By Pastor Glenn Pease
The story is told of the Maine farmer who was laboriously driving his wagon and team along a dusty road. When he came upon a man by the roadside he hollered to him, "How much longer does this hill last?" The man replied, "This is no hill, your hind wheel are missing."
When there are parts missing that usually means, if it's a turkey you are talking about, it will be cheaper, but in most areas of life, parts missing means trouble. The Christian life is an uphill road anyway, and if we have parts missing it can be extremely difficult. Paul is grateful for the fact that the Colossians have no part missing. They are equipped with the three major virtues around which the entire Christian life revolves--faith, hope, and love. This is the order of these three virtues in I Cor. 13, where Paul says the greatest of these is love, but every possible order is found in Paul's writings. Here in Col. the order is faith, love, and hope. The order is not important, for these three are so interrelated that you have to have all three to have any of them.
If you have faith in someone, that is you trust them, you will naturally have love for them. This means you will take action based on your trust, and when you have taken these first two steps you can hardly avoid the third which is hope that your trust will be justified, and that your actions will prove fruitful for the future. There is not way to separate these three. They are a trinity of pearls on the same string, and if you break the string anywhere all three pearls will roll off. If any part is missing the whole of the Christian life is going to grind to a halt, because parts missing here means nothing can function on a Christian level. Faith looks to the past; love is action in the present; and hope looks to the future. The Christian life cannot be complete if any one of these perspectives is missing.
We want to examine each of these three basic parts of Christian living both for information, and for refreshing our own awareness of the value of these virtues. Maybe if is the case with us that no parts are missing, but parts which are present but seldom thought about can be neglected and not used as they were intended to be used. Lets look first at
I. THEIR POSSESSION OF FAITH.
Paul had an eye and ear for faith. He was always delighted when he spotted it or heard of it. Over half of the references to faith in the New Testament are in Paul's letter. Paul is pleased with the faith of the Colossians, for it is clearly a strong faith. It does not stop at mere belief, but extends itself into love and hope.
Moule pictures faith like an anchor that sinks into the sea, and even into the floor of the sea, that it may be held by it. So faith is in Christ--it is a sinking of ones trust deeply into Christ so that one is fixed in Christ.
D. L. Moody used to describe three kinds of faith. First is the struggling faith, which is like a man in deep water not sure is can stay afloat. Then there is clinging faith, which is like a man holding to the side of the boat, and finally, there is resting faith, which is like a man safely in the boat secure enough to reach his hand over the side and help someone else. This last kind of faith is what Paul saw in the Colossians and he was thankful.
Only when faith is secure can it develop into love and hope. It is the foundation, and if there is a great deal of struggle and doubt on the level of ones faith, there will be little or no action of love, or hopeful aspiration for the things above. Christians must be grounded in faith to grow in completeness. The reason faith is the foundation of the Christian life is because it involves the total being of man in response to the Gospel. We can see this by breaking faith down into three parts. First it is--
A. Assent. Faith comes by hearing. A man hears the good news of what Jesus accomplished for men on the cross, and he understands that Christ made it possible for him to be forgiven and reconciled to God. The mind either doubts this good news or gives assent to it. If is says I believe, that is the initial stage of faith. It starts with the intellect evaluating the evidence and then saying I believe it is true. Once that point has been reached, the next begins, which is--
B. Affection. When the minds concludes that something is true, then the emotions begin to operate on that conclusion. If it is true that Christ died for me and made peace with God for me, then I cannot help but love him and God the Father who gave His Son for me. Assent goes right into affection. The mind opens the door, but the emotions are right behind. The basic emotion connected with faith is trust. In fact, one of the best definitions for faith is the acrostic using the five letters in the word. Forsaking All I Trust Him. That is what faith in Christ is. It is a commitment to trust Him alone for your salvation. After the mind says I believe in Him, and the heart says I trust Him, then we are at the third stage of faith which is--
C. Action. You can have faith that does not get to the third stage, but remember it is of no value, for faith without works is dead. Catherine Marshall said, "Faith is only worthy of the name when it erupts into action." Faith must get the will of man in motion if it is true faith. If the mind says I believe, and the heart says I trust, then the will must logically follow up with, I do. I do receive Him as Lord and Savior, and I do commit myself to obey His will. All Christian obedience and Christian living is the outgrowth of this third stage of faith.
Paul is thankful for the Colossians because it is evident by their love for all the saints that they have a complete faith in Christ, which includes the intellect, emotion, and the will. This foundation was itself complete with no parts missing. The second part of the Christian life Paul is grateful for in the Colossians is--
II. THEIR PRACTICE OF LOVE.
Any Christian who does not exhibit love to the saints is like a cheap turkey--that is there are parts missing. Lack of love takes you right back to the foundation which is defective. Faith which really does not trust Christ enough to obey His command to love one another is a defective faith. When you see the fruit of love, however, you know the root is there and working fine.
The love of Christians for one another has lead the whole secular world to a higher level of compassion. What happened in New Guinea has happened time and time again. The church mission there decided to put up a single beacon light near a rocky point where many had shipwrecked and lost their lives. It saved many lives and the government saw its value, and they built an effective lighthouse. The early Christian so cared for the poor, widows, and orphans that the Romans were impressed and became more compassionate for these needs. All through history men of wealth and governments have been compelled by Christian love to establish institutions for the care of unfortunate people. Christians cared so much about education that hundreds of colleges and universities have been built all over the world. We could go on and on about medicine, insurance, prison work, etc. The church has been the salt of the earth and has influenced millions of non-Christians to give their time, money, and lives to causes of love and compassion by their example.
Love, like faith, goes through and grows through stages. Love is not just a matter of emotion, but also of the mind. You learn to love. You give thought to your relationship to other Christians, and you realize you have a duty to love them. They are by their faith in Christ a part of His bride. They are products of His love. You cannot fully trust and love Christ if you do not love those whom He loves. By reasoning like this you think your way into a deeper commitment of love to other believers.
Paul appealed to the mind when he urged the Christian husbands of Ephesus to love their wives as Christ loved the church. He held up the love of Christ as the example that Christians are to follow in love. This is an intellectual commitment. Then he went on to appeal to self interest as a motive for love. He said," husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it." Paul says love is logical. It does what makes good sense. Love is so practical because it benefits everyone involved. It is the best route to take for ones own self interest. The more you love one another in Christ the more you reap the benefits of being part of the body of Christ. Edwin Markham wrote--
There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone;
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
Love thinks in terms of obligations and responsibilities, whereas, law thinks of rights. However, those who love are those who are loved, and they receive from others the rights, privileges and blessings the self is seeking, but cannot find by force or law. Love fulfills the law and fills you full of what the law is for--the protection of your rights and privileges. In plain language, the best thing you can do for yourself is to love the rest of the body of Christ.
This love is not a feeling, nor is it a matter of the proper words, but rather, something you do. Christian love must be active to be real. William Winter wrote,
On wings of deeds the soul must mount!
When we are summoned from afar,
Ourselves, and not our words will count--
Not what we said but what we are!
The Colossians were practicing this kind of love, with no parts missing.
III. THEIR PERSPECTIVE OF HOPE.
We see that the three key virtues of the Christian life cover the past, present, and future. Faith looks to the past; love looks at the present; and hope looks to the future. Love is the greatest because it is the ever present result of the other two. When faith looks back and sees what Christ has done, and when hope looks ahead to see what He will do, there is a powerful motivation to live life now in love.
Paul actually says here that the love the Colossians have for all the saints is because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. Those who have the strongest conviction about heaven will be the greatest lovers on earth. Hope makes us love more now, those who will be loved forever. Hope then is not a mere pie in sky when we die attitude. It reaches into the future and brings back into the present the love that will be forever. Spurgeon said, "Whatsoever in this world promotes Christian love is to be admired, and sense the hope that we shall be forever together before the throne of God lifts us above the little disagreements of society, and makes us affectionate to each other, it is a thing to cultivate with care."
Hope is a vital factor in the Christian life for the ideal is what stimulates the Christian to live now on a higher level. E. Y. Mullins, the great Baptist theologian said, "When hope grows bright love gains an added intensity." Why should hope be a motivation to love? Why should a hopeful person be a more loving person? Lets try and see the logic of this truth. An insecure person tends to be a self-centered person. They are forever striving to gain some assurance that they are loved and accepted. They burn up so much of their emotional energy in seeking love for themselves, there is little left for loving others. In contrast, the person who is fully assured of love and acceptance, and looks ahead with expectation to the joy of heaven, is so secure they do not need to struggle and strive for assurance. The result is they have energy available to channel into love for others.
Hope of heaven, therefore, can change your present life radically, for the more real your hope the more real will be your love for all who will be forever with you. A secure hope of eternity releases love energy in time. Sometimes Christians feel it is too selfish a motive to look to the rewards of heaven. This is a misunderstanding that hinders obedience to Gods commands. We are called to set our affections on things above. Paul did not run the Christian race for nothing, but to win the prize. God has made us so that love in us seeks fulfillment. What person can be happy in courtship and love without the hope of fulfillment. It is the hope of marriage and the consummation of your love in oneness that motivates love to grow.
This same principle applies to the Christian life. The bride, which is the church, looks forward to fulfillment when the bridegroom, which is Christ, takes her into the mansion He has prepared, where they shall dwell in endless joy. If that hope is not real, the love of the bride will began to fade. Paul said that if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. It is our future hope that makes our love live now and grow. The greater your hope the of future ties with someone, the greater will be your present interest and love for them. The Colossians had this love for one another, and, thus, they were Christians with no parts missing.