Sermon: The Hope that Changes Everything
Sermon: The Hope that Changes Everything
Text: Colossians 1:1-5a
by Matt Kennedy
November 7th, 2010
“To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae”
Paul isn’t writing to pull the Colossians out of a pit. He’s writing to warn them of pits that lie in their path. There are teachings, influences, and ideas—and we’ve mentioned many of them already in this series—circulating in the church and beyond that threaten to steer them away from Jesus. Much of what you read in scripture is God’s way of defining the path, clearing the trail, so that you can see the way before you fall. Some people look to Jesus not so much as their Great Physician but as an emergency room. When things are horrible they cry out for help. And that’s fine and good…don’t get me wrong. If you are in a pit this morning, cry out to him. You’ve come to the right Person. It’s better to do that than not to do that. But Jesus is not just a good Emergency Room doctor he is the Great Physician and he not only patches us up but he provides, before that point, preventative medicine. Scripture as you come to know it more deeply acts in your life by the grace of Christ as preventative medicine. Jesus, through Paul, is applying preventative medicine to the Colossians in this letter. They’ve not yet fallen. They are “faithful”
Paul addresses them as “saints”. You might think he is addressing an elite core of holy people within the faithful body of the church…as if he were saying “To the faithful brothers and to the core group of saints among the faithful”. That’s not what he’s doing. Both “saints” and “faithful” apply to the entire Colossian church. Today the word “saint” is mostly to refer to people who’ve lived exceptionally holy lives. It’s easy to see why. The word “hagios” means “holy ones”.
But in the NT, the word has nothing to do with good or bad behavior on the part of Christians. One example will suffice. Turn to 1st Corinthians 6:2. The Corinthians were no “saints”. Visiting the Corinthian church for communion would’ve been like visiting a seedy bar in Las Vegas. People were getting drunk during worship, having promiscuous, incestuous and homosexual sex with each other, and attending orgies in pagan temples. Paul writes 1 Cor in response to a letter he had received from the Corinthian congregation in which they bragged that one of their members was shacking up with his step mom while his dad was still married to her. So a lot of 1st Corinthians is Paul saying things like: “No, you can’t have sex with your step mom” and “No, you can’t get drunk at communion” and “No, you can’ go to the pagan orgy even if you are doing it for Jesus.”
But look at what he writes in 6.2: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial case?”
So writing to the entire church Paul says: “the saints will judge the world.” then he says “if the world is to be judged by ‘you’”—meaning what? Paul applies “saints” to the entire Corinthian church.
How is it possible to take a word that means “holy ones”—ones who are “set apart”—and apply it to these guys? How is it possible, for that matter, to apply that word to me and you since that seems to be the implication—that all Christians are somehow “saints”? I mean it’s only about 11am and I’ve already lost count of the sins I’ve committed since I woke up this morning.
Here’s how: The holiness that Paul applies to me is not my holiness. The goodness of Jesus covers me like a pure white garment. And it’s on the basis of that covering that I’m considered holy by God despite my wickedness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). And that is a good thing because if I had to rely on my own garments rather than his, I’d be doomed and so would you. I mean think of some good thing that you have done today. I can think of one. I’m not going to tell you or I’ll lose my reward but I can think of one. Well in Isa 64:6 God says through the prophet that even our best deeds are like filthy rags. That’s all that we have. Even our best stuff will get us nowhere. But when anyone turns from himself and relies on Jesus, then and only then, the work Jesus did, his obedience, faithfulness, purity, is applied to that person and he becomes a “saint”. He’s a sinner and yet at the same time, he remains a saint in the eyes of God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ. Every time Paul uses the word “saint” he’s pointing to that great truth.
Paul moves on to his greeting and so will we:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”
We spent an entire sermon on much the same greeting in our series on 1st Thessalonians so we’ll not camp here but I don’t want to simply pass it by. Grace, charis, means “undeserved blessing” or “unmerited gift”. And “peace” “eirene” in Greek probably points to the word “Shallom” in Hebrew. Shallom is the state perfect well being that exists when all things are in the right order. There will not be perfect Shallom until God’s kingdom is fully established here and yet we as believers have access to a foretaste of that peace because God has, in Christ, rightly ordered our hearts and reconciled us to himself. Paul’s greeting identifies the only means to that perfect end. God’s Grace is the only means to God’s Peace. God took people who deserve eternal punishment—that’s you and me and all the people in the church in Colossea—and without any preceding good work on our part, rescued us from the consequences of our behavior by paying those consequences himself on the cross (Romans 5:8). That’s grace. We don’t deserve to be rescued. And because of the way he rescued us, doing away with our sin—the thing that divided us from him—we live in a state of Peace, Shallom, with God. He’s engraved his name on your heart and sealed it. That’s what lies behind verse 13: “He’s delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. Grace from the Father brings peace with the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.
Okay let’s move on to verses 3-5 and this is where we’ll spend most of our time this morning.
“ 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.”
Let’s try to reconstruct the history behind this passage. At some point prior to writing this letter, Paul hears—probably from Epaphras (1:7)—that some people in Colossea have received the gospel and are “faithful” to it. And so there is a church. Epaphras tells Paul about the love, “agape”, they have for the “saints” which means as we have said—toward “each other”. And Paul hears that they’ve set their hope in heaven rather than on earth.
So, hearing all of this, Paul does what?
First, he’s been praying for them (v.3). Since then he’s prayed for them. Vv 9-12, reveal some of what he prays. He prays that they’ll grow in knowledge of God, in wisdom, and in good works and that God will give them joy, patience and endurance.
When you pray for others what you pray for? When you pray for yourself, what do you pray for? I tend to pray for material concerns, physical safety, health, relationships, money etc because that’s what life seems to revolve around. And generally speaking when we pray we want Jesus to help us attain success or well being in all of those material things—and that’s fine. It’s good and right to pray for God’s help. However, what may not be fine is the orientation of our prayers. From God’s perspective all of those things are just means that God uses to conform us to his Son Jesus. We want Jesus to give us those things. God uses those things to make us like Jesus. That is a huge and important change in perspective. God is more than happy to give us health, wealth, warm relationships—-all of those things or take them all away, strip us of everything, to make us holy, to make us like Jesus. He’s ruthless that way.
It’s fine and good to pray for health, money, relationships etc, but on top of that our prayer for ourselves and for others should be something like Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church: Lord make them holy. Give them a deeper knowledge of you and your will. Give them wisdom. Give them your love so that they might be led to good works. Help us to love you more than anything else. These are prayers that we can have no doubt God will answer with “yes” because they are things that he has already revealed to be central to his will. You may not get the Cadillac but you can have no doubt that God will use your prayers for Christ-like holiness to make you more holy
Second, how else does Paul pray in response to the Colossians’ faith, love and hope? He gives thanks to God.
Why thank God for things Colossians are doing?
You can’t have faith, love, or hope unless God creates those qualities in you. They’re products of God’s grace not human nature.
We don’t naturally say, or at least I don’t naturally say: “Wow I’m a wicked sinner and I’m not going to get any better so instead of ignoring that fact, trying to suppress it by drinking a lot or surfing the net or getting really involved in sports stats just going on as if it weren’t true or instead of trying to modify my behavior using some religious way of getting up the stairway to heaven on my own because I can do anything I set my mind to even ‘being good’—instead of all that I’m going to repent, and trust Jesus.” I don’t do that by nature. I didn’t make the decision to quit my own efforts and trust Christ because I’m just smarter than people who don’t. I’m not. God did that. God has to do that or it simply won’t be done. But don’t take my word for it, look at Ephesians 2:8: “ For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Faith is something for which we thank God. And the same is true for the qualities of Love and Hope. James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)
“All”—in Greek that means: “all”. It’s universal—“all” of the truly good things I have and all of the good things I do and all of the good things I want to do, are the result of God’s work and grace in me. The bad things I do are all mine. The good things, they all belong to Christ who lives and works in me. And the same is true for you.
That has practical implications. One is that I don’t need to be thanked for my works and achievements. If you don’t recognize “just how hard I work on your behalf” and all the “wonderful” things I do for you, I don’t need to get upset. I don’t need to get my nose out of joint if I am not recognized for all of my “amazing deeds” because, in fact, I don’t have any amazing deeds. All the good I do and have comes from Jesus.
And if people don’t recognize the good you do, that’s okay too. There is no need to let resentment build up and sit there and stew because “people always recognize so and so for what she does but nobody ever thanks me”. In fact it’s a good thing—something for which you and I should always thank God—that we are not always recognized or appreciated. It’s a gift. It’s grace. When that happens God graciously rescues us from vanity and pride and keeps the focus in our work on him.
Now that’s not to say that if you bring me cake, I’ll say “I always thank God that you give me cake.” I mean, it’s good to say thank you. But I don’t need to live my life looking to be appreciated. I need to live my life looking to serve you and give God glory and not myself for the intention to do so and any good that results from it.
The search for personal appreciation has gotten seriously out of proportion before at Good Shepherd. How many here have heard of the “Good Shepherd Award”? When I arrived in 2002, the Good Shepherd Award was already an institution here. It was given every year to the member who worked the hardest—did the most and best—for Good Shepherd. A committee met for about two months to decide who would get it. People campaigned for this thing. There were people who worked hard to get it and who were upset when they did not. Every year the winner was honored with a ceremonial reading of his or her accomplishments and a plaque with his or her name engraved on it mounted on a board for eternal recognition. The people who established the award probably had good intentions but the result was that the entire parish was consumed for several months of the year with politicking who was going to be recognized and publicly thanked for his or her Christian service which, if we take our bibles seriously, is a focus that is 180 degrees from the focus we are called to have. Everything we do is for his glory, for the love of his name, for the increase of his kingdom—not ours.
We shut the Good Shepherd Award down in 2004 by giving Jesus the Good Shepherd award. We engraved his name on a plaque, fastened it to the board, read out his accomplishments and that was that. No one wanted the Good Shepherd Award after that.
If you find yourself continually offended that people are not thanking you for all the work you do, you need to stop. You’re in it for the wrong reasons. Everything comes from Christ and is for him. Thank him.
So Paul, rightly, thanks God for the Colossians’ faith, hope, and love and in so doing he puts whatever virtues we might have and all of our work under the category of grace and, into right perspective.
Okay, now let’s back out a little and, taking the entire section from verse 3 to verse 5 together, what is the relationship between faith, hope and love?
If you look at v. 5 we see that faith and love are, in this text, produced or caused by hope. Hope plays a causal role, producing love and faith.
You might remember our definition of hope from three Sundays ago. In the NT, “Hope” is not a wish for something that may or may not come to pass. In the NT, your “Hope” is the end toward which everything in your life points. Your hope, whatever it is, shapes the way you live and think and act.
By way of illustration, many, and we saw this recently, set their hope in politics. Many people two years ago put a great deal of hope in the president. They hoped that President Obama would change the world—end, among other things, racism, poverty and war. Eight years or so before that many hoped that President Bush would rescue the world from terrorism and radical Islam.
And 2000 years before that many in Colossea set their hope in the Empire and the emperor who promised and delivered so many blessings.
What do these hopes produce? Do they produce love? Do they produce faith? I’ve set my hope in a number of politicians myself and political philosophies and the more hope I place in human solutions to the world’s problems the less love I have for those who disagree with me. I mean if I’m a conservative and I believe that the only way to resolve the problems in this country is through the application of conservative principles and you’re a liberal then, frankly you’re in the way. And vice versa. So, far from producing love, when I set my hope exclusively in political solutions to the world’s problems, the result is anger, frustration and division.
And as the politicians I set my hope in fail—and they all do—and they all will—my faith turns to cynicism.
So, hope in political redeemers or solutions produces anger and cynicism.
Of course, we’re using politics as an example. There’s nothing you can hope in on earth that will produce faith and love because everything here is dying or dead and so if any earthly thing becomes the end toward which your life points, it will only produce frustration, depression, dissatisfaction, and anger.
But if the reason you wake up every morning and put on your clothes and go to work and earn money and come home and do whatever you do is Christ. If he’s the reward you seek. If he is the treasure you want. If he’s the end toward which you live, then your hope is secure, never fading, everlasting. And if your hope is secure, love and faith result.
How does Hope in Christ produce agape for others?
If my hope is set on Christ then I don’t need you to give me anything. I don’t need you. I’m not looking for you to fulfill me in some way. I can love you because I don’t expect anything from you and I do not depend on you to act or behave in a certain way toward me. My hope, Jesus, lives in heaven and, through the Holy Spirit, in me and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
I’m free to give myself in love toward you even if you don’t do the same for me. I don’t need you to love me back because I get all that I need from Jesus. So I don’t need to be angry and frustrated and hate you if you offend me. I don’t care because I don’t need you to do anything for me. You are not my hope, Jesus is. He gives himself fully to me and so I can give myself fully, without reservation, to others even if they reject me or hate me or have nothing to give me in return. Hope in Christ produces love for all the saints.
And hope produces faith in much the same way. As I go through life and meet disappointment and rejection and face trials, I note, again and again, that when I am left with nothing and no one—Jesus is there and he carries me through those times. And as that happens over and over again, my trust in him increases. I don’t grow cynical, suffering adds muscle to my faith as I see that nothing I experience here will move Christ or change his promise. And so everything that happens to me here serves—because my hope is in Christ—only to increase my faith and trust in Christ.
Now imagine a whole church full of people who set their hope in Christ. That will be church in which hope for what lies in heaven produces faith in Jesus Christ and love for all the saints.