This series grew out of our Colossians Greek Reading Videos. Each post expounds practical or devotional points from the text that become evident especially when translating directly from the Greek. We hope these posts help convince you that Greek matters!
Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ πατρὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι, ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους 5 διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα τὴν ἀποκειμένην ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ἣν προηκούσατε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῆς ἀληθείας τοῦ εὐαγγελίου
In Colossians 1:3-5 we see Paul’s triad of faith, hope, and love. By sorting out what a particular prepositional phrase modifies, we discover something unique about Christian hope.
The main idea of this section is the first verb, “We give thanks.” Paul then explains the reason why he and his co-workers give thanks: ἀκούσαντες (because we have heard) of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints. So the faith and love of the Colossians, which he has heard about (not even seen!), has given him reason to give thanks to God for them whenever he prayers for them.
The following prepositional phrase, διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα τὴν ἀποκειμένην ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς (because of the hope laid up for you in the heavens), is also a causal clause (διὰ + accusative means “because of, on account of”). The διὰ phrase could modify three different things.
- Εὐχαριστοῦμεν. We give thanks … because of the hope laid up for you in the heavens. In this case, the διὰ phrase gives an additional reason for his giving thanks.
- ἔχετε. Your love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in the heavens.
- πίστιν … καὶ … ἀγάπην. Your love … and your faith … the cause of which is your hope laid up in the heavens.
All three of these constructions are possible. However, not all are equally likely. The first option is unlikely because ἀκούσαντες already gave the reason for his thanksgiving: their faith and love. Plus, we would expect him to use καὶ again before διά if that was Paul’s intention. Between the second and third option, the third is less favorable because prepositional phrases more naturally modify verbs or participles than nouns. But logic also tells us that their hope laid up in the heavens could not be a cause of their faith in Christ. They do not have the hope until they have faith in Christ. Therefore the third option is not likely.
That leaves us with the second option. The hope laid up for the Colossians in the heavens is the cause of their having love for all the saints. It is important to note that it is their hope laid up in the heavens. That means this is not their subjective hope in the future, but their objective hope of their inheritance. It is the future prospect of obtaining what Colossians calls elsewhere their “life,” which is “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3), that is the cause of their love for all the saints.
There is a practical lesson for us. Do we love as much as we want to? Do we exhibit the following qualities:
Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.
(1 Cor 13:4-8)
If not, then Colossians 1:3-5 teaches us the way to love better is to meditate on our future inheritance that awaits us. We should “seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). Indeed, “set your mind on the things above, not earthly things” (Col 3:2). By meditating on our future life that is to be revealed gloriously with Christ (3:4), we can be sure that we will begin to grow in love for all the saints, which will elicit thanksgiving and praise to God.