Colossians 1: 3-5 (to “heavens”)
1 Thessalonians 1: 2-4
Ephesians 1: 15-16
These scriptures refer to faith, hope and love. Paul calls them “these three things” (1 Cor 13: 13) and they are often grouped together in Paul’s writings. He writes of them in most epistles and as I have said he frequently groups them together as if they are like the fabric of the believer. Without them you are not a believer. It says, “without faith it is impossible to please” God, Heb 11: 6. God has given them to us, and each one of them increases as it is used. The more you exercise your faith the more you will grow, and Paul is writing like that. He says “praying for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which ye have towards all the saints, on account of the hope ...”. You see how they are linked together there; you cannot really have one without the other, or, at least, that would not be a full idea. But they are grouped, and they are all working together. Galatians says, “faith working through love” (chap 5: 6), and hope could not work without faith; they are “a threefold cord ... not quickly broken”. Ecclesiastes 4: 12 speaks of that. They are bound together; they give structure and strength to the believer in his pathway.
Well, Paul is saying here “continually when praying for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus”, a beautiful touch. Men today, especially politicians, have faith in themselves, and what a ruin it brings, and we have found that in ourselves. If you have faith in yourself you do not get very far. You may get a very good deal very quickly, and it collapses; it has no structure, you see; there is no strength and no stability to it. They are in Christ Jesus, the anointed Man that the Father has found His delight in: “faith in Christ Jesus”. Where else could you have it? Could you have faith in this world? Even in your possessions? They all pass so quickly, but “faith in Christ Jesus”, it is like the rock on which the building goes up. The man dug deep (Luke 6: 48), and maybe the Lord would encourage us to dig a bit deeper and find the rock, “faith in Christ Jesus”. He is the Man whom God has anointed and placed as the great centre of Christianity, God’s beloved Son. Early in our lives we are brought to have faith in Christ Jesus. Some may say they do not have faith for it; well, it is because of who their faith is in: they have got their eye off Christ, but it is “faith in Christ Jesus”. Some, alas, their faith has waned; as I say, these things grow by using, and they shrink by not using. That is very obvious: if we look at our own histories we will find that. We get discouraged, our faith wanes, and we do not grow in our souls. But these are like seeds that grow in good soil, faith, hope and love; well, it is “in Christ Jesus” and that can never be shaken.
If people say they do not have faith for the pathway, it shows a lack of confidence in Christ. Did you doubt when you felt your need as a sinner, to put your trust in Him? No, you came to trust Him, and that is part of our pathway. That is Abraham’s life in contrast to Lot’s. Lot went a bit on the way, but it came to a point when he saw in the well -watered plains, something that attracted him away, and he went “as far as Sodom”, Gen 13: 10, 12. And what faith he had - for he must have had faith at one time - waned, and he had to be dragged out of that city, chap 19: 16. Abraham was on the same path, but it says, he “believed God” (Rom 4: 3): he had faith. He said to Lot, ’I will stay where I am, I will take whatever you do not want’; there was a man of faith. The Scriptures speak of “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16: 26); it has to be used. I would encourage us tonight, dear brethren, as the Lord becomes increasingly precious to us, our faith grows and His beauties will shine the brighter in our paths. So it says, “the love which ye have towards all the saints”: that is a step of faith. There is much you may see in the saints that is not loveable, but faith would guide you to look past that and to see that they are God’s own possession, God’s property. He purchased them: so you have love “towards all the saints”.
And here is another reason, you cannot have one without the other, “on account of the hope which is laid up for you”. Well, dear brethren, what a hope it is, what a hope! As I say, most of us have felt at times it has waned in our lives. We become discouraged; there are many whom we know who are like that. I spoke to one some time ago; he said that was all in the past. He had been a bright friend and believer, but that was all past, it all became a passing tale. You know, Christ can become that to you. It is a very interesting thing that the ark was in the house of a man, and it says, “the time was long”, 1 Sam 7: 2. It was brought to another man’s house and he was blessed immediately (2 Sam 6: 12); he had faith. The Spirit of God says that about the time it was in that the first house, “the time was long”. It was not that it was not there; maybe we know Him, but is it current with us? That man had lost his hope, but hope comes; it says, “on account of the hope” in a glorified Saviour, and that is something that is always testing us, the hope of what is before us. It casts us on keeping our links with Christ fresh. It involves being used; it is not historical. Hope is not yet fully accomplished, but what a hope it is: we get touches of it. We were previously speaking about the Spirit; He is the power for the enjoyment of these things, for the filling out of them, that we may be kept in the living joy and expectation.
It speaks of these things too in the Thessalonians, again grouped together. It says, “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you at our prayers, remembering unceasingly your work of faith”, it is operative. It was not operative in Lot, but it was operative in Abraham. Well, we are tested about that. Light comes to us, light from God, and the ministry we have had. It is held through the work of faith; that means it is put into practice. We have had a great deal of light, dear brethren, and there are exercises coming in and I feel constantly the danger of not appropriating the light, which is what faith is. Faith is the substantiation (Heb 11: 1) of the light that comes to us. It enlightens our souls, brings in the hope, and it stimulates love. And here Paul is encouraging these Thessalonians. They are not long converted, and they are doing the work of faith. They were not turning back to the worldly principles as the Galatians did, and the Corinthians did, but the thing was going on. It was increasing, “your work of faith, and labour of love, and enduring constancy of hope”. The thing was stable, there was a threefold cord in these Thessalonians, and how brightly it goes on in their lives and brings them in the epistle to the great thought of the rapture, the Lord coming (chap 4: 15-17); what a hope! It will be a day beyond all expectation, dear brethren; it will be a time then that we could never have compassed, but hope has kept us alive, the hope of it, and as I said we already get touches of it now by the Spirit, “the earnest of our inheritance”, Eph 1: 14. It brings in a touch about hope. Christ Jesus is our hope. It is all centred in Him; so it can never break down, it can never be unfulfilled; it will all be brought to its own fruition as it says in chapter 4. He shall descend from heaven, with an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice, and with trump of God, v 16. What a time it will be! And it says “the dead in Christ shall rise first”, what a comfort then! “We, the living who remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air”, and then, perhaps the best bit, “thus we shall be always with the Lord”: what a touch, what a hope! What a hope to be enfolded and embraced in our affections, and to be coming out in the experience of our lives.
Well, in Ephesians Paul speaks about these things again, and how much he is ready and able to unfold to these Ephesians of the greatness of the hope. It says “having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is in you”; there it is again, “faith in the Lord Jesus”. That Man is becoming increasingly precious to believers in their pathway here. It says it “is in you”; “faith in the Lord Jesus which is in you”, working, “and the love which ye have towards all the saints”. And then it says, “the Father of glory, would give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him, being enlightened in the eyes of your heart, so that ye should know what is the hope of his calling”. I referred to the ministry, and that is what this verse would bring in, embracing the ministry as to Christ and the assembly. As I have said already we have had a great deal of light; that is perhaps not appreciated today. Well, dear brethren, these are dangers. But Paul was not referring to that here; he was praying “that ye should know what is the hope of his calling”. Well, do we apprehend what our calling is? Our calling is a heavenly calling. Mr Darby says,
What powerful, mighty Voice, so near,
Calls me from earth apart
(Spiritual Songs p1)
- powerful, mighty voice! It has called us out from a system of bondage into a system of light that Ephesians makes much of, the bright shining of that day to be embraced in our affections - your calling, Eph 4: 4. That is what Israel forgot; they forgot their calling. When tribulations arose in their life what did they say, “Let us return to Egypt”, Num 14: 4. They lost sight of their calling. The most of them lost sight of the heavenly land; they did not appreciate the ministry that Caleb brought, and what happened? They fell in the wilderness, Num 14. Hebrews tells us that very thing. It says, “the word of the report did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard”, chap 4: 2. Well, we may all hear the same things but unless there is the operation of these three things, faith, hope and love, we are not getting the gain of them. But God’s calling, as I have said, brings us on to assembly ground. Faith, hope and love working bring us on to assembly ground. We are all part of the assembly, I know, if we are believers, but assembly ground is something different; it is heavenly in contrast to being worldly, and that is what Ephesians is bringing us into, that we “should know what is the hope of his calling”.
Well, dear brethren, “the riches of the glory of his inheritance”, and it is our inheritance too: what a hope has been placed within our reach! May we be exercised; I feel the danger of slipping away. Paul brings that into his epistles too; in fact he rejoices in these epistles where I read at seeing faith, hope and love working: may it increase among us!
For His Name’s sake.
21st January 2014