Faith, Love and Hope in Christ

Faith, Love and Hope in Christ.
Luke 10: 25 – 37; Colossians 1: 1 – 14
The letter to the church in Colossae provides us with a marvellous insight into Christian Faith.  The opening paragraphs contain a rich lode of spiritual gold. They contain the treasure and truth of the Christian life. Understand them, apply them and you have the Christian Faith.
One way of seeing these opening verses is through the metaphor of a new plant in your garden. You’ve been given a new plant that you are told will grow and multiply and make your garden beautiful.  You trust your friend and put into action what is suggested, motivated by the hope of a prettier garden. You plant it and nurture the plant. It grows and multiplies slowly but surely. And truly it does beautify your garden. The plant bears the promised fruit of delightful flowers that enrich your and others’ lives. We have trusted our friend, planted their gift and with hope we anticipated what it would do. We were motivated by the hope of a beautiful garden our reliable and loving friend promised us.
Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians is in the style of letter writing of the day, but with significant differences. His greeting contains a blessing and an assurance from God, which is guaranteed by him being an apostle – one who is sent from God. Then Paul offers a prayer. Firstly, he starts with thanksgiving.  Secondly, he prays for the Colossian Christians asking God to nurture their growth in ‘wisdom and understanding’ [v.9].  His thanksgiving prayer uses three key words – faith, love and hope – that are found elsewhere and especially in that famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13, the hymn of love, which is the favourite for marriage services. So let us consider this text by focusing on faith, love and hope. Let us do so by noticing their relationship to each other and their order.
The order of the words, faith, love and hope, presents us with an insight worthy of our attention. Paul writes; we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. [Col 1:4,5] The logic of the order and the grammar tells us an important truth about the Christian life.  It tells us that our Faith in Christ Jesus is expressed in Love and based on the life, death, resurrection and future of God revealed in Christ Jesus.  So the Christian life is a life of faith expressed through love for others. The Christian life is grounded by the hope that whatever may happen our future rests with God. Let us reflect on each of these three key words faith, love and hope.
Faith in Christ.  The common meaning of ‘faith’ is that one believes in something or someone and that faith orders your life to some extent. When we speak of someone’s faith we are speaking about their orientation. They have faith in that or this. They believe these things. It is helpful to distinguish between faith and belief. Belief refers to a set of ideas or statements about someone or something. Belief is an intellectual process. It resides in our head. We can articulate our beliefs. However do we have faith in our beliefs?
I want to draw a distinction between faith as a set of beliefs and faith as trusting and living. Faith can refer to a set of beliefs we have or faith can refer to what we trust in. Belief is an intellectual process and trust is an emotional commitment.  You might believe that someone can do something, but do you trust them to do it?  Once we move from faith as a set of beliefs to faith as trusting in those beliefs we have moved up gear. When we start trusting someone or something we enter into a new relationship with the person or object.
The letter to the Colossians does not speak of the recipients’ faith about Christ Jesus but their faith in Christ Jesus. The preposition ‘in’ is significant. It expresses the sense of entering into something, being involved and a follower. I might believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he died and he rose from the dead and is divine, but it does not necessarily mean I trust Christ Jesus; that is, I live my life by Jesus’ standards. What distinguishes faith as belief and faith as trust are the consequences of my belief. And that is precisely what Paul focuses on here – the consequences of the Colossian Christians’ faith.  Paul has heard about their faith in Christ and their love for others.
Love in Christ.  Love is not seen here as being separate from faith in Christ. Faith and love are inseparable. Paul acknowledgement of the Colossian Christians’ faith rests on the fact that lives bear the fruit of Christian love.  He isn’t thanking God for them being members of the Church in Colossae, but thanking God for the fruit of their faith.  In verses 4 – 7 Paul twice refers to their love and mentions they are bearing the fruit of the Gospel. 
The gospel … is bearing fruit among yourselves … .   This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. … he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. [Vv.5 – 8]
Faith describes my life from the perspective of its orientation. When I talk about my beliefs I am talking about my orientation; that is, what matters to me and what drives me.  Love describes my life from the perspective of its effect on others. Love is necessary to Faith as oxygen is necessary to breathing.  You can’t breathe without oxygen neither can you be a Christian without loving others. The 1st letter of John makes it quite clear when the writer says; Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. [1 Jn 4:7,8] These words challenge us. When I say I am a Christian does my attitude to others confirm that claim?  Do I love others?
Hope in Christ. Paul writes; we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. [Col 1:4,5] Hope is not an extra addition to the first two concepts, but an important part of the parcel. Hope is the foundation for Faith and Love. Why is that so? Firstly, let me offer a word of caution. There is no evidence that this letter suggests that being a Christian is all about going to heaven one day. As we study this text, and I propose to preach on the text of Colossians over the next four to five Sundays, you will see that this letter is concerned about living life in the community now. (By the way you can follow the sermon series on the Leighmoor website and you can join the study group at Leighmoor.)
Hope acts like a vision or goal statement. We have an imaginary picture in our mind of achieving something. It may be a professional goal or a sporting goal or travelling goal. That picture of the future goal tends to direct our living today. We start preparing ourselves. We construct our living and actions around that vision or goal. In effect we make plans and take action. God’s future is like that too.  God calls us into God’s future. God’s future is not heaven beyond this world, but heaven coming down to earth. Heaven for me is really like God’s ‘control tower’.  The Lord’s Prayer tells us that we will do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven.  God’s future is about living in peace. God’s peace is not the absence of war, but the wholeness of life where there is reconciliation between enemies, forgiveness, care and justice. God’s future is life without chains and exploitation. God’s future is without violence and fear.  God’s future pulls us into God’s future. We are drawn to it and it is drawn to us. Let me try explaining it this way.
Our culture tells us that everything happens by cause and effect. The notion of ‘cause and effect’ is that the past pushes us into the future. We would conclude that certain things happen in the past that bring us here. Now there is some truth in that.  But God comes to us in Christ Jesus and changes that around. Christ Jesus calls us to follow him and through his love, his forgiveness and his acceptance of us. God’s future blessings are received now. We live as being accepted by God. We live as people already forgiven. We live as people who are living lives, albeit inadequately at times, that reflect God’s future.  Every time we stop to love the unlovable and forgive the unforgiveable we are bringing God’s future into the present. So where there is a loving community of Christ followers there is peace and justice, compassion and acceptance.
Our hope in God’s future pulls us into God’s tomorrow where love for each other abounds and faithful relationships endure.
Faith can only be real when we Love, and love can only survive when nurtured by Hope. Faith, Love and Hope work together to create God’s tomorrow. Men and women of God know that when we fail to love we fail our God. When we fail to love we dishonour Christ Jesus.  From time to time we will fail, but by the mercy of God we can be forgiven and renewed.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  31/07/2016