3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 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 of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, 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.7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
(Colossians 1:3-8 NIV)
The Apostle Paul begins his letter like many others – with genuine thankfulness for the ones to whom he is writing. Notice that Paul uses the word “we” in both verses 3 and 4. In verse 1, Paul identified himself as the author and included Timothy as his fellow minister of the Gospel and his traveling companion.
Verse 4 provides further evidence that Paul had not been to Colossae. Paul says, “we have heard…” – if he or Timothy had been to Colossae, he would have said something like “I have seen…” or “I observed…”.
So who had told Paul about the church in Colossae? From verse 7, we know that Epaphras was a direct source of this news. Epaphras was the pastor of the Colossian church. While the Scriptures do not say, scholars believe that Epaphras came to Christ during Paul’s extended two-year stay in Asia Minor (Acts 19:10). Epaphras is mentioned at both the beginning of this letter as well as the end.
Another source of Paul’s commendation of the Colossian church was likely Philemon, whom Paul also knew. When Paul wrote to Philemon (Philemon 1), he called Philemon his “dear friend and fellow worker” of the Gospel, and also acknowledged the church that met in Philemon’s home. Paul also acknowledged that Epaphras and Philemon knew each other, as Epaphras was with Paul and passed along his greetings to Philemon (Philemon1:23).
Paul was not only thankful for the Colossian church, but he prayed for them as well (verse 3). Thinking about that for a moment – how often do we pray for the ones that we are thankful for? We often pray for the ones that have not yet come to Christ, and for those who are going through trials or circumstances. Let us remember to pray for those whom we love and are thankful for, just as Paul did for the Colossians.
Paul commended the Colossians for their love for all God’s people, and for the hope they have in Christ. Paul goes on to remind the Colossians that they had heard the true message of the Gospel. This will be important later in Paul’s letter, as he addresses the false beliefs that were creeping into the Colossian church.
Paul goes on to remind the Colossians that this Gospel truth works and bears fruit not only in Colossae but all around the world (verse 6). Paul reminds them that God’s truth is universal and not subjected to locale or circumstance or time period.
Paul also commends Epaphras for his faithful ministry of the Gospel, reinforcing Epaphras’ role as pastor and standard-bearer of the truth to the Colossian church. Paul provides this reinforcement of Epaphras (as we shall see later on) to prevent his voice being drowned out in the noise and confusion of false beliefs being shared in the Colossian church.
May we be focused on the truth of the Gospel, and tune our ears to hear the words of our Shepherd only, ignoring the noise of the world around us.