Paul's Thanksgiving Prayer — Colossians 1:3–14

Paul's opening prayer in Colossians is a model prayer. There are five aspects of Paul's prayer that we can incorporate in our own prayers.

Paul's Thanksgiving Prayer — Colossians 1:3–14
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash
Sermon was delivered during the Sunday Worship Service at Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill on June 19, 2023.
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0. Introduction:

  • Travel in time with me. The year is 60 AD. About 100 miles east of Ephesus on the outskirts of the Roman Empire there lies the Lycus Valley, a region like the Bay Area.
  • There were two main cities there: Hieropolis (Oakland) and Laodicea (SF).
  • There was also a third city. A much smaller city. Colossae (Pleasant Hill).
  • And in Colossae, because of the external culture and philosophy that threaten its church, the founding pastor tells the church he is leaving them for Rome to find the Apostle Paul.
  • For months, the Colossians received no word. Finally, one man arrives, bringing three letters from the apostle Paul. One letter was for the church in Laodicea. But two letters were addressed to the church at Colossae. One was a personal letter to Philemon. The second was for the entire church, the letter which you are holding today.
  • And picture the Colossians as they huddled together to read this letter.
  • Imagine their response. "The Apostle Paul knows about us. Paul is thinking of us. Paul is writing to us. Paul is praying for us."
  • This letter opens with Paul's prayer for the Colossians.
  • We learn how to pray through models like Moses, David, and Jeremiah. Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a model prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Likewise, in the opening of this letter, Paul prays a prayer that can be modeled by each and every one of us.
  • And as we examine Paul's prayer for the Colossians, we will identify five aspects that can be incorporated into our own prayers.
  • The first feature of Paul's prayer is found in verse 3.
  • Paul's prayer is a thankful prayer.

1. A Thankful Prayer (v.3)

"We always thank God...when we pray for you." (v.3)

  • Notice the plural pronouns. It's actually not just Paul praying.
  • Because Paul later switches from the plural to the singular in 1:23–24, we can assume when Paul uses the plural pronoun "we" here, Paul is not alone. There are others praying alongside Paul together giving thanks.
  • (1) Timothy, (2) Paul's other companions, and (3) the church in Rome.

To whom does Paul give thanks? "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

  • Christians are to pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.
  • "One of [Jesus's] disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name." (Luke 11:1–2)
  • Matthew 6:9, Jesus says, "Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven."
  • Notice that in verse 3, Paul already introduces God the Son with His full title: "our Lord Jesus Christ."

What is the frequency of this thanksgiving? "We always thank God...when we pray for you."

  • The adverbial participle of time, "when we pray," denotes an action that is simultaneous with the main verb.
  • In other words, "whenever we pray for you, Colossians, we always give thanks."
  • Paul's thanksgiving is independent of his circumstances. Paul is incarcerated, under house arrest, in chains; yet Paul gives thanks.

Example: Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11–19)

  • Jesus meets ten lepers who cried to Him for mercy. Jesus told them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
  • One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned to Jesus and fell on his face at Jesus' feet to give Him thanks.
  • Remember what Jesus said. "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?"


How much more should we give thanks to God for our blessings?

2. An Informed Prayer (v.4–5a)

What prompts Paul's prayer of thanksgiving? "Since we heard" (v.4a)

  • Paul had likely never visited the church at Colossae.
  • Rather, he was informed and received a report when Epaphras traveled from Colossae to Rome, a trip that likely spanned over 1,000 miles.
  • What was Paul's response when he heard about the Colossian believers?
    • It immediately propelled Paul to pray. "from the day we heard" (v.9a)

First, he heard about their faith in God the Son, Christ Jesus.

Second, he heard about "the love that [they had] for all the saints."

  • Genuine Christian faith is always accompanied by true Christian love.
  • This is not just a general love for a collective group.
    • In the south, one may say, "I love y'all."
    • A person may say, I love my church.
  • Rather, the saints at Colossae had a love for every single one of all the saints.
    • "The Colossians had a love for all the saints, all of God's people (without exception)."
    • Lovable and unlovable. They loved everyone. In verse 8, Paul further describes that their love was "in the Spirit." (Capital S)
    • John 13:34–35: Jesus exhorts us to love as He loved.
    • A Christian loves without exception, even to those difficult to love.

Notice the reason and the basis for the Colossians' faith and love: "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." (v.5a)

  • You have faith and you love all the saints because of the hope you have.
  • Hope strengthens and intensifies faith and love. Knowing what God has in store for us in heaven in the future motivates us to be steadfast in faith and to practice sacrificial love. Hope produces stronger faith and deeper love.

In practice, to have informed prayers, we need two things.

  • First, we need to be receptive to hearing about the needs of others.
  • Second, we need to be transparent about our own needs. [Ex. OT saints]


Are your prayers informed? Are you both receptive and transparent?

3. A Gospel-centric Prayer (v.5b–8)

"Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel" (v.5b)

  • Paul begins to define the gospel here in the 5th verse of the first chapter.
    • It is "the word of the truth."
    • It is the "message of the truth."
    • It is the "proclamation of the truth."
  • The adjective "truth" describes the quality of the noun.
    • In other words, the gospel is the true word. The gospel is the true message. The gospel is true preaching.
  • The gospel is not self-evident. It cannot be discovered by oneself. It must be brought to you, delivered to you, revealed to you, preached to you. The gospel must be heard.
  • And we read that the Colossians hear the gospel through Epaphras

"which has come to you,...since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant." (v.6–7a)

  • Epaphras has quickly become my hero, and let me tell you why.
    • Epaphras was likely converted in Ephesus while Paul was ministering there in Acts 19:10. So he met Paul, heard the gospel, and was saved.
    • Realizing that Paul would likely not travel another 100 miles east to his hometown of Colossae, Epaphras realized he would need to return to his hometown in the Lycus Valley to bring the good news to his family, his friends, and his fellow countrymen.
      • Epaphras is described in 4:12 as "one of you."
    • But he didn't stop there. Epaphras the country boy goes to the big cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea to preach the good news and continue the gospel ministry there. (Col 4:13)
      • And when Epaphras leaves Colossae for Rome, he leaves behind Archippus to lead the flock while he is away as evidenced in Colossians 4:17 and Philemon 2.
  • The point is this. Epaphras did not have any formal training except that he was entrusted with the gospel after receiving it from Paul.
    • No formal Christian education. No seminary.
    • Like the Samaritan woman in John 4.
      • After her encounter with Jesus midday at the well, she drops everything, leaving behind her water jar and she goes to her town to testify about Jesus as the promised Messiah.
      • "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony." (John 4:39)
    • This is why in verse 7, Paul can describe Epaphras as "our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ."
  • Notice Paul describes the gospel "has come to you, as indeed in the whole world."
    • here the phrase "as indeed" means "just as also" or "in the same way too"
    • Just as the gospel was preached and received in Colossae, it is being preached and received in a similar manner (in the same way) in the entire world.
  • Therefore the gospel is not dependent on the qualifications of the messenger.
    • You don't need a formal education to preach the gospel.
    • You don't need to be the apostle Paul.
    • You don't need to be a pastor.
      • Like the Samaritan woman, like Epaphras, like Archippus, you only need to hear and understand "the grace of God in truth." (v.6b)
  • How can this be? The gospel is the power of God for salvation.
    • "for it is the power of God for salvation" - Romans 1:16
    • That is why the gospel can spread throughout the world, and an increasing number of people are hearing and believing it.
  • Paul was fixated on the work of gospel ministry, and it permeated his prayers.


  • What about you? Are you preoccupied with the gospel?
  • Are you obsessed with the gospel?
  • Are you gripped by the gospel?
  • If so, it will show up in your prayers, and you will be praying for the expansion of the gospel.

4. A Sanctifying Prayer (v.9–12)

"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you." (v.9a)

  • "And so" (v.9a ESV) is understated. One Greek scholar translates this phrase, "this is precisely why." (Moule)
    • "For this reason also" (NASB, LSB)
      • For what reason? Everything Paul had states previously in v. 4– - Because I have been informed by your faith and love which compels me to thank God the Father and because I see that the gospel ministry continues even without my direct contact and involvement, we have not ceased to pray for you.

In these four verses, Paul details the content of his prayers for the Colossians. But first, notice what he does not pray for.

  • He does not pray for the temporal needs of the Colossians.
  • He does not pray that God will improve the politics of the Roman Empire.
  • He tells the Colossians, "Remember my chains" (Col 4:18), but he never asks that his chains be removed.
  • So then, what does Paul pray for?

"asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him." (v.9b–10a)

This is a sanctifying prayer. One pastor says, "Paul prayed for souls more than body." (Rick Holland: How to Pray for Fellow Believers 2/5/2017)

First, Paul prays for knowledge that comes from God.

  • "you may be filled" - the active agent who fills us with knowledge is God.
  • The content of the filling is the "knowledge of His will."
  • And the "knowledge of His will" consists of "all spiritual wisdom and understanding."
  • Paul is praying "that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will by having spiritual wisdom and discernment in full measure."
  • This "spiritual wisdom" is divine and comes from the Spirit: capital S.

Second, Paul prays for godly living.

  • He does not just pray for knowledge. "Knowledge by itself puffs up." (1 Cor 8:1)
  • "so as" or "so that" (NASB, NIV) connotes purpose.
  • He prays that the Colossians have knowledge SO THAT the Colossians will "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord." (Walking worthy [image of life conduct] is not a Greek but Jewish imagery or expression)
  • "I...urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4:1–3)
  • And why are we to walk worthy.
    • The phrase "fully pleasing to him" actually modifies "walk worthy."
    • Paul prays that the Colossians walk worthy SO THAT they may be "fully pleasing to him."
  • We are to please God in all respects. We seek to please God in everything. We do all things for the glory of God.

In Paul's prayer, we see four features of "walking worthy."

  1. "bearing fruit in every good work" (v.10)

  2. "increasing in the knowledge of God" (v.10)

    • "increasing" downplays the intensity of this verb. "growing" (NIV)
    • The verb denotes "extensive growth, intensive growth" (TDNT)
    • "multiplying in the full knowledge of God" (LSB)
    • "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25)
  3. "being strengthened in all power" (v.11)

    • Literally, "being empowered with all power."
    • We are strengthened to attain "all endurance and patience." Endurance and steadfastness to persevere in every circumstance. Patience to love all people, even those that are difficult.
    • "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)
  4. "giving thanks to the Father" (v.11)

  • The city of Colossae did not last much longer. Eusebius records a great earthquake that severely damaged the cities of the Lycus Valley in AD 64. Laodicea, by its size and wealth, was able to rebuild. Colossae could not.
  • Paul doesn't discount or brush off our earthly needs and trials.
  • He does primarily focus his prayers on the spiritual welfare of the saints, so he prays a sanctifying prayer.

5. An Exonerated Prayer (v.13–14)

"He [God the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (v.13–14)

  • God has delivered us. God has saved us. God has rescued us.
  • God has freed us. God has exonerated us.
  • What does the word exonerate mean? (American Heritage Dictionary)
    • To free from blame.
    • To free from a responsibility, obligation, or task.
    • To unload; to disburden.
  • Through Christ, we have been set free.
    • "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36)
  • Through Christ, our burdens are released.
    • Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest...For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
  • In Christ, we have redemption.
    • What is redemption? A ransom payment to secure the freedom of a prisoner.
    • Example: Hosea marries Gomer, a prostitute. Gomer deserved death, but Hosea redeems her with silver and barley. (Hosea 3)
    • "knowing that you were ransomed...not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ." (1 Pet 1:18–19)
  • In Christ, our sins are forgiven. "That if you confess..." (Romans 10:9)
  • In summation, in Christ alone, we have been exonerated. Therefore, we pray from the posture of Christ's exonerated.

6. Conclusion:

  • Story of Pastor Hsu: a spiritual father's prayer.