Most of you know that this Bible Study series on Colossians got interrupted when I suffered a spinal compression fracture February. In order to resume the study, I’ve been posting the installments I’d already written with the idea that doing so would bring continuity. But lest you assume that you can skip over these reboots, bear in mind that I sometimes add thoughts and/or Scripture references.
Usually I teach verse-by-verse, as my long-time readers will testify. I generally think that’s the best way to teach the Bible, but in this study we’ll sometimes take whole sentences that span two or more verses. Today we’ll work through Colossians 1:3-5a to study the introduction of hope into this letter. I want to approach Colossians this way so that we can better see how Paul teaches discernment to his readers.
Last week we saw that, even in the salutation to his letter to the Colossians, Paul’s choice of words looks forward to the main points of his message. You may recall that I believe he purposefully chooses his words to advance his teaching. I believe he continues this practice in his opening statements here.
In the next section, the apostle appears to merely express his affection for this church. Well, that is part of what he’s doing. But let’s see if there isn’t a bit more going on.
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 increasing—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. ~~Colossians 1:3-8 (ESV)
I quoted Colossians 1:3-8 for the sake of context, but I only have time to discuss verse 3 and going through the first part of verse 5.
Paul and those with him in his imprisonment in Rome pray for the Colossians with and attitude of thanksgiving. Later in the epistle, we’ll see several instances in which he exhorts them towards thankfulness, and it seems possible that he wants to set the example right away.
But context doesn’t linger over the topic of thanksgiving, does it? Paul specifies that he thanks God the Father for the faith they have in Christ Jesus and the love that they have for all the saints. Furthermore, he attributes their faith and love to the hope laid up for them in heaven.
Why is the idea of hope important in Paul’s introductory remarks? Let’s answer that question by first looking at what that hope entails. According to Acts 23:6 and Acts 24:15, that hope is in the promise that we will share in the benefits of Christ’s resurrection. Those of you who studied 1 Corinthians 15 with me may remember that this hope governs how Christians live (see 1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
The Colossians faced pressure from the early Gnostics to find spirituality through mysticism, which frequently allows for sensuality. Additionally, they faced pressure from the Judaizers, who insisted that Gentle Christians adopt Jewish customs. These pressures caused them to vacillate between indulging their lusts on one hand and trying to maintain legalistic behavior on the other hand. Either extreme eclipsed the hope guaranteed through Christ’s resurrection.
As we shall see in subsequent installments of this study, Paul addresses the necessity of avoiding these errors. For instance, in Chapter 3 he writes:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. ~~Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)
Paul begins his letter by commending the Colossians for already acting on the hope of the Gospel by thanking God the Father for their faith in Christ Jesus and for the love they show to the saints. He fixes that hope in their minds early in the epistle, preparing them for the later application of how that hope draws them away from false teachings.
As we contend with false teaching in our own day, perhaps we might join those First Century Colossians in remembering where our hope lies. Having a Scriptural understanding of our hope will enable us to discern the false teachings that surround 21st Century evangelicals. Next Monday we’ll see where we can find this glorious hope.