In Colossians 1:3-4, Paul writes:
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…(ESV)
This simple phrase of greeting is rife with significance. We might miss it at first, but Paul expresses an understanding that God the Father has been at work and is at work in the lives of those who believe in Christ.
Notice, Paul gives thanks to God for two things in particular.
First, he is grateful to God for the faith that believers have in Christ Jesus. Faith in Christ is a gracious gift from God. If it were not so, why give thanks for it?
Jesus had already made that clear when He proclaimed to those who did not believe in Him:
“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” -John 5:37-38, ESV
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” -John 6:29, ESV
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” -John 6:37, ESV
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—” -John 6:44-45, ESV
“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” -John 6:65, ESV
In explaining further, Jesus says something even more perplexing:
But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. -John 8:45,ESV
That is, even the truth is not believed because it is the truth, and no one has the power to believe the truth unless God grants the ability to perceive the truth.
Unless God the Father has acted, no belief in Christ is possible. Again, Jesus says that unbelievers continue in unbelief because the Father has not made them part of the “flock” of sheep that follow Christ:
…but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. -John 10:26-29, ESV
Second, Paul is grateful to the Father that the believers to whom he is writing have evidence of genuine faith. That evidence of faith is their love for all the saints. The fruit of faith (here, love) is also a gracious gift of God.
This love is what Jesus prayed the Father would grant to His disciples in John 17:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….
…O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. -John 17:10-21, 25-26, ESV
It is for this fruit of faith that Paul prayed:
and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you -I Thessalonians 3:12, ESV