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Sun, Mar 27, 2011

7 - Love and Hope [b]

Colossians 1:3-5 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:52 mins 52 secs

Love and Hope. Colossians 1:3-5

 

The question we should ask ourselves at times is, what motivates us? What keep us going, what keeps us on track when things aren't going the way that we want them to go? When we come under those times of discouragement and pressure in life when we face various adversities and there is always that temptation to somehow bail out in the Christian life, to somehow trust in something other than God's Word, other than in what the Lord has provided for us, to somehow try to solve the problems and difficulties that we have by the tools, the techniques, the spiritual skills that God has given us. We just try to do it on our own. We try to do it by something that keeps us in our comfort zone, something that gives us a sense of immediate relief, rather than focusing on some sort of long term consequence or result. What is it that keeps us going in times of difficulty, when temptations are overpowering? What is it that really motivates us?

When we think about this whole doctrine about what the Scripture says about motivation it is always in relation to God's plan for us in the future. The focus is always on some future blessing, reward, or expectation. The more we come to understand what that reward is in the future or what those rewards are in the future, what God has planned for us in the future, the more real that future is to us, the more that impacts our present reality. So we can live today in light of eternity, we make decisions today in light of God's future plan. The Bible has a lot to say about rewards for believers. Sometimes folk get the idea that rewards are somehow a contrast to or are inconsistent with the whole principle of grace. That would seem kind of odd if that were true because there is so much in the Scripture that talks about God's promise of specific rewards for believers who are faithful, those who endure, those who persevere. These rewards, then, are designed as an enhanced motivator for our present Christian life so that when things get rugged we focus on the end game, the end result, and that in turn strengthens us so that despite whatever present difficulties there may be we are encouraged to move forward and to keep being obedient to the Lord.

There are several words used in Scripture that focus on this doctrine of future rewards. We have the words related to inheritance and heirship. These are concepts that there is something that God has provided for us in the future as a possession. The idea of inheritance focuses on a possession, something that is ours. As we have seen in the past there are two categories of inheritance, of this future possession. There are those that belong to every person because they are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and because they are in Christ. They are ours in Him. Then there are additional rewards that are promised to those who pursue spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. This is also the distinction we see in the Gospels between a disciple—someone who has a greater level of commitment towards the study of God's Word, being a student of what the Lord has to teach us in His Word—and those who are simply believers, those who are saved but are not dedicated in terms of their studies of God's Word. So we have this word group: inheritance, heirs, the share of our inheritance, etc.

The prodigal son was a picture of those within Israel who had disregarded the Law of Moses and were living apart from the Law, living apart from what God had called them to be as a nation. On the other hand, we also see his older brother who is representative of the mentality and the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees who looked down upon those who had become disobedient to the Mosaic Law and would not extend forgiveness. So they had an arrogance about them and a self-righteousness that also did not express the kind of attitude that God had called the nation Israel to. These two in terms of the context of the passage represent the issues that Jesus was confronting in His confrontation with the Pharisees as they were accusing Him of being antinomian because He associated with the sinners and the tax collectors. Now we take that lesson and apply it. We can apply the issue of forgiveness to church age believers. Neither the younger son nor the older son represent church age believers, they are representing in the context these two different groups within Israel. But we see by application, because the principle that Jesus is illustrating is the joy that God has over the disobedient child who returns in obedience and His love and grace toward the individual to welcome him back into the fold. That is one example of this concept of inheritance and heirship because there is a loss of that inheritance by the disobedient younger brother. 

There are other words that focus our attention upon the future directly related to rewards such as rewards and the judgment seat of Christ. Judgment focuses a little more on the positive. We always think of that word "judgment" as being something that is negative, but the word there that is used comes from a Greek word that has to do with evaluating that which is good. It is not an evaluation there to see whatever the failures have been. Remember, the failures are destroyed at the judgment seat of Christ. The imagery there is of whatever we have built with our life that is exposed to fire and the wood, hay and straw—that which is produced by the sin nature—is that which is burned up, i.e. in terms of human good, not in terms of sin; that which is of no eternal value is destroyed. That is a picture. It is not really talking about sin or human good, it is a picture of removing from visibility that which has no eternal consequence. All that is left is that which has eternal value; all that remains is the gold, silver and precious stones. The evaluation of the judgment seat of Christ isn't to reveal where the failures have been, it is to reveal where the successes have been. So it is very positive and that also motivates us, knowing that there is a time of accountability.

One other word that comes up in the New Testament that focuses us on the future is the word "hope." Unlike the way we often use the word "hope" in every day language where we often think of it as something that is wishful optimism the Greek word has the idea of a confident expectation, a certainty that something in the future is going to happen. We learn from examining how the word "hope" is used that hope is never related to anything bad in the New testament; hope is always related to some future blessing, some future reward, something that is good. Secondly, hope is never an uncertainty. It is never this idea of wishful optimism where we sort of hope that tomorrow the weather will be good because we have certain things planned. It is never uncertain, it is always a certainty. It is never the idea that something may happen, it is always related to a confidence in a future reality. As such hope, as we see in the Scripture, is always built on the foundation of faith. There are certain things we will see that are similar to hope and faith. Faith is based on something that is unseen—2 Corinthians 5:7, we walk by faith and not by sight. We also see in Romans 8:22, 23 that hope is also related to that which is not seen. So because of that both hope and faith are virtues of the Christian life that are related to this time period because we do not see the Lord face to face. When we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord, whether that occurs at the time of our death or at the time of the Rapture, faith is no longer operative because faith is based on that which is not seen. When we are face to face with the Lord hope will be realized. That expectation will be before us.

When we think about the three virtues that are emphasized in 1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love," the reason the greatest is love is because faith and hope are also temporary. They will not function into eternity. Once we are face to face with the Lord faith becomes sight and hope becomes sight and so they are no longer relevant.

Colossians 1:3 NASB "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."

It is interesting how many times in Paul's opening prayers that he expresses his thankfulness to God for what God is doing in the lives of these believers—because of their faith, their ongoing trust in God, in the Scriptures, and secondly, because of their love for all the saints. That is what Paul praises because they are getting a reputation for the way they are expressing their love for all the saints. So we think of that in terms of the corporate characteristic of the local church and also in terms of our own personal lives: is this something that could be said about us, that in observing us we have a reputation personally because of our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, our trust in the Scripture and our application of the faith-rest drill, and secondly because that through us God is expressing His love to all the saints?

We see that as Paul emphasizes this he says he is thankful for these two things: faith in Christ Jesus and love for all the saints. But then in he is going to say, Colossians 1:5 NASB "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…" Part of the question in terms of the grammar or the passage is just how that verse relates back to what he has said in vv. 3, 4. There are some who try to tie this all the way back to the main verb, "We give thanks to God … because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." But the first problem is that verse 3 and that verb are just too far away from this last clause. It is probably best to understand the initial clause in v. 4 as being related to what he has just said in verse 2, the "love for all the saints." Why did they have this love for all the saints? Frankly, all the saints are not that lovable. We all know that. But what gives us that ability to grow in that area? That is this motivation that comes from our understanding of the end game, of where God is taking us, of what the future expectation is. It is that hope that is laid up for us in heaven.

The second category is the category of adoration or praise. This is focusing on who God is. We express our thanks to God. This is what we see being modelled in the opening prayers of the apostle Paul and the primary things we should be thanking God for. Then we make various requests of God under the category of supplication. This includes two aspects: intercession for others and petitions for ourselves, where we are asking God for some specifics in terms of the lives of those around us and petitions for specific issues in our own lives.

As we look at the passage before us and think about how this is expressed in terms of the cause for Paul's thankfulness, he says, "We give thanks to God… since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints." So just to focus a little on his thankfulness we have four Scripture passages to think about as a pattern for gratitude. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 NASB "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is {only} fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows {ever} greater." Notice again that in this epistle Paul emphasizes his thankfulness for the growth of their faith. We grow in our faith, in our ability to trust God in the midst of difficult circumstances and to claim promises. He is thankful because their faith is growing tremendously and also because their love for everyone abounds to one another. He says something similar in Ephesians 1:15 NASB "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which {exists} among you and your love for all the saints." Philemon 5 NASB "because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints." So these two elements get emphasized again and again.

Faith is the ability to trust God. Anybody can exercise belief. If you come in and sit down in a chair you exercise a certain amount of faith; you believe that chair will hold you. To believe is always related to something that you think is true. Notice that is not saying belief is always related to that which is true. People believe many things to be true that in fact are not true. But the point is that belief and trust is always related to what the person thinks is true. Whatever it is you might believe, when you believe it, you are believing that it is true. The issue of whether or not it is true is another issue. All faith in the Christian life is really related to some sort of truth claim that is expressed propositionally. The reason for saying that is because a lot of times when we read, especially in systematic theologies about the Bible, we say that we believe that the Bible is propositional truth about God. None of us have seen God; none of us have seen Jesus Christ. But we believe them to be true because the Bible says so; we believe the Bible is the Word of God and that what it says is true, so we believe that to be true. All of these different things that the Bible says are basically propositions. The Bible tells us that Jesus lived, that He claimed to be God, and that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Those are all statements that are either true or false. When we believe them to be true and we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins then we are a Christian. We believe a proposition about Jesus. We don't believe in Jesus directly because we haven't seen Him. Judas didn't believe in Jesus and he had seen him. So that immediate perception of Jesus is not necessary in order to have faith. Faith is believing something to be true about someone. That proposition can be validated, verified, and be proved to be true or false. So we have evidence that supports the veracity of the Scriptures and shows that the claims of Scripture, as far as we can demonstrate some things—archaeology, history, etc.—that show that nothing has ever been demonstrated to be false about the Scriptures.

The second virtue that comes out of this passage is love. This always takes us back to passages in the Gospels, especially in the upper room discourse. In terms of love Jesus redefines this in John 13:34, 35 NASB "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." One of the ways that He had just demonstrated that love was in the foot washing that occurred, and in washing their feet He was teaching the principle of forgiveness; the need for forgiveness in cleansing to have fellowship with God and also, by application, forgiveness for one another. So love for one another is built upon forgiveness of one another.

The word "love" is notoriously difficult to define, to give a definition. (Try to define love without describing it) In order to have this real love it depends upon a genuine integrity that is appealed to that goes above and beyond experiential preferences. We can't have the kind of love the Bible is talking about if we don't have this external reference point which comes from the love of God. The more we think about, meditate upon, contemplate the love of God in its demonstration towards us at the cross, in the demonstration of the gospel, the more we come to understand what love is. We have an immature concept of love when we are young. We can have a measure of love. As we go through life we grow, mature, and come to greater and more complex understanding of what love is. But love isn't a feeling. It may result in a feeling but it isn't just a feeling. What we see in Scripture is that our love for God has an objective measurement, that "if you love me," God says, "you will keep my commandments." So love has an ethical element to it, an element of obedience. If we are disobedient to God we don't love Him. This kind of love that marks the believer is not something that is evident in a young Christian's life. It just can't be because there is not enough knowledge, not enough time, to develop this kind of love. We get a description of it. The Scripture never really defines love either. We get examples, pictures of it, and we get a description of it in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NASB "Love is patient, love is kind {and} is not jealous; love does not brag {and} is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong {suffered,} does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

What is going to be important is that when we come to 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul says, NASB "But now [in the church age] faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." This tells us that the greatest is love, but there is a relationship that we find here between love and hope and it is hope that gives motivation to love. Love isn't easy. To fulfil what Scripture says about loving one another it goes against everything natural. It can't be accomplished on our own. It is the fruit of the Spirit, only God the Holy Spirit can accomplish this within us. It can only be done as a result of walking by means of the Spirit. But the motivation comes by understanding what the end game is, and that is hope.