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A Mini-Series is a small subset of lessons from a major series which covers a particular subject or book. The class numbers will be in reference to the major series rather than the mini-series.
Sunday, February 27, 2011

6 - Faith, Hope, Love [B]

Colossians 1:3-5 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:56 mins 2 secs

Faith, Hope, Love. Colossians 1:3-5


Colossians 1:3 NASB "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." The main verb here is eucharisteo [e)uxaristew] which is the verb for thankfulness and expressing gratitude. The reason for stressing this is because as we get into this verse and the ones following it through verse 6 are all part of the same sentence. Often in our lives we are thankful for certain  circumstances and for certain people, but rarely do we really focus on the same things that the writers of Scripture focus on when they express their gratitude. So when we look at these prayers and see what Paul was thankful for then we see that that is the kind of thing that we should be focusing on, those are the priorities in our life, and that should be part of what we express in our gratitude to God.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 NASB "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is {only} fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows {ever} greater." Paul is focusing not just on their justification faith, the faith they expressed initially to become saved, their faith in Christ; but this is their Christian life faith or faith-rest drill as we sometimes refer to it, that is the faith that is part of our ongoing Christian experience that is essential to our spiritual growth. So he commends them because their faith continues to grow. They are increasingly stretched to trust God in the circumstances of life. He expresses his gratitude for that and also for the love of "each one of you towards one another grows." We see this connection between faith and love.

This is seen also in Ephesians 1:15 NASB "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which {exists} among you and your love for all the saints." Again he is emphasizing their faith and their love for all the saints. It is often our initial reaction to look at a phrase like "faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" and say that must refer to salvation faith, justification faith. But that is not necessarily the case. The phrase is ambiguous enough to include that but if we look at the church to whom Paul is writing he knows that they are already justified and so the context would indicate that what he has in mind is more likely gratitude for their ongoing faith in terms of their Christian life and their Christian walk. So he is expressing thankfulness for their ongoing faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints, which is an application of what they are learning as they are studying the Word and a reflection upon the love that is produced as part of the fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:21ff.

Philemon 1:5 NASB "because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints." Again, the context indicates that he is expressing this not in the context of justification faith but their faith in terms of their spiritual walk, their spiritual growth, their spiritual advance.

When we come to Colossians 1:3, 4 we read the initial phrase, "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and then after that we have a participle in English, "praying always for you." How does this adverb "always" relate to the sentence structure? Because the word order in the Greek isn't the same as the word order in the English. "Always" as an adverb is most likely going to modify the main verb which is the verb to give thanks. In which case it would be translated, "We always give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Then we have to address the second question and that is, where does this next phrase "for you" go? Does it go in the beginning, "We always give thanks for you through the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" and then "when we pray" because the participle there should be understood in a temporal sense? So one option would be: "We always give thanks for you to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray." Another way that we could look at this would be, "We always give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you." So where do these things fit?

The first option is to put both the "always" and the "concerning you" in relation to the main verb of giving thanks. This would read: "We always give thanks to God concerning you when we pray." The problem with that is that this implies that every time Paul prays he would be saying he was giving thanks for the Colossians. It is doubtful that that would be possible. The second option is to put only the always in the first part as the modifier of giving thanks, and leaving the "for you" at the end. This would read: "We always give thanks to God when we pray for you." That would imply that whenever Paul prayed for the Colossians church that he always gave thanks for them. That seems to be a more realistic option. The third option leaves the "always" and the "for you" as modifiers of the participle. That would then read: "We give thanks to God, always praying for you" or "when we always pray for you." That again would indicate that Paul was always praying for the Colossians. This is similar to the problem in the first option. The one that is chosen by the majority of commentators and translators is the second option, that what Paul is saying is that he always gives thanks to God when he is praying for the Colossian church. He makes his gratitude and thankfulness for them his focus. It is very important for us to recognize that gratitude should be a focus. 

Paul usually expresses something that he is thankful for in each salutation. In contrast, the pagans in Romans 1:18ff are under judgment because they have not been grateful to God for what He has done, they are characterized by ingratitude. The basic orientation of arrogance is to be self-absorbed and therefore an ingrate. We all fall into that category at various times when we fail to be truly thankful and grateful for what we have because we are too focused on the fact that we don't get things the way we want them or when we want them. And rather than recognizing that God is in control and being thankful for what God has given us we are focusing on the fact that we didn't get it our way. Whenever we recognize ingratitude we should be aware of the fact that that is a sin and should be bringing that before the Lord in terms of confession.

There are four basic categories or kinds of prayer. The first is a prayer of confession when we admit or acknowledge our sin to God for the purpose of forgiveness and cleansing of sin so that we will be in fellowship and can return to a walk in the Spirit and abiding in Christ.

The second kind of prayer is a prayer of adoration or praise. This is a focus on God and of who He is and expressing our love and devotion to Him. Often if we look at the Psalms we will see that the writer of the Psalms in a praise psalm will focus on some aspect of God's character and then relate that to specific situations or circumstances. That often will lead then within those praise psalms to prayer of thanksgiving, of gratitude for the fact that God is who He is and that He is acting in the life of the psalmist the way He has. When we focus on who God is then the details of life and the circumstances of life that we encounter on a daily basis and so easily get us off the tracks in our spiritual life go out of focus and there is a return to order and a return to balance in terms of how we look at life. We recognize it is all about God, not all about Me.

The fourth element is supplication, a term that in English means to make a request on the basis of humility. There are two ways in which we make supplication to God. When we bring requests before God's throne there are those that refer to other people and those that are related to our own lives. When we pray for other people that is called intercession; when we pray for ourselves we refer to that as petition.

Paul says in verse 3 NASB "We [always] give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," again recognition, as we have observed, that in all of Paul's prayers he addresses them not to the Son, not to the Holy Spirit, but to God the Father. It is God the Father to whom we should always pray. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our high priest and He also serves as the one who intercedes for us. We are told in Romans chapter eight that it is the Holy Spirit who also intercedes for us. We do not pray to an intercessor to pray for us, we have direct access to God the Father and to His throne on the basis of Jesus Christ's high priestly work and on the basis of the fellowship that we have in the Holy Spirit. For that reason we direct our prayers to God the Father. 

In verse 4 we learn the reason for that prayer. Colossians 1:4 NASB "since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints." In the English translation of "since we heard" from the NKJV we have three words that actually translate one word in the Greek. The English word "since" is a word that is chosen in order to express something of a causal relationship between this statement and the statement Paul has made in verse three. It is an adverbial participle indicating cause and that the reason that motivates the prayer is the fact that Paul has received a report on the spiritual condition of the believers in Closse. And because he has heard good things about their spiritual life and their spiritual growth and their desire to serve the Lord he is expressing thanks for that. We could translate this: "We always give thanks when we pray for you because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints." So he focuses here on two aspects of the Christian life: faith in Christ Jesus and love for all the saints. These are two virtues in the Christian life that are often linked together and they describe the maturation of believers. Believers who are young believers have a small, immature capacity for love. Often young believers express their love for God and it is an expression of their gratitude to God because they are saved, but it is a limited love because there is a limited understanding of God and of His grace.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 NASB "constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father." Here Paul connects again faith, hope and love as he does in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen. These three terms describe the breadth of Christian growth and life, each one emphasizing a different aspect or a different dimension of our walk with the Lord and our spiritual growth and advance. This verse connects faith, hope and love in 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Ephesians 1:15 and Philemon 5. Because of the context of each of these epistles it is believed that this is talking not so much about justification faith and becoming a Christian but the ongoing Christian life.

Another passage that brings in the third aspect which is hope is Romans 5:2. In Romans chapter five we have Paul making application of the reality of our justification. Once a person trusts in Jesus Christ and has received an imputation or accrediting of Christ's righteousness to them, and God has declared them just, the result is that they now have peace with God. Peace with God is related to reconciliation but it is the application of justification in the temporal experience of the believer. Paul goes on to say in verse 2 NASB "through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." Here he is thinking in terms of someone who already is a believer. It is a "grace in which we now stand" as the result of a past action and we have access by faith into this grace. So this is bringing faith into the next level of application from justifying faith to sanctifying faith. On the basis of this "we exult in hope of the glory of God." Hope is one of those great words in relation to the Christian life. It is not the concept of an optimistic wish or desire that somehow today the weather is beautiful and I hope the weather is beautiful tomorrow because I have no idea whether it will be or not. Hope in the Scripture and hope in the meaning of the word elpis [e)lpij] in the Greek has the idea of a constant expectation of a future event. There is a sense of certainty that something will happen. It is a confident expectation of some future event.

We see this a little more clearly in Romans 8. The word "saved" in Romans does not refer to phase one justification; primarily it refers to phase two. Sometimes it refers to the entire process. As God delivers us from the penalty of sin in phase one He is delivering us from the power of sin in phase two, ultimately to save us from the presence of sin in phase three. Sometimes in Romans Paul is incorporating the entire process of God's deliverance of us from sin to that perfect state of glorification in the future. In Romans 8:24 Paul is not talking about our salvation in terms of justification but sanctification. This comes at the end of a lengthy discussion on the spiritual life. Paul is saying we were delivered if reference to sanctification; he hasn't talked about justification since chapter four. Romans 8:24 NASB "For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he {already} sees?" But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." He focuses our attention forward to a future certainty, a constant certainty that we have that we will be delivered and glorified. But then he adds something to it that relates hope to faith" "hope that is seen is not hope." Faith also as we walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) is not based on sight. So faith is not based on sight; hope is not based on sight.

That is one of the reasons why in 1 Corinthians 13 "when the perfect comes" then the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and tongues will be done away with. Many people think that when the perfect comes that is when Jesus Christ returns or that is when we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. But what Paul says at the conclusion there is that now in this age faith, hope and love abide. But faith is not going to be part of our experience in glorification because then we will be walking by sight, not by faith. Hope will not be part of our experience after glorification because, according to Romans 8:24 hope is not by sight either. So that tells us necessarily that whatever is going on in 1 Corinthians 13:8 it cannot possibly be looking forward to the return of Christ at some point in the present. It is talking about something that would take place here because after the perfect comes those gifts cease but faith, hope and love will continue. They won't continue after Jesus returns. The distinction that is made there is 1 Corinthians must have to do with some event in time or in history that brings a cessation to the spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy and tongues.

So hope is not seen. Paul says: "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he {already} sees?" It is not an expectation if you have it. It is something that you expect that hasn't arrived yet. Romans 8:25 NASB "But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." Hope implies looking forward to something and waiting for something with a confident expectation that it will arrive.

Romans 15:13 NASB "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…" In the English that is translated as if it is a participle but actually it is an infinitive in the Greek and it is used more like a noun. It should be understood: "the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace by faith," by what you believe. "… so that you will abound in hope [confident expectation] by the power of the Holy Spirit." 

1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." He uses one of two Greek words for "now." The other Greek word is used in the previous verse where he says: "For now we see in a mirror dimly..." There he uses the synonym. These words many times are interchangeable but when those two different Greek words are used in the same context the first of them refers to the immediate present—right now, today, at this time—and the second "now" refers to generally "now during this broader time frame." That fits very well with what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 13. He is saying: "Now in this present period (in this pre-canon apostolic period when we don't have a complete revelation) we need the spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy. These gifts are operational now in this immediate time during this pre-canon period but a time will come when they will cease; when the perfect comes, i.e. the completed canon of Scripture. It is no longer going to be necessary to have someone with the gifts of prophecy or knowledge for they will cease. But now in the broader sense, now during this entire dispensation of the church age, what will continue are faith, hope, and love. Those are what continues, the three primary virtues of the Christian life.

This is what Paul is thankful for in his prayers. He is thankful because he has heard of their faith in Christ. The phrase used there, "in Christ," is the Greek preposition en [e)n] which has in many places the idea of indicating means or instrumentality which is the idea of dependence on something. But many other times it refers to being in a certain location—in the sphere of something. Paul uses the phrase "in Christ" with that preposition to refer to our positional possession, what we have because we have been saved, what God gave us at the instant of salvation that is our real legal possession now as a new member of the family of God and the child of God. This phrase could be spherical because that is how Paul uses the phrase "in Christ," and there it would refer to a positional idea, but it is not thought that that is what he is talki8ngf about either. He is talking here about the expression of our faith toward Jesus Christ in our ongoing progression, our ongoing walk, abiding in Christ, walking by the light, walking by the Spirit.

When we think about faith we really see faith in terms of two aspects. The first is what we call justification faith, i.e. our faith in the gospel, in Jesus Christ for salvation, at which time we receive the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Paul refers to this in Romans 4:2, 3 NASB "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." This is quoting Genesis 15:6. That refers to justification faith, our initial faith in the gospel. At that instant God imputes to us or credits to our account the righteousness of Christ and we are declared just, not because of what we have done but because we now possess the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is stated again in Galatians 2:16 NASB "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." This is justification faith.

But then the apostle goes on to talk about faith in terms of the spiritual life. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NASB "or we walk by faith, not by sight." This doesn't exclude obedience. It doesn't exclude or somehow bring in a contradiction between doing certain things that are part of the spiritual life. For example, there is a multitude of commands in Scripture—everything from giving to praying to various different ethical mandates—and the application of them is all related to faith. We are trusting in God's Word and because we trust that we do that. 1 John 1:9 falls into that category. Or, Colossians 2:6, 7 NASB "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk in Him, having been firmly rooted {and now} being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, {and} overflowing with gratitude."

So Paul says (Colossians 1:4) "we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints." He is probably including justification faith but is probably emphasizing more their ongoing walk of faith. Love for all the saints is the application of love based on passages John 13:34, 35 where Jesus said: "If you are my disciples people will know you are by your love for one another." Love is therefore a mark of the believer, it is unique to Christians. There is a love that is imitated by unbelievers but this is a love that is unique and distinct and generated in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:16 we are told to walk by means of the Spirit and then in 5:21ff we are told about the fruit of the Spirit, the first of which is love. 

Colossians 1:5 NASB "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel." There are those who think that "because" here goes back to the main verb—we give thanks because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. That is probably not the best way to understand this. It is better to understand that this phrase is the motivation for their faith in Christ, their ongoing walk, and their love for all the saints. What motivates that is their understanding of their destiny. We have talked about hope many times in the sense of living today in the light of eternity, not being willing to sacrifice the future on the altar of the present; and that understanding what our hope is in the future relates to inheritance and therefore that in turn motivates us to spiritual growth. That in turn produces love for all the saints.

So part of his use of the word "gospel" here is not just what you need to know in order to avoid eternal punishment but it is that broader use of the word in terms of all that has been supplied and provided for us. The gospel essentially is "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved," but it goes beyond that because it involves all that we are given at salvation by God and that we are to use and ex[ploit in terms of spiritual growth so that we can then fulfil the destiny that God has for us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.