Sometimes you think you’re set and then the bottom falls out. That’s what Terry and Donna McNally might say. Terry lost his sales job in 2008, the year of the Great Recession. Within just a few months he had lost hope.
The condo they had bought 15 years earlier was suddenly worth less than their mortgage. 40% of his 401 (k) retirement savings was gone. Donna quickly became the main provider for the family through the daycare center she ran out of their home.
The hope of retirement went out the window too. Terry found work at a funeral home and at Starbucks making lattes. The co-workers there were young enough to be his grandchildren but they took him under their wing and helped him learn the ropes.
Donna said their hope was to “have a log cabin in northern Michigan and live a nice quiet life” in retirement. Now they can’t imagine that day. They thought they had enough in their savings. Suddenly they discovered they did not.
Their world quaked in 2008. Maybe yours has too. Is it your finances? Your family? Maybe your faith or your future? One minute you’re walking happily down the side-street; the next minute someone pulls the manhole cover out from underneath you.
Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh say that is what has happened in our post-modern world. The modern world was built on what we thought was solid ground. The first floor, as they describe it, was built on science. Science, with its method of experiments and tests that could verify things as true or false, would give us the answers we need.
The second floor was technology which in turn would give us mastery over our environment. Technology would give us power to control the forces of nature around us and harness them for our purposes.
The third floor led to economic growth. Science and technology, when harnessed, would produce wealth, which in turn would raise the standard of living and better the human race.
These floors gave us hope. Hope that we could have a world in which “ignorance was overcome, disease was cured, poverty was eradicated, war was rendered obsolete, there were no material or social needs and which continually improved itself.”
You know how that turned out, don’t you? With the onset of WWI, a new reality emerged. Science and technology did not always make our world better. The Great Depression showed us the economy could crash. Writers began articulating a profound loss of hope.
Welcome to the postmodern world where we once thought we had enough only to find out we did not. It’s a world not unlike the world of Colossae to which the Apostle Paul writes his letter. The Colossians had lost their economic standing when the trade route changed and bypassed them. They knew that an earthquake could level their progress at any moment.
And those that thought they had found what they needed spiritually were being told that it was not enough. Paul gets this report from Epaphrus and talks it out with his companions, Timothy being one of them. At some point he hires a secretary to write out his ideas. Then they sent the letter to the church through someone who would be coached on how to read it publicly to the gathered church.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother: To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters. Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Col. 1:1-2)
It’s important for the church to know that these words come from Paul, an apostle. He was one who had been an eyewitness of Jesus and was commissioned by him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. There was opposition in the church to what had been taught, and Paul in his greeting reminds them that he is the one called to oversee this church. Along with him is Timothy, his special co-worker who to him is like a brother.
Then Paul reminds the church of who they are: saints in Christ and faithful brothers and sisters. Living in Christ will make a person a “saint.” Most of us don’t look in the mirror in the morning and see a “saint,” but God does. We think it means someone who is a bit “holier than thou” when it really just means you are holy, holy in the sense that you are dedicated to God. Your life is moving in a direction toward God and away from the world. And “faithful” here means those who trust in God but also who trust not just once—like when you come to salvation—but trust him over time in all areas of your life.
These are the people in the church. They are “in Colossae”—a geographic location. And they are “in Christ”—a spiritual location. “in Christ” is a favorite term of Paul’s. He uses it eighty-three times. It is our identity and where we live our lives as believers: in Christ.
When Christ is your identity you have hope. That’s what the Colossian church heard next:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace. You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit. (Col. 1:3-8)
Hope, to Paul, is something “reserved” for the believer in heaven. It is “laid away.” There was a time before credit cards where, if you didn’t have the money you needed in hand for Christmas gifts, you put the items on layaway. You would pay a down-payment of 10-20% and then make payments along the way until the items were paid off. The store kept your stuff safe for you until you came to take them.
It’s a different hope than we sometimes hear today. The hope Paul is talking about has to do with their eternal salvation. Because we have this hope we can live in this world faithfully and lovingly. The hope we often hear today, however, is very different. It’s a hope that if you are faithful, God will deal you a better hand than the one you have now. It’s typically a hope in a better life now, that any unfavorable circumstance in your life will change.
Paul isn’t talking about that kind of hope. He is saying that because the creator God is keeping your salvation stored in heaven for you, you can live faithfully now no matter what cards you have been dealt.
And they believe they can because they have “already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” “Hearing” in the Bible has to do with obedience to the word of God. In this case, Paul is talking about the Gospel. Not just the idea of gospel many have that is only about the point of salvation. He’s talking about the gospel of what God is doing now in this world and how we are called to be a part of it. These people have heard that truth and are giving their lives to it. It is true, and because it is true and they believe it, they can live now in a way that is faithful to that gospel no matter what this life hits them with.
You may wonder how in this world can that be? What would that kind of life look like? Paul gives us the answers in his prayer:
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Pay attention to Paul’s prayers. He prays and teaches at the same time. There are four phrases here that show how we can live now under any circumstances we are dealt. They follow his prayer that the believers “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom.” We often look for some specific will of God in every aspect of our lives. Paul sees God’s will as more of knowing him, and because we know him our lives change to be more like his.
When he uses the words “knowledge” and “wisdom” he is countering what others are teaching, that there is some secret knowledge or wisdom that is more than what they have been taught. The only knowledge we need, according to Paul, is to know Christ. When we know Christ, we have wisdom, which biblically means to learn to live in God’s world in God’s way.
When we do, our lives are lived out with these characteristics:
- We bear fruit in every good work. The gospel bears fruit (1:6) by growing “all over the world” and it grows in our lives by good deeds that are done publicly that brings glory to God.
- We grow in the knowledge of God. We are people who dive into learning what the gospel is and into the Scriptures in order to know God.
- We are strengthened with all power. Literally, the Greek says something more like “being empowered by the power of the might of God’s glory.” The point is this power can only come from God. When you realize your external circumstances may not change, you need internal power to live this life.
It’s not the kind of power you can just muster up. I played tennis recently on an empty tank. Not enough sleep. Not enough breakfast. Aside from the fact that my friend was hitting really well, I just didn’t have the energy to run and perform as I would have liked. I tried to think positive thoughts: “You can run a little harder on the next point.” I gave myself encouragement: “He’ll probably start missing his shots soon.” It didn’t matter. I didn’t have the power I needed to play the game at a good level.
Paul is saying we need the kind of power that gives us endurance and patience to live in this life with trials, suffering, opposition, and just ordinary day-to-day living. And that power only comes from God.
- We joyfully give thanks. We are people who give thanks, not complaints. And why not? God has given us a great inheritance! He has rescued us and redeemed us. He has done with us what he did with the Israelites trapped in Egypt and the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. We have forgiveness of sins. How can we not become thankful people?
It can happen. Thanklessness is a byproduct of prayerlessness. Consequently, thankfulness is a byproduct of prayerfulness. Prayer reminds us of who God is and who we are. And it reminds us of who we are in this world. We are a people of hope living in a world where people are dying of hope. We are educated and entertained. We have unlimited recreation options. We have all the techy devices you could imagine. And yet, in this postmodern world people are dying of hope.
School shootings, racial tensions, rising depression, suicide rates increasing 24% in less than twenty years. These epidemics are robbing people of hope. When you think this world is as good as it gets, and you realize it’s not that good, you lose hope.
But when we know there is something else—a hope that is stored for us in heaven—then we can live in this world with faithfulness and love for God and others. And we can know him and be fruitful with good deeds that will show others there is something other than what they can see in the here and now.
Something better. Some of it can be experienced now. All of it can be experienced when heaven and earth come together. You can live knowing you have enough. When your world is shaking, put your hope in heaven. The bottom will never fall out.
 J. Richard Middleton & Brian J. Walsh, Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995) pp. 16-17.
 Ibid., 17.
 McKnight, Colossians, 2.
 Thompson, 25.