The Product of Heavenly Hope: Love

Sep 22

The Product of a Heavenly Hope: Love

Colossians 1:3-8

Preached at Main Street Church on September 22nd, 2019

Our Problem: We think we need to set our minds on worldly things

Proposition: Since the hope of heaven produces love we must set our minds on the things above.

1. Heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident

2. Heavenly hope produces love that is gospel-based

3. Heavenly hope produces love that is spirit-filled

This is the second sermon in our series “The Supremacy of Christ,” which is a verse by verse look at the book of Colossians.  Paul wrote this letter to the church in the city of Colossae in about 62 AD while he was imprisoned, and he starts his letter with this short prayer of thanksgiving in v. 3-8, and here is his main point: Since the hope of heaven produces love we must set our minds on the things above.

Colossians 1:3-8 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that 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 increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

This past Tuesday, New York based Union Seminary held a chapel service in which students confessed their sins to plants.  The seminary “posted a photo of the chapel service which showed a student sitting on the ground before several potted plants to offer confession, mainly over failures to protect the environment.”

A tweet from the seminary read: “Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?”

Union Seminary was founded in 1836 by a group of Presbyterian ministers and sees itself as rooted in Protestantism. But their vision statement on their website says this: “Union envisions its graduates changing the world by practicing their vocations with dedication that bring a religiously grounded, critical and compassionate presence to the major personal, social, political and scientific realities of our time.”

Here is a seminary that claims to be Christian and states that their aim is to train students to lovingly and compassionately bring good to the earth.  Apparently, one way they think they will do that is to make confession to potted plants in their chapel services. 

These events are a shining example of what happens when we set our minds on the things of earth instead of the things of heaven.  Here is a seminary that abandoned the supremacy of Christ in all things long ago in order to focus on things that “really matter.” 

What is laid before us today in this text—and in the whole book of Colossians—is the resounding truth that the transforming power of God’s love is not brought about by setting our minds on the wisdom or spirituality of the world, but by setting our minds on the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 

In v. 4 Paul says, “we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” It is a heavenly hope that unleashes the hands of love in the world.  It is a heavenly hope that brings the love of God to earth.  So in chapter 3 we are told, “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 earth.”

So Paul’s main point at the very beginning of his letter is this: Since the hope of heaven produces love we must set our minds on the things above.  According to Paul, love for the world is not a product of setting your mind on the things of the world.  Love for the world is a product of a heavenly hope—of setting your mind on things above.  And according to Paul in this short passage at the beginning of his letter, a heavenly hope produces three different kinds of love:

1. Heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident

2. Heavenly hope produces love that is gospel-based

3. Heavenly hope produces love that is spirit-filled

Since the hope of heaven produces love we must set our minds on the things above.

  1. Heavenly Hope Produces Love that Is Publicly Evident

Verse 3 says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident.  In verse 4 Paul says he and others have heard about their love.  This is the kind of love that impacts people.  It’s the kind of love that people tell stories about and remember.  And then he roots their love in their heavenly hope: “we heard of..the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Since heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident, we must set our minds on the things above.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossian church while he was in prison.  The first century saw the beginning of a massive wave of merciless persecution of Christians.  Not only Paul, but many other Christians were dragged from their homes by Roman soldiers and thrown into prisons which were not like the prisons of our day.  Typically these prisons were just stony pits under ground with no sunlight.  There were no beds, no food, and sometimes no water provided.  Unless you had friends or family  who were willing to come and provide those things for you, you most likely were going to die. 

This left first-century Christians with a decision to make.  Either they would have to keep their faith in Christ private, or they would publicly expose themselves as Christians by going to help their brothers and sisters in prison, which would result in persecution for them, where their homes would be raided and their reputations ruined. 

The author of the book of Hebrews wrote about this very thing to Christians who faced it.  In Hebrews 10:32 he says, “32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

Heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident.  This kind of publicly evident love that expresses itself despite the consequences, not just when it’s convenient is only produced by a heavenly hope.  What would drive people to this kind of publicly evident love?  What would drive people to publicly forsake their reputation and possessions?  you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”  It is only a heavenly hope that produces a publicly evident love like this.  Since heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident, we must set our minds on the things above.

Since heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident, we should talk about the love that we see and hear about in other believers.  Verse 4 says, “we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.”  If they heard about it, that means someone was talking about it!  We ought to speak glowingly about the love that we see in each other and tell others about it. It’s so easy for us to talk about the negative things we see in people’s lives—their mistakes, bad qualities, and scandals—instead of talking publicly about the love we have seen them display in their lives.  When you get together with other believers, talk about that kind of thing.  Maybe you know someone who gives sacrificially, or someone who uses their spare time to serve others, or who has taken in children through adoption or foster care.  What if our conversations were filled with talk about how people have publicly demonstrated love instead of gossip or rumors or speculation? 

Now, it’s possible you might think that talking like this could make people prideful or puff them up.  But look at Paul’s approach to this in verse 3.  He says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  Which means that when we talk about the publicly-evident love of other believers, we don’t give thanks to them, but we give thanks to God.  If you look through the New Testament, you will not find one instance of Paul giving thanks to a person for anything that they’ve done.  He always give thanks to God. This doesn’t diminish the person or the work they’ve done, but it actually simultaneously exalts their work of love, and humbles them. 

Maybe say, “I thank God for that work you did.” “I thank God for that sermon Doug gave last week.”  That doesn’t diminish his work or the way God is using him, but actually elevates his work and humbles him and encourages him to see that God is using him.  Consider how you can tell other people that you are grateful to God for what he has done through them.  That is thankfulness borne out of setting your mind on the things above.

Since heavenly hope produces love that is publicly evident, we must set our minds on the things above.

  1. Heavenly Hope Produces Love that Is Gospel-based

Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this (hope) 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 increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

Paul is saying that the heavenly hope we have—which produces love—is based in the gospel.  So if our heavenly hope is the root, and love is the fruit, the gospel is the soil in which the tree of hope is planted.  You can’t have a tree without soil for it to be planted in, and you can’t have a heavenly hope without the gospel as it’s basis.  The fruit of love is borne out of a gospel-based hope that produces gospel-based love. Heavenly hope produces the fruit of love that is gospel-based.

In v. 5 Paul says you have hope laid up for you in heaven, and you heard of this hope in the gospel.  Then in v. 6 he says it is bearing fruit and increasing—it’s bearing the fruit of love. And in v. 23 he says Christ will present you holy and blameless before God “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.” Since heavenly hope produces love that is gospel-based, we must set our minds on the things above.

In the French historical novel Les Miserables, author Victor Hugo tells a story of ex-convict Jean Valjean who had been just been released from 19 years in a brutal labor camp for stealing bread for his starving family, and 14 more years for numerous escape attempts.  33 years in total.  Jean Valjean’s time as a slave in prison had hardened him and embittered him against people.  After his release no one would take him due to his status as an ex-convict, so he found himself sleeping on the street. 

Surprisingly, a benevolent Bishop named Myriel invited the ex-con to have a hot meal with him and stay in a warm, dry bed in his home.  Spurning the bishop’s mercy, Jean Valjean got up in the middle of the night and began filling his bag with the bishop’s silverware.  He was caught by the bishop in the middle of his robbery, so he knocked the bishop unconscious and ran off. 

The next day Jean Valjean was arrested and brought by police back to the bishop’s home.  Jean had told the police that the bishop gave him the silverware.  Not believing Jean’s thinly veiled lie about the silverware, the police questioned Bishop Myriel to verify the unlikely story.

The Bishop looked Jean Valjean straight in the eyes, still bruised from where Jean had struck him the night before, and then told the police: “Thank you for bringing Jean back here, I’m very relieved.  When he left with the silverware, he forgot to take the silver candlesticks with him.”  The police couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but the bishop insisted that he gave the silver to Jean as a gift, so the police accepted the explanation and left.  Jean asked the bishop why he had done such a thing after he had robbed him, and the bishop said, “Jean Valjean my brother, you no longer belong to evil.  With this silver I’ve bought your soul.  I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”

The kind of love that the bishop showed to Jean Valjean is a picture of gospel-based love.  It’s a picture of love based on the redeeming power of God through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Since heavenly hope produces love that is gospel-based, we must set our minds on the things above.

Hope in silver doesn’t produce gospel-based love.  Only a heavenly hope can do that.  Only a hope rooted in the gospel can produce love that is based in the gospel.  If we want to have this kind of love then we need to keep ourselves firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We need to remind ourselves daily that we were not ransomed from our futile ways “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).  We must set our minds on the things above—on the unsearchable mercy of God displayed in the cross of Christ.  Every day when you wake up think about the grace that God has poured out on you in Jesus Christ.  When you pray, thank God for the cross.  Firmly plant your hope of heaven in the gospel of Jesus Christ so that your life will produce gospel-based love.  That’s sacrificial, self-giving, selfless love. 

Since the hope of heaven produces gospel-based love we must set our minds on the things above.  Fixating on the things of the world doesn’t produce gospel-based love. Only setting out minds on heaven can do that. 

Many Christian aid organizations in third world countries start out with an intensity to bring the good news of the gospel in all it’s fulness to suffering people by sending missionaries to preach the gospel and to serve the people’s physical needs with doctors, medicine, clean water, and food.  But as time goes on, they slowly lose their initial focus on the things above.  They get consumed with the desperate physical needs.  People begin signing up to help who don’t believe the gospel of Jesus but they think it would make them feel good to go help some suffering people.  Soon you no longer have gospel-based organizations, but simply a humanitarian aid organizations. Everything becomes about logistics and maintaining the huge system.  They’ve taken their mind off of their heavenly hope and the transcendant and set their mind on the cares of the world, and how they can simply keep the ball spinning.

Love that is based in the gospel says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the body I live by a heavenly hope in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  Gospel based love says, “I will love my enemies.” “I will pray for those who persecute me.” “I will seek to see the supremacy of Christ in all things for the joy of all people, no matter what the cost.” 

Since heavenly hope produces gospel-based love, we must set our minds on the things above.

  1. Heavenly Hope Produces Love that Is Spirit-Filled

Picking up in verse 7 Paul writes, “you learned it (the gospel) from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

Epaphras seems to be the one who planted the church at Colossae, and here Paul is saying that he has talked about their love “in the Spirit.”  That is a unique phrase, and this is the only time we see it put together like that in Scripture.  Paul is emphasizing that their love is not a product of their own personalities or good qualities, but that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The kind of love that they are showing because of their heavenly hope is spirit-filled love.  Heavenly hope produces love that is spirit filled. 

Listen to what Romans 5:5 says, “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  So the kind of love that heavenly hope produces, is spirit-filled love.  When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love (joy, peace, patience, kindness…). And then Ephesians 1 tells us why heavenly hope produces love that is Spirit-filled: Ephesians 1:13, “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,” So, since the Holy Spirit guarantees our heavenly hope, that heavenly hope produces love that is Spirit-filled. 

Right after Pentecost the apostles started having trouble in their church.  The problem was that the Greek widows were being overlooked and weren’t being served as much as the Jewish widows in the church were.  The apostles realized that since their church had grown so large, the task was too much for them, so Acts 6:3 tells us they said “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”  You see here, one of the characteristics here was that they be spirit-filled.  One of the men they selected that day was a man by the name of Stephen.

Stephen was the first Christian to be killed for his heavenly hope.  One day Stephen was explaining to a group of Jews how the Old Testament Scriptures all pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, And Acts 7:54 says, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. (Now listen to the description of Stephen)  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

And they began throwing rocks at him, brutally murdering him with them, and then Stephen, spirit-filled, setting his mind on the things above where Christ is, at the right hand of God uttered these amazing words of spirit-filled love, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And then he died.

Setting our minds on the things above—on our heavenly hope—produces love that is spirit-filled.  It produces love that is not natural to mankind.  Love that can only come from the Holy Spirit.  Stephen didn’t look into the faces of his murderers and say, “these are really good people deep down inside.”  He didn’t look within himself and say, “I can handle this.”  He set his mind on the things above!  He set his mind on the resurrected Christ who has been exalted to the right hand of God!  And it was his vision—in the Spirit—of the glory of the supremacy of Christ that produced spirit-filled love that blessed his persecutors instead of cursed them.  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”

Friends, this is why we must set our minds on the things above!  The love of God will never be unleashed in our homes and in our communities and at our jobs and in our marriages and around the world by gazing at the things of the world.  We must—in the power of the Holy Spirit—set our minds on the things above, on the supremacy of the glory of Christ if we ever want to experience the power of Spirit-filled love in our lives. 

Do you want to demonstrate with your life love that is publicly evident that will be talked about for over 2000 years?  Set your mind on the things above!

Do you want to live a life of love that is gospel based and imitates the sacrificial love of Jesus? Set your mind on the things above!

Do you want to experience the supernatural power of spirit-filled love that prays for murderers with its final breath?  Set your mind on the things above!

Set your mind on the glory of Jesus who is the image of the invisible God.  Set your mind on our resurrected king through whom and for whom all things were created.  Set your mind on this Jesus who was before time began, and who will be at the end of the ages.  Set your mind on the King of Majesty on high who rules the nations and judges with complete justice.  Set your mind on the crucified Savior who bled in your place to bring you to God, and then rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Set your mind on this Jesus!

The degree to which Main Street Church displays publicly-evident, gospel-based, spirit-filled love will be in direct correlation to how set our minds are on the hope laid up for us in heaven. 

Since heavenly hope produces puglicly-evident, gospel-based, spirit-filled love, let’s together, as one body, set our collective mind on the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.