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From Thankfulness to Prayer to Hope
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)
Old Testament: Amos 7:7-17
Psalter: Psalm 82
Epistle: Colossians 1:1-14
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalter: Psalm 25:1-10
Epistle: Colossians 1:1-14
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Divine Judge, you framed the earth with love and mercy and declared it good; yet we, desiring to justify ourselves, judge others harshly, without knowledge or understanding. Keep us faithful in prayer that we may be filled with the knowledge of your will, and not ignore or pass by another's need, but plumb the depths of love in showing mercy. Amen.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the[b] Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have 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. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit (Colossians 1:3-8).
Colossians 1:3-8 is one sentence in Greek. Most translations divide the passage into several sentences to make it more readable. To begin a letter with thanksgiving was common in ancient letters, whether Roman, Greek, or Jewish. In all of Paul’s undisputed letters, except for Galatians, he offers thanksgiving to God for the recipients.
Paul and Timothy always thank God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ when they pray for the Colossians. It is important to note that nowhere in the Apostle’s writings does he directly thank the recipients of his letters; he thanks God for the recipients. This is quite different from our normal practice in the modern West where we directly thank one another for services rendered or for a gift. But Paul thanks God for the Colossians’ faith in Christ Jesus and the love they have for the saints. God is the source of the good gifts for which Paul is thankful including the saints at Colossae themselves.
Moreover, there is a Christ-centered quality to Paul’s thankfulness. As we shall see Jesus plays a central and prominent role in Colossians, which may suggest to us something of the dilemma Paul and Timothy are addressing in the letter. The Colossians’ faith in Christ and the fruit it has produced has come to them because other faithful saints brought it to them. Fruit produces more fruit.
Paul and Timothy move from their thankfulness for the Colossian Christians to a reminder of their continual prayers for them. It is important to note that their prayers for the Colossians are persistent.
Their prayers for the Colossians are specific: “...asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God” (1:9-10).
From thankfulness to unceasing prayer, Paul and Timothy move to express their hope for the Colossians—that they may be made strong in divine strength and that they may be prepared to endure all things with patience and giving thanks to God in the midst of it all (vv. 11-12a). The Colossians have this hope because they are “a people in whose life the new age has already dawned (compare Galatians 5:22-23), with the capacity to maintain hope in God’s future triumph (Colossians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:14) even in the midst of present adversity (2 Corinthians 6:4; James 1:2-4; 5:10-11).
The Colossians can be confident of having such strength and patience because in verses 12-14 he clearly connects the church as chosen God’s people in continuity with God’s chosen Israel. Paul employs echoes of the Old Testament in these verses—echoes that hearken back to the Exodus from Egypt and Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land of Canaan—deliverance and sharing in the inheritance (cf. Deuteronomy 10:9; 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1; Joshua 19:9; Jeremiah 13:25). Paul and Timothy appropriate this imagery and use it in reference to the church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles. The Gentile Christians now share in the inheritance of deliverance and salvation given to Israel by God’s grace. The affirmation of 1:12-14 (cf. Ephesians 2:11-13) implies that the inheritance of the people of God given by grace is no longer the privilege of one race, but has now been expanded to include those not of Jewish background. The promise of the land is expanded into the promise of a whole new creation beyond Jew and even Gentile.
Check out my devotional commentary on Colossians and Philemon here.