Transformed by Faith
Copyrioght © 2011, John.W. (Jack) Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
While the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he was visited by Epaphras, a pastor-leader of the community of Christians in the Lycus region of Asia Minor. Epaphras brought to his friend Paul the news from the region, including the state of the church in Colossae. Most likely, the church in Colossae was started during Paul's stay in Ephesus, about 100 miles west of Colossae. The message that Epaphras brought described the faith and love of the Colossian Christians. However, as the community from which the body was drawn was multicultural, so was the make-up of the church. As people came from different ethnic, religious, and philosophical backgrounds, like baggage, they carried their views into the church. Some of the more influential Jewish members wanted a religion of law, tradition, and ritual. Some Greeks wanted a religion that saved one based upon knowledge and philosophy. Other Greeks thought that all physical objects are evil, and all that is spiritual is good, and therefore denied the physical existence of Jesus. The baggage of animistic and synchronistic worldly doctrine was successfully invading the congregation, compromising the gospel, and creating no small conflict with the remnant of members who sought to maintain the purity of the faith in their own lives. Consequently, like many traditional congregational Christian churches today, the Colossian church was embroiled in conflict. That conflict shows us a contrast between those who demonstrate the transformation of a life that is based upon true faith in Jesus Christ and those who do not.
Because of this situation, Paul felt constrained to write the epistle to the Colossians. The form of the letter is consistent with the common structure of a personal letter of the day. However, he makes a few subtle changes in the salutation and closing by changing some of the commonly used secular language to words of the faith, such as peace, grace, saints, etc. Paul was very literally skilled and he often used complex grammatical structure and word usages that only a skilled writer would consider. He plays with words to give a deeper meaning than those same words would intrinsically imply if not applied the way he does. Some recent scholars have argued that Paul did not write this letter because there are several words unique to this letter that are not used in others. However, when one notes that Paul addresses some unique situations in this church, those concerns tend to be less warranted. Paul's authorship of the letter was utterly accepted by all of the "scholars" of the first few centuries, so his authorship is largely uncontested today..
Colossians 1:1-2. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul opens the letter in customary fashion, identifying himself, the intended readers, and then a greeting of peace and grace. Paul identifies himself as an apostle, and by all means of definition, Paul certainly was. An apostle is literally one who is sent, and in the context used here, one who is sent by God. When Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road, God started a work in him that would culminate in his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles, to a group that Paul had been persecuting, and a task that the eleven apostles found difficult to even comprehend. Because of the nature of this letter, it is important that Paul establish quickly the source of his authority. When a Christian proclaims the true gospel, his authority comes from that Gospel, since it is the gospel itself that is God's Word. This authority supersedes that of any world religion or philosophical system. Paul clearly states that it is God's will that Paul serve as an apostle, not a will of his own, or the will of any worldly entity.
Timothy was with Paul at the time of this writing, and may have actually penned the letter. Timothy was well-respected in the region of the Lycus valley, and was known to be a humble man of God who served as a pastor-leader in that region.
Paul addresses his letter to the "saints and faithful brethren" in the Colossian church. There is no attempt here to divide the members into two groups, but rather, Paul simply refers to the membership in this complimentary and encouraging fashion. This is a body of believers, and though they are going through some tough conflict, Paul does not forget that they are still faithful saints. Christians today can learn a lesson from Paul's attitude. When we see a church in conflict, we tend to focus our thoughts on that conflict and condemn the people for it rather than recognize that the true enemy is satan who may be working to divide that body, and is certainly empowered in the hearts of those who are critical and judgmental of the body in conflict. Our love for the saints should not be predicated by their actions, but rather emboldened by God's love for them.
The blessing, a prayer for grace and peace, mimics the structure of a typical Greek letter. The words grace and peace are similar to the words used in the structure of a common letter but, of course, by their selection communicate much more, and specifically present a spiritual connotation not present in the secular literature. Grace, charis, is a clear reference to the unmerited favor God gives to those who place faith in Him through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Paul is literally saying, "may you experience the unmerited favor of God." with this word. Because of this, I often use the word, charis, in the closings of letters and Emails rather than the more customary, "sincerely." Likewise, where the secular Greek uses the word pax, for peace, meaning a freedom from turmoil, Paul uses the word eirene, representing a fullness of joy that comes from experiencing the blessings of God.
Finally, Paul reminds the readers that this grace and peace comes from "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." It does not come from him, as the common cultural salutation would do. Also it does not come from any of the worldly systems espoused by the false doctrines that the church is facing. Paul clearly establishes the context of the letter as one that stands on the truth of God's Word.
Colossians 1:3. We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Paul's thanksgiving was given to God, and to God alone. It would not be Paul's nature to thank the Colossians for their own faithfulness, but rather to thank God for the faithfulness that He engenders in them. The source of good works is God, not the worker. We often lose sight of this and by so doing elevate from within our body those who demonstrate good works. This is an error that stratifies the congregation and feeds the human need for pride and recognition, sometimes embarrassing the faithful and humble members of the congregation. Our thanks always should go to God, as we thank Him for the good works done by others, and even ourselves.
Paul never stopped praying for the Colossian church, even though they were experiencing conflict. How do we typically relate to a church in conflict? We might be part of the rumor mill that exploits the pain that our fellow Christians are experiencing in order to inflate our own feelings of pride and accomplishment. We might condemn the people for their self-centered and prideful acts while completely ignoring the true influence of satan who is behind it all. In either situation fellowship is broken, and satan wins in a relationship that never saw him coming.
Colossians 1:4-5. Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, 5For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
As Paul considers this church, his thanks to God is for their faith in Jesus, the love that they share with one another, and for the hope they demonstrate. This triad of faith, hope, and love, is repeated frequently in the New Testament as the fruit of a true conversion to Jesus Christ. Those who profess salvation but do not appropriate this fruit of the spirit in their lives have not made a true commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. It may be these that are embroiling the Colossian church in conflict, and who diminish the life of the modern church today. Paul is thankful that, even in the midst of their difficulties, the faithful members of the congregation are still maintaining their testimony. These characteristics of faith, hope, and love are every much the fruit of the life of a Christian as an apple is the fruit of an apple tree. God's love, present in the heart of every true believer, gives hope, and together they strengthen one's faith. A person is literally transformed when coming to Christ, leaving behind a life of pointless conflict, sin, bitterness, anger, hatred, and despair, finding that through the power of the Holy Spirit, those fruit of this world are replaced by faith hope and love.
Is the nature of your daily experience one of faith, hope, and love, or one of confusion and despair? If it is the latter, it is possible that your profession as a Christian was premature. It is not sufficient to simply know who Jesus is, and believe in who He is. Even satan has that form of belief. Faith involves accepting Him as LORD and Savior, meaning that you place your trust wholly in Him, and accept Him as the one and only LORD of your life, replacing your self as the authority in your life.
The Colossians heard the "truth of the gospel." Often the gospel is presented in a watered-down and compromised manner, or presented in an emotional context that draws people to make a decision out of guilt or emotional motivation. Decisions pertaining to accepting Christ in this context may be done to placate the plea, pride, or prosperity of a religious leader rather than as a spontaneous response to a recognition of God's love and desire for one's salvation. Responding fully to the true gospel, the good news that Jesus saves, results in a changed life as God is given Lordship in the life of the believer.
Faith is like sitting in a chair. One can believe that a chair can support their weight just as someone can believe that Jesus can save. However it is not until one sits in that chair, trusting that chair to support them, that such belief is expressed as faith. Likewise faith in Jesus Christ involves acting on belief. The faithful Colossians had done this.
Colossians 1:6. Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:
Where the truth of the gospel is understood and moved upon in faith, fruit results. Paul has mentioned love, faith, and hope. Here he broadens the context to include other fruit of the Spirit that has been demonstrated in the lives of the membership of the Colossian church. James and Paul fully agree concerning the demonstration of fruit in the life of a Christian. James argues that faith without good works is dead, or literally, not faith at all. Paul states that faith will produce good works. They are both saying the same thing: a life that turns to Christ is transformed to one that demonstrates the fruit of love, peace, and joy. Paul also adds many of the characteristic traits of someone who demonstrates this fruit such as gentleness, patience, kindness, etc.
Colossians 1:7-9a. As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; 8Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. 9For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ...
As Paul prepares to deal with the doctrinal issues of the church, he reminds the church of their minister, Epaphras. Paul declares him to be a fellow servant, an allusion to Ephaphras' equality with Paul in the ministry. Paul was adamant that he did not lord it over any Christian, and that all Christians were his full equal, without regard to their sacred or secular social state, title, or rank. The letter that Paul wrote to Philemon presented this message quite clearly and openly. Likewise, Christians often want to separate themselves from other Christians based upon racial, ethnic, economic, or other reasons. Again, when satan uses the sins of pride and ignorance to separate Christians from one another, only he wins, and everyone loses.
We see in Epaphras the spiritual integrity of Paul. Even as he honestly describes the state of his church, a church in conflict due to false teachers trying to take control, his report does not fail to recognize the love in the Spirit that is also there. It is the injured finger that gets the attention (or the squeaky wheel)? When our focus is drawn towards those in a congregation that are stirring up conflict and hurt, it is easy to forget that there are always the remnant of the faithful standing on the foundation of their faith.
The members of the Colossian church need to be encouraged, recognized, and prayed for as Epaphras and Paul are doing, instead of criticized or condemned as we might choose to do. Paul's prayers for the church are direct and specific. It is his true desire that the church would appropriate several characteristics that are necessary for growing Christians. The next several verses itemize these. As we look at them we might ask ourselves several questions concerning each. What is their impact on our faith? Are we appropriating these characteristics in our lives? There are certainly many more.
Colossians 1:9. ...ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
It is Paul's desire that the Colossian Christians be filled (literally, to overflowing), with the knowledge of God's will. This word for knowledge refers to an intimate and complete knowledge, one that carries with it a portion of God's wisdom, and a full understanding of spiritual matters. This is a pretty high desire, but why should we not pray for God-sized tasks rather than tasks that we think we could otherwise accomplish on our own? When one considers the difficulties that the Colossian membership is facing, all three of these traits would go far to render the false teachings impotent. Usually conflicts in our churches arise over trivial matters such as the color of the proposed new carpeting, rather than the deep and divisive theological heresy the Colossians were engaged with. Still we need a knowledge of God's will, we need wisdom, and we need spiritual understanding to deal with all of these issues since whether the issue is large or small, people get hurt when the response to conflict is not expressed in love, and it rarely is. We see in Paul a response that is based upon love as he prays for the resources by which the Christians will find a way out of the conflict as he continues to love them and encourage them.
Colossians 1:10. That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Another desire of Paul is that the people in the church might "walk," that is to literally "continue in" a life that is pleasing to God. Again we see a high calling as he specifically refers being worthy of the Lord. This word, worthy, has a wide range of meaning so that some will argue that no man will ever be worthy of the Lord, that we are only sinners saved by God's grace because of the worthiness of Jesus Christ. As used here, Paul is referring to living a life that pleases God, and then goes on to describe how one does so. How can we please God? Of course, the first step is to turn to him in faith, as these Colossians have done. Then, as children of God, we are to be fruitful, demonstrating in our lives the faith upon which we stand. Again, like an apple tree has no choice but to bear apples, a true Christian has no choice but to bear fruit as, like a city on a hill the light of the Spirit in the life of a true Christian cannot be hid. Good works are the natural fruit of faith, a point that, again, is in full agreement with James.
A life that pleases God will also be one that is increasing in knowledge of Him. This form of the word for knowledge involves the concept of learning. A Christian who loves God will want to know Him better. The "great commission" given to the apostles was to "make disciples." A disciple is a learner, and that commission stated that we make disciples by immersing them in the knowledge of the nature, purpose, authority, and characteristics (the Name) of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Christians should always be learning. Christians should be searching the text of the scriptures, praying and listening to God for answers, working with other Christians to grow in knowledge, and using any of a myriad of ways to come to know God better.
Colossians 1:11. Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6:12 ff, he writes about the spiritual armor appropriated by Christians in their battle against the wiles of satan. The wearing of such armor (faith, righteousness, the gospel, etc,) strengthens the Christian against the conflicts of this world, both within the church body and without. The product of a strengthened life is a joy-filled patience. This sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not. One can have joy and patience at the same time when one gets to the point that stressors (the fiery darts of Ephesians 6) simply bounce off of the armor of faith. Things that once concerned the immature Christian no longer are an issue. To others this looks like profound patience, but to the one expressing it, all they experience is joy. Christians can mature in Christ, appropriating for themselves a continuingly greater measure of God's strength such that the darts fired by Satan simply bounce off the Christian without so much as a notice. It is this kind of faith that Paul prays for.
Colossians 1:12. Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Do we sometimes neglect to give thanks to God in times of conflict? Regardless of the events of this world, God has brought each Christian, through His love and grace, to Himself as a son (or daughter). Paul refers to the gift of eternal life with God as an inheritance, a concept well-understood by the first-century Jewish culture. Like an adopted son, true Christians are given a new identity, identifying them as children of the father, members of a family that cannot and will not be broken. The inheritance is eternal life with God, one shared with all of those other Christians who turned to Him in faith. No matter how bad things get, we can always remember what God has done and thank Him for it. Paul hopes that the Colossians never forget this.
Colossians 1:13-14. Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Without Christ, all people were in darkness, hidden from the light of the gospel, facing an eternity separated from the love of God. God has provided a means by which all people might be saved from this terrible fate, a simple plan that only asks that we turn to God as the ultimate authority in our lives, replacing ourselves as the center of our life. When people turn to God, the power of darkness is utterly broken, and the light of God's love brings them into a relationship with Him and His Son that will never end. This is redemption. This is an inheritance, something that will never be taken away. If salvation could be lost, then redemption never took place because redemption came through the forgiveness of the sin that separates us from God, a sin that took Jesus to the cross so that he might pay the penalty for that sin once and for all. Jesus will not go back to the cross to provide for more sins in one's life. The condemning power of sin is broken in the life of a believer, once and for all. Christians will not face condemnation to hell (separation from God) for the sin in their life. However, when a Christian sins, he experiences a loss of relationship with God, and the joy that such a relationship engenders. Opportunities for God to work through that Christian are lost. However, the Holy Spirit is always in the heart of that believer calling him (or her, of course) back home.
God is in the transformation business. He takes a life that is immersed in the darkness of this sin-filled world and lifts it out of the mire and replaces the darkness with the power of His light. The person who experiences this saving act will be utterly changed. It was the Holy Spirit who came into the heart of the believer at the point of salvation, and it is the Holy Spirit who brings the believer into a life of faith, love, and hope.
This transformation by faith is offered to all. Let us continue to draw closer to God and appropriate more of the characteristics of a Spirit-filled life that Paul describes when he prays for the Colossian Christians. God's desire for you is the same.