Thankful for One Another’s Salvation

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 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, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:1-8)

Last week we talked in an introductory way about Colossians. This letter, written by Paul, was written to Christians at a time and place where they needed great encouragement to stand firm in the faith. When the Colossian church would have received this letter, they would have been facing opposition, or about to face great opposition, that had the potential of really shaking them up. False teaching was entering the Christian community, their community. We need similar encouragement today.

Who among us has not faced the temptation to give in and do or say things that are compromising to our faith? Sometimes we are tempted in small things – a seemingly small lie to maintain good standing with another person. Or maybe something big, like a full denial of the faith for the sake of a career. Or to just turn our heads, look away from sinful behavior as if we didn’t see it. No one, no Christian is immune to these temptations. And since we are at times weak, we need encouragement, and Paul gives it in this book! He encourages us to stand firm, to stand strong, to stand with Christ no matter what!

For today we will look at verses 1-4 and the first part of verse 5. This letter is, again, written by the Apostle Paul with Timothy’s approval, with Timothy by his side, and possibly his input. Both of these men are pastors. Paul is writing with authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, but he is also, we need to remember, a peer of all those to whom he writes. As he writes, the things that he will say, he does not write as one who is above his readers, he does not talk down to them, but he writes as one who is subject to all that they are subject to, including the temptation to fall into heresy and sin.

I think this is important for us to remember, for any Christian to remember. We don’t encourage, speak, teach, proclaim God’s truth with an air of superiority. We speak as sinners who desire to help sinners. The counsel you give a brother or sister in Christ may be the very counsel you need from them tomorrow. So we relate to each other in gentleness, in humility, as sinners to sinners.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

I love the fact that Paul didn’t just state the first sentence in this verse, but he continued with the second. If he had only said, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” If he had stopped there, I could see myself and maybe you could see yourself saying, “Yep, he is talking to me here: ‘Those who are spiritual.’ He is calling on me to do some restoring of another.” We could think of this in a proud way. Like, if we recognize someone’s sin, then we must be the spiritual ones that Paul is talking about. But Paul continues with a sober reminder, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” With that we are reminded that we are not just the restorer, but we may also be the tempted, the one caught in a transgression, on the opposite side of the equation here. We too will need restoration, we too are the sinner and the one who will give in to temptation. We may be the “spiritual” today, called to help a fellow Christian in gentleness, but tomorrow we may need the spiritual brother or sister to come to us and restore us from our sinful ways.

I say this because I love the way Paul approaches these Christians in gentleness, in love, with compassion. As we study this book, he will be such a great example for us on how to broach difficult topics in a way that is not hurtful or punishing, but is compassionate and caring. 

I mean let’s be honest, some of us only know one way to confront. We may think confrontation happens one way, and that is “in your face” correction, letting people have it, verbal lashing. But we won’t see that here. He, the great apostle, is the one who has called himself the “chief of sinners.” That is a statement of humility, that is a statement of, “I too am a sinner, we are in this together, we all need mutual encouragement.” And so his attitude is, “Who am I to act as if I am sinless? I too am a sinner.” And when we remember that about ourselves first, we will be more gentle when having hard conversations with others.

So as we read these words from Paul, just notice his methods. He has weighty things to say, but he does not do it in a way that is overwhelming. He begins with a common greeting, a common greeting for Paul…

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:1-2)

Paul simply states his name, his title, or the reason for his authority in these matters, and names Timothy as his brother. This letter does come with authority because of Paul’s apostleship and it being by the will of God. It is just sort of a reminder. Paul was the last of the Apostles, he was a witness of the resurrected Christ in an unusual way as you may recall, on the road to Damascus. Christ encountered him there and he was commissioned by God as an apostle. This, of course, gives weight to his words and his writings. Timothy was not an apostle, but was a part of the next generation of pastors. He is simply referred to as a brother, though he was a pastor. But in verse 2 Paul quickly identifies with the Christians in Colossae as brothers. He was not one to flaunt his title or position. In Christ they were all brothers and sisters, siblings in the faith.

Notice though how Paul then refers to the Christians in Colossae, how he describes them. He refers to them as saints and faithful brothers. The word saint here means “holy ones.” This is a common way in which Paul addresses Christians. This word is one that means separate, meaning through Christ they are separate from the world. Positionally, they are righteous in Christ. This is different than those who are not Christians. There are two groups of people in the world: there are those who belong to Christ and are righteous in Him, and there are those who do not belong to Christ and are not righteous in Him. Those who are separated unto Christ and those who are separated from Christ. This of course does not mean we physically separate and avoid non-Christians. No, we are to be in the world, we are to evangelize, tell the lost of Christ, make God known. We do not live in a cave, separate from the world. We interact with everyone in the world, but in Christ we are positionally separate. This simply means that in Christ we are different. We are separate, holy, righteous in Christ, that is what is meant by “saint.”

Paul not only calls the Christians in Colossae saints, but he also calls them faithful. The first term, “saint,” refers to who they are in Christ, while the second term, “faithful,” says something about how they have responded to who they are in Christ. The word faithful speaks something of consistency in their walk through life, even with the significant amount of heresy and temptation to falsehood coming their way. This term may suggest even more. This may indicate that the heresy that is around them has not really fully penetrated the church. The false teachers and growing popularity of human philosophy may still be outside, known to the church people but still outside the church. It may be like a looming storm coming in from the distance. You see it coming, you know it is out there, but the wind has not yet begun to blow with great fierceness, the rain and hail has not come crashing down yet. It is coming, you know it is, but you are still comfortable, those on the inside have not yet been personally effected by what is soon to come. 

It is hard to tell in this book, to know to what degree Paul is warning of what is soon to come, or whether this storm of outside influence has already landed in the church. Even if the church has already been hit by this storm of heresy, even if it had come, surely there would still be the faithful who were standing in the strength of Christ. There were faithful ones there, there are always the faithful in the church, no matter what influences creep in or storm in.

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:2)

Grace here is a reference to the believers’ new life in Christ Jesus, what binds them all together as brothers and sisters and family! Peace was a prayer for their general well being. Both are gifts from God, grace and peace!

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints (Colossians 1:3-4)

As a pastor, as a fellow brother in Christ, Paul prays for the people in the Colossian church. He begins with thanksgiving. Paul is grateful to God that He has shown mercy on these people and has saved them. When he bows, he does so in thanksgiving.

Paul has many issues to address with them, he has concerns about problems coming their way. He has doctrinal truth to speak to them and passionate arguments for continuing to stand firm. There is a huge amount of business at hand. But he doesn’t go to any of that without first thanking God for them.

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be very instructive for me. Efficiency would call for getting right to the issues, of which there were many. But Paul doesn’t start by addressing the difficulties in their lives. He doesn’t begin by sounding a loud alarm for them or even by crying out to God for immediate help. Paul doesn’t just launch into those things.

I remember when I was working in the world of business, prior to doing this full-time, being prepped for certain business meetings. I would sometimes hear things like, “This person you will meet with is a very important person, his time is valuable, you will have five minutes to make your case. Just get to the important things, no small talk, get the facts out quickly and effectively.” Or even now in certain situations where I have been able to be part of a process with people who want to reconcile with one another, maybe who have been estranged from one another for a while. In some cases we will all get together, and there has been such an absence of communication for so long that someone will begin with just pouring out months or years worth of data that has been building up, getting right to the facts of the situation. Or even in my own prayer life. I know my tendency. I know that if I don’t stop and think first, I will go to God and just get right to the problem. If someone is ill, pray for healing. If someone is hurting, pray for comfort. If someone is in sin, pray for conviction and repentance. Do you know what I mean? Just get to it. Efficiency, you can pray through a lot of requests that way, just get down that list, get to the point. Time is precious.

Paul was a busy man, even when in prison he was a busy man. But before addressing anything really in this letter, important things, he does this amazing thing. He simply thanks God for them, for their faith, for their salvation.

Do we do that? And it is not like he just did it this one time, apparently it was his habit that when he prayed for another, he first thanked God for them, and not just for them, but thanked God that they were saved, part of God’s family. And we know this because Paul uses the world “always.”

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, (Colossians 1:3)

I’ve been sort of analyzing my prayer life and I’ve found that I spend way more time praying over problems in need of fixing than I do in thanksgiving over people’s salvation. I mean, look at all of you – many of you are in the faith, many of you have exercised faith in Christ. Wow! We should all just be sincerely, and intensely even, thanking God for His work of salvation in each other’s hearts. I mean even when we meet a person for the first time and we learn of their faith, it’s like we should just stop and say, “Wow, you are a Christian, that is great! Can I just stop and thank God for His work in your heart?” But again, I am more likely to meet another Christian, hear of some problem, and just go after that in prayer, and skip the gratefulness to God for His miraculous work in their heart. I find that convicting for me.

Paul mentions some specific things for which he is thankful. I say that Paul is thankful for their salvation. Here is how he says it…

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:3-5a)

He is most thankful to God because of their faith in Christ Jesus, their love for each other, because the hope laid up for them in heaven. So for their faith in Christ (a gift to them from God), their love for each other (which is a demonstration of their faith in Christ), and because of their future glory in heaven. Every true believer that we will ever meet will have these things: faith, love, and hope. And none of these things belong to anyone apart from God’s miraculous work in them, thus the reason to be thankful to God.

I was studying this passage last week and just thinking about and meditating on Paul’s method here of starting off with thanksgiving to God for these Christian brothers and sisters before he gets to the problems at hand. As I was thinking on this, I got a message from a Christian brother. This brother was and is facing some terrible challenges in life. If any of us would analyze his situation we would all say, “Wow, that is tough, really hard.” You would not envy his challenges. I got this message from him, and instead of doing what I would have normally done in prayer, I remembered Paul’s method. Instead of going right after the problem in my mind, or in prayer, or with this person who was hurting, I began thanking God for my friend’s salvation. Thanking God for giving this man saving faith, for giving him a love for others, for providing him a future heavenly home. As I did that I was reminded that his man was not on his own. This man has the Spirit of God in him. That if this man belongs to God and exercised saving faith, then God will not let him go, will not leave him to himself. That if he belongs to God, though he is hurting, God is there and will hold him up, and continue to work in him for his good and God’s glory. And you know, the more I thought through all of that, the more thankful I was for his salvation! Because then you think, “What if he did not belong to God and he had all this going on? What a disaster, what a tragedy.” But he belongs to God, God has got him. I was encouraged! I was so thankful! I was comforted. 

Maybe you already have a pattern of prayer that includes thankfulness for the salvation of your brothers and sisters in Christ. But if you don’t, I want to encourage you in this. Let’s be thankful for God’s work in people’s lives around us. No matter who the believer is. Maybe you currently have a strained relationship with someone. Maybe you are really struggling to love or even like a fellow believer. I would say pray for the person and start with thanksgiving for God’s work of salvation in them. Let God work in your own heart as you do. Maybe you know someone who is hurting, who has been terribly sinned against. Thank God for their salvation. They are not alone, God is at work in them. Maybe you know someone who has sinned terribly and has not yet repented, but you believe they are a Christian. Begin your prayer with thanksgiving that they belong to Christ, and that our loving Savior will bring them to conviction.

How about with your spouse, your children, your parents, your fellow church members, your teachers – are we thanking God for their salvation, for God’s work in them?

As we do, hope can flood our own souls. God does not turn from those He saves. God does not walk out on those who are His. I am not saying we stop with a prayer of thanksgiving, but I am saying it is a good place to start, and God may use that to prepare our own hearts for further interaction with them. Paul gets to some hard things with the Colossians, but not until he glories in their salvation!

How will we pray for each other?

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:1-5a)