The Gospel Is Working
Passage: Colossians 1:3-8
Most of you know that I grew up on a farm, and one of the blessings of living on the farm was that we always had really good meat, since we butchered our own pigs and cattle. But since that was all I knew, I didn’t always appreciate what we had. For example, I distinctly remember riding home from church on Sunday and asking my mom what was for dinner. Whenever she would say that a beef roast was cooking in the crockpot, I would always sigh in disappointment. When I look back on my reaction, I think, “Kit, you had no idea how good you had it.” And I didn’t because that was all I knew.
In a similar vein, one of the great dangers for Christians who have been saved for many years is that we can lose appreciation for the power of the gospel, what it has done for us, and what it continues to do in us. You could say that we have been living so long under the protection of God’s grace that we forget how dark and chaotic life is without it.
Therefore, it is good to be reminded often of the powerful and far reaching work of the gospel. It changes everything. And our text offers this kind of reminder.
Verse 3 opens by saying, “We give thanks.” Like he does in a number of his epistles, Paul opens Colossians with a prayer of thanksgiving for what God was doing in this church. But it’s worth emphasizing that Paul doesn’t spend his time stroking the Colossians’ egos by telling them how great they are. Rather, he gives thanks to God for the work that he was doing among them through the gospel.
In so doing he gives us the opportunity to consider the powerful work of the gospel in our lives and in the lives of those around us. I trust we will be encouraged by what the gospel has done for us and that we will be challenged to apply this incredible power more faithfully.
My outline today consists of three challenges. The first challenge is…
Consider what the gospel has done for you (vv. 3–5).
Again, v. 3 begins the text by saying that Paul gives thanks for the Colossians whenever he prays for them. He follows by reflecting on what inspires his thanksgiving. It’s important to emphasize that he relates all of it back to the gospel.
Notice the thought flow of vv. 4–5. Paul gives thanks for the Colossians faith and love, which he says are the result of their hope in heaven. And then he says that this hope is result of hearing and receiving “the word of the truth of the gospel.” Therefore, it is the gospel that produced their faith, love, and hope. And the gospel remains the focus in v. 6 as he considers the spread of the gospel all over the world.
Therefore, Paul will give thanks for many things in this passage, but they are all merely spokes of a wheel that all emanate from the gospel.
In that light, notice first of all that through the gospel…
God has granted faith, love, and hope (v. 4–5a).
First Corinthians 13:13 states that faith, hope, and love are the foundational Christian fruits. Of course, our Christian experience begins when we exercise faith in the gospel. Christianity is founded on faith. And it is also a religion of hope because we don’t live for this world but the next. And the most basic ethical quality of the Christian life is love. And so faith, hope, and love define the Christian experience.
Paul thanks God for the Colossians’ “faith in Christ Jesus.” You could say that faith is the first fruit of the Christian life. It all begins when we place our trust for salvation onto Christ and his work on the cross.
But it’s worth emphasizing that Paul doesn’t focus on a decision they made in the past. He doesn’t say, “I give thanks that you believed on Christ”; instead, he gives thanks that they believe right now. This is important because some Christians based their assurance of salvation on the faith they exercised at some point in the past when they prayed a prayer. And if they find a hole in that experience they struggle to know they are truly saved.
But that’s never the emphasis of the NT. If someone questions their salvation, the NT would always urge them to consider what they believe right now. If I believe the gospel, and I am living the gospel, I should assume I am saved.
But I shouldn’t pat myself on the back for having such strong faith; rather, I should give thanks to God because faith is ultimately a work of God through the gospel. Therefore, when was the last time you thanked God for your faith? Do you realize that your faith is one of the most basic evidences of the work of the Spirit? We shouldn’t take it for granted; we should give thanks. And if your faith is weak, don’t just try harder to trust God; pray that God would increase your faith and turn your attention squarely toward him.
Next Paul thanks God for the Colossians’ “love for all the saints.” Again, love is the foundational ethical quality of the Christian life. Jesus said that love for your neighbor is second only to love for God (Matt 22:37–40). Jesus added that the entire law hangs on these two commands.
It is worth emphasizing that Paul specifically gives thanks for their “love for all the saints” because the NT consistently gives priority to caring for fellow believers. That’s not to say that we don’t have an obligation to love all people. One of the major points of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is that anyone in need is my neighbor and that I should serve anyone I am able to bless. But the NT consistently gives priority to loving fellow Christians. Galatians 6:10 states, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Therefore, we must be a church that is marked by love for each other. You need to be mindful of the burdens of others in our church, and you must be eager to bless. Is that true of you? There are many burdens represented in this room. We have widows and widowers who are lonely and grieving. Others are weighed down by serious health or family concerns. Others are facing financial pressure. Do you know the needs of people around you? Do you pray for their needs, and do you take steps to bless and encourage?
Maybe you would say, “I can’t love others; I have enough problems of my own. Why doesn’t someone love me?” If that’s how you feel, I hope you will tell us, but I’d also say that one of the best cures for your burdens is to focus on caring for others. There is far more joy in loving others than in mourning how you are not loved. Let’s be a church that is known for loving the saints in our own congregation and around the world.
Third, Paul gives thanks because the Colossians lived in light of “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” Contrary to how we typically think of hope, Paul is not talking about a wish or a dream that may or may not happen. No, he says that a Christian’s treasure is “laid up” or stored in heaven itself where no evil can ever touch it. What a blessing it is to know that if you are saved, you will make it to heaven. Nothing can destroy your inheritance.
And the NT consistently teaches that this sure hope drives the Christian life. We don’t live for what we can get now. Rather, we are pilgrims who live for another world and for a far better inheritance than we could ever obtain in this world.
But it is so easy for us to lose sight of that hope because everything around us drives us to live for the moment. We crave things, pleasure, praise, and rest. Maybe your Christian walk is worn down today. You are struggling to stay motivated, and you are feeling overwhelmed by the pull of your flesh. I pray that you will clearly see with eyes of faith the hope that is waiting for you in heaven, that it is far better than anything this world offers, and that you will press forward in light of that hope.
In sum, vv. 4–5 give thanks that God has granted faith, love, and hope. Notice as well that…
God’s grace comes to us in the gospel (v. 5b).
Notice again the logical progression of the text. Verse 5 begins by stating that the Colossians have hope, and then he adds that the reason they know hope is because they heard “the word of the truth of the gospel.”
I said last week that false teachers were promoting a false gospel in at Colossae. Therefore, Paul subtly reminds the Colossians that there is only one genuine article. The gospel is the truth. And the work of the gospel in the Colossians proved its authenticity.
Notice how the gospel had worked. According to v. 7 they heard the true gospel through the preaching of Epaphras. And the gospel changed them. It produced faith, love, and hope in the hearts of previously dead sinners.
If you are a Christian, you ought to praise the Lord for what the gospel has done in your life. You were once dead in sin. You didn’t live based on hope but based on what was right in front of your nose. Your life was not a demonstration of Christian love but of selfish narcissism. But then someone shard the gospel with you, and it began to work. And you are something different today because of its power. Praise God!
But maybe you would have to say that you have never experienced the mighty work of the gospel. Maybe you don’t even know what it is. The message of the gospel is simply that I am a sinner, and I am dead in my sin with no hope of fixing my problem myself. Therefore, Jesus died and he rose again so that I could be forgiven and raised to life.
And his work can be applied to you if you will simply come to him in faith and repentance acknowledging your sin and trusting in him for salvation. Won’t you come to him today and receive this gift that is greater than any treasure you could ever find anywhere else?
And so my first challenge this morning is to consider what the gospel has done (or needs to do) in your life. My second challenge is…
Consider what the gospel is doing all over the world (vv. 6–8).
After pondering how the gospel had changed the Colossian believers, v. 6 reiterates that the gospel “has come to you.” Paul follows with three “just as” or comparative statements that are intended to set God’s work among the Colossians in light of God’s broader work of spreading the gospel among the nations. We learn two truths about the work of the gospel in these three statements.
Notice in v. 6 that…
The gospel saves sinners and changes lives (v. 6).
I love how the last line of v. 6 describes what it means to be a Christian. To be born again means to “know the grace of God in truth.” All people know grace to some extent because everyone has some comprehension of what it means to forgive or show mercy. And probably every religion man has devised involves some level of grace because man knows he isn’t perfect.
But the only way that you can ever really know grace is to appreciate the utter depravity and wickedness of man in comparison to the perfect righteousness and justice of God. The only way you can know grace is if you see it with the backdrop of God’s just wrath that demands an infinite payment that man can never make.
That’s where every other religion except Bible Christianity fails because they all teach that there is something I can do to make it to God or at least to help me get there. They don’t understand that I am helpless. Therefore, their version of grace is but a sliver of the true grace of God that is revealed in the gospel. But if you are a Christian you know a very different grace because you understand the justice of God that you could never pacify while you also stand in the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is grace!
And Paul reminds the Colossians of how this grace came to them, and how we ought to give thanks that it came to us. We should praise God for that parent, or SS teacher, or pastor, or friend that told us about the true grace of God in the gospel. And we should praise God for the work of the Spirit to open our eyes so that we could “know the grace of God (not in part but) in truth.”
And Paul reminds the Colossians and us we are not alone in enjoying this incredible experience. He tells them that just as the gospel worked mightily among you, it is at work all over the world to do the same great work.
Now when Paul wrote it had only been roughly 30 years since Jesus died, so the gospel had not yet gone into all the world, but it was rapidly spreading throughout the Roman empire. And Paul knew that God willed for the gospel to go to every nation. He knew where this was headed. And today we can look back on church history and we can see the gospel’s power in how it has spread so widely despite all sorts of hardship and opposition.
Specifically Paul says that wherever it goes, the gospel “is bringing forth fruit.” And if you are looking at any more modern version it will add, “and increasing,” which should be there because all of the best ancient Greek manuscripts we have include it. It’s just not in the KJV because it wasn’t in the limited number of manuscripts that the KJV is based off of.
When Paul says that the gospel produces fruit, he means that it changes lives. It makes us people of faith, love, and hope. If you are saved, you’ve seen that power at work in your life changing how you think, what you love, and what you do.
And when he says that the gospel is “increasing,” he means that it is spreading to more and more people. Paul uses an agricultural analogy here, and the fact that the gospel is increasing means that it is not like an annual plant like tomatoes that destroys themselves in the process of producing fruit. Rather, it is like a tree that grows bigger and bigger each year with each harvest.
Folks, the gospel is powerful. Therefore, if you know Christ, stay encouraged in the pursuit of holiness because the gospel will bear fruit in your life. God will change you. And stay encouraged in your efforts to be an evangelist because the gospel will increase. It is saving sinners, and it can save the hardest and darkest souls we know.
But it only does so as we share it, which brings me to the second truth in vv. 6–8 about the work of the gospel.
The gospel advances through faithful witnesses (v. 7).
Verse 7 simply reminds the Colossians of how this powerful message reached them. As I said last week, Epaphras was probably converted through Paul’s preaching in Ephesus. And God began to work in Epaphras’s life and to build a sacrificial heart for the ministry.
Paul describes him as “our dear fellow servant.” The Greek noun is doulos or slave. And so when Epaphras got saved, it didn’t just slightly alter the course of his life. He gave his life to joining Paul in the work of spreading the gospel. Paul also calls him “a faithful minister” or servant of the Colossian church.
Of course we know that ultimately, the Colossian church was there because God wanted it there. But from a human perspective, it was there because Epaphras gave his life to the work of the gospel, and God used him in a marvelous way.
And so vv. 6–7 describe how the gospel is moving all over the world, but it isn’t just moving on its own. It is moving through the faithful, courageous work of men like Epaphras. And you may not think that you are equipped to do evangelism, but you don’t have to be some great apologist to spread gospel because the gospel is powerful in itself. Just preach the Word and watch God work through his mighty Spirit.
God is doing great things all over the world. Therefore, my third challenge today is…
Respond to the work of the gospel.
To give this challenge, I’d like to draw your attention to the characters in the text. First…
Give thanks like Paul.
Verse 8 tells us that Epaphras told Paul about what God was doing at Colossae, and v. 3 says that he responded by giving thanks to God. And we need to do the same. If you are saved, you should give thanks today for the work of the gospel in your life. Give thanks that you “know the grace of God in truth” and never take that for granted.
And give thanks for what God is doing in those around you. Paul praised God when he heard how God was working in other places, but sometimes we are blind to all of the ways God is at work. Sometimes this is because we are just in our own world, or sometimes it’s because we only choose to focus on the negative. We see everything that is wrong, but can’t see what God is doing.
Paul was never shy about seeing and confronting problems, but he always had an eye for seeing the good. Make sure you see the good things God is doing in people’s lives, that you give thanks to God, and that you speak words of encouragement to those around you. There are few ways you can bless a brother or sister more than to say, “I can see the work of God in your life, and I praise God for it.”
Give thanks like Paul. Second…
Grow like the Colossians.
It’s evident in this passage that the gospel was changing these people’s lives. I want to emphasize that this all began for them and it begins for us by believing on Christ for salvation. If you have never been saved, I hope that you will see the grace of God in truth today, and put your trust in it for salvation.
And then for the rest of us, we need to grow in the very things that characterized this church. Are you cultivating a growing faith? A vibrant Christianity requires not just saving faith but a life of faith. Don’t walk by sight; walk by faith.
And closely related to that is that we must work hard to see the hope of eternity and to make sure that this vision controls how we live. Live your life in the Word, set your mind on things above, and live for eternity.
And then be someone who is known for loving all the saints. Come to church every week determined to get to know people, to bless them by your words, and to serve them as you learn about needs. Folks, the NT is clear that a professing Christian who does not love by his deeds, should have no assurance of salvation. Jesus said that the entire biblical ethic hangs on loving your neighbor.
Give thanks like Paul, and grow like the Colossians, and finally…
Preach like Epaphras.
This text is clear that the gospel is powerful, and it is the only way man can ever truly know the grace of God. Therefore, be encouraged that God is going to work as you share the gospel. Look at the people around you believing that God can save them. And then tell them that there is grace in Christ.
The gospel is powerful, and it is working all over the world to save sinners and transform lives, and so give thanks, grow, and preach.