For the Love of God, Volume 1/October 11
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 14; Colossians 1; Ezekiel 44; Psalms 97—98
FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE are together sometimes referred to as the Pauline triad. They occur in Paul’s letters in various combinations. Sometimes only two of the three show up; sometimes all three.
Probably the best known verse with the Pauline triad is 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Here no relationship is expressed among the three. Paul tells us that these three virtues—faith, hope, and love (and this last one he calls “the most excellent way” (12:31b; see the September 8 meditation) rather than a “gift”)—all “remain”: what he means, I think, is that these all remain into eternity, and therefore should be nurtured and pursued even now. But the greatest of these three, Paul insists, is love. Why this is so, Paul does not tell us. Based on what the New Testament says elsewhere, we might reasonably hold that the reason why love is the greatest is that it is an attribute of God. God does not exercise faith; he does not “hope” in the sense of looking forward to the fulfillment of something that some other brings about. But he does love: indeed, 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love; no text says he is faith or hope. So the greatest of the three is love.
Here in Colossians 1:3-6, however, the relationship among the three elements of the Pauline triad is quite different. Paul thanks God when he prays for the Colossians, he says, “because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you” (1:4-6). This NIV rendering is slightly paraphrastic, but it catches the sense very well. Note:
(1) Paul did not plant the Colossian church. But now that he has come to hear of these believers, he prays for them constantly, with thanksgiving.
(2) What Paul has heard of these Colossian believers is their faith and love, both demonstrable virtues. If you have faith in Jesus, and if you love the saints, neither virtue can be hidden. These virtues were so evident among the Colossians that reports of their faith and love circulated to Paul. Do reports of the faith and love of our churches circulate widely?
(3) Paul says this faith and love “spring from the hope” that is stored up for them (1:5). Living with eternity in view vitalizes faith and calls forth love.
(4) This hope that has grounded their faith and love has itself been grounded in the Gospel, the word of truth that was preached to them (1:5-6).