“Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints”
Have you ever done that thing where you try to describe a friend in two or three words? (Or yourself, because you know we all do that) You try to think of the best word that would sum that person (or ourselves) up, because we all love being put in boxes right? 😉 “John is strategic and serious”, “Sarah is reserved and cheerful”, “LaShonda is outgoing and organized”, “Kobert is hardworking and enthusiastic”, “I am super amazing and awesome” ;P, etc. Go ahead, because you know you want to (or already have) what are one or two words you would use to describe you? 😉
I’ve always loved this verse in Paul’s opening to his letter to the Colossians. He expresses his thanks for them and that He is praying for them and then basically goes about describing them in one or two words. 😉 It, in a sense, leaves us with the question: what do people think of when they think of you or me? If they are describing you to someone else (beyond physical appearance) what would be the first thing they would bring up about you? What is the defining thrust of your life? They say that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and we shouldn’t be trying to make a great first impression simply so that others will like us… but our lives each moment with every person we meet should be a reflection of Christ.
What would those closest to you say about you if they were being blatantly honest? Would they describe you as patient and kind, or would they more readily think of you as someone that just loses it sometimes? Would they describe you as full of faith or a worrier? Would they describe you as cheerful and trusting or as a complainer? Now, most of the time people aren’t going to just call us out like that. “Wow, he/she is such a jerk” hopefully isn’t something that people would readily use to describe us… but in my flesh, that’s exactly who I can be. So when I read Paul’s impression of the Colossians I can’t just be trying to make that same impression on others and wondering what it is they think of me… but I must also realize where the source of those things is. So let’s dive into this a bit!
“Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…” Faith is such an incredible thing. I think we overuse it in the most weak-wristed way possible and it has taken all of the meaning out of it. We slap it on t-shirts and jewelry. We throw it in at the end of a long worry session to make our friends not be too concerned about us (e.g. “my life is a complete disaster and I don’t know what to do at all, but ya know it’s all good because I have faith and stuff”). We have described it as “believing”, and it is, but since we don’t really know what that word means either… we just see it as a vague hope that maybe something will go the way we want it to. How pathetic!
When Paul is saying he heard of their faith He is not saying: “I heard you have a faint hope in Jesus that He might do what you want”. Most of us don’t want to admit it, but our faith is lame. It has no gusto to it… it is easily overcome by worry, by fear, by the tiniest hint of opposition. Jesus said if you have a schmiggon of this stuff (mustard seed is tiny, folks!) you can move mountains. This stuff is potent!! This is the very substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! This is the tenacity that grabs hold of God and the promise of the One Who cannot lie and defies all that would stand against it! This is the stuff that gave those we see as heroes (of the faith!) the guts to stand before lions and giants without so much as a flinch… not because they had a vague hope that it would turn out alright, but because they knew their God!
One way I’ve heard faith described is “to cast yourself upon”. I love that description, but I don’t like the way it is usually illustrated. It is usually illustrated like a hammock. You throw your full weight onto the hammock trusting it to hold you, and you rest in that it will. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine example, because you do fully cast yourself into the hammock and then rest in it to hold you… but the problem is, if the hammock gives out what happens? We fall on the ground. Ouch! But I’m still fine. And the problem is that this is exactly how we see faith in God.
We trust Him like we trust that hammock… but we also have a “backup plan” if He fails us. Not necessarily consciously, but where do you turn when it looks like God is going to let you down? Most often, I have a vague belief in God, and cast myself on Him… but if He fails I will just take care of it myself. Most of us wouldn’t admit that out loud, but we very often have a greater faith in ourselves than in our God. We are the ground we would hit if the hammock gave out… we hope the hammock will hold us, but all our confidence isn’t in it. So if that same hammock is held over the Grand Canyon… we aren’t getting in that thing! And even if we muster up enough (what feels like) stupidity to get into it, we won’t rest, we will be thinking of how we will possibly survive if this thing gives out. We will stay close to the edge, we will bring a parachute, we will do whatever we can to cushion the fall we inevitably know will happen one of these days… so when the smallest breeze blows there we go questioning the hammock.
This is not faith. Faith is the audacious confidence in the Promiser and His ability to do what He said He will do, and fully casting myself on Him, and then completely and care-free-ly (I know that’s not a word, it’s okay, it is now ;)) resting. This is what the heroes of the faith had. It looks absolutely crazy, and it is, if it is placed in anything other than God Himself. And I don’t know about you… but I can esteem that, and I can “ooo” and “aaa” at it all day long… but when it comes to actually having it? I fall short.
So how did the Colossians get it!? Or how did any of the heroes of the faith get it? When faith is used to literally describe someone it isn’t the mamsy-pamsy version… So are some people just better at conjuring this up than others? I would say some people are maybe better at faking it than others, but crisis tends to strip us all down to who we truly are… to where you can’t fake a single thing anymore… So how did these people with faith withstand the crisis? They didn’t just have a conjured up faith. They had exactly what you and I still need and still have access to (!) today. They had and lived by the faith of the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). He is not just Who I place my faith in, He must also be the source of my faith! So often I am fearful and unbelieving… but Jesus never doubts His Father. Paul hearing of the faith that the Colossians have “in Christ Jesus”, is not merely a faith they have conjured up and placed in Him, but the faith they have obtained through Him! This is the faith we are also to live by!
Now let’s look at the second part of this verse: “and the love which ye have to all the saints”. Jesus said this is how people would know we belong to Him. Amazingly enough it isn’t by our ministry, our charity efforts, our church attendance, or even our faith (though those things matter)… He said they will know we are His by our love for each other (John 13:35). In our culture today love has been equated with tolerance… but that is a far cry from what love is. We think of tolerance greater than love in so many ways even. We see it as just accepting whatever a person’s preferences are without judgement, but this isn’t love. And sadly this idea has also crept into our thinking in so many ways!
Love and tolerance are not the same thing. “I love you” vs “I tolerate you” are two completely different sentences. And yet we have relegated love to just that… putting up with, not judging, accepting where they are at and who they are without trying to change them… so when we interact with each other this is what we do… we take on our culture’s idea of love and we put up with each other, we don’t bother challenging each other or exhorting each other in the Lord because we don’t want to start a fight (which it shouldn’t honestly), we don’t pursue the other and push them to Christ.
I have been so convicted recently on how little I love my fellow saints. Love deeply desires the best for the other person. It gives all it has to help when the other has need. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things! It doesn’t give up, but relentlessly pursues the other for their good. And yet we don’t love like this… why? Because we are busy, lazy and selfish. We don’t have time, motivation or concern… so we just don’t. And yet 1 Corinthians (13:2b) says if we have faith that could remove mountains (like we just described), and don’t have love we are nothing. If this is how the world will see that we belong to Jesus (and Who He is), and without it we are nothing… we have got to stop acting like this is something we can tack onto our lives when it is convenient! Because, guess what, it will never be convenient to lay down your life for someone else on a daily basis… and yet this is exactly what God has called us to. Relationships are hard. They involve other people, and people are messy.
In my flesh there is nothing in me that wants to give up my time, talents, energy, or self for them… even the ones called saints! (Let’s admit it, sometimes they are the hardest ones to love… *ahem* myself included). I heard this description of love recently and I love how simple it is. Love is “constantly choosing towards”. And if I look at what I constantly chose towards, I can tell you what I love (most of the time… it’s me). I chose towards God sometimes, and I chose towards others sometimes, but if I’m honest that is definitely not the consistent way my “choosing toward” goes. And, as you probably guessed, selfless love, like faith, isn’t something I’m super amazing at just pulling out from somewhere deep inside of me… If I look in my own pockets, they aren’t there. But you know Who does have them and has given us of His fullness (John 1:16)? Ding, ding, ding! Jesus! Guys, we can’t pull this Christian life thing off! We can’t do it. We can’t muster up what it takes to even love our fellow heirs! We need Jesus!
We need His love to just love the person next to us. We don’t really need Him to tolerate them, we can manage that… but that isn’t what He called us it! It’s pathetic! He called us to a radical love that fights for (not with), pursues, selflessly serves, honors and prefers, gives of self for, consistently seeks the benefit of, and lays down our lives for others! This isn’t human tolerance or even human love… this is other worldly stuff… and we can’t mimic it… we need the real thing (!); because this will get tested from virtually every angle all day long, and if you are the source of it… it isn’t going to last. We cannot be looking to ourselves for this love; we must look to and abide in the One Who is Love! He is the One Who wants to not just give us love, but come and live in us and love through us! And He has a never-ending supply, because it is Who He is!
So what is the thrust of your life? If people heard of you, would they hear of your faith and the love you have for the saints? Would you be described as someone that just trusts God like crazy and loves people like you wouldn’t believe? My prayer for you is that it would be. It has got to come from abiding in the Faithful One, in the One Who is Love… Jesus. May He be the very source and thrust of our lives, that the world might see our precious Savior!