Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

The church in Colossae was established by Epaphras who worked under Paul’s direction several years before when the apostle spent an extended time in the city of Ephesus during his third missionary journey. Epaphras brought news of the Colossian church to Paul while the apostle was under arrest in Rome. Subsequently, Paul wrote this epistle. The Christians in Colossae were bothered by heretical teaching. This, more than anything else it seems, prompted Paul’s letter. Some in that region were advocating doctrines contrary to the gospel, doctrines that compromised the message of the full atonement made by Jesus Christ.

This letter opens, as you can see, in Paul’s typical style. He identifies himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,” thus emphasizing his authority (v. 1). Paul addresses the believers in this city as “saints and faithful brethren” and he extends grace and peace to them “from God our Father.” Paul heard of their faith, as he says here; he heard that they embraced the gospel and were being delivered from the burden of sin and ignorance. He prayed for them, as he did for so many others. He prayed in thanksgiving, as he mentions here, for the love they were manifesting for other believers (cf. vv. 3, 4), and then he mentions “hope,” which was a concept that would normally be missing from the lives of citizens in this city (v. 5). Indicating just what he means, Paul speaks of hope “laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel …”

When the gospel was presented to these people, they heard of something that transcended their present world and involved their eternal destinies. They heard about their sin and about God’s provision for their sin in Christ; and they heard about the final state of all who trusted this Savior sent from heaven. It was that truth that now resided in their hearts and was giving them a new perspective on their lives here on earth. They now looked forward to what was to come—not as simply an end to misery, but as the beginning of blissful communion with God.

It was in the gospel that such a wonderful message was found; and this gospel that came to them, Paul goes on to say, was accomplishing the same thing “in all the world.” (v. 6) Wherever it is preached, the apostle teaches, the gospel is bearing similar fruit and increasing. This had been the experience of the Colossian believers. The gospel came, they believed, and they had been growing in the faith ever since. In that gospel, Paul explains, they came to understand “the grace of God in truth …” And there we have a key element in the present condition of the Colossians. What they had come to understand was the marvelous doctrine of God’s grace. By grace they learned of their sin, by grace they learned of God’s mercy, by grace they were enabled to repent and trust in the Savior, and by grace they were persevering and growing. It was all of grace. It was all of God. And this gave birth to the hope Paul mentioned before. The Colossians knew that they were on a journey that would take them through this life and into the next life, one of perfection and unimaginable beauty and peace in the presence of God.

This sense of hope was fueled by what the Colossians witnessed in their lives. Paul says that the gospel was “constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” They knew that a change had occurred in their lives; and they knew that they were not the same people since the gospel arrived. They had irrefutable evidence that they were changed people and the changes they saw were desirable changes. This, in turn, fueled their sense of eagerness as they looked to the future. What would God do in them and for them? What more will we come to know and what greater joys will be ours?

We live in a culture where hope is not viewed as an unrealistic concept. But imagine what it would be like to live in a culture steeped in paganism, a culture in which it was commonly believed that the fate of human beings was in the hands of pernicious and temperamental gods. Days were filled with hard labor and life, in general, was unpleasant. You are born, you work and try to get by, and then you die. That’s about it, and that’s what it was like in the first century.

Because of the character of our lives, because of the relatively peaceful and prosperous period in which we live, we don’t realize the full significance of Paul’s recognition of hope in the hearts of these people. Hope was not something that normally characterized people of the first century. Hope is the expectation of future blessing, but in that time, there was very little such expectation because there were no messages being declared that generated hope—not until the gospel came to town, that is.

Epaphras, that co-laborer with Paul, had brought them the good news, Paul says in v. 7. He was a faithful man, Paul testifies. He was the one who, in turn, also brought to Paul this information regarding the transformation of lives in the city of Colossae (v. 8). A people formerly without hope, now were characterized by hope—and it all had to do with the gospel.