the weblog of Alan Knox

Colossians – Prayer Part 1

Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 in scripture | 4 comments

Colossians – Prayer Part 1

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I also discussed the letter’s salutation which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting.

In the next two posts, I’m going to briefly discuss the final part of the salutation: the prayer. The prayer easily divides into two parts: Part 1 (Colossians 1:3-8) and Part 2 (Colossians 1:9-14). This post concerns the first part of the prayer:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 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, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it 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. (Colossians 1:3-8 ESV)

While it makes sense to divide the prayer up into several sentences in English, it is actually one long sentence. The prayer (both parts actually) is presented as from both Paul and Timothy (“we”), while a later part of the letter shifts the first person (“I”) and is probably specifically from Paul (see Colossians 1:24 for an example).

While praying for the Colossians, Paul and Timothy thank God because they have heard two things about them: 1) They heard about their faith (trust) in Jesus Christ, and 2) They heard about their love for all of God’s children (“saints,” “holy ones,” “those set apart by God”). This is the second time (of many) that the authors mention the faith of the recipients, and the first time (of many) that they mention their love.

Paul and Timothy state that the Colossian’s faith and love are a result of the hope that they now have after hearing the gospel. However, we should probably understand this is more than just hearing (“you have heard before”), because the gospel is producing fruit and increasing among the Colossians just as it is around the world. Once again, the authors’ mention of producing fruit and increasing/growing is the first of several instances in this letter.

Why did the gospel give them hope and why is it producing fruit and increasing among the Colossians? Paul and Timothy say that this is happening among the believers in Colossae because when they heard the gospel, they also understood the grace of God.

The Colossians heard the gospel and began to understand the grace of God from Epaphras, one of Paul’s co-workers (“fellow servant” or “slave together”). This same Epaphras told Paul and Timothy about the Colossians’ response to the gospel and the grace of God.

Here are a few points to consider when thinking about this part of Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians:

First, Paul and Timothy were prompted to pray for the Colossians because of their faith and love. Although they had never been to Colossae, they had heard about them from Epaphras, and had probably witnessed how much Epaphras prayed for the Colossians as well (see Colossians 4:12). They were not prompted to pray because of problems in Colossae, but because the Colossians were growing in faith and love.

Second, the term “gospel” is used interchangeably (in apposition) with the phrase “word of truth” or “message of truth.” This may help us understand what Paul means when he uses “word/message,” “truth,” or “word/message of truth” later in this letter and in other letters.

Third, Paul and Timothy assume that understanding the gospel and the grace of God will produce fruit. I think we will see what they mean by “fruit” as we continue to read the letter. Further, they also expect that those who understand the gospel and the grace of God will work toward increasing the spread of the gospel.

Finally, Epaphras is a very important figure in this letter, even though he is not one of the authors. Epaphras shows up in Colossians and Philemon (Philemon 1:23). It is also possible that Epaphras is the same person who is called Epaphroditus in Philippians (Philippians 2:25 and Philippians 4:18). The Colossians, at least, must have thought very highly of Epaphras.

Do you have anything to add to my study?


4 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-5-2011

    Happened on your site via 2 links from the House Church Connections links. I appreciate reading your probings very much and am engaged in deep Colossians study myself–ours is in a small-group or house church setting, and is communally exploratory although I do most of the advance studying.

    So far, my investigations line up with yours. We’d spent 8 weeks in Philemon previously, and that that study can of course inform Colossians.

    So far, I would question your focus on the promptings to prayer. Could you be making a little too much out of that? Although Paul makes a habit of affirming and had obviously heard of the Colossians’ faith and love, I think it’s clear that he had deep concerns, as well. “Prayers” in Pauline literature function as literary “markers,” so to speak, and I think there can be more at work than meets the eye.

    I like your emphasis on gospel and “word of truth,” etc. There is a theme of the spreading of the good news here, and it matters perhaps in a different way from the way it matters in Galatians since Paul had never been to Colossae.

    Another theme appears to be death — connecting such things as Jesus the firstborn from out of the dead ones” and “the blood of His cross,” “reconciliation through death,” and the clear symbolism of the act of being immersed(2:12).

    Do you work with chiastic structures in your study? Philemon was so crystal-clear in this regard, but Colossians seems more complex.

    I’ll hope to see/share more as we both study through….

  2. 2-5-2011

    Brian,

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for the comment! I appreciate the feedback.

    My focus on the promptings of Paul and Timothy’s prayer comes from the grammatical structure of the text. I’d like to hear more about why you think I focused on this too much.

    Chiasm… very interesting question. I think, if you look, you can find chiasm anywhere. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was the author’s intention. Instead, I prefer to look for intentional markers. If those point to chiasm, great. If not, that’s great too.

    -Alan

  3. 2-5-2011

    Alan, I probably commented too quickly, and also without necessary explanation, on the cause for Paul’s (and Timothy’s?) prayers. I guess I would just ask you why you believe you can say, “Paul and Timothy were prompted to pray for the Colossians because of their faith and love” as though that’s the only impetus. Since “pray” is a textual marker so often in Paul, I’m not sure he meant to be saying, “We thank God for you when we pray for you, and here is precisely the reason, and the only reason, why we do that.” That’s probably not what you were trying to say, either, though.

    As for chiasm, I became so utterly convinced of its presence in Philemon, and in Mark a year or so ago, that I do look for it more in this next study. I don’t think it’s the end-all analytical tool, and as I said, I think the Colossians text tends to be more complex than simple chiasms. There is more overlap, for instance.

    I liked what one author had to say about chiasm in terms of authorial intent, or lack of it: the gist was that it’s not a question so much of whether Paul thought consciously in chiastic structures; it’s more an evidence of the natural rhythm of thought of the day.

  4. 2-6-2011

    Brian,

    I read over my discussion of this prayer again. I didn’t write that the Colossians love and faith were the only impetus for Paul and Timothy’s praying. But, the authors only tell us of these reasons in this particular prayer. Remember, at this time, I’m examining the text as it is written. Later, I’ll talk about other possible reasons for the authors to write this letter. But, I think it is important to start with what is actually written.

    -Alan

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Colossians – Prayer Part 2 | The Assembling of the Church - [...] parts: Part 1 (Colossians 1:3-8) and Part 2 (Colossians 1:9-14). I’ve already discussed the first part of the prayer, …
  2. Colossians – Travel plans, greetings, and final exhortations | The Assembling of the Church - [...] beginning of the study Preliminary outline Salutation (author, recipients, greeting) Prayer Part 1 Prayer Part 2 Jesus’ preeminence over …