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God’s Glorious, Global, Gracious Gospel (Col. 1:3-8)

The Gospel Comes from the Triune God

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ

Paul was an apostle “by the will of God.” He did not push himself forward. He was not a preacher of current events or moral self-improvement or social crusades. He was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He wrote about who God is and the great salvation he has accomplished for us through his Son and by his Spirit. This opening paragraph of gratitude is Trinitarian, the one God existing, revealing himself, and working in three persons. God the Father is mentioned first. In the way creation and redemption are revealed to us, one “division of labor” is that the Father ordains, plans, and sends. The Son is sent, comes, and accomplishes. The Spirit indwells and applies what the Father has planned and the Son accomplished. We should not divide these hard and fast, but there is an order to the Lord’s working, clear relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the same time, we should not think of the three without thinking of the one – the unity in one, true God. In this letter, the glory of Christ as the Son of God will be brought to our attention. And who sent him? The Father. What is God in relation to the Son? Father. One reason for God’s plan of creation and redemption is to reveal the glory of his Son to us: “that all men should honor the Son as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). By doing so, he also reveals the surpassing glory of his fatherly love and mercy.

The Eternal Son Who Humbled Himself

One reason for constant thanks to God is his grace in determining to save us through his beloved Son (Eph. 1:6). “Lord Jesus Christ” is his full mediatorial title. “Lord” emphasizes that he is God, eternally one with the Father in power and glory. Remember that in terms of his person, Jesus Christ is the Son of God – not a great man. “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Artistic depictions of the man Jesus Christ always forget this. He is a divine person with a human nature. “Jesus” is his saving name (Matt. 1:21). It brings to our attention that he is the only Savior of sinners and that he saved us by his substitutionary, atoning death on the cross. “Christ” is the official designation of the Lord Jesus as the Father’s anointed, chosen (Isa. 42:1). He is the only One sent by his Father in love to save sinners (John 3:16; Acts 4:12), according to his promise (Gal. 4:4), in order to redeem us from our sins. To appreciate his work of salvation we must appreciate how much sin has made us liable to punishment, guilty before the holy God, and unable to please him. As long as we are infected with the delusion of personal goodness or victimization we shall never cast ourselves upon Jesus Christ as the ladder of salvation sent down from heaven. Once we humbly confess our sinfulness, that our misery and inability are “all our fault,” not another’s fault, not God’s fault, then we shall give sincere thanks to God for sending his Son to bear our judgment. We shall stand in awe that the Son of God would humble himself in our flesh, become sin for us, and take upon himself the whole responsibility for our salvation.

The Holy Spirit Who Quickens and Sanctifies

The paragraph concludes with “Spirit,” the Holy Spirit. All for which Paul gives thanks – faith, love, hope, the fruit-bearing gospel for the world, and especially the good report from Epaphras – were the working of the Holy Spirit (v. 8). He is not thrown in haphazardly at the end. Always the apostolic gospel emphasizes that salvation is from the one God who exists as three equal, distinct, glorious persons. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot know Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God quickens our dead, hateful hearts so that they are made alive and loving. He works all the fruits of faith, hope, and love in us, so that instead of being rebels against God, his image begins to be restored in us. And as for the brotherly love that was so evident in Colosse, this was from the Spirit of love. We are unloving due to our fallen nature, and selfishness reigns in us (Tit. 3:3). We might cover it up by “being nice” on account of vested self-interest, but this is not the same thing as true love – denying oneself, sacrificing for the good of another, even when there is little or no good in it for you. The Holy Spirit’s work is to make us like Christ by uniting us to him by faith – so that we have low views of ourselves and live to glorify God and love others. This is not a work of the flesh and human ability, but of God the Holy Spirit, who “takes what is Christ’s and shows it to us” (John 16:15).

The Gospel Bears Abundant Fruit in All Who Believe

Faith in Jesus Christ

Paul apparently did not personally know these believers, but what he heard about them filled him with thanksgiving. We should always thank the Lord for what we hear of his work in others, their gains and growth in Christ. What he does in one branch of the church is for the common benefit of all, so that we are stirred up to seek his face and grace. There were three things in particular for which Paul gave thanks. First, the Colossians believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Faith” is not “faithfulness,” what we do. Faith is looking away from ourselves and looking to the Lord Jesus. Faith trusts his blood that cleanses our sins and his obedience that justifies us before God. Faith looks to Jesus Christ for grace unto holiness, for self-denial, to live for God’s glory in the world. Our faith “in” Jesus Christ stresses that it is not simply saying a creed or liking Christian ideas. True Christianity is faith in a living person, in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. Faith believes he is truly the Son of God. Faith continues to draw life from him (Gal. 2:20) and strength unto faithfulness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Faith says – it is not what we can do or make ourselves; it is who Jesus Christ the Redeemer is and what he can make of us by his power. We must begin learning this when we are children. No fallen soul can make anything of itself. It is only in union with Jesus Christ the life, that we can live and bring forth fruit unto God.

Love for All the Saints

Faith’s first fruit is “love for all the saints” (v. 4). Love is the way men know we are Christ’s disciples – not by how much we know, not our religious talk, and not our ability to critique our times or correct the faults of others.  Love means forbearing one another, forgiving one another’s offenses, and laying aside quarrels (Col. 3:13). The Holy Spirit places love immediately after faith to teach us that faith is chiefly known by love, for it is by God’s love that we have faith. If we are unwilling to sacrifice for others, unwilling to move out of our corners and reach out to someone we have offended, then how can we say that we have faith or love the Lord (1 John 4:20-21). When we must confront, love teaches us to do so with great humility (Gal. 6:1), remembering that we are also very weak, not lords of others, but helpers to our common faith. Do we love all saints? Our favorites only? Those who look and talk like us, think exactly like us? Who make us feel good? Do we take a dim view of other saints who differ in secondary matters of doctrine or practice? Wherever there is sincere faith in Jesus Christ, no confidence in human works, but trusting in his grace and righteousness alone and boasting in his cross, there are real Christians, and we must love them.

Hope Laid Up in Heaven

Hope is often joined to faith and love. Here hope seems to be the motivator of faith and love – life with God, the sight and fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord, everlasting life with him. Paul gives thanks for this hope, and so must we. It is a lively or living hope. It is the “helmet of the hope of salvation,” for when the path becomes steep and dangerous, the believer pulls hope more tightly upon his head, in his thoughts, directing him like a bright light in a dark place (1 Thess. 5:8). It is laid up for us in heaven because on earth we must pass through many tribulations. These can turn our lives upside down, but our inheritance destiny is secure in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4-5). That inheritance is chiefly Christ, for “to depart and be with him is better by far” than anything we experience on earth (Phil. 1:23). We are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24), for it is the confident expectation that the Lord will keep his promises. He is faithful. When we feel terrible, have nothing, are forsaken and betrayed by men, forgotten and feeling wretched in our sin, hope keeps us seeking heaven and Christ. A day of glory is coming. We shall see him and be like him. The Lord will wipe away our tears, crown our labors, and is preparing a place for us to live with him forever.

The Gospel Proclaims and Magnifies God’s Grace

Give God Thanks!

Thanksgiving is our praise sacrifice to God for all these blessings – his grace, mercy, and peace, working in us faith, love, and hope. Paul thanked the Lord for them always. A thankful spirit reveals a redeemed and humble heart. Thankfulness testifies that we have become God-centered, rather than self-focused and this life consumed. Being consumed with the cares of this world suffocates gratitude. We complain about the worldly crumbs we do not have rather than the heavenly treasures the Lord puts into our hands. Sorrow flees and joy flourishes in the soil of thanksgiving. Would that all saints give God thanks daily, live thanking him, face trials thanking him, and encourage one another by thanking him. He has done great things for us. His chief honor in salvation is our hearty, humble thanksgiving.

Gospel for the World

Everywhere the gospel goes, it tells of God’s grace, mercy, and peace. There is one God, one gospel, one Savior. The Father intends to fill the world with thanksgiving. He intends to show mercy to the nations. He is showing it. The city of man does not report this, for it wants no mercy, no saving from its sins. It wants heaven on earth, heaven on its own terms, heaven without having to give up its sin and rebellion. We must look past all this and see what the Lord’s will is – for the world to be brought to Jesus Christ. Why is this? Because of an oath God swore: “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee should bow and every tongue confess” (Isa. 45:23). The world deserves wrath; God pledges to save the world. The world cannot save itself; the Lord promises to save the world. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). This is God’s great work – to gather all things into one under Christ (Eph. 1:10). His work and will are to exalt his Son, his gospel, and his grace (Eph. 1:7). Get on God’s path. Open your mouth and speak the glorious gospel. Give to the cause of missions and support faithful believers who are bringing the Bible and the gospel to the world. Consider becoming a missionary yourself. Be an ambassador for Christ where you are – not out of guilt or fear or pride but God’s love, grace, and hope to you. You have God’s oath behind you – every knee will bow and every tongue confess. His is the love, the grace, and the power behind the salvation of the world. He sent his Son in wondrous love. He will not fail to save the world by his amazing grace.

God’s Glorious Grace

God’s grace will be magnified. Why can we expect the gospel preached and believed to bear such fruit? God is gracious and kind to sinners. His word changes our lives. His fruit may not always look the same, and it is not in paved highways, air conditioning, and impressive government buildings. His fruit is in changed lives – men who do not curse but bless, are content with what they have without complaining, who love their enemies and do good to those who hate them, who are gentle when provoked. The Lord will have his grace magnified. This is who he is – the God of grace and mercy (Ex. 34:6-7). Grace is not a sideline with him, something he begrudgingly bestows. He is full of grace and truth, and when he gives us his gospel, he is proclaiming his grace to us. His grace changes us. When we know it in truth, we bear fruit. It is possible to receive God’s grace in vain, as Paul warned the Corinthians (2 Cor. 6:1). The gospel can beat on our ears without changing our hearts and lives. This is because we do not receive it in faith (Heb. 4:1). We do not come to Jesus Christ and believe upon his name. Many turns God’s gospel into a path of human works and experiences and philosophies. Others over time forget the cross and become angry or proud partisans of systems and parties and movements. This is not the gospel of sovereign grace. God’s gospel is that he raises dead sinners to new life, gives them the righteousness of his Son, fills them with his Spirit, and makes them fruitful in every good work (Eph. 2:10). This is God’s kindness to sinners. Wherever the gospel goes, it brings forth this fruit in those who receive the gospel in truth – sincerely, humbly, hungrily.

Good Report from a Faithful Pastor

Paul heard from Epaphras that God’s grace was bearing much fruit among the Colossians. He speaks of Epaphras as a faithful minister of Christ. This does not mean that Epaphras wrote books and started crusades. It means that he served Jesus Christ. This is what makes a faithful minister – he humbly and sincerely serves Jesus Christ. He seeks to exalt Jesus Christ. He rejoices, as Epaphras did, to share with Paul that the Colossians loved. Imagine that – writing a letter or traveling to see Paul with this amazing news – the Colossians were loving. Some snort with ridicule when we are encouraged to love. Have we ever tried? If there is any sincere service in us, any self-emptying, self-forgetful love, then the Holy Spirit has done it. It is harder to love than to climb Mt. Everest. Love is worthy of praise! Aim, child of God, to give your pastor a reason to share such a good report of you. Do not scoff at this. We are commanded to know those who are over us in the Lord, and who minister the word of God to us. Why? To esteem them highly in love (1 Thess. 5:12-13). We are to share all good things with our faithful ministers (Gal. 6:6). Be careful that you do not grieve by your hard heart or complaining spirit the men who study God’s word for you, bring it to you, and encourage you in the Lord (Heb. 13:17). Instead, give them reason to praise God for you. Otherwise, you are despising one of Christ’s chief gifts and giving his servants reasons not to rejoice in your love but to weep over your cold heart.

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