Great Expectations

Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel – Colossians 1:5 NET

There is a brief note in one commentary which describes “the hope laid up for us in heaven,” as the treasures in heaven Jesus spoke of in the Gospels [Matthew 6:20-21; Luke 12:34; 18:22].

It sounds like Paul is saying that hope is what faith and love depend upon, but an intelligent argument can be made that all three are interdependent. This “irreducible complexity” is an undeniable watermark of a Divine creation—and we are made in His image.” Let’s explain.

The word hope speaks of the object of hope, the blessing expected. Paul reasoned, “Hope that is seen, is not hope.” [Romans 8:24]. No one expects to receive something which they already have! But what is it that we do not already have from God which we are looking forward to having? Well, Romans 8:32 “Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?”

We, also, should only look for something which we, as believers, are assured is coming. The Bible word hope is much stronger that our English word “hope.” We often hope for things which we have doubts about getting, like a child on Santa’s lap asking for something mom and dad have no intention of buying. [Most of us learn to get real—really fast]. But read Hebrews 11:1 NET “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, convinced of what we do not see [or already have].”

Hebrews 11:1 might read “Faith is foundational (the actual word used in this verse) to hope.” A hope that is not sure—because it is not based on divine promises—is a false hope. Hope built on doubt or chance isn’t trustworthy enough; what we do not assuredly know is coming, we best not expect [James 1:6-7]. But in the Bible “hope is expectation” which makes our faith in God a prerequisite for hope. No faith means no hope.

For Paul the connection between faith and hope is part of a triad with our love for God and one another. Paul encouragingly acknowledged to the Thessalonian believers [1 Thessalonians 1:3] that he was ever mindful of their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. This sounds like our verse [Colossians 1:5]: “faith and love risen from hope.” As Polycarp spoke of a faith with hope following and love going before. Or in I Corinthians 13:13 “now faith, hope, and love abide.”

Look at the first word in The King James Bible version of Colossians 1:5: “for.” The NET which we are using here simply brought “faith and love” along from the previous verse. Our translators seem to be struggling a bit with Paul’s use of this word “for” here to begin our verse. One scholar freely renders the meaning: “looking to … hope.” The ESV in Colossians 1:5 says “love is because of hope,” which I like best, because the word “for” can mean “because” or “for the sake of hope.” There is a relationship here between our expectations from God and our love for Him—something which should be obvious.

Why love one another? For the same reason we must have an unshakeable faith or trust in God: the pronounced effect this agape love has on our expectations—our hope. Polycarp, like Paul saw these 3 traits as inseparable, that we cannot have one without having all. If we are not expecting or anticipating what awaits us in heaven, but living with painful anxieties about tomorrow, perhaps, our faith is weak and, just maybe, this means our love for others and our Lord has not been evident in what we say or do.

There is a sense in which our love for others, as well as our reliance on God’s promises, strengthens hope. Alone we tend to look down in despondent gloominess, but united in fellowship and prayer we are more prone to “look up, and lift up our heads; for our redemption draws nigh” [Luke 21:28]. Looking up is hope in action.

Great expectations require great faith and a Christian love for one another that as Peter described is: “out of a pure heart … fervently” [1 Peter 1:22]. The word fervently or earnestly means “stretched out or extended” We are to extend our love, stretch it! Let it reach the otherwise unreachable! It won’t break! [Matthew 5:44]. Hope is strengthened in the act. We begin to understand how this triad of traits are like the 3 legs of a tripod. It will not stand on fewer.

Hope, too, is spoken of elsewhere as a persistent expectation [Romans 8:19, 23]. Paul spoke of “the earnest expectation “ of all creation … And … even we ourselves groan … ‘waiting’ for [our] redemption….” I must tell you: the word “waiting” used here means “to look with outstretched neck” as I use to do waiting for the train to work, looking down the tracks, trying to steal a glimpse just past the rise from where I knew the train would be coming. Get the metaphor?

What we are expecting from God, Paul said, is “laid up for us” already in heaven! Our Heavenly Father has been getting ready to receive us! [John 14:3]. Are we looking for it all with great expectation?

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