Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why preach about heaven? (part 1)

Reading: Colossians 1

It would seem, in many circles, that heaven is out of vogue. In fact, if one preaches about heaven a lot he might well be accused of preaching a “pie in the sky” message, or be warned that if we are so heavenly-minded, we will be of no earthly good. We could analyze why this is—everything from the materialism of our culture by which our own thinking is affected far more than we know, to the prosperity we enjoy that makes it difficult to not want to stay here. In this brief devotion, I will rather speak to the question, “Should we preach heaven?” or, if we are the congregation, “Should our pastors be focusing our attention on heaven?” and, if so, “Why?”
My answer to the first two questions is a resounding, “Yes!” Now, as for why, I would say, “For the same reasons that Paul did.” And to expand on that, let's turn to his epistle to the Colossians.
When discussing heavenly-mindedness, one usually thinks of Colossians 3:1-2. However, these verses are not the first or most significant mention of heaven in this letter. They are merely another clear and specific reference to the place and role of hope in the life of the church. Chapter one is loaded with references to heaven and what it reveals about the importance of preaching heaven is valuable.
A glorious hope in heaven produces a life of faith and love.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— 5the 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 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. (Colossians 1:3-6)
The Colossians had a hope which was demonstrated by their faith in Christ in such a way that Paul and his team had heard about it from others. Their hope was producing the Christian life in them. It was producing a life of faith in Christ and love for the saints. This tells me that there are activities which hope produces in our lives, in addition to love. It changes how we make decisions; it alters what is important to us; it makes us generous people. And both faith and love were springing forth in their lives from the hope that was stored up in them. Hope they had heard about in the word of truth, the Gospel.
First, this tells me that the Gospel we preach ought to have a focus on heaven more than on earth. In other words, the Gospel is about your best life then, not your best life now. The Gospel Paul preached spoke much about heaven and therefore informed people of the hope that is stored up for them in heaven.
Second, we see that the Gospel explains God's grace. When the Colossians heard the Gospel they understood God's grace in all its truth. Not everyone who hears the Gospel understands God's grace in all its truth, for it requires supernatural help to do so. However, no one will understand God's grace from the Gospel unless the gospel actually explains God's grace. Paul's Gospel described the grace of God. Paul was regularly preaching and exploring the cross of Christ as the central demonstration of the grace of God.
Third, the Christian life springs from the hope produced by the Gospel. Initially, as I saw this description, I thought of a diving board: Hope is the diving board, the Gospel of grace is the fulcrum, or base on which the board is supported and pivots. As we walk in view of this Gospel hope, we spring forth lives of faith and love. Good picture, but not the right picture for this verse.
The picture of springing forth in this context is that of a plant shooting forth from a seed, and busting through the soil. The Gospel of God's grace plants seeds of hope in our souls, hope because our sins are forgiven and God is our Father, and heaven is a sure hope. And that hope, when it germinates in the soul, springs forth lives that are lived in faith and hope. So, a glorious hope in heaven produces a life of faith and love.
To be continued...
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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