Scripture readings: 1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:4-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8
Here we see how Paul presents hope, faith and love together over and over in his letters.
How confident do you feel about your knowledge of the Bible?
I have been hearing and learning from and studying the Bible all my life. I’ve grown up learning the Bible in elementary, middle and high school with daily classes there plus church Bible classes on Sundays and Wednesdays, plus I majored in Bible and biblical languages in college, plus I received an M.A. in biblical studies, plus I finished a Masters of Divinity in biblical theology; I have read through the Bible several times in at least 5 different translations and I still feel like the Bible is a deeper well of wonder than I can fathom. The more I drink from the well of scripture, the more I want to do so.
On one level the Bible is literature, ancient and foreign. It is composed in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It was written by about 40 authors who lived at various places and times. In fact, it took over 1400 years to complete. The vast majority of it was written to the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. It consists of history, law, prophecy, theology, poetry, proverbs, songs, parables, sermons, biographies and epistles to groups and to individuals. It has been put to the test by critical scholarship and has endured. It enjoys being translated into literally hundreds of languages. There are over 40 translations of it into English alone, some of which translations are very literal and others are extremely paraphrased. Today, there are study Bibles, devotional Bibles, Bibles for newborns, Bibles for widows, Bibles for teens, Bibles for men’s groups, Bibles for women’s groups and on and on. The chief differences in those Bibles is mainly the notes, pictures, and study tools within them.
I am often asked, “What is the best Bible to get for this person or that?” I want to say, “Whatever Bible they will read and obey!” Some translations are certainly better than others. I prefer comparing two or three at a time from those that are most literal with those that are somewhat less literal, but better English. Having had training in the original languages helps to add another layer of confidence because I can check out the original languages to see what they said and compare it with the translation I’m using. You can do that too! Just get the KJV touch Bible app on your smart phone and you can touch any word in the text and it will pop up the original word with a dictionary definition and show some of its usage in other places in the Bible. You may not have the feel for the language, but this still helps. It’s amazing how accessible the Bible is for us today. My cell phone will even read it to me!
It is easy to forget the price many paid to give us the Bible in our language. With the Bible so available, there is no excuse for anyone not to read it, or listen to it.
On another level the Bible is the God breathed voice of truth. It is the heavenly message that has the power to save our souls if we will humbly receive it planted in us. The Bible is the word of God. In it we see who God is and what He has done and how He created us to be like Himself. The Bible tells us what happened to ruin our relationship with God and mar His image and likeness that we bear. We discover who and what we are in relation to God and why it is good to kill and eat an animal but why it is wrong to do so to another human being. We learn of God’s plan and purpose for our being and that we are eternal creatures who will continue on even after our bodies die. The Bible is the collection of Holy Spirit inspired books, letters, and documents that explains the reason for our existence and points to the great hope of glory for the faithful and the terrible condemnation of the unbelieving. It is complete, not to be added to nor taken from. It is exclusive, no other writings are its equal. It stands alone in its authority: it has the power to judge even the thoughts and intentions of the human heart. It has been preserved by God and is to be proclaimed to people. It divides the saved from the condemned and is the standard by which we will all be judged. In it is instruction, encouragement, rebuke, correction in righteousness. In it is the voice of God for His people, the seed of life for anyone who will receive, believe and obey it.
I say all this by way of introduction. The Bible has many themes and yet one story line. Today, let us begin to consider what the Bible says about these three great themes: hope, faith and love.
Our reading today shows how Paul often put these three together in his letters. They are central to our growing up in Christ. Each of these is integrally connected with the other two.
1 Corinthians 13:13 show us that faith, hope and love remain, but that the greatest of these is love. That’s because hope that is seen is no hope at all, and faith that is sight is not faith but experience, but love not only remains in this life, love continues into eternity.
But until we see Jesus, we need that hope as a rope to hold us and faith as an evidence of things not seen to motivate us to good works, and love to guide those good works in God’s will.
Colossians 1:4-5 remind us again of how faith, love and hope work together in us to drive us toward the things of God in the here and now and in eternal life to come.
Notice in 1 Thess. 1:3 how they form a kind of trinity of Christian motivations toward God’s mission for us in this world. Paul thanks God for their work of faith, labor of love and endurance of hope. J.B. Philips translation says: we never forget that your faith has meant solid achievement, your love has meant hard work, and the hope that you have in our Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance in the life that you live before God, the Father of us all.
If we want to grow up in Christ and have a Church that works, labors and patiently endures, we need to feed hope, faith and love.
Finally, 1 Thessalonians 5:8 shows us how faith and love protect our hearts as a breastplate, and how hope protects our heads as a helmet.
Hope, faith and love. Just think of it! These are all at the very center of Christian character and identity in Christ. They reflect Him. Christ our hope, Christ our faith, Christ our first love! Hope, faith and love: these are embedded in the mission of God for His people. They are perfectly aligned with seeking, saving and serving. In hope we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first. We keep seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. We set our minds on eternal things in hope, not on earthly temporal things. In faith we are saved by God’s grace. We’ve been justified by faith and have peace with God. The saving work of God in Christ is only bestowed upon those who have faith. The saving ministry of the gospel is then to be shared by we who have faith. By faith we become the light of the world and the salt of the earth. He hold out the saving gospel to a lost and dying world. Finally, in love we labor in serving. The serving ministry of the Church is perhaps the most powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel. Jesus said it best, “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Serving the saints is the same as serving Jesus Christ. See Matthew 25. Jesus said: In as much as you did this to the very least of these my brethren, you did it unto me.
Contrast that with Ephesians 2 where God’s word describes our condition without Christ. It is without hope, without faith and without love. Hopeless, faithless, loveless? Could there be any worse condition than that?
I find it amazing that what God wants for us is actually what we already want for ourselves. Next week we will dive into what the Bible says about hope in Old and New Testaments.