1:2-8 Grace be to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for you in our prayers; for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love you have to all God's dedicated people, because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven. Of that hope you have already heard in the true word of the gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world it is bearing fruit and increasing, just as it did among you too, from that day on which you heard and knew the grace of God as it truly is, as you leamed it from Epaphras, my beloved fellow-bondman, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and who has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Here we are presented with the essence of the Christian life. The fact which delights Paul's heart and for which he gives God thanks is that he has been told that the Colossians are showing two great qualities in their lives, faith in Christ and love for their fellow-men.
These are the two sides of the Christian life. The Christian must have faith; he must know what he believes. But he must also have love for men; he must turn that belief into action. It is not enough simply to have faith, for there can be an orthodoxy which knows no love. It is not enough only to have love for men, for without real belief that love can become mere sentimentality. The Christian has a double commitment--he is committed to Jesus Christ and he is committed to his fellow-men. Faith in Christ and love to men are the twin pillars of the Christian life.
That faith and love depend on the hope that is laid up in heaven. What exactly does Paul mean? Is he asking the Colossians to show faith in Christ and love for men only for the hope of some reward that is going to come to them some day? Is this "pie in the sky"? There is something much deeper than that here.
Think of it this way. Loyalty to Christ may involve a man in all kinds of loss and pain and suffering. There may be many things to which he has to say goodbye. The way of love may seem to many to be the way of a fool. Why spend life in selfless service? Why not use it "to get on" as the world counts getting on? Why not push the weaker brother out of the way? The answer is--because of the hope that is set before us.
As C. F. D. Moule puts it, that hope is the certainty that, in spite of the world's ways, God's way of love has the last word. As James Russell Lowell put it in "The Present Crisis," the hope is that:
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 'tis truth alone is strong... Truth for ever on the scaffold, Wrong for ever on the throne; Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
The Christian hope is that God's way is the best way and that the only real peace, the only real joy, the only true and lasting reward are to be found in it. Loyalty to Christ may bring trouble here--but that is not the last word. The world may laugh contemptuously at the folly of the way of love--but the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. The Christian hope is the confidence that it is better to stake one's life on God than to believe the world.
Colossians 1:6-8 are a kind of summary of what the gospel is and does. Paul has much to say of the hope, to which the Colossians have already listened and which they have already accepted.
(i) The gospel is good news of God. Its message is of a God who is a Friend and Lover of the souls of men. First and foremost, the gospel sets us in a right relationship with God.
(ii) The gospel is truth. All previous religions could be entitled "guesses about God." The Christian gospel gives a man not guesses but certainties about God.
(iii) The gospel is universal. It is for all the world. It is not confined to any one race or nation, nor to any one class or condition. Very few things in this world are open to all men. A man's mental calibre decides the studies he can undertake. A man's social class decides the circle amidst which he will move. A man's material wealth determines the possessions he can amass. A man's particular gifts decide the things he can do. But the message of the gospel is open without exception to all men.
(iv) The gospel is productive. It bears fruit and increases. It is the plain fact of history and experience that the gospel has power to change individual men and the society in which men live. It can change the sinner into a good man and can slowly take the selfishness and the cruelty out of society so that all men may have the chance God would wish them to have.
(v) The gospel tells of grace. It is not so much the message of what God demands as of what he offers. It tells not so much of his demand from men as of his gift to men.
(vi) The gospel is humanly transmitted. It was Epaphras who brought it to the Colossians. There must be a human channel through which the gospel can come to men. And this is where we come in. The possession of the good news of the gospel involves the obligation to share it. That which is divinely given must be humanly passed on. Jesus Christ needs us to be the hands and feet and lips which will bring his gospel to those who have never heard it.