The murderous Russian dictator, Josef Stalin, reportedly once said, "Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs." A different man, also named Josef, would strongly disagree. Josef Gabor grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, under the dark shadow of Stalin's Soviet Union. Gabor was told that religion was weakness and was taught communist doctrine by his father. His mother, though, was a follower of Jesus Christ. She took Josef and his brother to church, which was a three-hour train ride away. Despite the distance and danger of going to church, Josef Gabor remains grateful to God for a mother who helped bring him to Christ. For many years, Gabor served with Trans World Radio, and is currently the director of Youth for Christ in Central Europe.
Yesterday we saw how gratitude flows naturally from seeing God's power to break the bondage of evil. In today's passage, we find that gratitude similarly flows when we see the gospel's worldwide spread. These two truths go hand-in-hand, because the gospel always brings freedom and healing wherever it goes.
It's possible that Paul never visited the church in Colossae. But when Epaphras, who was probably converted through Paul's ministry, brought news of the good things that were happening in this small church, Paul was filled with gratitude. Notice the triad of faith, love, and hope in verses 4 and 5. Together, these offer evidence of the gospel's transforming power. The news that gospel was spreading into this part of the world (now part of modern-day Turkey) filled Paul with praise and thanks, because it confirmed that the good news of Jesus Christ was indeed increasing around the world.
Paul had the same response when he learned about the effects of the gospel in the Thessalonian church, one of the first churches that he planted in Europe. Despite persecution and efforts to thwart the gospel, this church had become "imitators" of the more established, mature churches in Judea.