In preparation for it, I’ve decided to work through the Greek text of Colossians as part of my devotional time so that I’ll be able to engage and dialogue with his sermons as fruitfully as possible.
The first observation I made this morning was shaped by the reading I’ve done thus far in N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, which is a really good read (albeit heavier reading than his other popular writing). Some thoughts from my journal on Colossians 1:1-8 this morning:
“The first interesting thing I note is Paul’s triad of faith, hope and love, which is so common throughout his letters (cf. Rom. 5:1-5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 6:5-6; Eph. 4:2-5; 1 Thess. 1:3, 5:8). Here, however, Paul makes hope foundational to the other two. Elsewhere he says that love is the greatest of these (1 Cor. 13:13), but here hope gives rise to faith and love.
Paul says that the Colossians have ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ and ‘love..for all the saints’ (v. 4) because of ‘the hope laid up for [them] in heaven’ (v. 5). I’m sure that before I began reading Surprised by Hope I would naturally have assumed that what Paul is saying here is something along the lines of: ‘A key motivation for believers to have faith in Christ and love for fellow believers is remembering the great reward we will have in heaven if we do.’ That is no doubt true and could be exactly what Paul means. But ‘hope waiting for us in heaven’ is a teaching much more characteristic of Jesus. If it is what Paul is teaching here, it would be the only place in all his letters where he does so.
It may be more likely that the ‘hope’ that is set aside for us en ouranois (lit: “in the heavens”) is actually Jesus himself, who will come to us. In this case he means something more along the lines of: ‘A key motivation for believers to have faith in Christ and love for fellow believers is remembering that Jesus is coming with his Kingdom, where faith and love will be perfectly completed and perfectly manifested. Believers live in faith and love here and now in anticipation of life in the Kingdom of God.’ Something like this idea may be found in Philippians 3:20: “But our citizenship is en ouranois (lit: “in the heavens”), and from it (i.e. the heavens) we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” I’ll need to wait to see if the rest of Colossians sustains this reading and to hear what Wright and Pastor Steve have to say.
Either way, I praise and thank God for the marvelous faith- and love-motivating hope that he has set aside for us ‘in the heavens.’ May it be on display in me today.”