Following a short and pretty standard introduction (vv. 1-2), Paul begins this letter to the church at Colossea in thanksgiving. Here is the text (bear in mind that the entirety of verse 3-8 is one sentence in the greek) from the NET Bible:
We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave – a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf – who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
The key questions we will be asking tonight are these:
- What does Paul mean by “hope that is laid up for you in heaven”? Why couldn’t he say “hope that is laid up for you on the moon”?
- Why does Paul bring Epaphras in to the introduction?
Starting with question number one, here are my thoughts:
Hope, as Paul is talking about it here, is communicated to us in the gospel. The gospel is said to have “come to you” and to be “bearing fruit and growing” “in the entire world” “from the first day you heard it”. What is more, later on Paul will instruct the Colossians to “keep seeking things above, where Christ is” (3:1), leading me to believe that the current object of hope under discussion is none other than Christ himself. He is the hope and the gospel who has come to them, and he is the intended fulfillment of all God’s original intentions for mankind that Paul hints at. Check out Genesis 1:27-28:
God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God [cf. Col. 1:15] he created them,
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”
Jesus is the gospel who is seated in heaven and who will return. He is the perfection and image of everything God ever intended for mankind to be.
The answer to the second question takes just a little less explaining, for in Epaphras we see a true Christ-follower whose identification with Christ has led him to do as Christ does. Jesus (i.e. the gospel) has come to the Colossians–in to enemy territory no less (Col. 1:21)–and Epaphras has served to bring him there. As the rest of the book will expand upon, Christ is all and in all, so that he goes with those who have him living in them (1:27). As such, Paul includes Epaphras because in him we see a clear example of one who’s life in Christ is so real that his presence communicates Jesus’ presence and becomes a conduit for his life to flow to those around him.