Here he proceeds to the body of the epistle, and begins with thanksgiving to God for what he had heard concerning them, though he had no personal acquaintance with them, and knew their state and character only by the reports of others.
I. He gave thanks to God for them, that they had embraced the gospel of Christ, and given proofs of their fidelity to him. Observe, In his prayers for them he gave thanks for them. Thanksgiving ought to be a part of every prayer; and whatever is the matter of our rejoicing ought to be the matter of our thanksgiving. Observe, 1. Whom he gives thanks to: To God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our thanksgiving we must have an eye to God as God (he is the object of thanksgiving as well as prayer), and is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and through whom all good comes to us. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as our Father; and it is a matter of encouragement, in all our addresses to God, that we can look to him as Christ’s Father and our Father, as his God and our God, John 20:17. Observe, 2. What he gives thanks to God for—for the graces of God in them, which were evidences of the grace of God towards them: Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love you have to all the saints; for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, Col. 1:4, 5. Faith, hope, and love, are the three principal graces in the Christian life, and proper matter of our prayer and thanksgiving. (1.) He gives thanks for their faith in Christ Jesus, that they were brought to believe in him, and take upon them the profession of his religion, and venture their souls upon his undertaking. (2.) For their love. Besides the general love which is due to all men, there is a particular love owing to the saints, or those who are of the Christian brotherhood, 1 Pet. 2:17. We must love all the saints, bear an extensive kindness and good-will to good men, notwithstanding smaller points of difference, and many real weaknesses. Some understand it of their charity to the saints in necessity, which is one branch and evidence of Christian love. (3.) For their hope: The hope which is laid up for you in heaven, Col. 1:5. The happiness of heaven is called their hope, because it is the thing hoped for, looking for the blessed hope, Titus 2:13. What is laid out upon believers in this world is much; but what is laid up for them in heaven is much more. And we have reason to give thanks to God for the hope of heaven which good Christians have, or their well-grounded expectation of the future glory. Their faith in Christ, and love to the saints, had an eye to the hope laid up for them in heaven. The more we fix our hopes on the recompence of reward in the other world, the more free and liberal shall we be of our earthly treasure upon all occasions of doing good.
II. Having blessed God for these graces, he blesses God for the means of grace which they enjoyed: Wherein you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel. They had heard in the word of the truth of the gospel concerning this hope laid up for them in heaven. Observe, 1. The gospel is the word of truth, and what we may safely venture our immortal souls upon: it proceeds from the God of truth and the Spirit of truth, and is a faithful saying. He calls it the grace of God in truth, Col. 1:6. 2. It is a great mercy to hear this word of truth; for the great thing we learn from it is the happiness of heaven. Eternal life is brought to light by the gospel, 2 Tim. 1:10. They heard of the hope laid up in heaven in the word of the truth of the gospel. “Which has come unto you, as it hath to all the world, and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, Col. 1:6. This gospel is preached and brings forth fruit in other nations; it has come to you, as it hath to all the world, according to the commission, Go preach the gospel in all the nations, and to every creature.” Observe, (1.) All who hear the word of the gospel ought to bring forth the fruit of the gospel, that is, be obedient to it, and have their principles and lives formed according to it. This was the doctrine first preached: Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, Matt. 3:8. And our Lord says, If you know these things, happy are you if you do them, John 13:17. Observe, (2.) Wherever the gospel comes, it will bring forth fruit to the honour and glory of God: It bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you. We mistake, if we think to monopolize the comforts and benefits of the gospel to ourselves. Does the gospel bring forth fruit in us? So it does in others.
III. He takes this occasion to mention the minister by whom they believed (Col. 1:7, 8): As you also learned of Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ. He mentions him with great respect, to engage their love to him. 1. He calls him his fellow-servant, to signify not only that they served the same Master, but that they were engaged in the same work. They were fellow-labourers in the work of the Lord, though one was an apostle and the other an ordinary minister. 2. He calls him his dear fellow-servant: all the servants of Christ ought to love one another, and it is an endearing consideration that they are engaged in the same service. 3. He represents him as one who was a faithful minister of Christ to them, who discharged his trust and fulfilled his ministry among them. Observe, Christ is our proper Master, and we are his ministers. He does not say who is your minister; but who is the minister of Christ for you. It is by his authority and appointment, though for the people’s service. 4. He represents him as one who gave them a good word: Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit, Col. 1:8. He recommends him to their affection, from the good report he made of their sincere love to Christ and all his members, which was wrought in them by the Spirit, and is agreeable to the spirit of the gospel. Faithful ministers are glad to be able to speak well of their people.
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