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Colossians 1:3-4 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:53 mins 44 secs

The Prayer of Thankfulness. Colossians 1:3-4

What we see now, as we do in most of Paul's epistles, is that he begins with an opening prayer. In that prayer we learn a number of principles related to prayer which we will be studying over the next several weeks. The principle that we see as we begin is on gratitude. Paul begins almost every one of his prayers at the beginning of his epistles with a focus on thankfulness. There is a great lesson for us to look at these prayers and find out what it is that Paul is thankful for. 

Colossians 1:3 NASB "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." Again we have a little textual variant in some of the ancient MSS. In the Majority Text which is similar to but not identical to the text that was used to translated the KJV and the NKJV inserts the word "and" between God and the word "Father," so it reads "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." In the NIV and NASB and others which have their translations based on what is usually referred to as the Critical Text then the "and" is not there. The insertion of "and" or the omission of it doesn't change the meaning or significance or any doctrines whatsoever.

"We give thanks" is the Greek verb eucharisteo [e)uxaristew] which is a present active indicative. The present tense has the idea of ongoing action. This is reinforced by the fact that he uses the word "always," and in other introductions he will not only use the word "always" but sometimes he will say, "We always pray for you without ceasing." This emphasizes the fact that prayer is not something that is just sort of an extra thing in our spiritual life but that it should be near the very center of it. That sad thing is that too many of us don't give prayer enough attention—not only personal prayer but also prayer with others. One of the things that we see here is that this is a first person plural verb meaning that is not saying I pray for you, he is saying we pray for you. What he means by that "we" in terms of the immediate context is the apostle Paul and Timothy. He is saying that we pray, and on a daily basis Paul would probably meet with not only Timothy but others of these friends and associates that were with him and they would spend time praying together for all of these different churches, all of the people they knew, and that was a priority.

The spiritual life is not just a solitary existence where we are concerned about our own little narcissistic spiritual life. The spiritual life in Christianity has to do with the body of Christ. It is getting outside of ourselves and ministering to others. So we need to get back to a time when we realize that it is important to get together with other believers and pray.

In Romans chapter one we see that Paul is thankful and expresses his gratitude for the reputation that the believers in Rome had developed. They didn't just have one church, usually they met in different locations, some were small and some were large, but they had developed a reputation. Their faith—not just the doctrine that they believed but the application of the doctrine that they believed—and the impact that they had locally in Rome was known throughout the world. Romans 1:8 NASB "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world." He uses a first person singular there and he doesn't include anyone else with him. [9] "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the {preaching of the} gospel of His Son, is my witness {as to} how unceasingly I make mention of you." The word "unceasingly" is the Greek word adialeiptos [a)dialeiptwj] which is the same word that he uses in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." It has the idea of something that goes on continuously.

The next time Paul mentions prayer for someone is in Romans 16:3, 4 where he expresses his gratitude for something that is significant that we know nothing about. Prisca and Aquila risked their lives for him. So he is thankful that they did something in some way in order to help him.

1 Corinthians 1:4, 5 NASB "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge." He is thankful, first of all, that the grace of God has been given to the Corinthians believers. As messed up, confused and as carnal as the Corinthian church was Paul nevertheless emphasizes that they were recipients of God's grace; they are believers. We see again and again that he is addressing his prayers to God the Father. He doesn't pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, he is expressing his thanks to God the Father through Jesus Christ or in the name of Jesus Christ. The "in Him" is not instrumental; it is not "by way of," it is the positional idea of being in Christ.

The letter to the Ephesians was written at much the same time as the epistle to the Colossians. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon are the four prison epistles and were written in that two-year period of time when the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome. It was a time when he had various men with him—Timothy, Silas and others. In Ephesians he is alone; he does not mention anyone else. He just says, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." His prayer down to verse 15 is a first person singular prayer. Ephesians 1:15 NASB "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus [their salvation] which {exists} among you and your love for all the saints [their application]." We see that he emphasizes two things: their faith in Christ which, strictly speaking, would refer to salvation, but it also implies their ongoing trust in Jesus in their post-salvation life. Their love is the application towards others. This is an indication of their spiritual growth and spiritual maturity because there is an overt expression of genuine care and concern for all of the saints.

On the one hand Paul is thankful for their initial faith in Christ (and by implication their ongoing trust in Him), their love for all the saints, but he prays in terms of intercession that they would continue to grow in their knowledge and wisdom and that God the Father would give them an understanding of who He is and an understanding of the Word. Ephesians 1:17 NASB "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him."

The next mention of thanks in Ephesians is in 5:20 NASB "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." A command to us as believers. Prayer is not just something that is a private affair in the life of a believer's spiritual life. It is part of our community worship, the worship of the corporate body of Jesus Christ. We are to be praying together.

There are about 75 first person singular verbs in the epistle to the Philippians. In contrast, Colossians which is also four chapters but a little shorter has fewer than 15 first person singular verbs. There are only three first person plural verbs (we) in Philippians and those are all within a few set verses where Paul is talking about what "we" as a body of believers have in Christ. Philippians is probably the most personal letter of Paul to any of the congregations. It is really an expanded thank-you note because they have sacrificed to send a significant financial contribution to help Paul out while he is under house arrest in Rome. He is thanking them for their participation and fellowship in the gospel ministry. It is a personal note and that is why he leaves Timothy out.

Philippians 1:3 NASB "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you." We get the idea from the way Paul uses this phrase that every time he thinks about the congregation he is praying. Maybe just bullet prayers at time and at other times he can be pictured getting down on his knees with Timothy and the others and having a prayer meeting. [4] "always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, [5] in view of your participation [koinonia/koinwnia: participation or partnership] in the gospel from the first day until now." They are financially contributing to the gospel, to its ministry. But it is not just the financial aspect, it is that they're involved in evangelism and the gospel ministry within Philippi and in their own area.

1 and 2 Thessalonians were written from Corinth during Paul's second missionary journey and Timothy and Silas are with him there. They are included. There are a number of places where he uses the first person plural pronoun in both of those epistles. We see it in his prayer. 1 Thessalonians 1:2 NASB "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention {of you} in our prayers; [3] constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father." What really matters is their faith (ongoing trust in God), their labour of love which is their Christian service which is motivated by their love for God the Father, and their waiting for the return of the Lord. They are waiting in confident expectation.

In 2:13 he expands this. NASB "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted {it} not {as} the word of men, but {for} what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. [14] For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they {did} from the Jews." He was thankful because they welcomed the Word of God; they were positive to God's Word. When they needed to be in Bible class they were in Bible class. They wanted to read the Bible and to know what God had to say.

2 Thessalonians 1:2 NASB "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [3] We [Paul, Silas and Timothy] ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is {only} fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows {ever} greater." Their prayer is based on the spiritual growth of those they are praying for, and again he is focusing on that application to others. [4] "therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure." They didn't whine about all the bad things that were happening to them but they viewed that as just a greater opportunity to see God work, to trust God and to advance to spiritual maturity. [5] "{This is} a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering."

Again he mentions thanks in 2:13 NASB "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification [experiential sanctification or spiritual growth] by the Spirit and faith in the truth." In the church age spiritual growth comes through the work and dependency upon God the Holy Spirit—and belief in the truth. It is both the Spirit of God and the Word of God [truth] that is the basis for spiritual growth and spiritual advance.

Philemon 1:4 NASB "I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, [5] because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints." There again is the emphasis on faith in Christ and then the expression of faith, love, concern, help and aid for other believers. [6] "{and I pray} that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake." Again it is based on Knowledge—knowledge of the Word, it just doesn't happen by waving a magic wand or hoping it would be so.

There is one passage that emphasizes ingratitude. This describes what happens in the pagan, unbelieving segment of humanity. Romans 1:20-22 NASB "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." Arrogance and ingratitude go hand in hand. The core of arrogance is self-absorption. You can't be grateful and thankful if you are self-absorbed. "Professing to be wise, they became fools."

Colossians 1:3 NASB "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." Prayer is directed to God the Father.

Summary

1.  Paul always prays to God the Father, through or in the name of Jesus Christ. He never directs his prayers to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Some people are just ambiguous in their prayers and they pray to the Lord. The Lord can be the Father or the Son. And sometimes hymns are a little ambiguous.

2.  When Paul is writing and is with someone and includes them he almost always includes them in the prayers. They are praying together. In seven of Paul's thirteen epistles he expresses thanks for something in the life of those he is addressing.

3.  It is important for us to think through gratitude. What are we grateful for? We forget what we have; we are so focused on what we don't have and are trying to get that we forget to be truly, genuinely and soul-deep grateful for every little thing that God has given us.

There are a number of psalms that have thanksgiving elements, some psalms are thanksgiving psalms: Psalms 30; 32; 34; 40:1-11; 92; 116; 118; 138. These are individual thanksgiving psalms.

Psalms 65; 67; 75; 107; 124 are communal thanksgiving psalms. That is, the community of Israel would come together and sing these psalms in the worship in the temple.

What we see in the opening part of Colossians is a focus on gratitude. In terms of translation, when  Paul says "We give thanks" the direction of the thanks is to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The KJV puts the "always" on the other side of "praying," which is a participle, but the "always" is really an adverb that modifies the main verb and it should be translated "we always give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Then that word "praying" is a temporal participle that should be translated "when we pray for you." So the main thought is "we give thanks when we pray for you." The prayer then is directed to God the Father.

The motivation for that comes out of a causal participle, "Because we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for the saints." Again and again we see these two things together. Prayer is not an option for the believer—not meaning bullet prayers but serious, well-constructed prayers.

William Cooper:

What various hindrances we meet
in coming to the mercy-seat?
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
but wishes to be often there.

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
gives exercise to faith and love,
brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
prayer makes the Christian's armor bright;
and Satan trembles, when he sees
the weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
success was found on Israel's side;
but when through weariness they failed,
that moment Amalek prevailed.

Have you no words? ah, think again,
words flow apace when you complain;
and fill your fellow-creature's ear
with the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
to heaven in supplication sent;
our cheerful song would oftener be,
"Hear what the LORD has done for me."

O Lord, increase our faith and love,
that we may all thy goodness prove,
and gain from thy exhaustless store
the fruits of prayer for evermore.