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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 25, 2010
We started our journey into Paul’s letter to the Colossians last week by examining briefly the life of Paul, his co-worker, Timothy, and the background of Colossae and the church there. (See: Introduction to Colossians). We found in Paul and Timothy examples of what God can do with individuals that are willing to be and do what the Lord wants and go where He wills. Both men became great blessings to others because they faithfully followed the Lord and served Him. The same can be true for anyone that will do the same.
Colossae itself declined over the years to just a small town, yet Paul’s concern for them was as great as it was for the churches in large cities such as Ephesus or Corinth even though he had not been there before. When your concerns are directed by God, it is not size and prestige that determine importance.
The Colossian church was a mixture of Gentile and Jewish believers, and they had avoided many of the problems that had developed in other churches. However, they faced their own doctrinal dangers and Paul was writing to correct and warn them as part of his own desire and effort to “present every man complete in Christ” (1:28). His salutation was an expression of his genuine desire for them that they would have grace and peace from God our Father. He sought to accomplish this by addressing the doctrinal issues in Chapters 1 & 2 and then exhort them in Chapters 3 & 4 about how to walk with Christ in a manner worthy of their calling.
As we continue our study this morning of Colossians 1, we find that Paul follows his normal routine of expressing his thankfulness and prayers before addressing the doctrinal issues later in the letter. A hallmark of someone who is walking in the spirit of God is thankfulness, and that characteristic is clearly evident in Paul. The importance of thanksgiving is seen in the commandments concerning the thank offering in Leviticus 7. Thanksgiving is expressed in 35 different Psalms. Jesus’ life was characterized by its practice and Paul makes forty-four references to thanksgiving in his various letters. Please turn to Colossians 1:3-8 and follow along as I read Paul’s expression of thanksgiving in this letter.
3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as [it has been doing] in you also since the day you heard [of it] and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned [it] from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. Colossians 1:3-8 (NASB)
The Recipient of Thanksgiving (vs. 3)
Given to God. The first thing we note in verse three is that Paul’s thanksgiving is directed to God.
While the actions of others and events in our own lives may prompt us to be thankful, as occurs here and other places in the life of Paul, our response to it will be determined by our understanding of reality. Paul understood that ultimately it is God that is responsible for the blessings that occur in life. Paul demonstrated this in his letter to the Philippians. They had sent him a gift to help with his needs while he was in prison, and he responded to them in Philippians 4:10 saying, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned [before,] but you lacked opportunity.” He explained to them verses 11-13 that he had learned to be content in every circumstance and then commended them in verses 14-16 for doing well to share in his affliction and how they were the only ones to do so in that early part of his ministry. Paul then expresses the real reason for his joy in verses 17-18. “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” Paul’s rejoicing was for what the Lord was doing in them and through them more than what he personally received in the gift itself. Paul’s thankfulness was without any trace of selfishness.
James, the brother of the Lord, also understood this great truth that God is the ultimate source of all blessings. James 1:17 states, “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” That is why our attitude of gratitude is directed to the Lord even while commending the people or individual that God used to bring His blessing. The godly person rejoices in that commendation because they desire the glory to go to the Lord in keeping with Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:16 to “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” It really is all about God’s glory, not our own.
Now there are plenty of people that will take this idea and run with it logically to conclude that if God is sovereign and therefore responsible for all the good stuff, then He must also be responsible for all the bad stuff. That might be logical, but it is not true. The Scriptures are clear that bad things happen in our lives for three different reasons or a combination of them. First, there are the consequences of our own sin. As Galatians 6:7 states it succinctly, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked ; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Second, we suffer because of the sins of other people. Jesus even said that His followers should expect to be lied about, slandered and persecuted just as the prophets before us have been treated (Matthew 5:10-12), yet, we can rejoice even in the tribulation we will have in this world because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Third, we live in a sin fallen world and suffer along with it. Paul even explains in Romans 8:20-22 that the creation itself was subjected to futility and groans and suffers at present while waiting for redemption. Every time you have to pull a weed from your garden or flower bed and sweat while working it is a reminder that we live in a fallen world due to man’s sin (Genesis 3:18-19).
God’s goodness is seen in the extension of His mercy and grace to rescue us from the consequences of our own sin, the sin of others and living in a sin fallen world. We do not deserve it, yet we receive His kindness, forbearance and patience all of which should lead us to repentance. The godly man will repent and will change from cursing God for his problems to giving thanks to God for the blessings he receives even in the midst of trials because of God’s ability to work all things together for good for those that love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even in hard situations, and remember that Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote this letter to the Colossian believers, we can rejoice and give thanks because God’s love was proven for all time and eternity in Jesus Christ who gave His live to redeem us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), and nothing, absolutely nothing, can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
Second, we note that Paul describes God as “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The phrasing here is a little different from Paul’s usual expression, and so is very deliberate in emphasizing the relationship of Jesus to God the Father. This begins Paul’s correction of the doctrinal attack against Jesus’ deity that was occurring in that church. The God to whom Paul was giving thanks is the same one revealed by Jesus as His Father.
Expressed in Prayers. The third point we note is that Paul’s response of thanksgiving is expressed in his prayers for them. The ESV is a better translation of verse 3 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.” Paul would give thanksgiving to God when praying for them. This is a remarkable truth when we remember that much of Paul’s letter will be spent correcting them. Paul did not let their weakness or failures take away from his thanksgiving for the good things that had been accomplished already and would occur in the future. That is an important point for us to keep in mind as we deal with people. Do not let someone’s struggles and failure in one area destroy your understanding of their overall character. Too often we end up shooting our wounded instead of helping them overcome and become strong. Paul would be giving strong correction of the heresies that were creeping into the Colossian church, but he did so in hope of them making those corrections because of their basic character which was the very cause of his thanksgiving to God for them.
The Cause of Thanksgiving (vs. 4)
Their Faith in Christ Jesus. The first reason that Paul was thankful for the Colossian believers was their faith in Christ Jesus. Though Epaphras had concern for them because of the heresies that were rising, he did not travel to Rome just to complain to Paul about what was going on in Colossae. He gave a full report about their good characteristics too which included their faith in Jesus. The particular preposition used here stresses the state of their faith being secure in Christ. The Greek word for faith (pivsti”/ pistis) includes the concepts of belief and trust and so it is far beyond the idea of intellectual assent. We have faith in what we believe when we are certain we can trust it. There is certainty in believing on the Lord Jesus Christ for our trust in Him is secure since He loses none of those that belong to Him (John 6:37; 10:28-29).
Their Love for All the Saints. Epaphras also told Paul about the love that existed among the Colossian believers for all the saints. This is not referring to an emotional attraction or fond feelings of affection for this is ajgavph / agapê love which is self sacrificial in the best interest of its object. That is the love that God has for the world (John 3:16) that resulted in Him sending Jesus to die as the substitute payment for our sin (Romans 5:8). It is the love husbands are to have for their wives (Ephesians 5:25, 28,33). It is the love Jesus has for His disciples and the love He wants them to have for one other (John 13:34-35). Paul gives a good description of the attitude of this kind of love in Philippians 2:3 & 4 saying, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
I think we can all recognize that this kind of love is very different from what is typically meant in our society when someone says they love someone else. That is why when believers do have this kind of love for one another it demonstrates that they are Jesus’ disciples. When most people claim to love someone, what they actually mean is that they like being around them, they gain benefit from them, they have fond feelings of affection for them, or if in a romantic setting – they lust after them. Such love is selfish at its core instead of self sacrificial for the benefit of the one loved.
Epaphras informed Paul that the Colossian believers were marked by this true, godly love for other believers. For that reason, Paul gave thanks to God for them. It demonstrated they were born of God and knew Him (1 John 4:7). Their example is one that we should follow ourselves.
The Source of Faith (vs. 5)
A Hope Reserved in Heaven. This kind of faith and love does not spring up on its own and man cannot generate it out of himself for anything in this world. Its source is outside this world. As Paul describes it in verse 5, it is from the hope Christians have reserved for them in Heaven. The word hope (ejlpiv” / elpis) as used in the Bible is an expectation with confident assurance and not just a synonym for “wish” as we so commonly use it in English. Believers have been given a sure promise by the Lord Jesus that He has not only forgiven our sins and made us righteous before God, but that He will also take us to be with Him in heaven in eternity. He told His disciples in John 14:1-3 that He would be preparing a place for them in heaven and would return to take them there. Paul stated that our citizenship was in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and our expectation should be that we will either be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and ever be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17), or that if we died first, we would be in absent from the body, but be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
I realize that several Christian sects doubt this assurance of salvation and heaven, but in doing so they are being contrary to the Scriptures, and frankly, are making Jesus and the apostles out to be either very mislead or liars. The biggest reason for this is that those sects along with many cults have perverted salvation to be dependent on their good works rather than faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” The apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:12-13, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The Colossian believers were confident of Jesus’ promises that they were justified by faith in Him and so would go to heaven and be with Him throughout eternity because of what He had done for them on Calvary.
The Gospel. The source of that faith and hope is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Gospel simply means “good news,” and the good news is that we can be saved from our sins by God’s grace through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The bad news is that if we refuse to believe, we remain condemned in our sins for the best efforts of even the best man is still like a filthy rag before God (Isaiah 64:6) and therefore far short of God’s standard of perfect holiness (Romans 3:10-12; Hebrews 12:14).
The gospel encompasses both facts and faith. Faith in the wrong object will leave you disappointed. Facts without the action of belief will leave you stranded. If you were stuck on a desert island and in your wandering around on it found a boat that had washed up on its shore, you would need faith and facts to use it to escape. If you had faith in it, but it in fact the boat was not sea worthy, you might get offshore only far enough to have the boat sink and you drown. If you carefully check the boat out and determine it is in fact sea worthy, but refuse to place your faith and trust in it as a means of escape, you will remain stranded on that desert island.
The facts of the gospel are simple enough. God created a perfect world, but Adam, by his own choice, disobeyed God and plunged mankind into sin. Every human since then has by nature and their own actions disobeyed God incurring upon themselves His just and holy wrath against their sin. God, by His own character, has provided a means by which His justice can be satisfied and man can be redeemed from His sin, be made righteous and restored to a proper relationship with God by which Heaven is gained and Hell is avoided. That means is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, the promised Messiah, and who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and then voluntarily laid down His own life when crucified at Calvary as the substitute sacrifice for sin that makes atonement for man and is the basis for forgiveness. Jesus bodily rose from the dead on the third day proving His claims and assuring His promises. He ascended to the right hand of the Father in Heaven and will return one day for His followers. These promises are given to everyone who will place their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8) and justified by faith (Romans 3:28). This is the word of truth which has been revealed by God to man and which was declared to the Colossians and which they believed prior to the coming of those who were now teaching things contrary to it.
The Effect of the Gospel (vs. 6)
It Bears Fruit in All the World. In verse 6 Paul points out to the Colossians that the effect of the gospel in them was the same as had occurred wherever it had gone. The gospel is proclaimed and it bears fruit in those who respond and believe. That which was dead in trespasses and sin becomes alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1,5). The new believers are the fruit of the gospel. Those who would claim some sort of hidden or special knowledge were false because the gospel was being openly proclaimed. Paul uses the hyperbole, “in all the world,” to emphasize his point that what had happened among them in believing had happened and was happening many other places too. They were a small part of something much larger.
It Continues to Increase. Paul also states that the gospel continues to increase wherever it goes. This speaks of its spread by those who respond to it. We tell other people about those things which are most important in our lives, so it is natural for believers to tell other people the gospel so that they too can repent and place their faith in Jesus for forgiveness and the remission of sins. In that way, the gospel continues to increase or spread throughout the world.
Their Own Example. At the end of the verse Paul points out that they themselves were examples of the gospel bearing fruit and increasing. It had happened among them when they understood the grace of God just as it had in other places. The good news that had brought them hope in heaven came is a message of God’s grace to man through Jesus. The gospel they had received was contradictory to the ideas of asceticism that were being promoted in the church that righteousness and eternal life would somehow be gained by decrees such as “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:21) and legalism in following dietary restrictions and observation of particular days (2:16). Their own experience of the effects of the gospel would be a witness against the false teachers and their ideas that were troubling the church in Colossae.
The same can be said for any church. The experience we have had with the power of the gospel to save individuals from their sin precludes looking for some additional message that might make us spiritual. We have already received all we need. Only five or six years later the apostle Peter would remind the believers of this province and the surrounding ones of the same truth. We studied 2 Peter last year and were reminded of this great truth that God has already “granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3) It is through the gospel that God “has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them [we] might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). And while there is a part we are to play in growing in godliness and becoming more spiritual, that is not through either asceticism or mysticism. Peter explains in 2 Peter 1:5-7 that we will grow by applying all diligence to supplying in succession faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, for each of these is founded upon and also builds up the previous virtue. The word of truth from God as given through His apostles is sufficient.
The Messenger of the Gospel (vs. 7)
Though Paul had introduced himself in his greeting as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” as a means of asserting his authority to address the issues that would be in the letter, in verse 7, Paul reminds them that it was Epaphras who had brought the gospel to them. It was not an outsider, but one of their own that had delivered the word of truth to them and they knew his character. Paul may have been an apostle, but he was unknown to them since many of them had never seen his face (2:1). They would be much more persuaded by the man that had previously taught them and whom they knew very well. For this reason it was important for Paul to remind them that they had learned the gospel from Epaphras and not some stranger in their midst.
Paul also stresses here Epaphras’ position and related character qualities as another way to demonstrate the nature of the gospel they had received from him. They had not been told a story by a charlatan or huckster who was out to exploit them for his own gain in any way. They had received a message that was to their own benefit from a man described as a slave and servant. They had received the truth from a man who was bound to be faithful in delivering to them his master’s message. His message could be either accepted or rejected, and they had accepted it. They would be wrong to now to think the good news they had received had been changed because of the proclamations of those without Epaphras’ position and character.
Epaphras, a Fellow Bondslave. Paul describes Epaphras as a “beloved fellow slave.” The adjective “beloved” expresses the good character of the man which had endeared him to Paul. If Paul had taught the gospel to Epaphras when he was teaching in Ephesus, then Paul’s relationship with him extended back many years and not just for the time they had been together in Rome. Paul knew him well and valued him highly.
Paul also describes him as a suvndoulo” / sundoulos. This is a compound word using the prefix suvn / sun which designates association and is usually translated as “with,” joined with doulo” / doulos which is the word for slave. Most English versions translate the word as “servant” because even in the 1600’s Englishman did not like the idea of being a slave themselves. Yet, that is exactly the relationship the Christian has with Jesus. We have been bought with the price of Jesus’ death (1 Corinthians 6:20) and He is our Lord, our master (Romans 10:9; Colossians 4:1; Jude 4). One of Paul’s most frequent descriptions of himself is as a slave of Jesus (Romans 1:1, Titus 1:1 etc.). Epaphras was also such a slave of Jesus Christ.
Epaphras, a Servant of Christ. Paul also described Epaphras as a “faithful servant of Christ on our behalf.” The adjective, “faithful,” describes another aspect of Epaphras’ character. He could be trusted. He would carry out his responsibilities to their fullest extent. Epaphras is also a diavkono” / diakonos of Christ. We transliterate this word into English as “deacon” and also translate it as “minister.” The idea of a deacon is well illustrated in Acts 6 by the men the apostles placed in charge of making sure the widows received proper care. Paul used the term of himself in relationship to his various ministries (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23,25). Paul states that Epaphras was a servant or minister of Christ, that is, he would carry out the responsibilities entrusted to him by Christ. Paul also adds that he did this on “our behalf,” though some manuscripts read “your behalf.” Both would be true of Epaphrus who was at that time ministering to Paul while he was in prison in Rome, and he had been faithful in bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to them.
These characteristics of being a beloved bondslave and faithful servant of Christ should mark our lives as well. If they do not already, then simply continue in growing in your knowledge of the Lord and be diligent to walk with Him and they will.
The Love of the Colossians (vs. 8)
Commended for Their Love in the Spirit. Paul concludes this paragraph of thanksgiving by recognizing their “love in the Spirit” which Epaphras had told him about. There were serious concerns about what some were teaching in Colossae, but evidence of their earlier proper response to the gospel was great. As in verse 4, this is agape love, the love that extends itself in self-sacrifice for the best interest of others. Epaphras’ report made it clear to Paul that their love for others was obviously directed by the Spirit. As I pointed out earlier, it is by our demonstration of this kind of love that others will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.
True thanksgiving is directed toward God because ultimately it is understood that every blessing we receive comes from His hand. Paul gave thanks to God when he considered and prayed for the believers in Colossae because of what he had learned from Epaphrus about them. They had responded well to the word of truth, the gospel, and bore the fruit of genuine faith exhibited in their love for all the saints prompted by the Holy Spirit. This earlier response to the gospel would be the source of both correction and defense against the heretical teachings that some among them were proclaiming.
We should follow the example of Paul in our own thanksgiving and prayers. We should follow the example of the Colossian Christians in our own response to the gospel in bearing its fruit in sacrificial love. We should strive to be like Epaphras in being a beloved slave and faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel means that all of these things are not just possible, but assured as the Lord changes us as we walk with Him. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness to us and His promise that He will perfect the good work He started in us (Philippians 1:6).
Sermon Notes – 7/25/2010
Paul’s Thankfulness – Colossians 1:3-8
Paul & Timothy are ____________ of what can do with those willing to be and do what the Lord desires
Paul was writing to correct doctrinal problems as part of effort to present every man _________in Christ
A hallmark of someone who is walking in the spirit of God is _________________
The Recipient of Thanksgiving (vs. 3)
Given to God – Paul’s thanksgiving is directed to __________
Paul understood that God is the ultimate source of _____ blessings that occur in life – Phil. 4:10-18;
James 1:17 – God is the source of ________ good thing bestowed and _________ perfect gift
We suffer because of our _______ sin – Galatians 6:7
We suffer because we live in a sin fallen _________ – Romans 8:20-22
The godly man gives _______ for God’s mercy & grace even when suffering – Romans 5:8; 8:28. 35-39
Expressed in Prayers
Paul gave thanksgiving to God whenever he ___________ for the Colossians
Do not let someone’s struggles and failure in one area destroy your view of their __________character
The Cause of Thanksgiving (vs. 4)
Their Faith in Christ Jesus – was the first reason for Paul’s _______________
Faith (pivsti”/ pistis) includes the concepts of belief and _________. It is not just intellectual consent
Their _________for All the Saints – was the second reason for Paul’s thankfulness
This love (ajgavph / agapê) is self sacrificial in the best interest of ___________
It is God’s love (John. 3:16), Jesus’ love and the love ______are to have for one another (John 13:34-35)
It is _________ and other centered (Phil. 2:3-4), it demonstrates we are _________of God (1 John 4:7).
The Source for Faith (vs. 5)
A Hope reserved in Heaven
Biblical hope (ejlpiv” / elpis) is an expectation with ________assurance and not a synonym for “wish”
The Gospel is the source of our faith and ___________
_____in the wrong object will leave you disappointed and Facts without belief will leave you stranded
The __________is the good news that God has provided forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus
The Effect of the Gospel (vs. 6)
The gospel bears the same __________ wherever it goes – New believers are the fruit of the gospel
The gospel continues to increase by its __________ to others by those who responded to it.
Their _________ example demonstrated the fruit of the gospel and its increase
The gospel they had received was contradictory to the ideas of _______________being promoted
The gospel is _________ – 2 Peter 1:3-4
Our part is to apply all ___________ and continue to grow in godliness and its virtues
The Messenger of the Gospel (vs. 7)
Epaphras, who had brought the gospel to the Colossians, was _______________ by them.
They had received the gospel from a man bound to be _____________, not a charlatan or huckster
A Beloved Bondslave – Epaphras’ _________ character endeared him to Paul as “beloved”
He was a suvndoulo” / sundoulos – fellow ___________. Jesus is our __________, we are His slaves
A Faithful Servant of Christ – Faithful described his ___________________ character
He was a diavkono” / diakonos of ________- he carried out the responsibilities given to him by Christ
The Love of the Colossians (vs. 8) – Their reported love for others demonstrated the Spirit in their lives
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Write down all the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times Paul is mentioned. 3) Talk with your parents about Paul’s example of thankfulness and your gratitude to God
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why was Paul writing to the Colossians? To whom was Paul thankful? How did Paul express his gratitude for what he had received from other people? What is the source of our blessings in life? Why is it wrong to conclude that God is also the source of our sorrows? What are the sources of our sorrows in life? How does God demonstrate His goodness to us in the midst of the sorrows of this life? What should man’s response be to this? Why was Paul thankful for the Colossians even though he was writing them a letter to correct them? What specific things was Paul thankful for in the Colossian believers? Define faith. Describe the particular kind of love the Colossians had for all the saints. What is Biblical hope (ejlpiv” / elpis)? Why does the promise of heaven give us hope? How can a person be assured they are going to heaven? What are the facts of the gospel? What is your faith in relationship to those facts? What fruit does the gospel bear wherever it goes? How does it increase? What was the effect of the gospel on the Colossian believers? How does that contradict the ideas inherent to ascetic legalism? What is needed to live the Christian life successfully? What were some of the character qualities of Epaphras? What is the significance of him being a “fellow slave” of Christ? What does it mean that he was a “servant of Christ?” What did the love among the Colossians demonstrate? What blessings have you received from God? How do you demonstrate gratitude for what God is doing the lives of other people? What examples in the lives of Paul, Timothy or Epaphras do you want to follow in your own life?
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