Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
– Colossians 1:1–5
“This used to be a truly beautiful place.”
This phrase could be used of myriad cities, towns, villages, and even churches.
Several years ago, my youth group and I went to St. Louis for a short term mission trip, helping to clean up the property outside of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. This congregation has renovated what used to be the basement of its Lutheran School building to use as their worship space.
But next door was a sight to behold! The ruins of the old church building still stood. The congregation had moved out of that building years before, as it had become impossible to keep up with the cost of maintaining the massive building. Even in its dilapidated condition you could see very clearly how beautiful it had once been. Stunning stained glass, a massive nave with a large balcony in the back could all be seen. But nobody could enter as it would have been very hazardous to do so.
It would have been easy to see the ruins of the church building and to think that the church was in ruins. But the truth is, the church was thriving!
Bethlehem was (and is) a thriving congregation in the inner city. Christ is there! His gospel is there! Believers gather to receive the gifts and to rejoice in the Lord together. The mission of making disciples of Jesus is being carried out! It is a beautiful place with people made beautiful in Christ!
The city of Colossae was once a truly beautiful city. Situated in a beautiful and fertile river valley, with mountains in the background, its setting was picturesque. Colossae had once been a thriving and affluent city. Located on the east-west trade route leading from Ephesus on the Aegean Sea to the Euphrates River, Colossae had done quite well.
However, a few generations before the epistle to the Colossians was penned by Paul, the city began to go downhill. The Romans changed the trade routes from going through Colossae to instead go through Laodicea and Hierapolis and as a result Colossae was left to wither on the vine.
Thus, the once beautiful and thriving city of Colossae began to flounder. By the first century AD Colossae was no longer even considered a city, but merely a town. It was the kind of place that one looked at and said, “This used to be a truly beautiful place.”
Yet in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he acknowledges the present beauty. The faith of the Colossian congregation was an encouragement to him! The Colossians had heard and believed the gospel!
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
The Colossians had set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:2) and as a result, they were living and active in faith and love! Colossae was beautiful because the beauty of Christ and His gospel were truly present in the Colossian congregation! The Colossian congregation had been made beautiful in Christ!
Lord Jesus, You love people in cities, villages, and rural areas. You gave your life for the sins of all, including those in shining cities and run-down towns. Help us not to judge with the eye, but to rejoice and give thanks for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are striving to live for You, no matter where they might live. May we be encouraged by them and may we be an encouragement to them so that together we can continue to look to You as we wait in expectant hope for the day of Your return. In Your most precious name we pray. Amen.
Questions for conversation
- Why is it easy to look down on a congregation or people because of the condition of their building, city, or area?
- Is the condition of a church building always an accurate indicator of the health of that congregation?
- How can we make it a practice pray for and encourage fellow saints who are in more challenging economic situations?