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Thanksgiving for God’s Grace: An Analysis of Colossians 1:3-8

Written by Robert Lyon on

After Paul’s greeting in Colossians 1:1-2, the next segment in the book of Colossians contains Paul’s thanksgiving for the Colossian church (vv. 3-8) and his prayer to God on their behalf (vv. 9-14).

We see this pattern of thanksgiving and prayer in all of Paul’s letters, except for 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Timothy, and Titus.

Surveying this pattern helps us become acquainted with the countercultural passions of a Christian. What flows out in prayer says a lot about one’s posture toward God and his people. What causes us to praise him with thanksgiving (or not!) says a lot about what is shaping our affections.

In this article, we will focus upon Paul’s thanksgiving.

Study Question: Read three or four of the passages in the table below. Make observations about what Paul is doing in these sections (i.e., Is he thankful for a consistent thing? Does he long for a certain attribute to characterize their lives? etc.) What can we learn from Paul’s pattern of thanksgiving and prayer in his letters? What is Paul’s passion and where is his heart?

 Thanksgiving & Prayer in Paul’s Epistles

  • Romans 1:8-10 – v. 8, thanksgiving; vv. 9-10, prayer
  • 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – thanksgiving-prayer
  • Ephesians 1:15-23 – vv. 15-16a, thanksgiving, vv. 16b-23, prayer
  • Philippians 1:3-11 – vv. 3-8, thanksgiving; vv. 9-11, prayer
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 – thanksgiving-prayer
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, 11-12 – vv. 3-4, thanksgiving; vv. 11-12 prayer
  • 2 Timothy 1:3 – thanksgiving-prayer
  • Philemon 1:4-6 – vv. 4-5, thanksgiving; v. 6, prayer

We Always Thank God

First, using verse 3 as a launch pad, I want you to see how critical the idea of thanksgiving is to Paul in this letter: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

Within the four chapters of Colossians, Paul frequently expresses and commands thanksgiving:

  • “We always thank God…” (1:3)
  • “Giving thanks to the Father…” (1:12)
  • “…established in the faith…abounding in thanksgiving” (2:7).
  • “…be thankful…” (3:5)
  • “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (3:16).
  • “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17)
  • “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2)

How should this affect us? As we swim through the letter of Colossians—wading through the excellencies of God’s grace in Christ—let your thoughts and meditations pulsate with heartfelt, prayerful thanksgiving!

God’s Grace in the Gospel

So, in Colossians 1:3-8, what is it that makes Paul so thankful?

Throughout the New Testament, it is clear Paul has an insatiable desire to see (1) the gospel proclaimed in the world (Rom. 1:15) and (2) the church know and experience an increasing measure of God’s grace. Indeed, this passage reflects that same passion. Paul is abounding in thanksgiving as he observes a few things that center upon the gospel.

The Gospel’s Fruit

Paul says in verses 4-5, “… 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…”

First, Paul’s persistent prayer for the Colossian church began when he heard about the fruit of God’s grace in their lives, namely faith, love, and hope. And these tangible graces (or fruits), he says, were born as a result of hearing and understanding the gospel.

In The Gospel Primer, Milton Vincent explains this particular effect of the gospel like this:

“The mere hope of seeing Christ in glory releases the purifying influence of heaven upon my life from day to day (1 John 3:3). Also, knowing of the future love that God will show me in glory enables me to love my fellow-saints with a heaven-inspired love even now (Col. 1:4). I love others out of the fullness already given to me in Christ, and also out of the greater fullness that will be given to me in glory!”

Paul goes on in verse 6 to imply that the gospel is “bearing fruit and increasing” among them. This is what he saw manifesting in them. What might Paul say of us?

Close your eyes for a minute and survey the landscape of our church—the preaching ministry, the community of saints, the fellowship of Small Groups, the sharpening of Bible studies, the Worship-Based Prayer Nights, the church-planting efforts, the missionaries abroad, etc. Meditate upon God’s grace in each of these things—there is a lot there. For example, consider the hope residing in seasoned saints, the extravagant generosity shown toward those in need, the men and women laboring for the maturity of others, the pastors who are committed to the authority of God’s Word, and—most beautiful of all—a church body that comes together to lift its collective voice in worship to the majestic King Jesus. 

Now, how did all of this grace come to be? Friends, this is the gospel “bearing fruit and increasing” among us. Thank God today for his grace!   

The Gospel’s Reach

This is what it means to say that the gospel bears fruit. It changes us. And it keeps changing us so that, through Christ alone, we progress toward genuine Christian maturity and true spiritual growth (Col. 1:28, 3:10).

And yet we see something beautiful in verse 6. Not only does the gospel (1) reach deep into the church to transform it (vv. 3-5, 8) but (2) it reaches broadly into the world to redeem it. Colossians 1:6 states, “…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…” The gospel is a message for the world too.

The gospel is truth for those who love error, life for those who are dead, forgiveness for those who are guilty, liberation for those who are in bondage, and wisdom for those who crave empty deceit. It is the gospel that reconciles those who are “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). And the central reason why the gospel can offer these things to the world is because, again, it offers Christ—the preeminent one (Col. 1:17).

When the earth-shattering, curtain-tearing power of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection reaches into the darkness, it bears the glorious fruit of faith and repentance. And this makes Paul rejoice with thanksgiving.

If you are a Christian, you should know the breadth of the gospel’s reach, since it once “came to you” and you therefore “understood the grace of God in truth” for the first time. This is the same for all of us and will be for all who haven’t yet heard. Therefore, the gospel must go out, it must increase in the world.

The Gospel’s Minister

Paul writes in verses 7-8, “…just as you learned it [the gospel] 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.”

Finally, Paul notes that Epaphras brought the fruit-bearing gospel to the Colossians. This is not only of historical interest, but in principle shows us that the soul-changing, life-giving gospel is entrusted by Godto the weak and powerless hands of men and women.

You may not be a pastor or church-planter, but you are (or should be) in some way or another a minister of the gospel. Eagerly yearn for the gospel to reach wide into the world and reach deep into the church—even in the midst of a pandemic. Pray for this. What a unique opportunity we have during this season to show that the fruitfulness and increase of God’s grace will never be quenched or suspended, even when society is shutting itself in. When we hold fast to Jesus and seek to proclaim the gospel, fruit will be born—both in us and in the world. In this we should rejoice and abound in thanksgiving!

Study Question: Meditate on Paul’s understanding of the gospel in this passage. Do you find any specific insight about the gospel that is new to you, that brings encouragement, or that convicts you? What is your experience as it relates to the gospel? Do you know its effects? Does its reach energize or inspire you? Are you acting as a faithful minister of the gospel?

Summary & Application

In this passage, Paul’s thanksgiving for God’s grace is structured around three points: (1) the fruit of the gospel (vv. 3-5a), (2) the reach of the gospel (vv. 5b-6), and (3) the minister of the gospel (vv. 7-8).

Use these ideas as a starting point for how you can apply this passage:

  • Tell someone in your life (child, spouse, pastor, friend) about the grace of God you observe in them and thank God for it
  • Ask God to increase your passion for him and his work through the gospel of Jesus
  • Share the College Park Sunday live stream with a neighbor this week
  • Worship passionately (with singing), as an act of thanksgiving, by yourself and/or with your family
Robert Lyon

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