In opening his letter to the believers at Colossae, Paul identifies three things for which he is thankful concerning them. These will be a familiar triad: faith, love, and hope. In I Corinthians 13:13, Paul says that after everything else is gone these must remain: faith, hope, and love. Their order is a bit different in Colossians, but they’re all here just the same.
First, Paul writes, “we give thanks… since we heard of your faith in Christ.”
Paul was thankful for their faith in Christ because this was the first thing that told Paul the Colossians were on the right track. Faith in Christ is the basis of Christian fellowship. This is where it all begins. We do not choose who is with or not with us; who is in or who is out. God makes that choice for us on the basis of one’s faith in Christ!
There are two components to this: faith and Christ. They cannot be separated. Faith can be challenging when being worked out in a pluralistic and morally compromised culture as ours. We are experiencing many pressures and pulls in society right now. Adversity of any kind can shipwreck our faith or it can help our faith prosper. It’s where we choose to anchor our faith in times of adversity that will make the difference.
Second, Paul writes, “we give thanks… since we heard of the love which you have for all the saints.”
Their faith in Christ was the first indication they were on board with the gospel, but their love for all the saints was the evidence that the rumor was true!
Let me press the point. Paul’s thanksgiving does not stop with their professed faith in Christ. Too often that’s where our concern stops—we just want to know if someone says they believe and we don’t want to be bothered with the details of how they live or how they treat other people. But that was never enough for Jesus. And one of the things Jesus looked for to validate if professing disciples were really disciples, was their love for each other (John 13:34-35). Paul was thankful because he knew that was true for the Colossian believers.
In verses 5-6, Paul says that the gospel they received was “bearing fruit.” Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” This fruit is not invisible fruit, nor an indiscriminate fruit. Fruit only grows from the kind of tree that bears that kind of fruit. Jesus said, “Grapes are not gathered from thorns nor are figs from thistles” (Matthew 7:15-20). Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the branches will only bear fruit that is in keeping with the kind of tree to which the branch is connected. Here’s the main one: Love!
Third, Paul writes, “we give thanks… because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…”
Hope is what keeps us going in our love and faith. It is not an escapist ploy to disconnect ourselves from the trials and tribulations of this world. It’s how we get through them with our faith and love intact. It gives us what we need to engage a troubled world because it reminds us that we are not of it and are destined for another world.
A lack of hope is the cause of so many giving up on life and faith. Some news outlets remind us, on a daily basis, of the Covid-19 death toll—119,473 as of June 18. At the same time a Fox News article from June 1 reported that the “Deaths of Despair” during the Covid-19 era could reach 150,000! These “deaths of despair” are due to mental and emotional stress, social isolation, and the impact of the economic downturn that has caused the loss of some 40 million jobs. The bottom line is, people are losing hope. Those who put their faith in this fleeting and temporal life have not much to hope for.
But it’s to be different for us. Faith without hope is just man-made, wishful thinking. But our hope stems from our faith in Jesus Christ! The apostle Peter assures us of this hope by reminding us that we “have a living hope” in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:3), guaranteeing us that there is more and better to come than what we are presently experiencing in the world, and that this more and better is shaping our experience in the present.
As the world rages around us and the news reports seem more desperate and dire every day, we have reasons to be thankful and joyful: our faith, our love, and our hope.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me not to lay up for myself treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But teach me, instead, what it means to lay up for myself treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.