Series: Colossians (1)

The Apostle Paul starts his letter by reassuring the first century Colossians that they are genuine Christians (Col 1:3-5). He describes three signs that prove God’s supernatural work in their lives. The signs of genuine Christian spirituality are faith in Christ Jesus; love for their fellow Christians; and hope in the world to come. Faith, hope and love are the timeless fruits produced by all genuine Christians throughout the centuries.

It is encouraging for us to know that the gospel we have received is the same message that the Colossians received from Epaphras, a faithful church planter and evangelist. This gospel will continue to bear fruit and grow in all soils, in every generation, and under every climate. The gospel keeps growing and producing a harvest around the world, because it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Anyone who adds or subtracts from the gospel that Paul, Epaphras and the original apostles preached is peddling a counterfeit gospel. We cannot divorce the gospel from its historic roots.

What Paul writes about authentic Christians and the true gospel throughout his letter to the Colossians will either assure us that we are the real deal, or alert us to the fact that we are not. It will also make us more discerning to recognise false teachers who push new ideas that are foreign to historic Christianity.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we 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. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit...(Col 1:3-8).

Faith, love and hope.

The triad of faith, hope and love is found in many of Paul’s writings (1 Cor 13:13; 1 Thess 1:3). Paul is clear that these abstract nouns are not just open to our own interpretation. Jesus Christ is the object of our faith. Our Christian brothers and sisters are the object of our love. Heaven is the object of our hope (Col 1:4-5).

The triad of faith, love and hope is a basic and full description of the genuine, spiritually alive Christian. Since we cannot manufacture these qualities, Paul is describing the lifestyle and values of a person who has heard, understood and responded to the whole and complete gospel.

Faith in Christ.

Are we known by our faith in Christ alone?

Faith cannot exist without a genuine spiritual work of grace as it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to put our faith in Christ’s atoning death on our behalf. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps us trusting in Him and living the life of faith. The Christian life is a journey of faith from beginning to end.

It is not enough to say, “I believe in God”, or “I believe in a higher power.” Those whose faith is in Christ Jesus acknowledge the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ as the one true God (Col 1:3). Everything we receive from God is “in Christ”. “In Christ” is a phrase repeated throughout Colossians, because our faith makes no sense outside of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Through faith, our old self died and was resurrected to new life with Christ.

Love for all the saints.

Are we known for our love for fellow Christians?

This kind of love is not a warm feeling or selective in its application. We cannot look inside of ourselves for this love. Our actions of love towards our brothers and sisters (whom we can see) reflect our love for a Saviour (whom we cannot see). It is a love generated by the Holy Spirit (Col 1:8).

In Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, He describes the simple acts of mercy we can do every day which do not depend on our wealth, ability or intellect. They are practical acts of love freely given to sisters and brothers who have deep and basic needs, whom Jesus describes as the least of these. Love for all the saints glorifies God by reflecting our love for His Son, who loved us when we were most needy and powerless to help ourselves.

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mind, you did for me” (Matt 25:37-45).

This kind of love is foreign to the world, which generally only understands love for family, friends, and our own ‘tribe’. Even a selfless unbeliever cannot share this unique love for all the saints because it is the Holy Spirit who binds children of God from different national, cultural and ethnic backgrounds into a unique fellowship of believers. We are part of a community of beloved saints, the church, a fellowship which transcends natural barriers. Later, Paul writes, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:11)

As a Biblical counsellor, one of the greatest joys in my work is witnessing how God moves the hearts of Christians to love other Christians in practical ways. I have seen substantial debts of a widow being paid off by a Christian couple who have not seen her for twenty years. I have seen meals being delivered month after month to a Christian sister with cancer. I have seen disciples of Christ forgiving the inexcusable sins of the past, with eyes focused on Jesus. These acts of love are powerful proofs that the gospel is true.

Christ himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The way we love the family of Christ demonstrates who and whose we are. It is the fruit of a true Christian (1 John 4:7, 11).

Hope laid up in heaven.

Faith and love are only ours here and now because of the hope laid up for us in heaven. In a footnote on all my emails is one of my favourite quotes on hope. “Hope is not defined by the absence of hardship. Rather, hope is found in God’s grace in the midst of hardship. Hope is found in his promise to give us a future”  (Stuart Scott). The absence of hope is one of the saddest features of our generation, which has come to expect immediate gratification rather than future joy.

Without the gospel promise of an ultimate future, absolute justice and complete redemption, a world where there will be no more tears, nor death, nor anguish, nor grief, nor pain (Rev 21:4), we have no basis for hope, especially amid hardship. But our foretaste of fellowship with God and all the saints here on earth is just an appetizer before the unimaginable blessings reserved for the future, ‘laid up’ in heaven for us. Although we experience many of the benefits of Christ’s victory on the cross in the here and now, we live with expectancy for what awaits us in heaven. The best is yet to come. We may mourn now, but joy comes in the morning.

Yet, like the Gnostics who tried to deceive the first century Church, many false teachers today would like us to concentrate on subjective experiences in a search for “fullness of life” and the secrets of God. They want us to believe that if our faith is strong enough, we can be free from sickness, pain and suffering in this life. Bethel even claims that they have seen angel feathers in their church. They present the simple gospel as just a foundation for the Christian life, but then offer a more complete and enriched form of Christianity for the spiritually advanced.

But Paul reassured the Colossian Christians that there are no first and second class Christians. They understood grace in its true meaning and simplicity, and this was enough. They had heard and received the true gospel, which was growing, bearing fruit and increasing across the known world (Col 1:6). Even twenty-one centuries later, Paul’s words encourage ordinary Christians to remain confident in the productive seed of the gospel, as it is written down and explained in Scripture.

Gospel harvest.

This gospel seed that Epaphras preached to the Colossian Christians is still being scattered across the world today by faithful Christians, regardless of opposition. It can seem to us like secularism is growing and people are leaving the church and the faith, but globally, that is not the case at all. The number of true Christians is steadily growing and the number of atheists is stagnant. Every time you invite a friend to church, tell someone about Jesus, or share something you’ve read from the Bible, you are scattering the seed of the gospel.

According to the 2022 Status of Global Christianity report, with a 1.17% growth rate, almost 2.56 billion people identified as a Christian by the middle of 2022. By 2050, that number is expected to top 3.33 billion. The gospel seed is growing and bearing fruit most rapidly in Asia and Africa, where persecution is rife.

Moreover, with Christianity spreading throughout the world, more non-Christians now know a Christian than ever before. In 1900, only 5,4% of non-Christians could identify a Christian they knew. That percentage has risen to 18.3% today. By 2050, it is expected that 20% of non-Christians will know a follower of Jesus and have the opportunity to hear the gospel from them. The spontaneous expansion of the church to every people group in the world is due to the explosive power of the simple, true gospel message. It is, in Paul’s words, “the grace of God in truth.”

The heart of the gospel is about God’s merciful offer to rescue us from our sin in Christ and bring us into relationship with Him. It is not that we strive to manufacture faith, love and hope, but that Christ in his sheer kindness and goodness, died to make us his faithful, loving, hope-filled servants. Faith, love and hope are the three bountiful fruits that continue to be produced by faithful Christians today. Like a fertile seed, the gospel will continue to spread across the world, filling the earth with those who follow Christ and glorify God in Him. “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

 

 

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