3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 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, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. – Colossians 1:3-8 ESV
Paul describes the believers in Colossae using three of his favorites terms: Faith, hope, and love. He mentions their faith in Christ and their love for all the saints. And he indicates that these two qualities are based on the hope that is laid up for them in heaven. Because they have a secure hope in the future salvation promised to them because of their faith in Jesus Christ, they are able to love others as they have been loved. This triad of Christian character traits was near and dear to Paul’s heart. In fact, in his great “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, Paul summarizes his statements on love by writing, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).
For Paul, faith, hope, and love were the non-negotiable essentials of the Christian experience. In writing to the church in Corinth, he expressed his admiration for them and expressed that they had been blessed by God with every spiritual gift.
God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:5-7 NLT
And yet, despite their giftedness, the Corinthians were a divided church, bickering over who had the most impressive of the spiritual gifts. They had missed the whole point and were allowing the gifts that God had given them to create a hierarchy of spiritual elitism marked by pride and arrogance.
So, as Paul wrote to the fledgling church in Colossae, he emphasized the three characteristics that were essential to living the Christian life and honoring the name of Christ: Faith, hope, and love. Paul had used the same trifecta of godly qualities when addressing the believers in Thessalonica.
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV
In Paul’s theology, faith was an ongoing experience, not a one-time, once-for-all action that ushered in one’s salvation. While faith was essential for experiencing God’s saving grace as expressed through Christ’s sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross, it did not stop at the point of salvation. Faith was to be a dynamic and ever-increasing quality in the life of the believer. Paul told the Corinthians believers that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). He commended the believers in Thessalonica for their ever-expanding faith.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV
When speaking of his own life, Paul stated, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). He no longer relied upon his own strength and his capacity to produce good works in the flesh but, instead, he relied upon the sanctifying work of Christ – by faith. He truly believed what he wrote to the church in Philippi: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
And for Paul, love was the greatest proof of a truly transformed life. According to the author of Hebrews, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). But Paul would qualify that statement by adding, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV). Love for others provides demonstrable proof that we have been loved by God and had our hearts transformed by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. As James so eloquently put it, faith that produces no tangible evidence is not really faith at all.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:14-17 ESV
James was not inferring that we are saved by works, but he was emphasizing that saving faith produces godly fruit, such as love for those in need. The apostle John would echo that sentiment.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. – 1 John 4:20 ESV
And according to Paul, both faith and love are founded upon the hope of our future glorification, promised to us by God and provided for us by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus was intended to provide us with proof that there is life after death. This world is not all there is. That is why Paul told the Corinthians, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).
And Paul went on to stress the essential nature of Christ’s resurrection. If He is not risen from the dead, then our faith has no meaning whatsoever. It’s little more than a pipe dream.
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 ESV
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 ESV
Ultimately, our faith is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is His resurrection that assures us of our future hope of glorification. And Paul went on to assure the Corinthians of the unwavering reliability of God’s plan for our future glorification.
…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:52-55 ESV
We live by faith in the present because we have hope for the future. The God who will fulfill all that He has promised regarding the hereafter is fully capable of meeting all our needs in the here-and-now. And because we rest in His unfailing love for us, we are able to express that same love to all those around us, including our enemies.
And Paul commends the Colossian believers because the gospel continues to bear fruit in their lives.
…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… – Colossians 1:6 ESV
Their faith, hope, and love were anything but static. Each was increasing daily and being manifested in their lives for the world to see. The missionary work of Epaphras had been productive, resulting in their salvation and ongoing sanctification. Paul wanted the Colossians to know how proud he was of their perseverance and determination to continue to pursue faith, hope, and love – even in the midst of the difficulties and distractions of life in a fallen world.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.