Colossians 1:5


Good news from Colossae had been brought to Paul at Rome by Epaphras. This devoted servant of Christ (Colossians 4:12) had probably been the first evangelist sent by Paul to Colossal, and the founder of the Church there (ver. 7, Revised Version). He brought also news which caused the apostle much anxiety (Colossians 2:1, 2, 8, etc.). But before he utters cautions he pours forth thanksgivings. We are thus reminded of two things.

1. Paul's largeness of heart. Love "rejoiceth in the truth" and "envieth not" those who have either more spiritual gifts or more temporal blessings (Romans 12:15). The fruit of Epaphras' ministry was a source of joy to him. He felt grateful for the gifts in money from the Philippians brought by Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:17, 18), but more for "the love in the Spirit" of the Colossians reported by Epaphras.

2. Paul's sympathy with the mind of his Master. Christ also dictated Epistles. Wherever there is anything to commend in the Churches of Asia, the Lord mentions this before he utters a word of censure. The apostle, writing earlier, but taught by the same Spirit of Christ, pursues a similar course in nearly all his Epistles (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). "The meekness and gentleness of Christ" enable him to praise and congratulate even the disorderly Church at Corinth. The apostle blends thanksgivings with his prayers, especially on account of that triad of graces, faith, love, hope, which elsewhere he rejoices in (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Their faith worked by love and was sustained by hope. Their permanent fruitfulness proved the reality of their spiritual life. We must, however, observe that the term "hope" is used here in a sense somewhat different to that in the other passages quoted above. It is the object of hope (as in Galatians 5:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18), implying subjective hope. That "hope set before us" "we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil." Following the suggestions of this figure, we may notice some of the links of the chain of spiritual blessings by which the souls of converts are connected with that anchor, and on account of which ministers may give thanks on behalf of Christians who in these respects resemble the Colossians.

I. WE HAVE HEARD "THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL." No gospel, no hope (Ephesians 2:12). We did not come to the gospel; it "is come unto" us. The Physician sought the patient, the Saviour the sinner (Isaiah 65:1; Luke 19:10). The gospel in its triumphant progress throughout all the world reached Great Britain, an Ultima Thule, brought by unknown missionaries who "for his Name's sake went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." We ourselves have heard "the joyful sound," the genuine gospel, "the grace of God in truth" (Galatians 2:5; 1 Peter 5:12), the gospel of Christ which alone is "the power of God unto salvation."

II. WE. HAVE TRUSTED OURSELVES TO CHRIST. "Your faith in Christ Jesus;" We have not only heard, but we know,"the grace of God in truth." We know it because we have had a Divine Teacher. "In coelo cathedram habet qui corda docet" (Augustine). Our faith is the gift of God; it rests not "in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." Thus we "know whom we have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:13, 19, 20). Belief conducts to knowledge (John 6:69).

III. WE ARE BRINGING FORTH FRUIT. Wherever the gospel comes, i.e. comes home to men's consciences and hearts, it must be a fructifying power. "Even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit," etc. Ours is not a faith which "is dead in itself because it has not works." "Can that faith save" us (James 2:17, 14)? Ours is a "faith working through love." The quickening Spirit within us will bring forth "fruit after his kind" (Galatians 5:22, 23). One of the most characteristic fruits is love. "The love which ye have toward all the saints." We cherish love toward them because, in spite of all their failings, they are beloved children of our Father God (1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1).

IV. OUR FRUITS ARE VISIBLE AND PERMANENT. They are such as an Epaphras could discern and report. Our lights shine; our good works are seen (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 3 John 1:6). This fruit bearing is prompt. "Since the day," etc. The fruit itself multiplies; the gospel is "bearing fruit and increasing." Side by side with the outward growth of the gospel (which may be illustrated by the notices of the increase of the Church in Judaea from the "about a hundred and twenty" to the "many myriads" of Acts 21:20; and from progress in our own days), there is the ripening of Christian character (2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10) and the leavening influence of the gospel on modern society. For all these things we thank God, but especially if our fruit is permanent. The gospel still is bearing fruit in us (Psalm 1:3). Our hearts are not the stony or thorny ground. Christ's object is being fulfilled (John 15:16). We have not forgotten our first love; our last works are more than our first. "The past things perish if those things which were begun cease to go on to perfection" (Cyprian). Growth and persistence are causes for sincerest thanks.

V. "THE HOPE WHICH IS LAID UP IN THE HEAVENS" SUSTAINS OUR FAITH AND LOVE. "Faith... and love... because of the hope." This hope laid up is itself one of the things "hoped for." It is a reserved blessing, part of that great goodness of God "laid up for them that fear thee" (Psalm 31:19; 1 Peter 1:4, 5). But the links in the chain of spiritual blessings we have examined unite our souls here to the inheritance yonder (Romans 8:24, 25). Such hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:5; Jude 1:20, 21). If our souls are not firmly moored to that object of hope "laid up for us in the heavens," let us ask - Which is the missing link? - E.S.P.









The word of the truth of the gospel which is come unto you.
I. THINK OF THE GOSPEL AS IT AFFORDS INSPIRATION TO DISSEMINATE ITSELF. Christianity is the religion of universal man. It recognizes no exception.

1. The principles of the kingdom of Jesus Christ are themselves universal. They deal with conditions which belong to all men. They impose rules which all can obey. They grant their privileges without distinction. The sin they would destroy is the sin of all men. The salvation they illustrate is offered to every child of Adam. Christ indicated this universality by explicit declaration in the conversation with Nicodemus, the parables of the kingdom, and the great commission. This idea was fully gained by the apostles. Not at first, although Peter touched it in his address to Cornelius; but Paul fully developed it. Is not this in itself unique? Has it not such a supreme character that it at least suggests the idea of a Divine origin? Why should it belong to Christianity alone?

2. But this universalism is much more than an intellectual idea. It is a vital and energizing force. It propagates itself. The moment a man becomes a Christian he is filled with a desire that others should be Christians.

3. Hence we find two facts in the history of the Church — its aggressive character, and its exclusive relation to all other faiths. The Roman pantheon included all the gods of the nations conquered by Rome, and would have welcomed Christ, but He would not enter it. He demanded the extrusion of every other divinity; His altar alone could receive the sacrifices of a worshipping world. And it is still so. Christianity brooks no other faith. Is not this a noteworthy fact? Whence has it come?

4. It is in modern missions that we may find the practical illustration of this universalism and its most effective illustration.

II. THINK OF THE UNSELFISH SPIRIT IN WHICH THIS ATTEMPT TO WIN A WORLD HAS BEEN PROJECTED AND CARRIED OUT.

1. The mere desire for imperial sway over an entire race may of itself be no very Divine emotion. Many have experienced it, and it has proved to be a spawn of hell rather than a birth of heaven — Nimrod, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon. But this is not the spirit that animates the modern herald of the Cross. He seeks no personal glory, his gains are small, his comforts few; with no weapons but a book, the name of Jesus, and a holy life, he moves to the victory of a world.

2. I know all that can be said about the restless spirit, love of adventure, desire to escape the dulness of average home life, and the glamour of missionary fame. But these emotions are fleeting, and perish if there be no recognition in places of note, and wither before old age. But this is not the experience of missionaries. It is nearly a century since evangelical missions were started, but the spirit is as fresh as ever. If the romance has disappeared, it has been replaced by a greater devotion, and a wiser, because more experienced, energy. What is the earthly fame the missionary gains? Mention half a dozen names out of hundreds of thousands which the world signalizes. What his wealth? Scarce a pittance for old age. What does a thoughtful inquirer make of this system which begets such a quality of moral nature, which summons to its work such a noble spirit? Does it not suggest that God must be the author of the truth these men carry forth, and the inspirer of the sentiment with which they do their work?

III. Think of the marvellous force which the gospel has manifested in its spread through the world.

1. We are not considering the advance of a nation which is extending its government, arms, commerce, language, or tracing the progress of a trade, science, or any other force which spends itself on our physical existence, and may minister to the baser side of our nature. We are estimating the power of a force which comes to each man personally, and demands thought, obedience, self-conquest, and the dissolution, it may be, of bonds which hold him to his past, his family, and his interest. There is nothing like it. It is the only moral propagander of the world.

2. And yet what victories it has gained. Napoleon confessed that his paled before them.: But putting aside the past gains of the gospel, its victories over Jewish faith, Greek philosophy, Roman law, its contest with Islam, and its conquest of Europe, consider its modern achievements. Modern missions found the South Sea Islands the home of naked savages; to-day they are for the most part civilized, and reckoned among the nations. Think of what it has done in Madagascar, and what it is doing in India, China, Japan. Wherever we turn we find the missionary. He has created written languages, clothed the naked, changed the savage into a saint, made lands safe for the trader, freed the slave, dec.

IV. THINK OF THE ADAPTATION TO THE WANTS OF MAN WHICH THE GOSPEL HAS EXHIBITED IN ITS SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. It has proved itself to be exactly what all men want, and what they could readily accept.

1. How varied are the climes into which it has been carried, but it breathes every air, and finds each as if its native breath.

2. All colours are alike to the gospel.

3. Age makes no difference, and culture renders it neither needless nor ineffectual.

4. No nation outgrows it.

5. It presents a point at which all can unite. It has realized the unity and brotherhood of the race. There is an old Arabic proverb which declares that Islam can flourish only where the palm tree grows, but the Tree of Life is planted in every soil, and blossoms all over the world. What can be the answer of a thoughtful mind to such facts as these?

(Ll. D. Bevan, D. D.)

The gospel is not like those plants which exhaust themselves in bearing fruit, and wither away. The external growth keeps pace with the reproductive energy. While "beareth fruit" describes the inner working, "increasing" gives the outward extension of the gospel. The words "and increasing" are not found in the received text, but the authority in their favour is overwhelming.

(Bishop Lightfoot.)

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