Meditations in Colossians: 9. Hope
Col 1:4,5 we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven
What is strange about these two verses, and which we often miss, is that Paul says that faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for us in heaven. In other words, hope comes first and then faith and love follow. As we read on we will see that this hope comes with the Gospel and as we receive it, it releases faith and love in us.
Let’s try and envisage how it works. There we were, before we came to hear about Christ and, as we noted in an earlier meditation we were filed with fears – fears about God, fears about who we were or weren’t, fears about yesterday’s guilt, fears about coping today and fears about what might happen tomorrow. At one level all those fears were rolled together into one ball. We feared we would have to face God one day, and we feared He would hold us answerable for all the things we got wrong yesterday, today and tomorrow, we feared He would condemn us and write us off as a bunch of sinners worthy only to be consigned to hell.
But then someone brought us the Gospel. We heard that Jesus had come to die in our place so we wouldn’t have to go to hell, that he had taken the punishment for our sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow and he offered us forgiveness, cleansing and an opportunity to be declared adopted sons of God empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit, and because these things were all present-today-on-earth things suddenly the future after death also changed. Yes, we would still have to face God but instead of being condemned we will be accepted, we were told, because Jesus had done everything that needs to be done to pay for our sins and, anyway, we would enter God’s presence as His children, gladly welcomed into heaven. This was the Gospel – that the present has been dealt with so that there can be an eternal future free of fear and filled with blessing. The future is something to be welcomed, not feared. It is a future in heaven where there will be a glorious reality that makes anything we experience now look like it was in the shade.
That is what is the hope in the Gospel. Hope is the assurance of the future, something not yet received but something guaranteed to happen. When we were presented with this Gospel and we surrendered our lives to God on the basis of it, something amazing happened: we started thinking differently, we started ‘hearing’ God and responding to what we were hearing – this was faith. And as we entered into this new life, a life empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. We also found His character coming out in us – love. We found we thought about God differently and we found we felt about people differently. It was Him working from within us and it was all released in us when we responded to the hope presented to us and we were born again by His working in us. Faith and love flowed from this hope.
Can we emphasise something we said above: hope is the assurance of the future. In everyday life we say things like, “I hope the weather will be nice for the picnic today,” or “I hope to be a surgeon when I grow up,” or “I hope Uncle Jack will leave me something in his will.” Each of these are an expression of our desire. I would like it to be sunny, I would like to become a surgeon, I would like to inherit something. They are things I want, things I would like, things I hope might come about. But of course we have no say, or perhaps little say, in bringing them about. I can’t control the weather, I may not be bright enough to become a doctor let alone a surgeon, and Uncle Jack may have set his heart on giving everything to a local cat’s home! But when it comes to our eternal future we are talking about something that is guaranteed – because God has said it.
How can we be sure that is what He will give us eventually? Because we can trust His word because everything He has done so far shouts at us, “This is a God who is love, who is good, who never lies, and who always has our good in mind.” We look at the first coming of Jesus and we see God’s love and goodness manifested. We observe the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and we see power unleashed – on our behalf! We find His Holy Spirit working from within us, guiding us, leading us, blessing us, equipping and generally empowering us and it is all good. It is all as He has promised in His word. As we read about our eternal destiny His Spirit within us witnesses to this truth and we know it is true, we know this is how it will be. We have only been told the equivalent of the tip of an iceberg about this eternal future and so we are left wondering how wonderful it will be and from this standpoint, anything we see about that eternal future is as clear as looking through smoked glass or a poor quality mirror (1 Cor 13:12). Nevertheless He witnesses within us – it WILL be! That is our hope.
On a lighter note. Writers such as C.S.Lewis have speculated on the wonder of this eternal future, about what it will be like, about what we will be like. Again and again, I am sure we will fall short in our dreams of what it will be like. One day my wife and I were at an Air Show and watched in awe as an F111 fighter came as slow as it could over us with incredible power and noise. “Wow,” my wife went, “when I get to heaven I’m going to fly one of those.” I couldn’t help the riposte, “Oh come on, when I get to heaven I’m going to fly like one of them!” We may both be wrong; it will probably be infinitely more glorious than anything our finite minds can comprehend.
And one more serious note with which to conclude: if this is truly what we believe, why do we try to hold on to aged loved ones who are tottering on the brink of death, why do we deny them entering into this wonder? The answer has got to be a selfish reason. Natural, but selfish. The hope we have is glorious, infinitely more glorious than anything we can presently experience or comprehend, so don’t place too much value on the temporary, material things of today, and especially don’t ever let the enemy make you think they are so important that you end up putting your eternal destiny in jeopardy.