Faith and Love: Visible Virtues (1:4)
There are four critically important things to remember about faith and love as they are described by Paul in Colossians 1:4. First, neither can exist independently of the other. Second, they are by God’s design public virtues, visible expressions of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Third, faith is only as good as its object. Fourth, and finally, Christian love cannot be selective. Let me briefly explain what I mean.
First, love without faith is sloppy and insipid. It yields to compromise when truth is at stake. It lacks courage and is complicit in the sinner’s slide toward a Christless eternity. Of what good is it, in the ultimate sense, to shower someone with affection in the absence of a robust confidence in Jesus and the courage to proclaim him as the sinner’s only hope?
Likewise, faith without love is arid and pompous and eventually mean-spirited and unkind. How dare we say we believe and trust in Jesus and then turn a cold shoulder to the very people for whom he died?
I’ve often heard it said that most Christians will gravitate to one or the other, either to gentleness and tender-hearted compassion, on the one hand, or to unyielding faith and affirmation of theological truths on the other. But few, if any, can hold both with equal fervor in one’s heart.
I don’t buy it. Consider the case of Charles Spurgeon, surely the greatest expository preacher of the 19th century (and perhaps of any century). Dr. Joseph Parker, a neighboring minister, once said of Spurgeon:
“Mr. Spurgeon was absolutely destitute of intellectual benevolence. The only colors he recognized were black and white. With him you were either up or down, in or out, dead or alive. As for middle zones, graded lines, light compounding the shadow in a graceful exercise of give-and-take, he simply looked on them as heterodox. . . . On the other hand, who could compare with him in moral sympathy? Who so responsive to pain and need and helplessness? In this view Mr. Spurgeon was in very deed two men.”
Another of Spurgeon’s contemporaries, James Douglas concurs:
“The brain of this truly great man was of a giant order. . . . He did with ease, and spontaneously, mental feats which men of name and inordinate vanity, struggle in vain, even by elaboration, to accomplish. . . . He could grasp the bearings of a subject, hold his theme well in hand, and deploy his thoughts like troops in tactical movements. He was never ‘at sea.’ . . . All was orderly arrangement.”
Yet again, notes Douglas,
“Could any face more fully express geniality, friendliness, warmth of affection, and overflowing hospitality? We know of none in whom these traits so shone forth. His greeting was warm as sunshine. . . . it mattered not what might be the shadow on the spirit or the trouble of the heart – it all vanished away at the voice of his welcome. There was light on his countenance that instantly dispersed all gloom. I have never known one whose presence had such charm, or whose conversation was such a rich and varied feast” (Spurgeon, Arnold Dallimore, 183-84).
Second, although both faith and love are personal, they are hardly private and certainly never secret. They are visible and vocal in their expression. This was certainly the case with the Colossians, for Paul declares that he and others had “heard” (v. 4a) of their faith and love. Clearly, their faith in Jesus and love for one another had been sufficiently public and concrete that people had taken note of it and passed along the information to the apostle.
Yes, faith exists internally, in mind and heart and spirit, but it radically changes how one lives, talks, and relates to others. True faith energizes vocal proclamation and courageous witness concerning its glorious object: Jesus. Likewise, love is certainly a personal passion, a commitment of the heart. But Jesus declared that the tangible expression of affection for one another would be the hallmark by which the world would know that we are his disciples (John 13:35). True love is something seen and known by others.
One of the more stunning statements in Scripture concerning the nature of this love is found in Hebrews 6:10 - “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (NASB). How does one demonstrate a love for God, a reverence for his name? Here we see that it is by ministering to and making sacrifice on behalf of his people! Loving God and loving people are not mutually exclusive. We are never forced to choose between the two. Calloused indifference towards the people of God is unmistakable evidence of a disregard for God himself. To love them is to love him.
Third, Paul is not impressed with faith. What moves him is faith “in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). The object of faith always determines its quality and worth. Mere sincerity, passionate devotion, clarity of conviction, depth of insight are all ultimately useless unless they are rooted in and focused on the person and work of Jesus.
Fourth, the Colossians’ love, which reached Paul’s ears, was not selective. Had he discovered that they loved only some in the church, reserving their affection and sacrifice for those of a similar socio-economic achievement or an identical color of skin or a common ethnic or national heritage, I dare say he would not have experienced the sort of joy that is so obvious in his words. Their love was “for all the saints” (v. 4b), irrespective of those distinguishing features and public accomplishments that so often dictate whom and when and how much we will love.
May God so work in our hearts that our faith is affectionate and our passion is principled. May he energize us in ways that are both seen and heard and known by all, especially by those who as yet know nothing of Jesus. May his Spirit awaken and intensify faith, confidence, and satisfaction in Jesus. And may our love be as wide and all-encompassing as was and is his own.