We will begin tonight in our journey through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Hopefully you remember some of the back ground information. There seems to be a group of heretics that are attempting to distract the Church at Colossae. They are teaching a strange doctrine and offering a fullness apart from Jesus. In a sense they have labored to convince the Colossians that they are disqualified from attaining the hope of heaven. Therefore the Colossians are almost left without hope. They are left wondering, should I have hope? Perhaps in our midst tonight some of you are wondering whether or not you ought to have hope. As Paul begins this letter his aim is to encourage the Colossians. He wants them to know that so long as they have these fruits they ought to have hope. The question for us tonight is this, should I have hope. Or to put that in a little catchy way; is your hope stupid?
Read Colossians 1:3-8
The central part of that verse is hope. Hope comes from the gospel, and then hope bears the fruit of faith and love. That is the central point of this text. Paul is encouraging the Colossians to have hope. Yet, I think Paul might say something a little different to us today. Our struggle with hope is similar to the Colossians, but not altogether alike. They were struggling with knowing whether or not they ought to have hope. Our battle I think is a little different. My guess is that most Americans have a form of hope. 90 something percent of America has hope that they will be in heaven when they die. For us the question is not, do you have hope. For us the question is this, is your hope stupid?
Yet, I do not want to be so foolish as to think that all of you have hope. The teenage years can be a time of despair. Hope seems the furthest thing from your mind. Some of you may have more similarities with the Colossians than others. For those of you that have hope the answer you need to discover tonight is whether or not your hope is stupid. For those of you that are struggling with hope, the answer that you need to discover tonight is whether hope is even possible, and if so how can you attain it.
Before we begin looking at this in detail we must lay a little ground work. The first thing we must understand is that this hope that Paul is talking about, which we will call gospel hope, is secure. Notice in this text how it says “laid up for you”. That is another way of saying that it is set aside in a fire-proof security box, kept away, waiting for you whenever you are to fully attain it. If then this hope is secure it means that if you have this hope you ought to get excited. Nothing will or can take it away from you.
Secondly, this hope is not just blind hope. We will look at that in a little detail in a moment. For now though I want you to understand that this hope is not “heaven”. This hope is not you living it up in the after life. This hope is Jesus. From the onset we can probably answer whether or not our hope is stupid based on our object. What I mean by that is this, if you could go to heaven, have the streets of gold, the mansion, all the gifts that you could imagine yet Jesus were not there, would you want to be there? Notice what Paul will say at the end of this chapter: “…which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. What is the hope of glory? What is this gospel hope? It is a living vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship produces in us a certainty of attaining what is hoped for. What then is hoped for? A further and deeper relationship with Jesus. Attaining Jesus. Only a hope that has this as it’s object is gospel hope. And only a hope that is gospel hope is grounded in the right thing. Do you have it? We will ask two questions to hopefully discern the answer to that question.
I. Gospel hope produces fruit, does your hope produce fruit?
I have never been a prisoner, but I imagine one thing a prisoner likes to receive are letters; especially letters that tell stories of his dreams being realized. If a man is passionate about seeing his son be a successful student, then a report card with A’s will enliven his heart. If he is passionate about his daughter having the lead role in the school play, then a flier with her name in bold print will give the prisoner a cause for thanksgiving. If your passion is the gospel and you hear of it spreading then you will be quick to “give thanks to God” as prisoner Paul does here.
Paul has recently received a report of this thriving church in Colossae. He is told of their faith vibrant faith in Jesus Christ. He excited to hear that they are not only professors but their faith is resulting in love for their fellow church members. This church, that Paul has never visited, must be warming his heart. You can sense his excitement by the lively words he uses in this passage. Sweeping words like “always” and “all”. Heavy, loaded words like “love”, “grace”, “truth”, “hope”. Forceful words like “laid up for you”, “indeed”. Victorious words like “bearing fruit”, “growing”, “everywhere”, “whole world”. Why such excitement? Because Paul knows that the fruit he is hearing about means something.
If you look at verse 5 you will get a clue as to why Paul is so excited. Look at where their faith and love comes from: “…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven”. Gospel hope produces fruit. Where you see gospel fruit you know it stems from gospel hope. Where you have gospel hope you see gospel fruit, like faith and love. The Colossians had it. This gave Paul joy. The question for us tonight is this, do we have it? If gospel hope produces fruit, can we honestly say that we have it? If we have no fruit we ought to not have gospel hope. If we do have fruit then we ought to have gospel hope. How do you know? What fruit are we talking about?
The fruit of faith
Faith is a much used term today. Faith has been exalted to an idolatrous status. We are told to respect one another’s faith. That is permissible. Yet, when faith is exalted as a virtue, by itself it becomes dangerous. As Sam Storms helps us see, “The object of faith always determines its quality and worth. Mere sincerity, passionate devotion, clarity of conviction, depth of insight are all ultimately useless unless they are rooted in and focused on the person and work of Jesus.” This is why we ought not exalt the faith of those outside of Christ as if it is some sort of virtue. Everyone has faith. Even the atheist has faith that there is not a God. The key is not that you trust in something. The key is that you trust in the right something.
You can see this point even in the text. If we are to be biblical we will not exalt faith, as a virtue in itself. The importance, what makes faith worth something, is the object in which it trusts; for the believer, that object is Jesus Christ. This is why Paul does not merely say, “…since we heard of your faith”. Paul says, “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus”. That “in Christ Jesus” is vital, because your faith is not what saves you. Who you place your trust in is what matters. The Colossians have a grounded faith. It is appropriately in Jesus. Do you?
The next thing that must be noted about this fruit of faith is that it is visible. The Bible really has no room for this notion of a “secret faith”. Keeping your faith “personal” is not an option if you want biblical faith. Biblical faith is visible.
This point alone could probably lead to another sermon. Faith is abstract. How do you make something intangible, tangible? What does faith look like? Faith is invisible. How do you make it visible? How can my faith be made visible? What type of faith results in someone “hearing” of your faith? What would a faith look like that causes people to talk about it? The picture here is of someone having such a vibrant trust in Jesus that it causes people to talk. What would that look like? Paul will address this in the future, and so will we. For now it is enough to begin asking these questions. You know that you are bearing this fruit if others are noticing your faith.
We have one more question to consider before we move on. How does hope produce this fruit of faith? Wouldn’t you think that faith produces hope and not the other way around? Is this not strange way of looking at things? This is probably because the type of faith that Paul is talking about is not beginning faith. He is talking about faith that is growing, faith that has already taken root. The type of faith that hope is inspiring is the type of faith that is grounded and visible. How, then, does hope produce this type of fruit?
Our answer lies in the African impala. Apparently, the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. We are often like that African impala. Unless we can see where our feet will fall we often do not exercise faith. Hope helps us to see where our feet will fall. Do you have a hope that produces the fruit of faith? Or are you like the African impala? Because you have no idea where your feet will fall you lack vibrant faith in Jesus.
The fruit of love
The next fruit that Paul addresses is the fruit of love. Love is another one of those terms that is exalted in our day. The term is thrown around like a dirty rag. You use it, dirty it up, throw it away and then get another rag, and call this love. Love has become an empty term. It’s not empty here in this text. Love means something. This love is not empty. This love is full. This love is vibrant. This love is active. This love is vulnerable.
As theologian Thomas A Kempis once said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin or your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”
These Colossians are not wrapping their love up and keep in safe. Notice the way Paul words this phrase, “and the love that you have for all the saints”. Notice the possessive. Paul does not say the love that you feel for all the saints. This is not something flaky. This is not something that is going away. This is something that they actually possess.
Notice also the scope of this love. It is all-encompassing. In this particular instance we are not discussing love for just any old Joe off the street. This is brotherly love. But it is not a selective brotherly love. It is love for all your fellow believers: the honored and the dishonored, those living in luxury and those in prison like Paul, those that are easy-going, fun-loving and a joy to be around and those that are a pain in the rear. The smelly, the poor, the rejected, the despised, the tall, the short, the widowed, the homeless, the orphans, the dumb, the handicapped, the elderly, the young, the annoying, every one that is in the family of God. The rich, the brilliant, the wise, the family man, the career guy, the single, the married, love. Everyone, love. And this is not merely a passive love. This is vibrant love.
What does this type of love look like? It will look like 1 Corinthians 13. Instead of being impatient with the struggles of our fellow believers we will be patient, we will be kind. Instead of being boastful, cocky, rude, arrogant and making everything about us we will be gracious, humble, and looking for ways to make our brothers and sisters in Christ look good. We will throw away our little mental book of all the wrongs that have been done to us. Instead of thinking of all the reasons why other people hinder us and mess us over, we will begin looking for ways to serve, assist, and bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters. John F. Kennedy may have gotten this one right. Instead of asking what our brothers and sisters can do for us, we will try to discover what we can do for our brothers and sisters. Do you see the difference? This type of love is contagious. This type of love spreads. One church historian, Bruce Shelley, said that, “the practical expression of Christian love was probably among the most powerful causes of Christian success”.
How does hope inspire this type of love? The answer is that hope changes us. Instead of focusing on ourselves and worrying about the troubles of this world we are freed to focus on others and pour ourselves out for their good. Hope changes our souls. It produces fruit; faith and love. Yet there is something else that hope inspires, and this will be our next point.
II. Gospel hope is contagious, is your hope contagious?
There has been a ridiculous virus going through our community this winter. It seems to be very contagious and it sticks with you for quite sometime once you get it. I have had it now for a few weeks now. My mother and father caught it and had to go to the doctor twice and get shots to cure it. Brian caught it last week and that is why he was not here. Now, I really hate to use such a negative thing to give us a picture of the gospel, but it fits.
In order for a virus like this to be anything to catch our attention, two things must take place. One it must have an external factor. If it is not contagious, then only one poor sap has to suffer. In order for a virus to be newsworthy it has to a least be moderately contagious; the more contagious, the more newsworthy. The other thing that must take place is the virus must have an internal factor. It needs to affect your body. It has to change you. Otherwise who cares if you get a little sniffle? It’s not newsworthy unless it permeates your body and changes the way you live your life.
There is one other thing that is mildly similar between the gospel and a virus; they are in control. I said mildly because many of you are thinking, wait, we have medicine. You can control a virus. You can stop a virus with antibiotics. The gospel you cannot stop even if you try to. So, they are mildly similar in this regard. The gospel is in control and cannot be stopped. A virus is in control unless it is stopped.
Paul has been discussing his prayer for the Colossians. He has told them the reason for his thankfulness to God and he is beginning to get into the details of his prayer. He will do that in verse 9. However, before Paul gets to the content of his prayer he digresses. Seems like the word “gospel” gets Paul all side-tracked. He has to explain it. He has to expound upon the gospel. He has to share his excitement with the Colossians. That is why we have verse 6-8 in our Bibles. Paul wants to share in the joy of the spread of the gospel, both externally and internally in the lives of the Colossians.
If you look at the end of verse 5 you see where hope comes from. It comes from the gospel. The picture is that the gospel produces hope, which, in turn produces faith and love. This in turn produces the “fellow servants” and “faithful ministers” like Epaphras. Then their hope spreads to others, which in turn produces hope in others. Then 2000 years later you have you and I that are sitting under the teaching of the word. The gospel changes people internally then it spreads externally. We will look at the external spread of the gospel first.
The external spread of the gospel
Here comes a really obvious statement: in order for a tree to grow a seed must be planted. In the same way in order for the gospel to grow in a life a seed must be planted. That seed is the gospel, the hearing of the gospel. We see this in 1 Peter 1:23, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...” We are born again by the Lord implanting the gospel into our hearts. But this also happens in communities. The gospel is planted and it changes things.
This is what Paul means when he says “the gospel, which has come to you”. This idea of “coming to you” means more than just arriving. This is more like implanting. One commentator says it is like “snuggling up against”. The gospel was preached in Colossae and it found a home. Once this seed is planted noticed again what it says in 1 Peter 1:23. It is imperishable. That means once a true gospel seed is planted it will grow. It is an imperishable seed. It will not die off. It will come to fruition. And that is what see happening in the lives of the Colossians. The gospel has been planted there.
Paul says that this gospel “came to you” and then he says, “It is bearing fruit”. This simply means that the gospel has not only been planted it is growing. It’s not as if a few mental patients decided to follow these crazy loons and their Jesus. This gospel is making a difference in culture after culture. It is extending beyond the borders of Jerusalem. Notice the big word that Paul uses there, “in the whole world”. Now, he is exaggerating a little. He does not mean that every dark corner of the earth has heard the gospel. Much of the world had yet to be discovered. Paul is simply saying that the gospel has begun to spread throughout the entire known world.
It is really astonishing when you think of what was accomplished by the early church. Has there ever really been anything like this in history. I think we have lost the beauty of what is happening here. Remember this started with the incarnation of God. One man, Jesus. Albeit, God, he is still one person. He in turn builds a band of 12 disciples. One guy has the nerve to betray him. Throughout his ministry on earth it increases. Sometimes there are masses of people, maybe even as many as 10,000 that are following him. Yet, many of these fall away. After his death you can count about 120 Christians gathered in an upper room. 120. The year is around 34 BC. Fast forward about 70 years and it is estimated that some half a million Christians are spread throughout the Roman Empire.
When Paul says that this gospel is spreading to the entire world he means it. One man that lived in the second century, Tertullian said this, “We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate, and forum. We have left you only your temples.” This has permeated every area of the Roman Empire; from peasant to palace.
The nature of this gospel is astonishing. The very Paul that we are reading these words from was once a man that persecuted the church. He probably killed Christians; then something happened. Jesus met him. The Word of God was planted in Paul. It took root. And what happens, he becomes a great missionary. Thousands upon thousands are converted through the ministry of Paul. But what is astonishing is that the gospel does not even need Paul. The gospel flourishes even through simple men like Epaphras. It spreads through a prostitute that met Jesus at a well. The gospel spreads through a widow. The gospel spreads through little children. The gospel spreads amidst death, persecution, famine. Nothing can stop this gospel and it depends upon the success of no man. The gospel is powerful and it stands on its own.
Listen to what Paul says of this gospel in another place. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth”. Who is behind this gospel growth? Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe.
Perhaps this is why Paul also uses another bold word. Not only has the gospel been planted, but it is also bearing fruit. But Paul does not stop there. He says that it is increasing in the whole world. It’s not as if the gospel has merely been planted. Nor has it even stopped with gaining a few followers scattered through the empire. It is increasing in every spot that it is bearing fruit.
We can see what this term means by looking at two other places where Jesus uses it. In Matthew 13:32 Jesus talks about the gospel that is the smallest seed (you almost can hear this passage here) but when it is grown (that is our word) it is larger than all the trees in the garden. It starts small then it ends up being the biggest kid on the block. Then again in Mark 4:8 it is used of the seed that fell on good soil that grew up and “increased” and yielded 30, 60, and 100 fold. Starts with one seed and you end up with 100 times that amount.
We see then the external spread of the gospel. All of this is in a sense a spread of hope. Each of these believers is filled with the hope of the gospel. This hope produces the fruit of faith and love. These believers inspired by faith and love begin boldly taking this gospel to the nations. Their hope has become contagious.
Paul then does something really neat. It must have been very encouraging to the Colossians. He is painting a beautiful picture of the spread of the gospel. It starts with the smallest seed and then it spreads and overcomes the entire world. This gospel has permeated everything. It is bearing fruit and increasing…as it also does in you. Did you catch that? This planting, bearing, increasing is also happening in the lives of the Colossians. And this is the last thing we will look at.
The internal spread of the gospel
It is one thing for this gospel to spread to the nations. It is quite another for this glorious gospel to spread through your entire being. The picture then is that this gospel plants a seed in your life. It gives you new life. You may not see drastic change all of a sudden. It might even be a few months or so before you start to see the beginning signs of fruit. Then, before you know it you see fruit. What fruit? Faith and Love certainly would be an example. You can also learn about this fruit in Galatians 5: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. You are changed. You start looking different. You start acting different. You look more like Jesus. You start to like those weirdo’s at the church. You find yourself getting wrapped up in worship songs to Jesus. You find yourself loving people you once despised. You begin to develop an inner peace that you cannot describe. Instead of getting angry you start to develop patience. You are kinder. You are gentler. You find yourself being more true to your word. Everything has changed. It is a noticeable difference. Just as people noticed the amazing spread of the gospel to the nations so people will notice this gospel change in your life.
Then guess what happens. Once you start seeing fruit produced by this gospel. You start to reproduce it. Your hope becomes contagious. You preach this glorious gospel to others and God causes growth. God spreads the gospel through you. The internal then become external. Yet it does not stop there. It continues to grow, and bear more fruit, and increase more, and reproduce more, and grow more and more and more. And the gospel grows more, and you grow more.
1) Use this time to reflect on whether or not you have biblical hope.
Remember biblical hope is grounded. Biblical hope will produce these things. You will see fruit and it will be contagious. Has it changed your life? Are you beginning to see the fruits of external growth as well? Is this hope spilling out of you into the lives of the others? Is your hope so sure that you are able to leap out in faith? Is your hope so certain that you are able to forget yourself and focus on loving others? If not either your level of hope needs to be driven deeper, or you need to have it in the first place. How do you attain biblical hope? It starts with the gospel and it ends with the gospel. Verse 5 tells us this. Hope comes from the gospel, the Word of Truth. If you want to increase your level of hope then get grounded in the gospel. How does that happen? It happens through the Word of God. Read the Word. Meditate on the Word. Pray the Word. Live a life grounded in the Word. And there meet the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Redirect your heart and eyes from the world to the gospel. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. In drawing near to God He is certain to meet you with the gospel and fill you with biblical hope.
2) Be intentional about expressing the fruits of hope
Do not shy away from pursuing faith and love. Pray for more. Pray that you may love like 1 Corinthians 13. Pray that you may love Jesus’ bride, His church, as you ought. Pray that you might have more faith. Take steps of faith. Be intentional about these things.
3) Do not be afraid of being contagious
Your hope should spread to other people. If you have hope and you do not share it that is not the loving thing to do. Do not bow down to the idol of tolerance. It is abandoning the God that saved you and it is refusing to love your neighbor. Tolerance is not our God.
4) If the gospel is as powerful as the Scripture says it is then it does not need you to doctor it up, make it appealing, nor does it depend upon your abilities.
This is bad news to the clever and the greatest news in the world to the simple, although it does leave us all without an excuse. Look at how the gospel spread. Look at the men that spread it. Smelly Fisherman. Tax Collectors. Zealots. Hardly the religious elite. Look at the way they spread it. Simple preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Hardly appealing, sometimes downright offensive.
5) The only fountain of hope is Jesus Christ.
You will not find hope anywhere else. The only hope that is “laid up for you” is the hope that is in Jesus Christ. Only the hope that springs from the gospel and spills over into faith and love ought to give us cause for hope. Only Jesus can create that type of hope. Your only hope is Jesus Christ. He is the hope of glory!