I have always wondered which comes first: hope, faith or love? It might be a chicken-and-egg question. No one knows the answer. They just are.
A verse in Scripture I read recently, however, sheds some light on the issue. Colossians 1: 4-5 says: “… we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven …”
The last line suggests that hope comes first. From it spring faith and love. When that hope is in Christ, that hope never disappoints. The famous Romans 5:5 verse tells us that hope never fails us: “… because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Some versions read verse 5 as “hope doesn’t disappoint us”. Whether hope doesn’t shame or disappoint us, the point is that hope that perseveres through life’s experiences will never let us down.
For Christians, that hope is the hope we place in Christ. That hope is “stored up” (Col 1:5) for us in heaven. It has an eternal quality. It doesn’t dry up. That’s the reason, when we put our hope in Christ, no matter what happens, we are always hopeful!
Some may think we are mad — being hopeful when things around us show the exact opposite! That’s the power of hope! When we hope, we can dream. When we dream, we have a vision or an awakening of a desire and it kindles hope that it can become real for us. So, we act on that hope in faith to realize that hope for ourselves and those we love.
Sometimes, in hoping for something, we may arrive at a dead end. That’s normal, part of life. In such cases, the best thing to do is to find an exit. When our larger hope is in Christ, the death of a smaller, specific hope will not leave us hopeless. That larger hope will help us backtrack from the dead end and find other choices and alternatives. In the end, some specific individual hopes may die but we never become hopeless because our larger hope in Christ helps us get through.
There was one area in my life where I lost hope. It was the darkness that pulled me down. But, God gave a promise and I held on to it because it gave me hope, and I pulled through, step by step resolving until I reached a very stable, secure place and I never felt that darkness again. Then, though the promise did not come to pass, I could let hope for it die because, from a position of strength now, I could see for myself that it wasn’t really what I want.
God’s promises give us hope to believe, dream and want for ourselves and those we love. With hope, we exercise faith to attain things for ourselves and our loved ones. Yet, the Bible says the greatest of these three is love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor 13: 13) Understandably. If we have hope and know how to exercise faith but we can’t love, the first two are useless! We need hope and faith so that we can make things happen for those we love, including ourselves! Such a life is well lived, because by applying these three spiritual resources, we see things work out through our choices.
The Christian life should be characterized by these three qualities: hope, faith and love — not wealth, monuments and material things. When we have hope, faith and love, we can have wealth, monuments and material things but the focus should be in growing in hope, faith and love rather than in the acquisition of the end-products they bring.