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Faith, Hope & Love – Colossians 1:3-8

greek-nt-openAs I pointed out earlier, the words of greeting with which Paul begins this letter are pretty characteristic of his letters in general. The language he uses is fraught with meaning, but the greeting itself is nothing unique at all. So it is with the words that follow. It was characteristic of Paul to begin his letters with words of encouragement and congratulation. Now, as we read further in this letter we will discover that he wrote it to correct false ideas that were current in the congregation. But, however concerned he may be about the false teaching at Collosae, it did not approach his anger and outrage over the false teaching at Galatia. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he leaves the encouragement paragraph out altogether and launches into his angry words of correction. But, here he wants his readers to hear a good word first. he takes time to give them encouragement and praise.

3 Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ πατρὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι, 4 ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους 5 διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα τὴν ἀποκειμένην ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ἣν προηκούσατε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῆς ἀληθείας τοῦ εὐαγγελίου 6 τοῦ παρόντος εἰς ὑμᾶς, καθὼς καὶ ἐν παντὶ τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον καθὼς καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν, ἀφ᾿ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσατε καὶ ἐπέγνωτε τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ· 7 καθὼς ἐμάθετε ἀπὸ Ἐπαφρᾶ τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ συνδούλου ἡμῶν, ὅς ἐστιν πιστὸς ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν διάκονος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 8 ὁ καὶ δηλώσας ἡμῖν τὴν ὑμῶν ἀγάπην ἐν πνεύματι. ( Colossians 1:3-8 Nestle-Aland, 27th Edition.)

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. (NASB)

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1.) He speaks of their lives. He praises them because their Christian faith is evident in their lives. They have a reputation for Christian character and witness. Jesus said: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NRSV). This is the way it ought to be. Christians should be the kind of people whose lives bring glory and honor to God. They are to be the kind of people that cause others to glorify God just because they are here!

  • “Thank God there are people of compassion, who care about those who are hurting.”
  • “Thank God there is someone here who is honest.”
  • “Thank God there is someone who has hope for the future.”

This forces us to ask ourselves: is that the way we are living? What are we doing? What are our lives saying? For example: do our (supposedly) Christian political involvements bring glory to God? Do the big ministries with their big scandals bring glory to God?

Where in our day is the fellowship that has the goodwill of all the people (Acts 2:47) because of its love and compassion and integrity?

What is it specifically that Paul sees in their lives? It is interesting that it is those commonly mentioned virtues of faith and love and hope. “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (Corinthians 13:13 NRSV). I wonder if these were the basic Christian virtues that had already been identified within the Church, even before the apostle Paul came along. These three virtues sum up the essence of Christian living.

  • Faith in Jesus Christ (τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ v.4). Our ideas of “faith” are often so shallow. We tend to think of this as an abstract intellectual agreement. I get out the Apostle’s Creed. You sign at the bottom. There you go: salvation. But, that’s not it at all! This is belief in the sense of basic trust. It is a trust so basic it influences all of life. It implies both belief and obedience. It is a trust so basic we actually live by it.Life reveals faith. We can tell a lot more about what a person believes from their life than from their words. Words are cheap. What we stake our lives on — that is what we believe. It’s very simple: if you don’t live by it, you don’t believe it.Faith is a basic trust that life is meaningful, and that that meaning has been revealed to us (to the extent that we can understand it at all) in Jesus Christ.
  • Love for all the saints (τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους v.4). Here is that Greek word ἀγάπη (agape), about which so many claims are made. Is it the “strongest” word for “love” or is it the “weakest”? Is this a distinctively Christian concept? Is this the “highest’ form of love?I believe that Christians often chose to use the word ἀγάπη because it suggested the idea of “loyalty.” It is thus an especially appropriate word to use when speaking of love for God. ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ καρδίᾳ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου· (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37 NRSV.) Love for God suggests a loyalty to God’s will and purpose. Ἐὰν ἀγαπᾶτέ με, τὰς ἐντολὰς τὰς ἐμὰς τηρήσετε· (“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 NRSV.)So, what is “love for all the saints”? It is a determined loyalty to the saints. It is a desire to see the best for them. It is not so much the idea of “friendship” or “closeness.” This love is the determined seeking of another person’s good. Such love should reach out to all, but it is especially important in relation to our “neighbors” — the people near at hand — and in relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ (i.e., “all the saints”). As Christians, we seek what is good for others. Christ came into this world to seek our good — and the good of all people. Our lives take their cue from him. We are essentially do-gooders. We follow the ultimate do-gooder: “That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:37, 38 NRSV). We already have more than enough people seeking to cheat others, deceive others, take advantage of others. We already have more than enough apathetic people. Jesus was a man who lived for the benefit of others. He calls his followers to take up their cross and follow him.
  • The hope stored up for us in Heaven. (διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα τὴν ἀποκειμένην ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς — v.5) Hope is the Christian’s confidence in the future. It is an attitude that is beyond simple optimism: it is rooted in a trust in the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. It is the confidence that God will have the final say about all things. Hope can afford to be realistic. Hope can look at the world (and the church!) for what it really is, because it is a confidence rooted in the promises of God. Christian hope is something deeper and more abiding than optimism. It can withstand setbacks and contradictions. It is rooted in the promises of God, confirmed in the experience of faith. We can be realistic about the world we live in. We know Jesus Christ is the ultimate Lord of Lords.Yes, this hope is other-worldly: “the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Hope always points us to a future we have not yet experienced. There is more than just this world to consider. There is a better world ahead. We are not willing to accept “business as usual” in this world — for we judge on our knowledge of a better world. We are not unduly tied to this world and it’s rewards, it’s values. There is a God who is greater than this world. Nothing we see in this world destroys our confidence in the prevailing love and justice and purpose of God. God is our rewarder. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NRSV.)

praise-the-lord-32.) He speaks of their Christian experience. The virtues Paul notes in them grow out of lives influenced by the grace and power of God. God’s salvation makes an impact on our lives — and, that is what had happened here. Their experience was a response to the spoken message of Christ. Their Christian experience was made possible by the fact that they heard the Christian message. Notices verses 5, 6 & 7: “…[the hope] that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant….” We are reminded of Paul’s statement in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing.

And, we are reminded here that Paul did not accomplish the Christian mission to the Gentiles all by himself. Epaphras was the founder of this church. It is likely that Epaphras was himself evangelized and trained by the apostle, during the time Paul spent in Ephesus. Paul was not a lone wolf missionary. He worked with others. He trained others. In this very letter we notice Timothy, Epaphas and Tychicus as essential co-workers. Epaphas founded the Colossian church. Timothy shares the opening greeting. Tychicus carried this letter to them. Paul could not do the job alone.

Christian experience is a response to a message. They heard about Christ. They trusted the message to be true. It changed their lives. Faith comes to life as a result of the proclamation of the message of Christ. “I have decided to follow Jesus, not turning back, no turning back….” This basic decision to trust and serve Christ comes before all doctrines and ideas and knowledge gained.

Every experience of Christ must eventuate in love for Christ and love for others — if not, what good is it? An emotional experience which makes me more rigid and intolerant and difficult to live with is of no use to either the Church or the world. Every experience of Christ must mean more love — if it is ever to mean anything.

Another ground of these, and a thousand mistakes, is, the not considering deeply, that love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle, patient love; that all visions, revelations, manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love; and that all the gifts above-mentioned are either the same with, or infinitely inferior to, it.
It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this, —’the heaven of heavens is love.’ There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.

— John Wesley, “Farther Thoughts on Christian Perfection” included also in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.”

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2 Responses to “Faith, Hope & Love – Colossians 1:3-8”

  1. rtrube54 says:

    Thanks for your careful exposition of this passage and the wonderful Wesley quote at the end.

  2. […] with the greeting in verses 1 & 2, and the message of encouragement in verses 3-8, we are observing something which is quite standard in the letters of the apostle Paul. it is […]

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