This last Sunday, we continued our Advent series with a focus on joy. When the angels presented their message to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-12, they delivered far more than a birth announcement. Their “good news of great joy” was the gospel. I chewed on this for days as I worked through the text I would preach (Colossians 1:3-6). As I pondered all these things, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I tend to fall into a 2-dimensional understanding of the gospel.
Let me explain what I mean by 2-dimensional. If I am not careful, I can flatten out the glories of the gospel. When I do this, I reduce the good news of great joy into a tool. This approach comes dangerously close to simply using the gospel of Jesus as a pragmatic way to get someone to walk an aisle and pray a prayer. These revivalistic tendencies are not inherently wrong, but they can be shortsighted. If I, or any other preacher, preach for conversion only, how are the existing saints being fed the meat of the word? How are they being encouraged to mature in their faith? How do we understand the gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day if we neglect the deep riches of scripture, the solid food of the gospel that sustains?
The author of Hebrews prefaces one of his warning texts with caution towards apathy. In Hebrews 5:11-14 the writer seems to equate the dullness of his reader’s hearing to the fact that they have not grown to appreciate the solid food of maturity. He says the milk is for the unskilled in the word of righteousness, but solid food is for the mature. He then begins chapter six with a charge to leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity. The writer is not dismissing the elementary doctrines of Christ because they are essential to salvation, but if the new believer does not move past the elementary issues, such as are presented in 6:1-2, how will they cherish the superiority of Christ? Which is the whole focus of the book of Hebrews!
When I compare the words of Hebrews with Colossians 1:3-6, among many other truths, I am brought face to face with Paul’s admonishment that the gospel is “bearing fruit and increasing.” What is this increase spoken about by Paul? Indeed, it is of new salvations, but that is not all; I dare say that is a secondary point. Instead, I believe Paul explicitly focuses on the triumvirate of virtue mentioned in verse 4: faith, love, and hope.
The fruit and increase of a growing faith in the Lord Jesus allows us to engage with life’s trials and difficulties confidently. Our faith helps us navigate the chaos of sick children, hectic work schedules, and complicated relationships (in the family and outside the family). Our faith helps us to love the saints better and stand on the promises of the Lord (the other two virtues!). Our faith is increased by our growing understanding that the gospel permeates every aspect of our life, even after our conversion.
The fruit and increase of a growing love for the saints ensures we have a faith family that bears our burdens alongside us. As we grow in love for the Lord and his people, we come to a place of comfort when our faith is tested. We know that as we grow in our love for them, they grow in their love for us; this love is not fickle. The word used by Paul here is agape or godly love. This love is unconditioned and is a telltale sign that we are one of his disciples.
Lastly, the fruit and increase of the hope laid up in heaven refer to the growing confidence we have in the eternal promises of God. As we grow in our faith, we become more resolved in Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil. So that when we face trials of various kinds, we cling to the promise of a redeemed and restored heaven and earth. We look to the end of our book and see the hope of all things being made new. We hold fast to our confession, as Hebrews says, and walk humbly with the Lord.
Friend, I do not know where this finds you today, but we all need encouragement sometimes. I pray this message encourages you in two ways. First, I pray this message encourages you by reminding you of the joyous glories of the gospel of Jesus. Do not fall prey to flattening out the beauty that is the gospel. Second, I pray this encourages you to dig deep into the unfathomable riches of the gospel. Knowing the gospel that has saved you is the same gospel that will sustain you, which is cause for great joy!
What a great reminder and good word! “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”..Jerry Bridges.