Last time we studied the timing and significance of the thanks Paul and Timothy gave for the Colossians. Now we begin to study why they thanked God, today focusing on Colossians 1:4 — "having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which you have for all the holy ones."
What in a congregation would bring Paul joy, and lead him to give thanks? Expressions of honest doubt, social programs, massive numbers, popularity with the world, artistic worship? Hardly. Paul gave thanks to God because of two signs of life he saw in the Colossian church, two particular species of spiritual fruit: faith and love.
- The Word of God gives birth to faith (Romans 10:17)
- We are rescued from the power and penalty of sin through faith (John 3:16)
- We live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
- We continue to please God by faith (Hebrews 11:6)
What is faith? Faith is never just a free-floating quality, valuable in and of itself regardless of its object. Biblical faith is all about the object. Biblical faith, as I recently discussed in another connection, involves at least two fundamental elements:
- A word from God
- Personal embrace of that word, involving the whole man
Nor can we imagine, in our most feverish hallucinations, that Paul meant anything like, "Faith in Christ Jesus — whatever you mean by those two words." Paul is concerned only with what God means by those two words. He would have no part in reinventing, or creating "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4). I don't think you'd ever catch him speaking of a resurrection-denier as having passionate faith in and love for Jesus.
As Paul will go on to teach, forgiveness, redemption, love, life, real wisdom ─ everything of spiritual value — is in the real Christ Jesus. So Paul rejoices that they have come into possession of all that by believing in that Christ.
This, too, is why Paul can call them "faithful," as he did earlier. Clearly, they are being troubled and tempted by false teaching. But at present they as a church still hold to the real Christ Jesus in faith. If they lose that, they will have nothing.
" in this letter. This is a significant fact. The false teaching was evidently splitting the Church up into the "haves" and the "have-nots." Paul rejoices that the Colossians, in their faithfulness, still embrace all their fellow-saints in love.
When Paul speaks of "all the holy ones," he lightly touches on the fact that all who have trusted in Christ, without exception, are holy. (For a study of the aspects of holiness, see part 11.) This is positional holiness, a holiness all Christians share by definition. Everyone who trusts in Christ is set apart to God's ownership and service in Christ, and is therefore positionally holy in Him.
The common translation "saint" is unfortunate. Nobody today understands it without specific instruction, and we have this utterly unbiblical idea (thanks to Rome) that there are special believers who deserve to be called saints, in distinction from all the other believers. Paul does not use the word to part believer from believer. Rather, in speaking of "all the holy ones" Paul underlines that which all believers have in common, as well as the love which binds us all together.
What is love? The word agapē is not a magic word. Its richness is not inherent, but comes from the ways it is used. Consider three passages of Scripture:
- Luke 10:29-37
- Galatians 5:13-16
- 1 John 3:17-18
- Love is not primarily an emotion, a mood, friendship, or just a nice thing to say
- Love is a personal commitment to pursuing the highest good of another, born of a mental attitude and expressed through action
The health of any local church depends on Christians growing in love for one another. True, the local church is the place of learning. But it is also the place of practising what we learn. That practice must involve learning of and meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters in the assembly in love.
So the false teaching was troubling the Colossians, but it had not yet parted them as a church from Christ, and it had not yet parted them as believers from one another. Notice the rather emphatic phrasing: "which you have [i.e. which you still maintain] for all the holy ones." They were still fundamentally accepting one another, loyal to one another, and striving to meet each other's needs. The false teaching threatened this. In time, were it embraced, it would destroy it. But as of yet, the bond held sure, in real Christian unity.