CHARACTERISTICS OF A CHRISTIAN
(Col 1: 3-5)
Paul was praying for a group of Christians
he had in all probability never met. It is believed that Epaphras
was the one God used to bring about this local church at Colosse,
and together with Philemon he had told Paul all about them. This is
often the situation we are faced with - praying for Christians who
we may never have met, for example, those working on the Mission
field. And note what it says that Paul did - he
prayed always, it was not a one-off
exercise, but a regular activity. He particularly thanked God for
what he had heard about their faith, their love to all the saints,
and the hope they had. "Faith / love/ hope" is a familiar triad in
the scriptures. Paul writing to the Corinthians refers to "faith,
hope, love, these three" in 1 Cor 13:13, and to the
Thessalonians he refers to their "work of
faith, labour of love, and patience of hope" (1 Thess 1:3). "Love"
is clearly in the point in 1 Cor 13, "hope"
is emphasised in 1 Thess , and "faith"
has the prime place in Colossians. This familiar grouping is the
evidence of a work of God in a person; they are not natural
characteristics, nor capable of being developed by an individual.
Paul in writing about their "faith, love, hope" is not describing a
natural man but a spiritual one.
God worked faith in their lives;
they were willing to risk their future by their faith in Christ. He
was not referring to some specific act of faith but an attitude of
faith. They lived by faith in the Son of God who loved them and gave
Himself for them (Gal 2:20). Note that "faith" comes first in this
group of three. It is not a mere feeling; what makes it special is
the object of the faith - "in Christ".
We are not a Christian because we have faith, but rather because we
have faith in Christ. The object of the faith is what matters.
And then they have "love
to all the saints". How this showed itself in practice is not
stated. We are to love all, particularly those of the "household
of faith" (Gal 6:10). True faith produces love. It will be
easy to love saints who have gone to heaven because they don't have
a sin capacity, but the difficult part of loving saints on earth is
that they sin. But we must love them, sinful nature, warts and all.
This is evidence that we belong to the Lord; it's what binds people
from different backgrounds into a fellowship. "Love"
then is the greatest characteristic of the Christian faith (1
Cor 13:13), and it's the greatest commandment of the
Christian faith (John 13:35), and it is also the greatest
constraint or control in the Christian faith - "the
love of Christ constrains me" (2 Cor 5:14). For believers in
the Lord Jesus, the most powerful motivation is the love of Christ,
a compelling force which gives direction to every aspect of our
They have this faith and love on account
of the hope that is laid up for them in heaven. Note the
order. "Hope" is not the result of
faith and love, but the reverse. We must not think of "hope" as
"wishful thinking", such as saying "I hope so", or "I hope it will
not rain today". That's not "hope" in the Biblical sense, but
wishful thinking - there are no guarantees with that expression of
hope. "Hope" in the Biblical sense is
something certain because it does not depend on us but depends upon
the work and the word of Christ. The future is as bright as the
promises of God. We have a future - we look for the blessed hope
(Tit 2:13). The more we fix our "hope" on eternal values, the more
faith and love we will have.
is said to be "laid up for you in heaven";
it means it's secure, it's preserved, it's stored like treasure.
Peter writes that we have been "begotten to a
living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an
inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away,
reserved in heaven for you Who are kept by the power of God through
faith" (1 Pet 1:3-5). God guarantees our salvation; we might
get our lives all wrong down here, but we will never lose it,
because we never did anything to gain it in the first place. "Hope"
then is an anchor for the soul (Heb 6:19). Sometimes even as
Christians we make a mess of our lives, and God seems a long way
off, but how well the hymn "Rock of ages" captures what our response
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.