Thank God for the Gospel

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Colossians 1:3-8

INTRODUCTION: Today is the second week in our series called Living the Christ-Centered Life. For this series we are working our way through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Last week we did an overview of the book as well as the introductory verses. Today we jump into the actual beginning of the letter. And Paul begins where he so often begins in his letters – with a word of thanksgiving. Paul almost always begins his letters with some word of thanks and Colossians is no exception. And as he begins this letter on the Christ-centered life, he is especially thankful for the gospel. (Read Colossians 1:3-8 and pray.)

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If you are going to live the Christ-centered life, you better begin with the gospel. The gospel is the heart of the message about Christ and indeed the theme of the whole Bible. The Old Testament prepares us for the message of the gospel, the four gospels in the New Testament present the life, death and resurrection of Christ which are at the heart of the gospel, and then the rest of the New Testament explains what the gospel means for us today. The gospel is at the center of the Bible, and the gospel is the foundational message for anyone who wants to live the Christ-centered life.

As we learned last week there were false teachers at Colosse that were distorting the true teachings about Christ and the gospel. In the same way there are many false teachings today that go against the gospel and try to move Christ from the center.

As believers we must begin with faith in Christ and then continue with Christ in the center if we are to stay on track. The Christian life begins where the letter to Colossians begins: with a focus on the gospel and on what God has done for us in Christ. And so Paul begins the letter with this prayer of thanks for the wonderful, amazing, glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we break down this prayer we can find three simple instructions for us today concerning the gospel. 1) Thank God for the work of the gospel in fellow believers. 2) Thank God for the work of the gospel around the world. And then finally 3) Thank God for those who shared the gospel with you.

I. Thank God for the work of the gospel in fellow believers (3-6a)

So first of all, thank God for the work of the gospel in fellow believers.

   A. Thank God for other believers when you pray for them

Paul begins his prayer by thanking God for the believers at Colosse. Look at verse 3: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.” (Colossians 1:3) Paul begins most of his letters with a word of thanksgiving and encouragement for the people to whom he is writing. He never uses flattery but rather offers up genuine praise to God for what God is doing in the people. Now there are exceptions. In Galatians and 2 Corinthians the churches were dealing with major problems and Paul skips over the thanksgiving and cuts straight to the problems. But normally Paul begins with thanks and encouragement and so should we. It’s a good reminder to us that we should be full of thanksgiving and encouragement to other people around us.

Paul says this is something that he always does. In other words this was the regular pattern of his prayers. Whenever he prayed for the Colossians, he also thanked God for them. Which raises the question: how much of our prayer life is marked by thanking God for other believers and for what God is doing in their lives? Paul’s words are even more amazing when you remember that he had never even met the people at Colosse, and yet he still spent so much time praying for them!

Specifically Paul says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:3) Here Paul begins a theme that he will continue throughout the letter – that both God the Father and Jesus the Christ are God. They are part of the Trinity. God is the Father of Jesus and yet Jesus Christ is Lord, a title which belongs properly only to God. And so both God the Father and Jesus the Son are presented together as God at the very beginning of the letter.

   B. Faith and love spring from the hope of the gospel
      – Galatians 5:6; 1 John 3:14; 1 Peter 1:3-5

Paul not only thanks God for the believers at Colosse but he states a very specific reason why he thanks God for them. Look at verse 4: “… because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” (Colossians 1:4) Why does Paul thank God for the Colossians? Because he has heard about two things – their faith and their love: their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for other believers.

This faith in Christ Jesus includes their believing on Jesus for salvation but also speaks of a faith growing out of their relationship with him. This is the faith that belongs to those who are “in Christ,” just as Paul described the Colossians in verse 2: “the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.” (Colossians 1:2) Notice that the Christian faith focuses first of all on a person rather than a set of doctrines. It is faith in Christ Jesus, because Christ is central to the gospel!

So Paul thanks God because he has heard of their faith and then also because he has heard of their love. Back to verse 4: “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” Genuine faith in Christ leads naturally to love for other believers. We see this in Galatians 5:6 where Paul talks about “faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6) One of the marks of true faith is our love for other believers, as we read in 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.” (1 John 3:14)

Paul describes their love as a love for all the saints. There is no discrimination here. The believer in Christ has a love for all God’s people. Christ died for all believers, and so we love all believers. If Christ died for all, how can you possibly choose to love some and not others?

And then where does this faith and love come from? Paul says this faith and love spring from the hope of the gospel. Look at verse 5: “… the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven …” (Colossians 1:5) Faith and love spring from hope. This is not some wishy-washy hope, like when we say, “I hope so,” but this is the certain hope of eternal life with God in heaven.

Hope is a powerful motivator. Author and pastor John Piper wrote an entire book arguing that hope in God’s future grace is a stronger motivation for godly living than simply gratitude for his blessings in the past. (Future Grace, by John Piper) Yes, the Christian life always looks back to the cross of Christ, but it also looks forward. Even when we take communion we look both back at the cross and forward to Christ’s return.

This triad of faith, hope and love shows up often in Scripture and it often carries this sense of past, present and future. As J.B. Lightfoot writes: “Faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future.” (Lightfoot) Or as John MacArthur puts it: “The gospel truth is received by faith, results in love and rests in hope.” (see John MacArthur commentary on Colossians, pp. 15-18

Paul says this hope “is stored up for you in heaven.” (Colossians 1:5) This is a word that means “laid up or reserved.” In a word, it is safe. Yes, terrorists may take out the World Trade Center, but no one will ever storm the gates of heaven and take away your hope. We find a similar truth in 1 Peter 1 where we read: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he 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, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5) Your hope is safe and secure, stored up for you in heaven. And this hope is the motivation for your faith in Christ and your love for all believers.

   C. Note: The gospel comes first. It is the “word of truth.” We must compare all other teachings to the gospel.

Finally, note that before any of this can happen the gospel comes first. Look at verses 5-6 where Paul writes: “and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” (Colossians 1:5-6) This hope that Paul writes about was not a new teaching for the Colossians. They already heard about it when the gospel was first shared with them. And this is important: they heard the gospel long before they heard the false teaching. Notice Paul calls it “the word of truth.” This is in contrast with the false teachings at Colosse.

Paul tells the Colossians that this is the gospel that “has come to you.” Notice the gospel has to come to you. Someone must bring it. We do not discover the truth necessary for salvation on our own or through observing nature or even through conscience within. Someone must share the truth of the gospel and plant the seed in our lives.

Paul uses several words to describe the gospel in these verses: word, truth, gospel and grace (vv 5-6) The gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And as such the gospel comes first. It is the “word of truth.” We must compare all other teachings to the gospel.

II. Thank God for the work of the gospel around the world (6b)

So that’s our first instruction this morning. Thank God for the work of the gospel in fellow believers. Secondly, thank God for the work of the gospel around the world. Because the gospel is not just an individual matter or a local phenomenon. No, God is too big and Jesus is too great for a local gospel. The gospel has global implications and impact.

   A. The gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world
      – see parable of the sower (Mark 4:8)

First of all Paul says the gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world. Look at verse 6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing …” (Colossians 1:6) Once again this was not just a local teaching or superstition. Paul says the gospel is not like that. It’s not like the false teachings to which the Colossians have been exposed. Rather the gospel has universal application. It is for the whole world, and wherever it has spread it is already bearing fruit and growing.

Notice that the gospel does two things here: it bears fruit, and it grows or spreads. Bearing fruit points more to the inward work of the gospel while growing points more to its outward expansion. I like what Warren Wiersbe says about the gospel: “The Word of God is the only seed that can be planted anywhere in the world and bear fruit.” We may scatter the seed but God is the one who makes it grow. The gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world.

   B. The gospel bears fruit when people hear and understand God’s grace in all its truth

And then secondly Paul tells us how the gospel bears fruit. The gospel bears fruit when people hear and understand God’s grace in all its truth. Look at the rest of verse 6 now: “… just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6) This is first of all an encouragement to the Colossians. Paul reminds them that the gospel seed has been doing its work in them from the start. They shouldn’t give up the ship now.

But when did this great work begin in them? Since two things took place: 1) they heard the gospel, and 2) they understood it. It’s good to hear the gospel, but hearing is not enough. It is possible to hear and yet still not believe. It is not until we hear the gospel and understand God’s grace that the gospel begins to bear fruit in our lives. God’s grace is God’s unmerited, undeserved favor given to us in Christ. God’s grace is very different from the legalism and the asceticism that the false teachers were peddling in Colosse. God’s grace stands in sharp contrast with all other religions. All other religions teach that you must work your way to God and his favor. Only the gospel teaches the grace of God in Christ.

Notice we must understand God’s grace “in all its truth.” This is another slam against the false teachers and teachings in Colosse, but it also reminds us that God’s grace is a beautiful and glorious thing of great wonder and depth. It is when we understand God’s grace in all its truth that the gospel bears its fruit in our lives.

Which leads me to the question: Have you heard and understood the gospel? If you come to this church regularly I know that you’ve heard the gospel. We share it every week. But have you understood it? Have you understood God’s grace in all its truth? The gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world. Is it also bearing fruit and growing in you? So that’s the second instruction Paul has for us this morning. Thank God for the work of the gospel around the world.

III. Thank God for those who shared the gospel with you (7-8)

1) Thank God for the work of the gospel in fellow believers. 2) Thank God for the work of the gospel around the world. And then finally 3) Thank God for those who shared the gospel with you.

   A. Everyone learns the gospel from someone

Everyone learns the gospel from someone. Paul reminds the Colossians whom they learned it from. Look at verse 7: “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” (Colossians 1:7) We learned a little bit about Epaphras last week. Epaphras was one of Paul’s fellow workers. He probably came to faith under Paul’s preaching. Epaphras was from the town of Colosse, and now we learn from verse 7 that Epaphras was the one who first shared the gospel with the Colossians.

Paul calls Epaphras “our dear fellow servant.” Why? Because Epaphras shared with Paul in his work. Paul had a strong sense of partnership with those who ministered together with him for the gospel. Paul also says that Epaphras is “a faithful minister of Christ.” A minister is not necessarily a pastor. A minister is anyone who serves or ministers to the needs of others, and Epaphras was a faithful minister of Christ. What a wonderful word of testimony! Wouldn’t you want someone like Paul to call you a faithful minister of Christ? Remember back in verse 2 Paul called the Colossians “holy and faithful brothers.” He uses that same word “faithful” here. The Colossians’ faithfulness should reflect Epaphras’ faithfulness.

Paul says that Epaphras is a faithful minister of Christ “on our behalf.” In other words Epaphras not only served Paul, he also served as Paul’s representative. Paul as an apostle of God by the will of God puts his stamp of approval on Epaphras and on Epaphras’ message as opposed to the false teachers and the false teachers’ message. The Colossians first learned the gospel from Epaphras, and they should not abandon it now in the face of false teaching.

Finally look at verse 8: “and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” Epaphras had traveled over a thousand miles to visit Paul in prison at Rome. While he was there he shared with him about the Colossian church. And yes, he shared about the problems at the church, but he also shared with him the good things. And this is why Paul is giving thanks. The gospel is at work in the church of the Colossians. Epaphras has told him about their “love in the Spirit.” This is a supernatural love produced by the Holy Spirit, a true genuine, self-sacrificing love, a fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives and a mark of genuine faith. (Galatians 5:22)

Interestingly this is the only direct reference to the Holy Spirit in the whole letter. Paul has already mentioned God the Father and Jesus the Son at the beginning of this section. It is appropriate to close with the Holy Spirit now as the third person of the Trinity.

The gospel does not come to you in a vacuum. Everyone learns the gospel from someone. The Colossians learned it from Epaphras. How about you? Who did you learn the gospel from? Who first shared with you the good news about Jesus Christ? Whoever it was, thank God – right now – for those who shared with gospel with you. Thank God for those who shared Christ with you so that you could know forgiveness for your sins and receive the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

   B. Who will learn the gospel from you?

Everyone learns the gospel from someone. Which leads naturally to the question: who will learn the gospel from you? Someone shared the gospel with you. With whom will you share the gospel? It is not enough to receive the gospel and all its benefits. We must also share the gospel with others so that they too may receive its benefits.

CONCLUSION: Thank God for the gospel! Thank God for the life-changing, God-honoring, Jesus-exalting gospel of Christ. Paul did. And remember Paul did it while he was still in prison! Paul writes this letter to the Colossians to teach them about living the Christ-centered life, but he begins where we should all begin. He begins with the gospel and by thanking God for the gospel.

The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. The gospel has the power to change your life both now and for all eternity. As Max Anders writes: “The most significant day in the history of Colosse was not the day Xerxes rested in the city on his march against Greece, nor was it the day Cyrus marched his Greek army through the city. No, the most significant day in the history of Colosse was the day Epaphras came to town and planted the seed of the gospel.” (Max Anders commentary on Colossians, p. 280)

So thank God for the gospel. Thank God for the work of the gospel in fellow believers. Thank God for the work of the gospel around the world. And thank God for those who shared the gospel with you.

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