The second encouragement for thanksgiving that Paul mentions is the progress of the gospel, which he says has gone through all the world. Is Paul exaggerating when he says this is the case? No doubt he does not mean that every single person has heard the gospel. Yet he says again in verse 24 that the gospel has been proclaimed throughout the whole creation.
In the following century, the Christian apologist Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with a Jew called Trypho, said of the spread of the Christian faith: ‘For there is not one single race of men, whether barbarians, or Greeks, or whatever they may be called, nomads, or vagrants, or herdsmen living in tents, among whom prayers and giving of thanks are not offered through the name of the crucified Jesus.’
Paul was encouraged that the gospel spread quickly, and therefore both the global and the local encouragements stimulated him to pray. What would he think of how the gospel is spreading today?
We can summarise Paul’s thanksgiving in this way. First, it was genuine thanksgiving: he was not making a false claim when he wrote that he and his friends were praying frequently for the Colossians.
Second, it was grace-focussed thanksgiving: Paul’s gratitude did not focus on how well the Colossians were doing in earthly affairs but on how their faith and love was expressing themselves.
Third, it was gospel-stimulated thanksgiving: Paul received great encouragement from the progress of the gospel throughout the world. As he sent this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome, suffering for the faith. Yet he rejoiced that the gospel that pointed with certainty to a future world was very effective wherever it was declared.