Faithlife Sermons

The Defining Characteristic of the Believer

Colossians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Our love for the saints finds its source in God, in the gospel, and in the hope of heaven.

Notes & Transcripts
Knowing full well the danger of this illustration, since it is the afternoon, and since you are most likely hungry, still I am going to talk about cheeseburgers. Apparently, this afternoon, I intend to live dangerously.
What would you think if someone walked into a restaurant and when it came time to place their order, they said, “I would like a cheeseburger, but hold the cheese.” Other than immediately thinking that that person in crazy! My thought would be, “you mean you want a hamburger.” “No, no,” the patron would reply. “I want a cheeseburger without any cheese.” And you would say, “Yes, that is called a hamburger.” “Oh, no. The two are very different. I don’t want a hamburger. I want a cheeseburger without any cheese.”
Now we call that a very silly conversation. But the question is, can you call a cheeseburger a cheeseburger if it doesn’t have any cheese on it? No. It is its defining characteristic. It is essential to its makeup. It’s in the name. It is a part of what a cheeseburger is all about.
This afternoon I want to talk about the believer’s defining characteristic. And just like cheese goes hand in hand with a cheeseburger, so this thing is vital, essential, and fundamental to the makeup of the saints of Christ. Paul informs us in vv. 3-8 of Colossians chapter 1 that the defining characteristic of the believer is love. If one is a believer, if one is a saint, if one has trusted in Christ then there will be love, to some degree, present in their life. Love, and specifically here in Colossians love for other believers, is part of who we are in Christ.
John 13:35 KJV 1900
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV 1900
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 John 3:14 KJV 1900
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
1 John 4:11 KJV 1900
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
I John
1 John 4:21 KJV 1900
And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
The question that we want to ask this afternoon is what is the source of the believer’s love? Where does it come from?
Paul has never met these believers. He has only heard about their faith and their love, and yet he spends multiple verses describing in detail their love. How does Paul do that? It is because love has a common source for all believers.
What is that source, where does our love come from?

I. The believer’s love comes from a supernatural source

A. This love is unnatural

Colossians 1:3–4 KJV 1900
3 We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,
Notice here that Paul is talking about how he is continually praying for these believers in Colossae. As he prays he gives thanks to God for two reasons.
First, for their faith in Christ Jesus
Second, for the love that they have to all the saints.
As a bit of a rabbit trail, I find it very convicting how Paul starts his letter to these saints. He has received some fairly serious news of false teaching corrupting the church. And instead of rushing right into a critical commentary of, “I can’t believe you are falling for this ridiculous false teaching. What are you thinking? Don’t you have any brains in those heads of yours!” Which is what I would be tempted to do. Instead Paul begins his letter with thanksgiving. And again His thanks is directed at God. God thank you for how you have worked in the lives of these dear believers. Thank you for the evident work you have done in their hearts. Paul begins with highlighting the grace of God, and soundly places his hope and thanks in God to work in this situation of false teaching.
Now, it is easy to understand why Paul thanks God for their faith in Christ. Paul, thanks God, not the Christians in Colossae for their faith because it was God’s doing not theirs. God is the one who produced their faith in Christ.
Rom 3.
Romans 3:10–11 KJV 1900
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
But I also find it interesting that Paul thanks God for the believer’s love to all the saints. Why does Paul thank God and not the believers for their love? Same reason. The source of their love for each other, just like their faith, comes from God. In other words it is not natural within them to love one another. Their love was a byproduct of something that God did in their hearts, and so Paul thanks God.

B. This love is Spiritual

Colossians 1:7–8 KJV 1900
7 As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; 8 Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
They learned (the gospel) from Epaphras, who is Paul’s dear fellowservant and faithful minister of Christ, and Epaphras declared unto Paul these believer’s love in the Spirit.
Notice that is “S” Spirit. Their love that hey have for all the saints is in or of the Holy Spirit of God. The only way these believers could love each other they way they were doing was because of the work of the Holy Spirit of God in their lives.
Thus one of the reasons that love is the defining characteristic of the believer is that this kind of love, Biblical love, is only possible if you have the Holy Spirit inside of you producing this love for each other.
And so quite frankly if anyone is cut off from a personal relationship with God, they cannot have this kind of love present in their lives.
This leads us then to the second source of the believer’s love and the second follows the first- they are connected.

II. The believer’s love comes from faith in the gospel

Col 1.3
Colossians 1:3–5 KJV 1900
3 We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, 5 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
For the hope- is literally because of the hope, or on account of the hope.
So the love that these believer’s had for each other was on account of or because of the hope laid up for them in heaven (we will talk about that hope in just a minute). If we keep going we see that their love was on account of their hope, and their hope existed because of what they had previously heard. And what did they hear? The word of the truth of the gospel.
And so their love has a supernatural force, it is from God, it is Spiritual in nature. But that love was made possible because of the word of the truth of the gospel. They had received the written word- God’s revelation in the Scriptures. God opened their eyes and they knew it for what it was- the truth. And they they received the gospel or the good news how that Christ died for their sins, was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead.

A. What the gospel was accomplishing

Colossians 1:6 KJV 1900
6 Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:
Which is come unto you, that is the gospel has come unto you. The gospel came, in the same way or just as in all the world. And what is the gospel doing? The gospel is bearing fruit, it is increasing in the lives of the saints of Colossae and it is producing spiritual fruit.
It is interesting that in when Paul gives us a list of the fruit of the Spirit that the first thing on that list is love.
Galatians 5:22 KJV 1900
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
And I think that is what Paul has in mind here in Colossians. You heard the word of the truth of the gospel, and it began to work in your hearts and lives to produce in you the Spiritual fruit of love. And not just in you. This is not a unique thing to you only. Wherever the gospel goes, throughout the entire world, this exact same thing is happening. The gospel is producing the spiritual fruit of love. Why? Because godly love, Spiritual love has as its common source a connection to the word of the truth of the gospel.

B. When this fruit-bearing began

Colossians 1:6 KJV 1900
6 Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:
The gospel has been bearing fruit in the lives of the saints since the day they heard it. Hearing it was not enough. These saints didn’t just hear the gospel, they also knew it or better understood the grace of God in truth.
Knew- means to know exactly, completely, to know something through and through.
1 Corinthians 2 KJV 1900
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV 1900
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
So after these people had heard the word of the the truth of the gospel and they had understood it thoroughly then the gospel took root in their hearts because they were able to believe. They were able to put their faith in Christ. But first they had to hear, and more importantly they had to completely understand the grace of God in truth. I do not mean that they had to memorize a three volume systematic theology in order to be saved. I mean that they had to understand the content of the gospel, they had to see with open eyes and spiritually illuminated hearts the grace of God. They could not simply pray a prayer and be saved, as those who hold to an easy believe-ism gospel proclaim. It is not enough to just hear, they must also understand.
Who is the one that taught them the gospel?
Colossians 1:7 KJV 1900
7 As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Here you have a repeated preposition from v. 6. καθὼς- just as or even as. This is the third time this preposition is used in two verse. And it connects three phrases to the gospel.
The gospel is bearing fruit
just as in all the world
just as in the same way in you also
just as you learned (KJV of Epaphras)
just as you learned it (the gospel) from Epaphras
So these believers heard the gospel and they understood the gospel because of a beloved fellow-servant and faithful minister of Christ came and proclaimed to them the good news! Remember Epaphras traveled to Ephesus during Paul’s third missionary journey. For two years Paul remained in Ephesus teaching the gospel. During those two years Epaphras heard they word of the truth of the gospel and he understood that truth and placed his faith in Christ. They he traveled back to Colossae and preached the gospel to the city and some trusted and were saved.
It is interesting that in the midst of pagan people, in the midst of a pagan government- Epaphras didn’t try to reform the people by means of government, but by means of the gospel.
Colossians 1:21–22 KJV 1900
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
Colossians 1:21 KJV 1900
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
Colossians 1:13 KJV 1900
13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
Colossians 2:13 KJV 1900
13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Colossians 3:5–7 KJV 1900
5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: 7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
Col 3.
These were thoroughly pagan wicked people, living in a pagan wicked society. And now they are a people who are overflowing with Spiritual love for all the saints. What made the difference? Epaphras ran for governor and brought political reform to the community. NO! It was the gospel! Sometimes, it feels like we put to much emphasis on fixed America through government. Now, there is nothing wrong with voting, and being involved in government. We should be. But that is not what is going to fix things. The only hope for a wicked pagan people living in a wicked pagan culture is to hear and understand the grace of God in truth. And it is the gospel that will bear the Spiritual fruit of love and good works in their lives.
The gospel is the foundation for the third source of the believer’s love. Again these are connected. The third is dependent on the second which is tied into the first.

III. The believer’s love comes from a heavenly hope

Colossians 1:4–5 KJV 1900
4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, 5 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
The love which they had to all the saints was on account of or because of the hope which is laid up for them in heaven.
Colossians 1:23 KJV 1900
23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
Their love had as its source the hope laid up for them in heaven or the hope of the gospel.

A. The location of our hope

Paul says, you have love for all the saints because of the hope which is laid up (reserved) in heaven for you.
Ephesians 1:18–19 KJV 1900
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
What is the hope which is laid up in heaven for you?
This heavenly hope, one commentator said, is the totality of blessing that awaits the Christian in the life to come.
Ephesians 1:18 KJV 1900
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
Titus 2:13 KJV 1900
13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
1 Peter 1:3–4 KJV 1900
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
And so our hope is tied to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (looking for that blessed hope- the glorious appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ), and it is fundamental to the gospel (begotten us again unto a lively hope). And it is located in the life to come, it is linked to the blessing awaiting us in heaven (reserved in heaven for you).
Mrs. Pett’s funeral- we do not sorrow as others who have no hope. It was not a funeral, more of a celebration of life. Why? Because she had the same hope that you have and that hope is reserved in heaven forever for you.

B. The impact of our hope

How does hope produce love?
Colossians 3:1–4 KJV 1900
1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Col 3.1
When Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then will you also appear with Him in glory! This is our hope friends! Paul tells us to seek after these things, to set our affections or our minds on above things. When we allow our souls to be filled with the hope of Christ, the hope of heaven, the hope of the gospel what happens?
Colossians 3:5 KJV 1900
5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Colossians 3:12 KJV 1900
12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Colossians 3:14 KJV 1900
14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
Putting on charity or love then is a result of filling our hearts and minds with the hope of the gospel. As you seek after your hope and as your minds dwell on your hope, God literally changes your hearts and minds and the end result is love.
And so we close with this question- do you have a Christlike biblical love in your heart, especially for your fellow believers?
How is your love doing?
Pastor I am really struggling to show love to others.
If that is the case, I would suggest that you need to examine the sources of your love.
What are you hoping in? Are you seeking after heavenly things? Are you filling your hearts and minds with the glory and splendor of the hope of the gospel on a regular basis? Maybe the reason that you are struggling to love is because you have lost your focus on the hope of the gospel. And so my prayer for you would be,
Father, cause the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened; that they might know what is the hope of Your calling, and what are the riches of the glory of Your inheritance in the saints,
Or maybe you need to examine the other sources of love. Have you ever put your faith in the word of the truth of the gospel. Has there ever been a time when you heard the truth and understood the grace of God in truth and by faith asked Jesus Christ to save you from your sins.
Maybe the reason that you do not have Christlike Biblical love is because there is no relationship with God.
Not saying that if you don’t have a perfect love then you might not be saved. Remember, Paul is writing this letter to believers who were in danger of following false teaching. They were imperfect sinners just like we are imperfect sinners. And yet Paul commends them for their imperfect love. Someone who is not saved, who has no relationship with God will NEVER display Christlike Biblical love. It will be impossible. Because the source of that love is totally unavailable to them until they put their faith in the gospel.
The defining characteristic of the believer- love.
John 13:35 KJV 1900
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Folks, are you loving one another? Is your hope of the gospel pouring out in love for others? If not, what area, what source of that love do you need to address?
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