We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—so among yourselves, from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth, as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
The question we are asking in the month of July is: What is the fruit of Christian hope?
Last week we answered that the fruit of hope is joy, because in Romans 12:12 Paul commands Christians to "rejoice in hope." In other words, God never commands a Christian to be happy if there is nothing to look forward to. But the gospel is the good news that there is always something to look forward to—something so good that any suffering that may be required of us will seem light and momentary by comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). And since there is always a secure and happy future laid up for the Christian, the command remains in force: Rejoice always, and again I say, Rejoice!
Does Christian Hope Produce Love or Escapism?
Now someone may object and say, "That theology is so future-oriented and so other-worldly that it takes people's minds off the pressing needs of the present and turns them in on themselves and their own private spiritual happiness." In other words, it does not produce love; it produces escapism.
And so we must ask, Is it true that when Christians set their hearts earnestly and intensely on the future prospect of sharing the glory of God, and seeing the risen Lord, and being freed from sin and sickness, and living in joy for all eternity—when Christians set their hearts with deep longing and strong confidence on these things, do they become so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly use? Do they become self-centered and fall prey to escapism?
Today's message is intended to show that the Bible portrays just the opposite. It teaches and shows that a strong confidence in the promises of God and a passionate preference for the joy of heaven over the joy of the world frees a person from worldly self-centeredness, from paralyzing regret and self-pity, from fear and greed and bitterness and despair and laziness and impatience and envy. And in the place of all these sins, hope bears the fruit of love.
The Heavenly-Minded and the Worldly-Minded
The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. Name three! The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world. The problem is that professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half enjoying and repairing what they spend it on.
It is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love. It is worldly-mindedness that hinders love, even when it is disguised by a religious routine on the weekend. Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like baubles, and the entertainment of the world is empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person?
He is not in bondage to TV-watching or eating or sleeping or drinking or partying or fishing or sailing or putzing around. He is a free man in a foreign land. And his one question is this: How can I maximize my enjoyment of God for all eternity while I am an exile on this earth? And his answer is always the same: by doing the labors of love.
Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love! It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise—these are the cords that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope.
I say it again with all the conviction that lies within me: it is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love on this earth. It is worldly-mindedness. And therefore the great fountain of love is the powerful, freeing confidence of Christian hope!
Let's go to the Scriptures and see if these things are so!
Four Observations About Love
Our text is Colossians 1, especially verses 3–8. What I would like to do is make four brief observations about love from this text, then tie them all together in a way that will give guidance for our lives, and then illustrate the main point from some biblical examples of people whose love was the fruit of hope.
1. A Public Fruit
The first observation about love is that love is a public fruit. It cannot be kept secret. Verse 4:
We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints.
The Colossians have a reputation for their faith and love. Therefore I infer that their faith and love have become public. They have fulfilled the words of the Lord, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Love is not merely a private and secret affair. It always involves other people and so it becomes public. It is a public fruit.
2. A Fruit of Hope
The second observation about love is that it is the fruit of hope. It is the overflow of the fountain of hope. Verses 4–5a:
We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
The connection between verses 4 and 5 shows that hope is the cause of love. They have love for all the saints BECAUSE of the hope laid up for them in heaven. The word "hope" here in verse 5 refers to the content of our hope—to the thing hoped for, to the actual joys laid up for us in heaven. It doesn't refer to the feeling of hope in our hearts.
But if you ask how a distant future benefit causes love in the present, the answer is that the hope laid up for us in heaven inspires hope and confidence and freedom in the present. The link between the objective hope laid up in heaven and the active love for the saints on the earth is the subjective experience of hope welling up in our hearts.
So the second observation about love is that it is caused by hope; it is a fruit of hope.
3. A Fruit of the Gospel
The third observation is that love is a fruit of the gospel. Picking up in the middle of verse 5, it says,
Of this [i.e., the hope laid up in heaven] you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—so among yourselves, from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth.
The gospel is bearing fruit and growing wherever it is preached, just as also among the Colossians. So when Paul hears that there is faith and love flourishing among the Colossians, he sees it not only as evidence of the power of hope, but also as evidence of the power of the gospel. Love is a fruit of hope. And love is a fruit of the gospel.
And this is simple to understand because verse 6 says that the hope was heard in the word of truth, the gospel. We should keep this in mind whenever we share the gospel—it is a message of promises from God offered to people who will stop hoping in the promises of the world and start hoping in the promises of God.
So we have seen that love is a public fruit; love is a fruit of hope; and love is a fruit of the gospel.
4. A Fruit of the Spirit
Now the fourth observation is that love is a fruit of the Spirit. Verse 7 continues on by saying that the Colossians had heard the gospel "from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf 8) and has made known to us your love in the Spirit."
So the love that the Colossians have for Paul and for all the saints is not a love that is natural to the human heart. It happens "in the Spirit." It is, as Galatians 5:22 says, a "fruit of the Spirit." This is why Paul thanks God in verse 3 that he has heard of their faith and love—"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith . . . and love." If it had been the invention and product of the Colossians, Paul would have thanked the Colossians. But since faith and love are God's work, Paul thanks God.
Three Things to Do to Bear the Fruit of Love
Now let's tie these four observations together in a way that will give guidance for our lives. If our goal is to bear the public fruit of love, if we want to live in a way that will visibly honor God, this text directs us to do three things.
1. Give Heed to the Gospel
It directs us to give heed to the gospel. Practically this means listen to the Word of God. Read the Word of God, especially the promises and warnings. Verse 5 says that we learn about hope in the word of truth, the gospel. Day in and day out we must direct the attention of our minds to the word of truth.
2. Be in the Spirit
The text directs us to be in the Spirit. Verse 8 says that the love of the Colossians is a love "in the Spirit." It is the Spirit that makes the difference between whether the gospel will create hope in you or whether it leaves you cold.
Paul described the way the gospel came to the Thessalonians like this: "Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1:5–6). The result was that they had so much hope that they rejoiced even in much affliction (v. 6), and became imitators of the Lord.
So practically we must endeavor to forsake all self-reliance as we hear the Word of God, and seek the power of the Holy Spirit—not to tell us things that aren't in the Scriptures, but to make us feel the wonder of what is in the Scriptures. "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psalm 119:18). We should pray for ourselves the way Paul prayed for the Ephesians: "that God may enlighten the eyes of our hearts to know what is the hope to which he has called us, and what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (1:18).
3. Set Our Hearts on the Hope Laid Up for Us in Heaven
The third thing the text directs us to do, if we want to produce the fruit of love, is to set our hearts on the hope laid up for us in heaven. Colossians 3:1–2 says, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth."
In other words, as you read or hear the Word of God, and as you rely on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, you should consciously will to transfer your affections off the world and onto the hope laid up for you in heaven. I believe this is what it means when Philippians 2:12 says, "Work our your own salvation . . . for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
The Visible Fruit of Love
In summary, direct the attention of your mind day and night to the Word of God's promises, seek in all humility the help of the Holy Spirit to see the wonder of what is really there, and, as Peter says, "Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).
And by the grace of God the result will be the visible fruit of love.
- We will be more patient, more kind.
- We will be less jealous, and boastful, and arrogant, and rude.
- We will not just seek our own advancement but will strive to do to others what we would have them do to us.
- We will not be so irritable.
- We won't be so prone to keep an account of wrongs or return evil for evil.
- We will be inclined to bear all things and endure all things for the sake of our neighbor.
- We will not speak about our neighbor's faults without first going to the neighbor ourselves.
- We will return good for evil, and use our discretionary time not by maximizing our fleeting comforts but by devising ways to be a blessing to the lost and suffering.
- More and more our whole lives will take on an overflowing and other-directed spirit.
And this love will transform you and your family and the church, and, as Jesus says, the world will see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). There is no better evangelism in all the world than a church whose hope in God is so strong that they gladly deny themselves in order to meet the needs of others.
Now we have made our four observations about love from the text: it is a public fruit; it is a fruit of hope; it is a fruit of the gospel; and it is a fruit of the Spirit. And we have tied these together in a way that gives some practical guidance for our lives: give heed to the promises of God's Word; prayerfully rely on the Holy Spirit; set your affections on the hope laid up for you in heaven; and in the power of that hope, walk in love.
Two Biblical Illustrations of Love as the Fruit of Hope
Now let me close with two biblical illustrations of people who have performed acts of love by the power of hope. I pray that these illustrations will stir you to hope and love the way they did.
1. Hebrews 10:34
The situation is that some of the church members had been imprisoned and the rest were faced with the moral dilemma of whether to go underground and save themselves, or whether to go visit the prisoners and risk losing life and possessions. Verse 34 describes what they did and why.
For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
What was the power that drove them in love to the prison doors knowing their houses would be plundered? "Because you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one." It was hope that drove them to love. Or to put it another way, it was heavenly-mindedness that broke the power of worldly love for furniture and houses and security, and freed the saints to risk their lives in love. Therefore, I say it again, it is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love. When religious people fail to love, it is not because they have fallen in love with heaven, but because they are still in love with the world.
2. Hebrews 11:24–26
What power moved Moses to leave the comforts of Pharaoh's court and become the leader of a grumbling and stiff-necked people, and to be faithful to them for forty years of trouble?
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward.
Here is an illustration of how a confident hope for a great reward actually changes our values. Moses actually considered abuse and reproach for the cause of the Messiah to be greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt. He was utterly out of step with the world around him. He had been transformed by the renewing of his mind. How? It says at the end of verse 26, "because he looked to the reward." He had set his mind on the great promises of God.
And so let it be said again, it is not heavenly-mindedness that binds the hands of love. On the contrary it is the worldly desire for Egypt's pleasures and the worldly fear of suffering that shackles the hands of love. But when a person looks away from the world to the exceedingly great reward of God's promises, and lives with a deep confidence in the coming glory of the children of God, the shackles of worldliness are broken and the hands of love are freed.
- O that God would come down even today
in the power of his Holy Spirit,
- for the honor of his only Son,
and fill us with the hope of glory,
- and break the bonds of worldliness
that bind the hands of love!
(For other illustrations of hope giving rise to love see Hebrews 12:1–2; 13:5–6; Luke 14:12–14; Matthew 6:7–12, note the relationship between vv. 7–11 and 12.)