Notes

“Faith, Hope and Love in the Colossian Epistle”: Highlights

Highlights of Stephen Rockwell, “Faith, hope and love in the Colossian Epistle,” in The Reformed Theological Review, v. 72 n. 1 (Apr 2013): 36–52.

[T]his triad of faith, love and hope does not only occur in the introductory thanksgiving to the Colossians, but can be found throughout the epistle, perhaps even structuring the very core of the epistles message. …

[U]nlike any of the other triadic statements in the Pauline corpus, only here does Paul make hope the basis for both faith and love. …

The perichoretic nature of the triadic elements is evident. All three are essential to Christian living and all three are dependent on, and enriching for, each other. …

As in many of Paul’s letters, this notion of hope which is introduced in the thanksgiving is further expounded in the main body of the epistle. So the reader discovers that the source of this hope is to be found in the gospel (1:23); that the focus of this hope is the mystery of God which Paul reveals to be ‘Christ in you’ (1:27); and that which is hoped for is future glory along with Christ (1:27). This glory should be the focus of the believers’ minds and hearts (3:1–4) and shape their actions in this present life (3:5–14).

Here in Colossians, as in 1 Thessalonians, Paul seems to use the word order and the sentence structure to give the greatest emphasis to the notion of hope above the other two virtues. The flexibility in which Paul applies this triad has already been observed with love the focus in 1 Corinthians 13. It appears as if it is the context into which the apostle writes that leads him to emphasise hope in this instance. …

Much like Timothy had reported to Paul on the status of the Thessalonian believers (1 Thess. 3:6), so Epaphras has reported to Paul concerning the Colossians. The report contains good news about their faith and love…. The triad is being used here to summarise the Christian convictions and actions of the believers in Colossae and form the basis of Paul’s thanks to God on their behalf. This triadic formulation of the Colossian Christians’ lives included in the introductory thanksgiving section of Paul’s letter shows the significance of these three virtues for Paul. Martin observes that ‘Paul’s use of the pattern [of faith, hope and love] in this passage is formed by a concern to celebrate the Christian experience of his readers’.²⁰ Not only that, but the occurrence of the triad within this thanksgiving section of the epistle allows Paul to introduce what will constitute the main imperatival thrust of his teaching in the letter. …

Thus, the first three imperatival phrases which command the Colossian believers to live a life that is in line with their faith in Jesus Christ [2:6–7], shaped by the eschatological hope they possess in Christ [3:1–4] and adorned by love [3:12–14], form the basis for the remaining eleven imperatives in the letter. Faith, hope and love are what shape the structure of the Colossian letter, seen particularly through Paul’s use of the imperative mood.