“Faith, hope, love” is a basic part of gospel teaching and disciple-making.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel… (Col. 1:3–5)
Consider the example of Colossians 1:3–8. The Colossian letter is quite generic. It was intended for a wide audience (see 4:16). The Apostle Paul hadn’t planted or visited the church in Colossae. He wasn’t addressing a person or an urgent problem, but was encouraging believers with a pattern of teaching similar to that in his letter to the Ephesians. What Paul emphasizes in Colossians can be seen as “majors” for our own general teaching and mission.
Immediately after the letter’s greetings, Paul brings attention to the Colossians’ faith, hope and love (verses 3 through 8 form one sentence in Greek). He also did this for the believers in Thessalonica (see 1 Thess. 1:3). The display of faith, hope and love in the lives of believers is what he and his disciple accompanying him, Timothy, were listening for in a report (“since we heard of…,” v. 4; “from the day we heard this,” v. 9). And it’s the basis of their thanks to God (v. 3).
The Colossian believers heard of “faith, hope, love” before, when the gospel came to them (v. 5, 7). “Faith in Christ Jesus,” “love for all the saints,” and “hope laid up in heaven” aren’t the gospel — Paul reminds them of the gospel next (vv. 15–23) — but they flow directly from it and are in his preaching of it. They’re marks of gospel understanding and growth in Christ.
Paul doesn’t introduce faith, hope, and love in the letter as advanced theological education. In fact, this teaching came earlier through Epaphras, which tells us that “faith, hope, love” is an apostolic pattern of teaching. Either it preceded Paul, Timothy and Epaphras and they were taught it, or a revelation proceeded from Paul to his companions and then to the Colossians. It’s meant to be passed on. Look for it in the apostles’ teaching.
Faith in Christ, hope in heaven and love for God’s people are basic to a disciple, and pursuing these in another person’s life is basic to disciple-making. In Colossians, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to highlight faith, hope, and love first. He uses them in the letter as an outline for his teaching and a basis for his commands. Evidence of faith, hope and love is how Paul could know and celebrate that the gospel “is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” (vv. 5–6)!