Hope: The Fountain of Faith and Love - Part I (1:4-5)
Prepositions are wonderful things. No, I'm not crazy. Look with me at Colossians 1:4-5 and then draw your own conclusions.
Having heard of the faith and love among the Colossians, visibly and vocally displayed, Paul has declared his gratitude to God. But how did God produce these virtues in the hearts and lives of his people?
Some might suggest that he directed their thoughts away from heavenly reward to earthly responsibilities. If these people are going to be of any earthly good, so God supposedly said, they must get their minds off of heavenly glory. Well, not exactly.
In fact, precisely the opposite appears to be the case. We read in v. 5 that it was "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven" that faith in Christ and love for all the brethren flourished in Colossae. The preposition “because” (dia with the accusative) or “on account of” can only be taken as pointing to faith and love as in some sense a response to hope. In some way, hope produces faith and love. Hope, then, is the basis for faith and love.
That there is a distinctly future orientation to Paul’s thought is confirmed by the description of hope as being “laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5a). By the way, this is what we hope for, the objective reality of our future inheritance, not the feeling of hope or expectation in our hearts. So what does Paul have in mind?
Since it is in the heavens it could be Christ himself, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Or it could be our final salvation, our glorification, the blessedness of heaven itself. But these are appealing only because they give us Christ! In any case, thinking about and banking on and living in the expectation of the hope that awaits us in Christ in heaven is of immense practical, life-changing, faith-awakening, love-inspiring benefit.
In chapter nine of my book, One Thing, I spoke in some detail of the practical benefits of being heavenly-minded. For example, a contemplative focus on the beauty of heaven frees us from excessive dependence upon earthly wealth and comfort. If there awaits us an eternal inheritance of immeasurable glory, it is senseless to expend effort and energy here, sacrificing so much time and money, to obtain for so brief a time in corruptible form what we will enjoy forever in consummate perfection.
According to Phil. 3:20-21, knowing that "our citizenship is in heaven" enables the soul to escape the grip of "earthly things" (Phil. 3:19). Peter contends that the ultimate purpose of the new birth (1 Peter 1:3-4) is our experience of a heavenly hope, an inheritance that is “imperishable,” by which he means incorruptible, not subject to decay or rust or mold or dissolution or disintegration. This heavenly inheritance is “undefiled” or pure, unmixed, untainted by sin or evil. Best of all, it is “unfading.” Not only will it never end, it will never diminish in its capacity to enthrall and fascinate and impart joy. It is “reserved in heaven” for us, kept safe, under guard, protected and insulated against all intrusion or violation. This hope is the grounds for your joy (v. 6) that sustains you in trial and suffering.
A few verses later he exhorts his readers to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). This is a commanded obsession. Fixate fully! Rivet your soul on the grace that you will receive when Christ returns. Tolerate no distractions. Entertain no diversions. Don’t let your mind be swayed. Devote every ounce of mental and spiritual and emotional energy to concentrating and contemplating on the grace that is to come. What grace is that? It is the grace of the heavenly inheritance described in vv. 3-6!
The expectation of a “city that has foundations” energized Abraham’s heart to persevere in a foreign land. All the patriarchs are described as “seeking a [heavenly] homeland” (Hebrews 11:14). Their determination in the face of trial was fueled by their desire for a “better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). As pleasant as it may be now, what we see and sense and savor in this life is an ephemeral shadow compared with the substance of God himself. Earthly joys are fragmented beams, but God is the sun. Earthly refreshment is at best a sipping from intermittent springs, but God is the ocean!
A contemplative focus on heaven enables us to respond appropriately to the injustices of this life. Essential to heavenly joy is witnessing the vindication of righteousness and the judgment of evil. Only from our anticipation of the new perspective of heaven, from which we, one day, will look back and evaluate what now seems senseless, can we be empowered to endure this world in all its ugliness and moral deformity.
A contemplative focus on heaven produces the fruit of endurance and perseverance now. The strength to endure present suffering is the fruit of meditating on future satisfaction! This is the clear message of several texts such as Matthew 5:11-12; Romans 8:17-18,23,25b; Hebrews 13:13-14; and 1 Peter 1:3-8.
Romans 8:18 is Paul’s declaration that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We do not lose heart because we contemplate the unseen things of the future and nourish our souls with the truth that whatever we endure on this earth is producing a glory far beyond all comparison! Christians are not asked to treat pain as though it were pleasure, or grief as though it were joy, but to bring all earthly adversity into comparison with heavenly glory and thereby be strengthened to endure. The exhortation in Hebrews 13:13-14 to willingly bear the reproach of Christ is grounded in the expectation of a “city which is to come,” namely, the heavenly New Jerusalem.
Nowhere is this principle better seen than in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Gazing at the grandeur of heavenly glory transforms our value system. In the light of what is “eternal”, what we face now is only “momentary”. Suffering appears “prolonged” only in the absence of an eternal perspective. The “affliction” of this life is regarded as “light” when compared with the “weight” of that “glory” yet to come. It is “burdensome” only when we lose sight of our heavenly future. The key to success in suffering, as odd as that sounds, is in taking the long view. Only when juxtaposed with the endless ages of eternal bliss does suffering in this life become tolerable.
There is yet another contrast to be noted. In v. 18 Paul juxtaposes “transient” things “that are seen” with “eternal” things “that are unseen.” Note especially the connection between v. 18 and v. 16. Our "inner nature" is being renewed as we look or while we look at the unseen, eternal things of the age to come. If you don’t “look” you won’t change! The process of renewal only occurs as the believer looks to things as yet unseen. As we fix the gaze of our hearts on the glorious hope of the age to come, God progressively renews our inner being, notwithstanding the simultaneous decay of our outer frame! Inner renewal does not happen automatically or mechanically. Transformation happens only as or provided that we "look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen" (v. 18).
Nothing exerts such purifying power on the heart as does a contemplative focus on heaven. Meditation on the unseen glories of heaven energizes the heart to say no to fleshly desires. This is the clear witness of Colossians 3:1-4; 1 John 3:2-3; and 2 Peter 3:11-13.
To be continued . . .
Because of hope,