A. Greetings (1:1–2).
1:1–2. In all but his two earliest epistles (1 and 2 Thes.) and his personal letter to the Philippians, Paul began by designating himself as an apostle (see the chart, “Paul’s Introductions to His Epistles,” near Rom. 1:1–7). He was not one of the 12 Apostles (Acts 1:21–26) who were with Christ from the beginning of His earthly ministry (Acts 1:22; Luke 1:2; John 15:27). Nevertheless he did see the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8–9), and he did possess special miraculous powers given to authenticate apostles (2 Cor. 12:12; cf. Heb. 2:3–4).
Timothy was with Paul here as he often was (cf. 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1). Timothy had a Gentile father (Acts 16:1) but his mother and grandmother were godly Jewesses (2 Tim. 1:5) from whom he had learned the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul picked up Timothy on his second missionary journey at Lystra where the “brothers … spoke well of him” (Acts 16:2). Paul spent much time discipling Timothy and wrote two of his last letters to him.
Paul addressed the Colossian believers as the holy and faithful brothers in Christ. This phrase marks them as holy people, chosen and set apart for God. It parallels the Ephesian introduction to “the saints … the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). Paul’s characteristic greeting, grace and peace includes charis (“grace”), a variation of the normal Greek salutation, chaire (“Greetings”; cf. Luke 1:28). Chaire probably suggested the similar-sounding but richer charis. His greeting also includes the normal Jewish salutation, “peace.” So Paul wished for them God’s favor (grace) and a healthy condition of life (peace).
B. Thanksgiving (1:3–8).
1:3–4. Giving continual thanks to God was characteristic of Paul’s prayers (Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 1:6; etc.), though he omitted this praise in Galatians and 2 Corinthians. Here God is recognized as the cause of goodness in His people. This thanks, Paul said, is rendered when we pray. And thanksgiving was given because Paul had heard (from Epaphras, Col. 1:7; cf. 4:12) about their growing faith in Christ Jesus and their love … for all the saints. Prayer here is the broader, more inclusive act of worship including thanksgiving and intercession (cf. Matt. 6:7; Acts 16:25).
1:5. Paul thanked God for their faith and love that spring from … hope.
This trilogy of virtue—faith, love, and hope—is a favorite of Paul’s (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Thes. 1:3) and Peter’s (1 Peter 1:3, 5, 22). Faith is the soul looking upward to God; love looks outward to others; hope looks forward to the future. Faith rests on the past work of Christ; love works in the present; and hope anticipates the future. Even though “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6), and “hope does not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:5), nevertheless “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). The Colossians’ love extended to “all the saints” (Col. 1:4), or all believers, probably not only at Colosse but everywhere (cf. 1 Thes. 1:7–8 for a similar commendation).
Faith and love “spring from” (dia, lit., are “on account of”) “hope,” confidence in what God will do in the future. This confidence led to a greater trust in God and a deeper love for others. This confident expectation of Christ’s return, called “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), influences believers’ conduct (cf. 1 Thes. 4:13–18; 1 John 3:3).
This hope is stored up … in heaven because Christ, the essence of this hope, is there. Without Christ’s Ascension to heaven (Acts 1:10–11) and His present intercession there on behalf of believers (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1), they would have no hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:16–19). This message is the Word of truth (cf. Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18), the gospel as Paul defines it here and elsewhere (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1–3; Rom. 10:9–10).
1:6. Paul thanked God because the gospel was spreading all over the world. In fact, in an obvious hyperbole, Paul wrote in verse 23 that the gospel was being “proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (cf. Rom. 1:8). But Paul stressed not only the universality of the gospel but also its practicality, for it was producing fruit and growing. As a tree bears fruit and grows in size, so the gospel produces spiritual “fruit” in believers’ lives (cf. “the fruit of the Spirit,” Gal. 5:22–23; “the fruit of righteousness,” Phil. 1:11) and spreads to and influences others (cf. the same words “bearing fruit” and “growing” in Col. 1:10). Heresies (such as the one at Colosse) are local and harmful; but truth is universal and helpful. One of the unmistakable characteristics of the true gospel is God’s grace in all its truth. Some preach a “different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6–7). This is because it is a gospel of grace plus works, or faith plus works. But the true gospel is one of grace alone (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7).
1:7. The Colossians learned it, the gospel, from Epaphras who apparently founded the church at Colosse (cf. 4:12). Paul called him a dear fellow servant, a humble description from a great apostle, and a faithful minister of Christ, as opposed, no doubt, to those unfaithful ones who here and elsewhere were disturbing the faith of God’s flock (cf. 2 Cor. 11:15; 2 Peter 2:1–3, 12–19). Paul also called Tychicus “a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” (Col. 4:7). Epaphras was in Rome with Paul, for Paul called him “my fellow prisoner” (Phile. 23). “Epaphras” is a shortening of “Epaphroditus,” referred to in Philippians 2:25 and 4:18. These could be the same person or different persons since both names were common.
Epaphras, said Paul, ministered on our behalf, probably as Paul’s representative (cf. Phil. 2:25; 4:18 for a similar situation). This implies, of course, that Paul had not visited Colosse himself (cf. Col. 2:1). But even though Epaphras was sent by Paul, he was primarily a “minister of Christ.”
1:8. Not only did Epaphras carry the good news of Christ to Colosse, but he also brought back to prisoner Paul the good news about their love in the Spirit for Christ. Believers are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in them (Rom. 8:9). Thus their “love … for all the saints” (Col. 1:4; cf. v. 5) stemmed from the indwelling Holy Spirit. Elsewhere Paul urged that by “the love of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:30) believers manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22).
Geisler, N. L. (1985). Colossians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 669–670). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.