Monday, November 27, 2023


Colossians 1:3-5 is one of several passages in which Paul mentions the triad of faith, hope, and love. "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." Having written of faith, let us proceed on to hope. 

In speaking of hope in Colossians 1, Paul speaks objectively. Faith, hope, and love can all be used subjectively and objectively. We usually use them in their subjective sense - hope you exercise in something, faith you exercise in something, love you have for someone. You can also use the words in an objective sense and speak of the thing you have faith in as "the faith," the thing that you have hope in as "the hope," or the one whom you love as "my love." So in this passage, Paul speaks of the thing for which the saints hope as "the hope laid up for you in heaven." 

We can have hope for a lot of things. Sometimes the Bible uses hope in a very commonplace sort of way, as when John says, "I hope to come to you" (2 John 12). But when we speak of hope as a virtue, we are speaking of hope in God, hope in his word, hope in the things that he has promised for us, such as the glory that awaits us (Lam. 3:19-24, Titus 1:1-3). Like saving faith, Christian hope is directed toward God through Jesus Christ. And just as we have faith in God and therefore receive his word by faith, so we have hope in God and therefore have hope in his promises, the things that he has taught us to expect from him. 

Now, what is hope? How would you describe hope? As my son has put it, when you hope for something, you think it is going to happen and you want it to happen. Those are the two basic parts of hope, expectation and desire. 

The Hebrew word for hope,  יָחַל, has the sense of waiting for, with patient expectation. You are going to wait for it with the expectation of it coming to pass. The Greek word, ἐλπίς, means “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation” (BDAG). As another lexicon has it, hope is "the expectation of good" (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). If we have the expectation of something bad, we would not call that hope. Hope is an expectation of something that you want, of something that is good. 

Now in the Bible, hope is usually not a mere wishful expectation, but a confident and certain expectation of future good which we desire. The Puritan John Owen put it this way, “Where Christ evidenceth his presence with us, he gives us an infallible hope of glory; he gives us an assured pledge of it, and worketh our souls into an expectation of it. Hope in general is but an uncertain expectation of a future good which we desire; but as it is a gospel grace, all uncertainty is removed from it, which would hinder us of the advantage intended in it. It is an earnest expectation, proceeding from faith, trust, and confidence, accompanied with longing desires of enjoyment.”

This confident expectation brings us joy. It proceeds from God's promise and the way it works in our hearts is that it proceeds from faith, trust, and confidence. You have hope because you have believed.

Now what would be the alternative to hope or the opposite of hope? Some alternatives to hope are a sense of impending doom and despair, either expecting bad things or not expecting good. Also, the absence of desires or goals would also be contrary to hope. A person with hope has goals and an expectation of reaching them. So a person without hope either does not have goals or has no expectation of reaching them.

Another distortion of hope would be what we would call presumption or vain hope. This would be to expect something that you do not have a good reason to expect. You may come across this in more mundane matters, where a person gets their hopes up for no good reason, only to have them dashed in time. This happens in great matters too. It is a vain hope to expect pardon apart from faith in Christ. Some people think that of course they will go to heaven. Yet, they do not have any good reason to think they are going to heaven if they do not realize that they are a sinner in need of grace and then receive that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Mere presumptions and vain hopes not grounded upon God's word are not the virtue of hope. (Nor is it a virtue when your desires are for unlawful things.)

Hope is built upon faith. Faith in God results in love and hope. Godefridus Udemans has defined Christian hope in this way: “Hope is the fruit of the Spirit whereby we look forward with patience and endurance to the fulfillment of God’s promises.” Hope is is indeed produced by the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” 

The Lord’s Prayer is a good summary of Christian hope. It both directs our desires and gives us an expectation of them, if we ask in faith as his disciples. Jesus did not teach us to pray these things in vain. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to have hope that God will be revered, his kingdom will come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in you personally and in the world. It teaches us to hope that God will provide for our earthly needs in accord with his wisdom, that he will forgive our debts (sins), and that he will deliver us from evil (world, flesh, devil). 

Believers have reason to hope for personal sanctification, hope for deliverance from the power of evil and for growth in righteousness. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Believers have reason to hope for the future of God's church. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” He was writing to the people of God as they were encountering difficulty and exile, but God would not cut off his people. He would give them a future and a hope generations later. He would continue to sustain his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

Believers have reason to hope especially for eternal life, resurrection, and glory. After all, Paul did say, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Our hope goes far beyond our daily bread. We hope for eternal life with God after death, dwelling with Christ in heaven, being raised in incorruptible glory on the day of Christ's return, and inheriting the kingdom of glory forever in the new creation.

We wait eagerly for these future realities. In fact, the whole creation awaits this great restoration and glorification. Romans 8:23-25 describes this hope:

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

As faith can be contrasted with sight, so hope can also be contrasted with sight. You do not hope for something you already have. We might call that enjoyment, but not hope. You hope for something that has not yet arrived or is not yet in your possession. Therefore it requires patience. We so have a foretaste of this future hope, the firstfruits of the Spirit, who is "the guarantee of our inheritance" (Eph, 1:14). 

What are some results and fruits of Christian hope? 

Hope leads to joy. Paul connects rejoicing with hope at least twice in Romans. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Our expectation is a joyful expectation. We rejoice in the hope of participating in this glory of God that is set before us. 

Hope leads to courage and steadfastness. You can have courage in the face of difficulty and threats - the short-term expectation of harm or suffering - because you have hope of good in the end. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul speaks of "your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." As a person works and labors out of faith and love, so he is steadfast because of his hope. You are able to stand fast through suffering and difficulty, waiting eagerly for what is to come, for glory, for eternal life, for God's care for his people and his faithfulness to his promises.

Hope also leads to diligence and work. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of the hope of the resurrection and it ends with an exhortation that follows from this hope: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

There are many fruits and benefits from the hope we have, the hope that is rooted in faith and God's Word. This hope is strengthened as we call these things to mind. "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope" (Lam. 3:21). We should train ourselves to meditate upon these things and to exercise our hope, more and more. When you meet with challenges or see the wicked prosper, remember the exhortation of Scripture, "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Prov. 23:17–18).  

No comments: