Thankfulness is often a result of what we hear. There is the story of the man who was doing well at a job interview. The interviewer told the man, “You’re a very impressive candidate, but before I offer you the job, I want to know about this five-year gap in your employment here on your resume.” The man said, “Oh, that’s when I went to yale.” The interviewer stood, shook the man’s hand, and said, “I’m thankful to have found a man like you! Welcome to the company!” The man, full of gratitude, said, “Thank you so much for the yob.” Thankfulness, despite circumstances, is often a result of what we hear!
The prayer of thanksgiving that Paul offers in Colossians 1 is, by earthly accounts, bizarre. It is Paul’s thankfulness from a Roman prison. It is Paul’s thankfulness for a church full of Christians he had most-likely never met. It is Paul’s thankfulness which he offered continually. It is Paul’s thankfulness based on what he had heard, not seen. It is Paul’s thankfulness for the gospel that the Colossians had heard but were now being drawn away from. The first part of this prayer from verse 3 to verse 8 reads as one long sentence, but repeatedly, the emphasis is thankfulness based on the word “heard” (follow this word and its synonyms from verse 3 onward). Notice some principles of the prayer of thankfulness Paul prays based on what was heard:
Thankfulness to God comes from hearing about the church full of faith, hope and love (1:3-5). All three of the “big three” (faith, hope, and love) are all mentioned here in this prayer of thanks. Can you imagine Epaphras visiting Paul in jail and telling him excitedly, “Paul, you wouldn’t believe the church in Colossae. These Christians are so full of faith that everyone in the Lycus Valley has heard about Jesus. Their love for one another is just as fervent as they’re models of Christian character and confident hope (Col. 3:12-14).” The fulness of faith, love and hope of the Colossian Christians occurred solely by the truth of the gospel (v. 5). It was the heresy that they were hearing making them full of the opposite: disloyalty, doubt, and pride (Col. 2:8, 18-23).
Thankfulness to God comes from hearing that the gospel is still bearing fruit in the world (Col. 1:6). Center stage in verse 6 is “the truth of the gospel” from verse 5, which has come into to all the world and “is growing” and is present with these Christians. The Colossians had it originally come to them most likely by the Phrygians present on Pentecost who obeyed the gospel (Acts 2:10), or by other disciples who brought the message to them (perhaps Epaphras – see v. 6-7). The gospel is what has the power of God to change men. Neither stories, nor suppositions, nor man’s wisdom or any other thing which we hear can cause us, or the church, to grow as God desires. The gospel pure and simple is what Christians must hold to – a point which has great bearing upon the point of the Colossian letter and the proper perspective of the “Colossian Heresy” dealt with later.
Thankfulness to God comes from hearing and learning from faithful gospel preachers who tell us the grace of God in its fullness (1:6-8). The way Epaphras is described here leads us to believe he was either a local preacher or maybe a regional preacher in the area surrounding Colossae (see Col. 4:12-13; Phm. 23). The church heard and learned the “grace of God in truth” from him (v. 6-7). The Holy Spirit through Paul describing Epaphras as a “faithful minister” shows that he had a good reputation that both Paul and the Colossians knew. He told the church what is right and was fully invested in them holding to what is right. The church should be thankful for where the gospel is preached in fullness, in a spirit of love, and in a way people can easily hear and understand (Rom. 1:16-17). Where gospel preaching is substituted for weak and diluted philosophies of men, the church needs to reassess what REALLY has the power to save and desire ONLY to hear that from their preacher (Rom. 10:13-17)!