is the second in our series on Colossians.
Previous Post: Brief Intro to Colossians (https://theologyforreallife.home.blog/2019/03/14/brief-intro-to-colossians/)
Next Post: What Is the Church? (https://theologyforreallife.home.blog/2019/08/12/what-is-the-church/)
The Bible Project – Overview: Colossians https://youtu.be/pXTXlDxQsvc
The Bible Project – Heaven & Earth (https://youtu.be/Zy2AQlK6C5k)
The Bible Project – The New Humanity (https://youtu.be/takEeHtRrMw)
The Naked Bible Podcast – Colossians (https://nakedbiblepodcast.com)
John Chrysostom – Homilies on Colossians (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2303.htm)
N.T. Wright – Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale New Testament Commentary (https://bit.ly/2Houfit)
Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible – Colossians (https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/colossians/)