James C. Denison
Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was watched by an estimated one billion people worldwide. And quickly forgotten by everyone except the 800,000 or so residents of Indianapolis. Quick: who won last year? The Pittsburgh Steelers. Who lost? The Seattle Seahawks. Who made it all the way to the Super Bowl but lost the year before, and the year before? I had to do some research: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers.
America loves winners. We don’t hate losers–we just forget about them, the Chicago Bears now included.
The Bears are not the only recent Super Bowl losers. A study suggests that U.S. businesses lost as much as $810 million in productivity during the week leading up to the big game. The report assumes that employees spent 10 minutes a day talking about the game, surfing the Internet, or shopping for a new television. The estimate does not include losses this past week as employees discussed the game or the commercials, or called in sick.
We measure success by winning and owning. Nothing else comes close. Things were no different in the ancient world. Rome was the greatest empire the world had ever seen because they won more battles and owned more real estate than anyone ever had. Not because of their ethics, or contributions to the arts, or social advancement. In spite of them, in fact.
To a world consumed by consumption, the Apostle Paul wrote a little letter which gave the lie to all that. A small epistle whose definition of success would birth a subversive, counterrevolutionary movement which would eventually topple that Empire and extend the Kingdom of God across the world.
If you agree that success is all about winning and owning, you won’t care much for Colossians. If you want to measure and experience success God’s way, you need to master this little book. As soon as possible.
Hope in heaven (vs. 1-8)
Colossae was an insignificant town 100 miles east of Ephesus in that part of the world we call Turkey today. Their church had been founded a few years earlier by a man named Epaphras. He was from their city (Colossians 4:12), and brought some good news to Paul in Rome.
Through him, Paul has heard of “your faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4a). The phrase means their faith developed in relationship with him, practicing the presence of Jesus.
He has heard of “the love that you have for all the saints” (v. 4b), their unconditional commitment to all God’s people.
And he knows that their faith and love come from “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5). They are living for heaven on earth. Eternal reward motivates all that they do.
They heard about this hope, this purpose for living, in “the word of truth, the gospel.” It changed their lives, and is changing their world. Everywhere it goes it is “bearing fruit” in spiritual reproduction.
So the key to their spiritual success lies in this phrase: “the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel” (v. 5, emphasis mine). Because their hope was in heaven, they had faith in God and love for God’s people on earth. Let’s work on this idea for a moment.
What does it mean to have “hope in heaven”? In the Bible, “hope” means to be so sure of something you cannot see that you’re depending on it. In this sense I am “hoping” that my microphone will continue to amplify my words so I don’t have to wear out my voice. I cannot see what it’s doing, but I’m not going to take it off and start yelling at you. After church, I’m “hoping” that the cook who prepares my lunch doesn’t have a fetish for cyanide seasoning, since I am not going to test my food before eating it. To have biblical “hope” is to depend on something we cannot see.
We can have “hope” in the wrong thing, in which case our hope will not become reality. Years ago I bought a 1965 Mustang in the “hope” that it had been fully restored and would be reliable. Wrong on both counts. I finally sold the car so I could stay married.
You could have “hope” that your good life or church attendance today is enough to get you to heaven, but the Bible says that you’d be wrong: “by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves–it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Savior, you now have the biblical “hope” that you will live forever in heaven with God. Now God wants you to live for heaven on earth. To live for eternal reward now, “the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.”
To decide that you will take a stand for Jesus even if that stand costs you business or friends, in the hope or belief that you will be rewarded in eternity for your obedience. To refuse temptation even if it doesn’t seem that anyone would know about your sin, in the hope that you will be rewarded in eternity for your commitment. To tell others about Jesus even if you’re afraid they’ll reject you, in the hope that God will reward your witness in paradise. To tithe from your income to God’s Kingdom even if your stewardship comes at a cost, in the hope that God will reward your sacrifice forever.
That’s hard to do, isn’t it? You and I live in a culture built on the principle of immediate gratification. If we want something, we just charge it. If we feel like doing something, the ads says to “just do it.” I remember an old beer commercial: “You only go around once in life, so go for the gusto.” Life is short–eat dessert first. We can start our diet tomorrow. Get that new car–we can find a way to pay for it later. Our entire economy is built on consumption. The more we have, the more successful we are.