“Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 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. 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, 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.”
Colossians 1:3-8 begins Paul’s prayer for the Colossians believers. All but one of Paul’s letters begin with a prayer of thankfulness. These prayers at the beginning of his letters remind us of the importance or prayer and teach us the content of our prayers. We see the priority of praying for other Christians, not just praying for their physical well-being but also their growth into the image and likeness of Christ. Practically, I would encourage believers to have a list of people they want to pray for and pray for several people each day. If you are involved in a local church, pray regularly for those in your church and in your group. Also, take time to pray often for your neighbors.
The beginning of Paul’s prayer focuses on his thankfulness for God’s work in the lives of the people in Colossae. He thanks God three virtues being evidenced in their lives. Paul particularly mentions their faith, hope, and love. He does not leave the particular marks of these virtues undefined, as he specifically shows their character. They have “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” “love for all the saints,” and “hope laid up for you in heaven.”
The faith Paul thanks God for is not some nebulous believing that somehow everything will be okay. Our culture loves to talk about faith in this way. The Bible does not laud faith as a virtue for its own sake. The Bible praises those who have faith in the proper object. In this prayer Paul specifically mentions “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” What has made them Christians is their faith in Jesus who loved them and gave Himself up for them. When Christians talk about faith, we are talking about faith in Jesus alone who saves and brings us back to God.
Paul also mentions a specific type of love in this passage as well. He speaks of their “love for all the saints.” A simple reading of the New Testament demonstrates that Christians love each other as a result of their faith in Christ. Jesus said the world would know people were His disciples because of their love for each other. We have been changed by the love of God for them, and begin to demonstrate the love they have received to each other. It could be argued that the first distinguishing mark of a Christian is their growing love for other believers.
Finally Paul said he thanks God for the hope laid up for them in heaven. Hope is another explicitly Christian concept that has been hijacked by the world to refer to wishing for things to turn out well. The Bible uses hope in a completely different way. The Christian longs expectantly for that which they know they will receive. The return of Christ, our ultimate vindication before God, and sharing in the inheritance which Christ has earned constitutes the Christian hope. These things are certain for those who are in Christ, and this hope helps Christians work through difficulty and hardship because of the ultimate reward.
Paul’s prayer in Colossians shows his concern that Christians are marked out by these virtues and he thanks God when he sees it. In one sense, every Christian has these virtues already, but we pray they will be in us and continuing to grow.
For Further Reading:
A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson