Yesterday we looked at the foundations of our good news: the two pillars, if you will, of grace and peace. God’s gift of undeserved mercy, which in turn brings shalom to our relationships in every dimension. God’s grace, our peace. These are the twin foundations on which our walk with Jesus rests – and as such, it’s a perfect way to introduce a letter designed to strengthen our spiritual lives.
Today, Paul builds on that image by describing how to build fruitfully on those foundations. What are the defining characteristics of this life-giving journey, of what it means to live in grace and peace? As Paul gives thanks for what God is doing in the church in Colossae, he talks about three old friends, which form the basis of our reflection today: faith, hope and love.
You may be familiar with something called the ‘rule of three’. It’s a very old concept, formalised in ancient Greece, though you can see it in the earliest chapters of scripture – the idea that things go better in threes. As an aside, theologically I think that probably has something to do with the nature of God himself: we worship God as 3-in-1, as Father, Son and Spirit. So, it would be natural that human beings – made in this divine image – have a deep connection with things that come in 3s.
And in the bible, alongside the Trinity, probably the most well-known ‘set of 3’ is the set we encounter today. It was something Paul had famously developed in a letter written a few years earlier to the Christian community in Corinth, and still used in many wedding ceremonies today: ‘and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’
In this letter, Paul develops this ‘3’ by focusing on where each attribute is directed. First we need faith in Jesus. This is vital. We often commend faith in a generic sense, but the bible always insists that our faith has to be directed somewhere: specifically, our faith is to be in Jesus. Why? Because we need to place faith in someone we can trust, who loves us, who is completely dependable, and has both the compassion and the authority to make things right. That would be Jesus.
Empowered by this faith, we are then able to selflessly serve (i.e. to love) our fellow Christians. That’s not to say that we don’t love all people, but we are to give particular love and support to those who also try to follow Jesus – who could you apply that to today?
Finally, this life of faith and love has a future purpose: we are living for eternity, the hope of heaven. Time and again, we are encouraged to see heaven as a motivating factor in our here-and-now lives: the firm and confident conviction that we are headed somewhere much better than here. Yes, we seize every day on this earth, and give thanks for every blessing: but we are on a journey somewhere better.
Faith, hope and love – it’s ‘the true message of the gospel’ (v5) and what Paul gives thanks for in the lives of his readers. May it be our ‘rule of 3’ too, and may God stir in us ever more completely these golden threads of: faith, hope and love.