Showing Brotherly Love
Colossians 1:1-8
By Paul Robison

The Christians of the first and second centuries had a deep brotherly love for one another. There was a philosopher in Athens who became a Christian in the second century.  He wrote to Emperor Hardrian trying to show him the beauty of Christianity.  Here is a part of that document written about 120 A. D.: "Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.  They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness.  Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows, they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. .... And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial.  And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free.  And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food" (Apology 15, Isn't the early Christians' love for each other amazing?  They took care of widows and orphans, they helped out with members' funerals, they paid bail for those members who were imprisoned, and they fasted themselves if they had no money to provide food for members in need! Do we love each other that much?
Today, another series will begin which involves sermons based on the book of Colossians.  The church was established by two men who heard Paul preach in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).  Those men where Epaphras and Philemon. Epaphras was an evangelist, and Philemon generously opened up his home for the church to meet there. "Colosse was one of three cities located about 100 miles inland from Ephesus.  The other cities were Laodicea and Heirapolis.  This area was a meeting point of East and West because an important trade route passed through there.  At one time, all three cities were growing and prosperous, but gradually Colosse slipped into a second-rate position.  It became what we would call a small town. ... All kinds of philosophies mingled in this ... area, and religious hucksters abounded.  There was a large Jewish [group] at Colosse, and there was a constant influx of new ideas ... It was fertile ground for religious speculations and heresies [and syncretism (mixing elements from several religions to create yet another one). When Colossians was written,] Paul was ... a prisoner in Rome (Acts 28:16; Colossians 4:18). He met a runaway slave named Onesimus who belonged to Philemon, ... [Paul converted Onesimus.]  He then wrote [a] letter to Philemon, asking his friend to forgive Onesimus and receive him back as a brother in Christ.  About the same time, Epaphras showed up in Rome because he needed Paul's help.  Some new [false teachings] were being [preached] in Colosse and were invading the church and creating problems.  So Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians in order to refute these [mistaken] teachings and establish the truth of the Gospel.  Epaphras remained with Paul in Rome [while] Onesimus and Tychicus carried Paul's [letters to the church at Colosse and to Philemon]" (Wiersbe).  Colossians 4:7-8 states: "Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you."  There is one other piece of background information that might be of interest.  Note 2:1: "For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh."  Paul only knew very few people in this congregation, but he still felt much brotherly love towards all the members, and he gives us some ways in the first few verses on how we can show brotherly love as well.
The first verse says: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse."  Paul begins this letter in the typical way that ancient letters began: the sender is mentioned, then those addressed, and then a greeting is given.  Timothy is mentioned as a co-sender, and he might actually have copied the letter while Paul dictated it.  Notice also how Paul calls the members in Colosse "saints" and "faithful brethren".  "Saints" emphasizes their relationship with God since they have been made holy by Him and set apart from the world in order to serve Him.  "Brethren" emphasizes their relationship with other Christians.  But notice also that Paul calls them "faithful" brethren.  This is our first hint that their may be some "unfaithful" brethren who have been led astray by false teachings.  One commentator adds: "Therefore we prefer to see 'faithful' as meaning 'steadfast'.  Thus it would be an early encouragement to be true to Christ in the face of heresy" (Ash).  Notice that Paul cared enough about these Christians that he took up a pen while under house arrest and wrote these brethren to help them.  One way that we can show our brotherly love is this: Write to help!  There's still something special about a written communication.  At Richard Morgan's funeral, it was told that he had polio and was operated on at Children's Hospital when he was in the third grade.  During his recovery, he received get well cards from his classmates.  He kept all those cards in a box all his life.  Those cards had helped Richard at a difficult moment in his life.  Write to help!  Writing takes a little longer than a phone call, but it's usually a little more precise because you can reflect on what you've written.  Seeing something in writing often makes a lasting impression.  Something written can be read again and again.  Write to help!  Some of you here have card ministries.  These good members send out birthday cards, get well cards, and cards of appreciation and encouragement.  What a blessing these short messages are to those who receive them!  These cards and their messages say in a very evident way: "I was thinking about you, and I care about you."  If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one, someone who is struggling, someone who is sick, someone who is discouraged, why not write or e-mail a brief message or share a meaningful Scripture to encourage them or to cheer them up?   Write to help!
Now let's read Paul's greeting in verse 2: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." You may already know that "Grace" was a typical greeting among the Greeks, and "Peace" was a typical greeting among the Jews.  But Paul takes these typical greetings and gives them a Christian significance.  This is the grace that has a divine origin; it offered by God and Jesus.  When people learn about God’s grace and His reconciliation through Jesus' blood, then the result is peace with God and peace with others.  Also notice how Paul says God "our Father" and Jesus "our Lord" (now some manuscripts don't have this last phrase, but Jesus' lordship is clearly mentioned in the very next verse).  Christians share the same Heavenly Father and the same Divine Lord.  We are in the same spiritual family as well as being in the same spiritual kingdom (Hughes).  Paul calls upon the highest powers in the universe with this simple greeting which Paul has turned into a blessing.  What's the point?  We can show brotherly love when we bless to identify.  Do you practice trying to bless others?  We can use simple words to do it.  Some blessings we might share with each other are: "God bless you.  God keep you strong.  God be with you. May Jesus strengthen you.  Jesus' peace be yours.  May Jesus give you His help."  All of these blessings point us again to our common Father and King. Bless to identify!  Such blessings help us to bond more closely because we have a wonderful fellowship in God and Jesus.  God has a special relationship with those who are His spiritual children, and Jesus cares deeply for those who are citizens in His spiritual kingdom.  When we invoke Their blessings, we are reminded once again of the Highest Powers Who have transformed and shaped our lives!  Bless to identify!
Now let's read verse 3: "We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you ..." Verses 3-8 are all one long sentence in the original language (Ash).  Paul was grateful to God for the miracle that He had worked in Colosse.  Those who had lived as lustful pagans who engaged in orgies to idols were now serving the true God and living righteously under Jesus' teachings.  Paul was thankful for the transformation that was taking place under Jesus' lordship.  Someone has noted: "Appreciation is a great medicine for the soul. ... Like Paul, we should be grateful for what God is doing in the lives of others.  As Christians, we are all members of one body.  If one member of the body is strengthened, this helps to strengthen the entire body" (Wiersbe).  Jesus' lordship and supremacy will be greatly exalted and elaborated in the rest of this letter.  One preacher has affirmed that Jesus is presented "as the Creator and all-sufficient Redeemer in the most sublime terms found anywhere in Scripture" (Hughes).  Then we see how Paul prays for these brethren and tells them so.  It is interesting that he also says "We give thanks ... praying always for you."  According to Colossians 4:12-14, it looks like Epaphras, Luke, Demas, and Timothy might have made up this prayer group that prayed for the welfare of the congregation at Colosse.  Don't you know the brethren in Colosse were strengthened when they learned that other church leaders were praying for them?  To show brotherly love, we also can pray to encourage.  Romans 12:12 encourages us to be steadfast in prayer and Colossians 4:2 admonishes us to continue earnestly in prayer.  What a great privilege it is that we can prayer for other Christians as well.  A new hymn says: "Lord, listen to Your children praying; Lord, send Your Spirit in this place.  Lord, give to all Your blessed children; give them love, give them power, give them grace" (modified Peterson).  Pray to encourage! In our bulletin, you will find the names of many brethren here who need your prayers.  There is also a prayer list in the foyer of others who need prayers.  Are you taking some time daily to pray for all these people?  You know, one of the greatest encouragements you can give to another Christian is when you can honestly say: "I'm praying for you."  A Christian counselor told me that he always closed each session with a prayer and then told the person, "I will continue to pray for you" (Mitchell).  Let's keep praying for each other throughout this year!  Pray to encourage!
Now let's look at verses 4-5: "since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven."  The apostle Paul is very fond of using faith, hope, and love in his letters.  No doubt, Paul heard much about the Colossian brethren from the evangelist Epaphras and the generous brother Philemon.  He had heard of their faith in Jesus, their love for all the saints, and their hope which was set on heaven.  "Faith is always mentioned first in the trio because apart from faith there is no Christian experience" (Hughes).  If you been reading in our Bible program, you read Romans 3:21-22 again: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe."  Paul later describes this obedient faith in Colossians with these words at 2:11-13: "In Jesus, you were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses ..."  Then Paul noted these Christians’ love for all the brethren.  "It is a beautiful thing when you see in the Church love for all the saints—not just for some, not just for the lovable, but for all.  This is what made the early church so amazing and so enticing to the ancient world. Barbarian and Scythian, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant joined hands and sat down at one table.  They all knew themselves to be one in Christ Jesus" (Hughes).  This was a community held together by divine love.  Then Paul reminds them of their great hope.  One commentator said: "The emphasis on hope reminds us that the salvation which believers enjoy in Christ has a future aspect. The hope is theirs here and now; its fulfillment [however] lies ahead" (Bruce).  The hope of Jesus' return and the reward of heaven should make a difference in how we live.  Paul encourages us to live soberly, righteously, godly, expectantly, and zealously in Titus 2:11-14.  John admonishes us with these words: "And everyone who has this hope in Him [of seeing Jesus again] purifies himself, just as He is pure."  Let's imitate Paul.  To show brotherly love, let's compliment fellow Christians to strengthen them.  The members at Colosse had only been Christians for about five years.  They still had much to learn.  But despite their immaturity, Paul still found a way to compliment them for what they did possess: their great trust, their widespread love, and their future hope.  Let's look for the strong points in other Christians that we can praise as well.  Also, all congregations have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Compliment to strengthen!  "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).  We live in a very critical age.  Let's go against the grain, look for the good in other members, and then compliment them.  This congregation is good at giving, helping in crisis, teaching all ages, and obeying God's Word.  Now we have our weaknesses also, but let's keep building on our strengths.  Compliment to strengthen!
Now look at verse 5: "of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel ..."  Paul said in verse 4 that "we heard" about your faith, love, and hope, but in this verse he says that the brethren in Colosse had heard or learned something in the past.  What they heard was the Gospel's truth which had been taught and preached to them.  This is a beautiful example of Paul's affirmation in Romans 10:17: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."  Notice that Paul is pointing these brethren back to the time when they first heard the Gospel preached to them? Why would he do that?  Perhaps it is to create of bond of unity between him and these brethren.  He may not have known most of them personally, but both he and they are united in the Gospel! To show brotherly love, recall to unify.  We also can often point to some event, some experience, or some attitude in the past that can serve as a point of reference to unify.  We can remember former members, baptisms, service projects, special collections, Young at Heart programs, etc.  Isn't it wonderful when we work together to get the job done and to grow?  Recall to unify!
Clement was an elder in the church at Rome, and about 95 A.D. he wrote to the Christians in Corinth and praised them with these words: "For you did all things without respect of persons and walked in the commandments of God.  You were obedient to your rulers and showed appropriate honor those who were older.  You instructed the younger to think moderate and reverent thoughts. ...  You had great concern day and night for the whole brotherhood, in order that the number of God's elect might be saved with mercy and conscience.  You were sincere and innocent and bore no malice to one another.  All rebellion and division was abominable to you" (Letter quoted in Ferguson).  May we have the same brotherly love these early Christians shared so graciously with one another!  We've looked at five ways to show our brotherly love: write to help, bless to identify, pray to encourage, compliment to strengthen, and recall to unify.  "Let brotherly love continue!" (Hebrews 13:1)!