Colossians 1:1-8 The God of Grace and the Hope of Heaven

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Bible Studies in Book of Colossians

Colossians 1:1-8 The God of Grace and the Hope of Heaven

by I Gordon

It's a new year and a new study. Out with the old and in with the new (Testaments that is). I've recently been asked a few times through the website whether I'm going to do anymore studies on the New Testament. So I had a quick look at what I've done. In the Old Testament there are studies on Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Judges, Nehemiah, Esther, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Habakkuk, Isaiah etc... And in the New Testament there is 2nd Peter, argh, there's Peter's second epistle as well as Peter's epistle following his first one... Ok. Alright. I give in. Ain't no creative accounting gunna balance dem books!

So I want to start a new study in a favourite book of mine from the New Testament. It is one of the most Christ centered books in the New Testament. It is, of course, the book of Colossians.

Why Colossians?

Have you ever seen a planned invasion of a country where they are drawing big red arrows on a map showing how their forces will invade from every side? Maybe you've watched a film of Hitler planning his assault on Austria or Poland or France and in the top secret meeting they are discussing the plan of attack from multiple directions... north, south, east and west. Well, I don't want to over state the case here but Colossae, a city in modern day Turkey, was a bit like that. They were a faithful little church but the enemy was coming at them with false teaching from most directions.

From the south came Jewish legalism. From the west came Greek philosophy. From the east came eastern mysticism. Legalism, worldly philosophy and eastern mysticism... You'd think that I'm talking about the problems assaulting the church today. But we are talking 2000 years ago! Truly Solomon spoke well when he said:

'Ecclesiastes 1:9 that which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.' 

He is dead right. Whether it is human history repeating or things in your own life repeating, there is nothing new under the sun. But thank God that there can be something new in the Son! So why study Colossians? Because it is incredibly relevant to the issues facing Christians and the Church today and Paul's answer is our answer today... Jesus Christ.  [1] 

What are we doing in this study?

This study will look at the first 8 verses in chapter 1 and while I'll comment on a few different things, we'll focus mainly on the two things in this passage that Paul says brings growth in the Christian life - two things that make a difference in this life. They are not a secret so I'll mention them right from the start. They are the grace of God in Christ and the hope of Heaven. Let's have a read...

Colossians 1:1-8 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, (2) To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (3) We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (4) since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; (5) because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel (6) which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; (7) just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, (8) and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

vs. 1: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.

Colossians is one of Paul's 'prison epistles' which just means that like Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon, Colossians was written from a Roman prison somewhere around 62AD. So let's just say a few words about its author. Colossians was written, in whatever angle you look at it, by an incredible man. The soul of mankind is made up of the mind, will and emotions and usually a person is dominated by one of these more than the others. So we read that Paul was an apostle by the will of God. So why did God choose Paul? Was it because of his great intellect? Was it his unbreakable will and drive? Or was it his heart and passion? Because Paul had all of these! All of these things would be useful in the hand of the potter once they were submitted unto the will of God but they are not the primary reason which scripture attributes as to why Paul was chosen. Paul himself tells us why he was chosen. He says it was because he was the foremost... something. The foremost academic? Nope. The foremost in zeal? Nope. The foremost in power or charisma? Nope. Paul told us why he was chosen:

1 Timothy 1:15-17 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (16) Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (17) Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen. 

Paul was saved as an outstanding example throughout all ages that the most unlikely person could be saved. The foremost sinner could be saved. Who do you know of whom you've thought  'Naaa, I just can't see how that person could ever be saved!' 'There is no way... too far from God. Quite anti... they even oppose the faith.'  That is primarily why Paul was saved, Paul says. He is an example. 'If God can be patient and gracious towards me, the foremost sinner, then He can be patient with anyone.'

The thief on the cross was saved as an eternal example that God will be gracious right up to the last breath to those who look to Him. Paul was saved as an eternal example of God's amazing patience to the worst of sinners. Who do you know that you've thought 'there is no hope for them?' These examples are given to teach us that there is always hope.  [2]  So Paul was saved and chosen to be an apostle of Jesus Christ to showcase God's amazing grace. And did it leave an impact upon Paul? You bet it did. The grace of God and the gospel of grace was his key message. He opened and closed all his personal letters by mentioning grace. How do we define grace? It is 'God's unmerited favour'. A common acronym is 'God's riches at Christ's expense'. A simple definition I like is 'God's love set free.'

Saints and Faithful

V. 2: To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

As we've said, this grace that had been so radically shown to Paul was always on his mind. Under the law, which was all Paul had known until he was saved on the road to Damascus, a person was never quite right with God. The sacrifices were continual; sin and guilt were always an issue. There were 101 things that you needed to be doing, or not doing... and then God revealed His grace to Paul. And everything changed. So he reminds his readers of two things right from the start - they are saints and they are in Christ.

While some religions have different man-imposed criteria  [3]  for being deemed 'a saint', according to the Bible becoming a saint is instantaneous when a repentant sinner abandons all hope of being saved by their own works and place their faith in the work of Jesus Christ on their behalf. According to the Apostle Paul and the Bible, all true believers are saints. Why? Because all true believers are 'in Christ'  [4]  and have been set apart as holy unto God! But look at what else Paul said about those at Colossae. They were 'faithful brethren'. Now that is an awesome testimony right away. They were getting hit left right and center with different doctrines and tests but they remained faithful. A great testimony in this age of ours!

Paul's favourite phrase...and the example of Keith Green

V 2: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Grace and peace to you was a favourite phrase of Paul's and the order is important. Peace follows our understanding and experience of grace. Let me give you an example. I remember as a young Christian enjoying the music of Keith Green. Maybe you did too. He had tremendous passion and heart for both the church and the lost. He was incredibly genuine. He often gave away his albums for free wherever he ministered. I didn't agree with all of his theology but no one could dispute his zeal and love for the Lord. You may have read the book about his life written by his wife Melody after he died called 'No Compromise'. It is a title that summed up his life. Yet as you read his book you find out that he had times where he doubted whether or not he was even saved. Often he had no peace. There was inner turmoil and conflict.  [5] 

When you read his book you read that at a pivotal point of doubting his own salvation, a Pastor came and taught Keith about grace. In Acts 18 it speaks about Apollos, whom it says 'spoke boldly and fervently for the Lord'. Yet  'When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.'  (Acts 18:26) That is what this Pastor did. We his new found understanding of grace, Keith then wrote his song 'Grace by which I stand' which starts off with:

Lord, the feelings are not the same, I guess I'm older, I guess I've changed.
And how I wish it had been explained, that as you're growing you must remember,
That nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I'm saved.

His peace returned. Peace follows an understanding of grace. What did Charles Spurgeon say again? '  It will save thee many pangs if thou will learn to think of thyself as being in Him.'  But there is more that follows grace. Look at what else Paul says:

...the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

Hear we see that bearing fruit and increasing is linked to understanding the grace of God in truth. So we should teach Christians about the grace of God.  [6]  Fruitfulness and increase follows a true understanding of grace Paul tells us. But there is something else in this passage that leads to growth in our character and Christian life. And that is...

The Hope of Heaven

(3) We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (4) since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; (5) because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth...

Paul hadn't visited this church himself but had heard two things about them that brought joy to his heart... two things that made him thank God for them. Simple things that like faith and love which at the end of the day are the most important things that we can have. Faith in the Lord Jesus, and love for one another. In 1 Cor: v13 - Paul said now these things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.' But note also that Paul says here that faith and love have a source:

'Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel.' 

As Christians we have this tremendous hope. But let me give you a recent example of one that doesn't. Recently we heard the sad news that Sir Paul Holmes has died. I watched the interview that they had with him shortly after his knighthood was announced on the New Year Honours list and then again when he did his last interview shortly before his death. Near the end of the interview they asked him 'Are you frightened?' 'Yes I'm frightened' he said. 'I plan to increase my peace with God". "I'm worried about what's over there... far away and over the hill. I wonder what there is." He said 'The hardest thing is closing my eyes at night and not knowing whether I will ever wake up.' I have a colleague at work whose father died of cancer a couple of years ago. He said the exact same thing. That he was scared to close his eyes at night. After speaking of those that he had loved and helped, and those that he had offended, Paul Holmes said 'I hope the Lord decides that I'm on the right side of the ledger, that's all.' And when asked whether there where things he would still like to do he said 'No, I will give my time to contemplation and will walk around here, and pray for God's mercy.'

It was brutally honest and incredibly sad. I went away praying for him and I truly hope that he found the narrow path that leads to life in that last week. He said 'I hope the Lord decides I'm on the right side of the ledger.' That is a worldly hope based on complete uncertainty. It is completely removed from what biblical hope is. It is the opposite of the type of hope that the Colossians had, and which all true Christians should have. Biblical hope gives complete assurance. It is a confident expectation of that which is still to come. This hope of what is laid up for them in Heaven, based upon a true understanding of the grace of God, was an anchor for the Colossian church and led to greater faith in God and love for those around them.

Look at the surety that is promised by God to all those that believe:

1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, (5) who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 

Not bad words for a fisherman! But what a changed fisherman Peter had become! Notice how he speaks of hope as a living hope! Why? Because Jesus is risen for the dead! He is alive therefore our hope is living! As Christians we have hope for this life and for the next. Look at what he says: firstly that there is an inheritance, imperishable, undefiled and will not fade away - people here place there hope in stocks and bonds and in investments and their little nest eggs... just to find it taken or lost through the many uncertainties in this world. That which is awaiting the believer in Heaven cannot be lost or stolen. It is 'reserved in heaven' for believers. The word 'reserved' means 'to keep, guard' and is used in the Bible when someone guarded a prisoner.

It does the soul good to think on such things. The church has taken its eyes off the heavenly hope and replaced it with the here and now. It has taken its eyes off eternity  [7]  and replaced it with the temporal.


The Apostle Paul hadn't ever visited the Colossians but was impressed by that which he had heard. The Colossians had heard and understood about grace, and they had a tremendous hope of that which was laid up for them in Heaven... and these two things led to fruitfulness and love and increased faith in this life.

So in conclusion, let us also not forget two things:

  1. What God has done for us through His grace:
    'It is good for the heart to be established by grace'. But we often forget what He has done.
     Psalms 106:9-13 'Thus He rebuked the Red Sea and it dried up, And He led them through the deeps, as through the wilderness. So He saved them from the hand of the one who hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed His words; they sang His praise. They quickly forgot His works; they did not wait for His counsel.

  2.  The position of those who do not have the hope we have
    In 1683 John Owen, the great Puritan, lay on his deathbed and his secretary was writing a letter in his name to a friend. "I am still in the land of the living." She wrote. "Stop," said Owen. "Change that and say, I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living."

    That is the hope Christians have. If you have believed in the Lord Jesus and been saved then you too should have that confident assurance and expectation of what is to come and if you don't we should pray that God will make these things real and assured for you. But many, like Sir Paul Holmes, like my sisters friend, like my workmates father who died of cancer, don't know that assured hope for they don't know the one who has already conquered death.

[1] ↩ John Macarthur said about the book of Colossians that 'From whatever angle one views our age, Colossians is up to date. Although written nearly 2,000 years ago, its timeless message speaks to the dilemmas facing us today. To the problems and crises of our age, it presents Jesus Christ as the answer.' 

I like that. To all these problems it presents Jesus Christ, the awesome person of Jesus, as the answer. So we can learn a lot from this great letter.

[2] ↩ My sister Fiona has a friend who is dying of cancer. So Fiona gave her a Bible recently and told her about the Lord... yet she gave it back a few weeks later saying she didn't need it. When you hear that your heart sinks. Yet, even the Bible tells us that at the start of the crucifixion both thieves to the left and right of Jesus were mocking and insulting Him. Both of them! Yet, when the end came, right at the very end, one turned. One was saved so that there is always hope. But only one so there is not presumption.

[3] ↩ For example, the process of becoming a Catholic saint is lengthy, often taking decades or centuries to complete. One Catholic website I visited provided an easy 10 step process to become a saint, starting with being a Catholic, performing two verified miracles, and, also importantly (though slightly more difficult for you and me currently), being dead. Besides miraculous healings, the commission examines other phenomena such as;
Incorruptibility: Long after the saint is dead, the body is found free of decay when exhumed from the grave. The Church considers St. Catherine of Siena to be an example. She died in 1380, and 600 years later without any embalming, her flesh is said not to have decomposed.
Liquefaction: The dried blood of the saint, long dead, miraculously liquefies on the feast day . The Church considers St.Januarius (San Gennaro in Italian; A.D. 275?-305), the patron saint of Naples, to be an example. According to the Church, a vial of his dried blood liquefies every year on September 19.
Odor of sanctity: The body of the saint exudes a sweet aroma, like roses, rather than the usual pungent stench of decay. The Church considers St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82) to be just such an example. The Church believes her grave exuded a sweet fragrance for nine months after her death.

Let's face it. If odour is part of the sainthood criteria, we both could be in trouble. Thank God that all believers are deemed Saints in the Bible; we do not have to concern ourselves with the above nonsense!

[4] ↩ A couple of useful quotes about being 'in Christ':

J. Vernon McGee said 'Notice that they are "in Christ" but they are "at Colosse." The most important question is not, where are you at, but Who are you in? That may not be good grammar, but it sure is good Bible truth.The saints are at Colosse - it is important that we have an address down here. But we ought to have an address up yonder also: in Christ.'
Charles Spurgeon said, "Look on thine own nothingness and be humble. But look at Jesus, thy great representative, and be glad.'

[5] ↩ The official website for Last Days Ministries says the following:

'After striving for years to measure up to God's holiness, at times even questioning his own salvation, Keith came into a deeper understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross -- both to forgive his sins, and to clothe him in His righteousness. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of his chest. 

It wasn't that Keith became less concerned with purity and holiness. But now he was more motivated by love and less by fear in His pursuit of Jesus. He learned so much more about God's grace and the importance of pausing simply to behold His glory and enjoy His presence. That is perhaps, what Keith loved most.' 

[6] ↩ My brother and I both became Christians in the same year but while living in different cities. I became a Christian half way through the year and it took my brother a little longer to see the truth. As baby Christians, my Mum and sister puzzled for a while whether they should tell us about grace or just let us learn it from experience. By 'experience' I mean that they wondered whether we should learn how amazing grace is by failing at living the Christian life in our own strength. I understand their thinking and given the 20 years plus since then I've slowly learned to forgive them! Some things can only be learned from experience. Yet they felt the Lord saying to them a verse from Hebrews which says: 'it is good for the heart to be established by grace.' Based on this they told us both about grace right from the start of our Christian lives. A good decision!

[7] ↩ C S Lewis said 'If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.' 

He also said ' A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.'